Oak Grove Baptist Church

Striving to become the church of choice for this generation.


I Peter
Introduction to I Peter

The apostle Peter wrote to a suffering church. The believers had been scattered through Asia Minor. Peter writes to them with the love of a pastor who is caring for his flock as a shepherd cares for his sheep or as a mother cares for her children.


Peter identifies with their pain without being evasive or fatalistic. He speaks very directly about their suffering. He refers to their suffering some sixteen times as he brings them comfort and practical counsel. His teaching can be summarized in the words of the apostle Paul, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom_8:18).

And within this context, Peter speaks about hope. In fact, hope is a central theme in this epistle. When we live our lives as strangers upon the earth, and when we live in constant communion with God, we can enjoy the life of hope regardless of the external circumstances and the present sufferings.

However, Peter is not only writing to comfort Christians who have known suffering, but he is preparing them for increased suffering which is about to come under the deranged hand of Nero, the infamous emperor of Rome.

As many of our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering for their faith in Christ in other parts of the world, it is possible that we, too, will face increased suffering in the days ahead. Therefore, his words of instruction are also appropriate for us today.

We will do well to study the book inductively. Our concern should not be only for what our Lord was saying to Peter's contemporaries through this epistle, but what He is saying to us personally. We need to be strengthened and encouraged in the faith in the same way as the early Christians were.


The Author

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1Pe_1:1). This is the introduction of the author of this letter. The internal evidence is clear. The apostle Peter is identified as the writer.
In addition, the author identifies himself as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ in the first verse of chapter 1Pe_5:1. Peter is writing as a loving elder of the church of Jesus Christ.


The Recipients

To the pilgrims scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1Pe_1:1). These pilgrims, or "strangers," have been scattered throughout Asia Minor because of their faith in Christ.
As James writes his epistle primarily to the Jewish Christians of the Diaspora, Peter writes his letter primarily to the Gentile or non Jewish believers. This is documented in several ways within the content of the letter.


For example, Peter refers to his readers as those "who once were not a people but are now the people of God" (1Pe_2:10). He, of course, is referring to the fact that Gentiles were not a part of the first covenant which God made with the Jewish people. But now we are the people of God as a part of the New Covenant through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Again, in chapter 4, verse 1Pe_4:3, Peter refers to the fact that his readers once lived as the Gentiles live, but now they should live by the will of God. Of course, Jewish readers would not have lived the lifestyle of the Gentiles.

However, the messages in 1 Peter and James are appropriate for both Jewish and Gentile believers. We are now the people of God. We are a new nation of people who belong to the kingdom of God. In Jesus Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek nor Gentile nor Swede nor American—we are one in Christ Jesus. "Christ is all and in all" (Col_3:11).
The Occasion


As we have seen, Peter is writing to a suffering church. The date of the writing of this epistle is probably about A.D. 64. This was the time in which the persecution of the church under Nero was just beginning. Peter is writing not only to encourage and comfort, but also to prepare the believers for the persecution that lies ahead.

Tradition tells us that Peter faced this persecution in his own life and was actually crucified upside down on a cross sometime about A.D. 67. When he was sentenced to be crucified, he requested that he be hung upside down because he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Master.


It is likely that Peter wrote this epistle from Rome. The only internal evidence we have for this contention is Peter's use of the phrase "greets you" within his salutation from "Babylon" (1Pe_5:13). Within Peter's lifetime, there were three possible geographical locations which could have been identified as Babylon.


The first was a military outpost in Egypt where the city of Cairo is now located. The second was a small village located on the Euphrates River. Although there was a small colony of Christians there, we are told that they had fled under violent persecution in about A.D. 41. It is unlikely that Peter wrote from either of those two locations.
It is more probable that he was writing from Rome which has traditionally been referred to as "Babylon" within the Christian church. Tradition contends that Peter spent the latter years of his life and ministry in Rome. And it is upon this tradition that the Roman Catholic church bases its papacy in Rome.


Plan of Exposition

Once again, we will study this epistle by using the inductive approach. First, we shall attempt to understand what the Holy Spirit was saying to the original recipients in Asia Minor. Then, we shall examine our own lives so that we will be open to the guidance and revelation of the Holy Spirit for truth which we should apply to ourselves.

Like James, Peter shares very practical advice for us to follow so that we can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We will notice that there are several teachings which are common to both epistles, such as the instruction of 1Pe_1:6-7 concerning rejoicing as we face various temptations and the testing of our faith. James shares that same counsel in Jas_1:2-3.

The message of 1 Peter might be best summarized in practical terms by Peter himself when he writes, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1Pe_3:15).


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1 Peter 1:1-2

What Salvation Is All About

Scripture Outline

  1. Why Has God Chosen You? (1Pe_1:1-2)
  2. The Fringe Benefits of the New Birth (1Pe_1:3-5)
  3. How Trials Can Bring Joy (1Pe_1:6-9)
  4. The Priority of Salvation (1Pe_1:10-12)
  5. Called to Be Holy (1Pe_1:13-16)
  6. Living Like Strangers Here on Earth (1Pe_1:17-21)
  7. Loving from the Heart (1Pe_1:22-25)
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Salvation is at the very core of Christianity. It was for our salvation that Jesus Christ came to us as a man and lived among us as a servant. Indeed, Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost! He is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

The very name, Jesus, means "savior." The message proclaimed by the angel to the shepherds on the night of Christ's birth was, "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luk_2:11). And long before this majestic event, the prophets had declared the coming of the Savior.


In fact, the entire Bible is an account of salvation history. The coming of Jesus was not a mistake or an incident of chance. His role as a Savior had been determined before the creation of the world (1Pe_1:20).


And so Peter begins his letter to a suffering, scattered church by reaffirming the basics of salvation. He uses marvelously expressive words such as "elect," "living hope," "abundant mercy," an "incorruptible and undefiled inheritance," and "salvation." Salvation is assured for all of those who trust in Jesus Christ, and this wonderful knowledge results in genuine hope.


Why Has God Chosen You?

Peter writes as an apostle of Jesus Christ. It was Peter who was among the inner circle of Christ's disciples. It was he that Jesus addressed when He stated, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Mat_16:18).

And, although Peter denied the Lord at a time of fear and weakness, his fellowship with Christ was wonderfully restored (John 21). After being filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, it was Peter who stood on the street in Jerusalem and courageously proclaimed the gospel of Christ. And, as he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, some three thousand responded to his message and received Christ as their Savior.


That was just the beginning of Peter's ministry. He continued to see scores of people come to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. No wonder he believed in salvation!


He addressed the letter to the "elect according to the fore-knowledge of God the Father" (1Pe_1:2). This concept of a special people or the "elect" comes from the first covenant which God had made with the Jewish people. Jehovah had said, "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth" (Deu_7:6).


Now this special choosing or election has been extended through the New Covenant to all who would experience salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Peter reminds the Gentile Christians, "You once were not a people but are now the people of God" (1Pe_2:10).


Peter begins by reminding these elect and chosen ones that they are strangers in the world in which they live (1Pe_1:1). He specifically addresses the Christians who are scattered in five provinces of Asia Minor. Three of these provinces were represented when Peter preached at Pentecost—Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia (Act_2:7-12).


Galatia is mentioned in Act_16:6 as being visited by Paul and his companions. Of course, we know that Paul established churches there and later wrote them the letter which became one of our books in the New Testament—Galatians. Paul and his companions also ministered in Bithynia, according to Act_16:7.

The word translated in verse 1Pe_1:1 as "scattered" is the Greek word diasporá, the same term that James uses in describing the Christians to whom he is writing (Jas_1:1). As mentioned in the introduction (p. 12), this was a term commonly used to describe the Jewish people who had been exiled over the years of the existence of the kingdom of Israel. In the New Testament context, it came to refer to the Christians who had been dispersed or scattered all over the world because of their faith in Christ.

But the true meaning of Peter's phrase "sojourners in the world" (1Pe_2:11) goes much deeper than just a social or geographical identification. Peter speaks about the deepest meaning of being a Christian. Our King is God and our kingdom is heaven. We are strangers and pilgrims (Heb_11:13), aliens in the world. Our citizenship is in heaven (Php_3:20).

There is a traditional statement attributed to Jesus which contends, "The world is a bridge. The wise man will pass over it, but he will not build his house upon it." That is what Peter is teaching. Our life on earth is only temporary. But the salvation of the Lord is eternal. That is why he encourages these suffering brothers and sisters to focus upon the hope that is theirs and ours as we trust in Christ Jesus.

Peter next points out that election requires obedience to Jesus Christ (1Pe_1:2). There is a great and marvelous mystery in our understanding of the Scripture regarding the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the will of man. The Bible teaches that both exist. As mere fallible human beings, we have difficulty in understanding how they can coexist. And so, historically, systematic theologians have tended to emphasize one more than the other.

In verse 2 Peter makes three specific statements about the election of God. These statements are not contradictory in any sense of the term. Instead, they are complementary.

First, we are elected by God to obey Him. Obedience is at the very heart of vital Christianity. To obey Him is better than sacrifice (1Sa_15:22). And to love God, I must obey Him. Anything less than obedience is hypocrisy (Joh_14:21).

We are also elected according to the foreknowledge of God. All of us realize that God knows everything—past, present, and future. And yet it is difficult for us to grasp the practical implications of His foreknowledge. Peter uses that same term in his sermon at Pentecost when he refers to the Crucifixion of Christ (Act_2:23).

Third, we are elected according to the sanctification of the Spirit. "Sanctification" (hagiasmós) comes from the same root as does our word "holy" (hágios). It means "to separate" or "to set apart." That is what Peter is attempting to teach us: that we are to be strangers in this world; that we are to be separated from the evil worldly system which is in total opposition to the things of the Spirit. We cannot be a friend of the worldly system and of God (1Jn_2:15-17).

The term "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ"(1Pe_1:2) is most interesting. It would mean a great deal to Jewish Christians who were familiar with the traditions of the old covenant, but for the Gentile Christians to whom Peter is writing it would be rather difficult to understand. Within Old Testament Law, there were three occasions in which there was the "sprinkling of blood." (1) Cleansing: When a leper was healed, he or she was sprinkled with blood of a bird (Lev_14:1-7). (2) Setting apart for service to God: Aaron and the priests of the tabernacle were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificial lamb when they were "sanctified" for their priestly service (Exo_29:20-22; Lev_8:30). (3) Obedience to God's covenant: When the people of Israel responded to God's invitation to establish a covenant with Him, Moses sprinkled half the blood of the oxen on the people and half on the altar. The people stated, "All that the Lord has said we will do…" (Exo_24:1-8). Again, the key word in the covenant was "obey."


James 5:1-6

How to Live with Faith and Reality

Scripture Outline

  1. How to Succeed in Spite of Riches (Jas_5:1-6)
  2. How to Be Patient (Jas_5:7-11)
  3. How Not to Swear (Jas_5:12)
  4. How to Pray for the Sick (Jas_5:13-18)
  5. How to Restore a Backslider (Jas_5:19-20)


God invites us to live a life based upon truth and reality. James understands that basic truth and delights in presenting its "how tos" in most practical terms. He completes his letter by sharing counsel regarding a number of areas of vital Christian faith and lifestyle, including facing the challenge of riches, perseverance, swearing, praying for the sick, and restoring the backslider.


How to Succeed in Spite of Riches

Once again, James addresses the special problems of the rich. He builds upon his argument set forth in chapter 1, verses Jas_1:9-11. Like the teaching of Jesus concerning the dangers of money and wealth shared in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), James warns against the misuse of riches.

He begins by calling the rich to repentance because they are in serious trouble (Jas_5:1). His language is most graphic. His warning is clear, "Weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!"

The word used for "weep" is klaı́ō, which is the same word used to describe the weeping of Peter as he repented of his sin following the denial of Christ (Luk_22:62). Indeed, the rich who have misused their wealth for their own sordid gain should weep such tears, for judgment is coming upon them.

Not only should they weep, but they should literally howl (ololúzō) for the miseries which are to come upon them. The word means literally to "howl" or "shriek." Misery (talaipōrı́a) is the strong word used by Paul in conjunction with destruction in Rom_3:16, a direct quotation of the prophet Isaiah's warning (Isa_59:7-8).

In verses Jas_5:2 and Jas_5:3 James makes four prophetic statements concerning the conditions that will indicate that trouble is coming.

  • "Your riches are corrupted" (Jas_5:2). Once again, James sounds a great deal like Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount as He warns us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy …" (Mat_6:19). In short, your riches and your clothes will be destroyed.
  • "Your gold and silver are corroded" (Jas_5:3). To be corroded (katı́ōtai), means literally to "rust down" or to be "cankered." Again, we have the vocabulary used by Jesus when He warns about rust destroying riches and counsels us to, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth or rust destroy…" (Mat_6:19-20).
  • "Their corrosion will be a witness against you" (Jas_5:3). Now James becomes much more personal in his warning. He no longer talks about the inanimate objects of money and clothing. Instead, he talks about persons who are rich and who have misused their wealth. The corrosion of their riches will be a witness against them. This witness (martúrion), or testimony, is the very kind of testimony given in a court of law. In this case, it will be very incriminating.
  • "And will eat your flesh like fire" (v. Jas_5:3). Most of us have had the experience of some form of corrosion "eating" or "burning" our flesh. Probably the most common experience we encounter is having the acid from our car battery "eat" our flesh. And it certainly does burn like fire.

The final sign that the rich are in trouble will not merely be the destruction of their wealth and clothing, nor merely the witness of corroded gold and silver. Instead, the very flesh of the rich who have been wicked will be destroyed.

The warning of James does not take place within a void. To the contrary, he presents specific reasons which lead to the proposed trouble (Jas_5:4-6). He uses practical cause-and-effect logic. After identifying the effects, he now enumerates the specific causes which are leading to the coming judgment.

First, "You have heaped up treasure in the last days" (Jas_5:3). To heap up treasure merely for the sake of having treasure is at the very root of sin. Such an activity leads to trusting in the treasure for security and power. It is the motivation of making that treasure a person's god.

This was the problem of the rich farmer whom Jesus described in His parable. He trusted in his wealth. "But God said to him 'You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" Then Jesus made the personal application by concluding, "So is he who lays up treasure for himself" (Luk_12:20-21).

That is one of the problems with wealth. At best, it is temporary. People who trust in it will ultimately lose it. Only treasures stored in heaven are eternal (Mat_6:19-20).

Second, the unpaid wages of your laborers cry out (Jas_5:4). The second problem with the unrighteous rich is that they have cheated those who have labored for them by withholding their wages. The rich have been deceived into thinking that they have gotten away with this disastrous deed, but the cries of those who have been cheated have reached the ears of the Lord of the Sabaoth.

The term Sabaōth is derived from a Hebrew military term which is used here to denote the sovereignty of God. Many people believe that they have succeeded in cheating others and God, but James warns the rich that such a belief is pure deception. Ultimately, the Lord rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.

Third, "you have livedin pleasure and luxury "(Jas_5:5). Having wealth is not a sin in itself. Indeed, some of the Lord's most faithful servants were persons of great wealth, including Abraham, David, and Solomon.

However, there is a misuse of wealth that is contrary to the very essence of spiritual living. The true meaning of this passage is that these rich people lived for the very purpose of their extravagance instead of for God. They had become ungodly hedonists who lived for the pleasures that could be derived from wealth. They trusted their money instead of God. They lived for money instead of for God.

Fourth, "you have condemnedand murdered the just" (Jas_5:6). The ultimate manifestation of the rich who trust in their wealth rather than in God is that they are never satisfied with what they have. They must always have more.

And to gain more, they condemn the just and even murder them to get what belongs to them. The greed of Ahab and Jezebel led to the murder of Naboth the Jezreelite in order to steal his vineyard (1 Kin. 21). That same greed is the motivation for the rich to condemn and kill the just who do not even resist (Jas_5:6).

No wonder James warns against the sin of the misuse of wealth. It is a deadly sin that leads to destruction.


James 5:7-11

How to Be Patient

After sharing his warning regarding the misuse of wealth, James seems to reach the conclusion that the rich to whom he has been referring are the non-Christians who have been oppressing the believers. In the midst of this oppression, James counsels the Christians to be patient until the coming of the Lord which he believes is at hand (Jas_5:7-8). He makes three specific contentions concerning the believer and patience.

  1. Be patient until the Lord's coming (Jas_5:7-9). In counseling us to be patient until the coming of the Lord, James uses the example of the farmer who waits for the precious fruit of the earth until it is ready to harvest. He waits for the early rains and the latter rains.

James was writing within the context of the climate of Israel which receives its early rain in late October and early November, and then receives its late rain in April or May. That is a long time to wait for the harvest. And yet the farmer patiently waits realizing that he cannot hurry the process.

In the same way, James assures us that God is always on time and that we cannot hurry the process. Instead, we should establish (stērı́zō) our hearts, which means to fix or strengthen. The prophet Isaiah shared the same counsel when he wrote, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You; because he trusts in You" (Isa_26:3).

And, as we wait, we should not grumble or complain against one another. Such judging of others can lead to our own condemnation, warns James. The Judge is standing at the door (Jas_5:9).

The Lord's coming is near! In fact, Peter contends that the only reason that the Lord has not returned is that He is patient (in the same way in which He desires for us to be patient) and is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2Pe_3:3-9).

2. Be patient in the face of suffering (Jas_5:10-11). James is writing to a suffering church. He writes not merely to instruct but to comfort and encourage. As he encourages his readers to be patient in the midst of their suffering, he gives two vivid examples from the Old Testament Scriptures which should serve as great encouragement to all of us.

He begins by inviting us to look at the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord as examples of suffering and patience (v. Jas_5:10). The writer of Hebrews describes some of the things these men suffered. They were stoned, sawn in two, slain with the sword; they wandered in sheepskins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented (Heb_11:37).

A vivid example of such a prophet would be Jeremiah, who was known as the "weeping prophet." He was beaten, placed in stocks, imprisoned, and thrown in a cistern. Yet he trusted in the Lord.

Job is example number two. He was blessed because he endured, and because of his patience and perseverance, he is an example to show us the purpose of the Lord through suffering.

Job suffered for no legitimate reason. And yet he committed his way to the Lord and trusted in Him. God was compassionate and merciful to Job and returned to him much more than he possessed prior to the time of suffering (Job_42:12).

In the same way, encourages James, the Lord will be compassionate and merciful to us as we trust Him and follow Him as Lord (Jas_5:11). Indeed, we will also be blessed if we endure.

3. Be patient and you will be blessed (Jas_5:11). This is the third contention of James. He believes that the result of being patient and enduring suffering will be the blessing of God. He states, "We count them blessed that endure."

James may be referring to the teaching of Jesus on this important subject. Jesus said, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mat_5:11-12).

To be "blessed" is to be "happy." Our Lord offers us a quality of happiness which we can enjoy even in the midst of suffering and persecution. It is no wonder that we consider those "blessed" or "happy" that endure. The promise to us is that our Lord's coming is near. He is compassionate and merciful, and He will reward those who are "overcomers" (Rev_21:3-4).


James 5:12

How Not to Swear

Once again, James surprises us by a seemingly abrupt change of direction. As he comforts those who are suffering and counsels us to endure suffering which comes into our lives with patience and perseverance, he now sounds another note of warning. He begins chapter 5 by warning against the misuse of riches, and now he warns against the misuse of speech by swearing.

Again, he emphasizes a teaching of Jesus. James states that we should not swear (omnúō) either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Jesus taught, "Do not swear at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black" (Mat_5:34-36).

As we can see, James is proclaiming the teaching of Jesus in most practical terms. In fact, his teaching is almost word for word what Jesus had declared.

James concludes his teaching concerning swearing by stating, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No!' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." Again, he is quoting directly from Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount (Mat_5:37). Jesus went on to state that whatever we say which is more than merely "yes" or "no" is from the evil one (Mat_5:37).

The warning is clear! We should not swear in any form nor for any reason. Swearing is an affront against God, and it brings His judgment upon us (Jas_5:12).


James 5:13-18

How to Pray for the Sick

James makes another practical suggestion concerning how the believer should relate to suffering. His counsel is simple and clear, "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray." The word translated as suffering, kakopathéō, is used only five times in the New Testament. It is sometimes translated as "afflicted."

Prayer is appropriate for every situation of life and it is certainly appropriate for times of suffering and affliction. Our human tendency is to pray in terms of "why?" Job, his wife, and his friends fell into that trap.

A much deeper and more appropriate prayer in times of suffering is that of "what?" "Lord, what are you saying to me through these difficulties?" "Father, what do you want me to learn, or what do you wish for me to do?"

Sometimes, the most appropriate prayer is, "Help!" That prayer is predicated upon our understanding of who we are and who God is. It is an acknowledgement of our need for His help.

Or sometimes the appropriate prayer is that of praise and thanksgiving as Paul and Silas demonstrated in the Philippian jail as they prayed and sang hymns of praise to God after being beaten with rods, placed in stocks, and locked in the inner prison (Act_16:23-34).

There is the second word of counsel in these verses. James continues, "Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms" (Jas_5:13). The word for being cheerful is euthuméō, which is often translated as "to be merry." It is a wonderful word in the Greek which is a blend of the two words meaning "well" and "soul." Thus it means being in "good spirits" or in a "happy mood."

Next comes the counsel which is the major focus of this passage. The question of James is, "Is anyone among you sick?" He answers that important question by sharing a three-part solution to the problem of sickness in the life of a believer.

1. "Call for the elders of the church" (Jas_5:14). Just as James gives a direct and practical answer to his first two questions, so he responds just as directly and practically to this question. When a believer is sick, he or she should call for the elders of the church.

This is the only passage in the New Testament which gives such direct advice concerning the ministry of healing within the church. However, additional passages do address this vital subject. Of course, Jesus was involved in a very effective ministry of healing. A vivid example of His healing ministry is that of His healing of the paralytic. The crowd who witnessed the healing was filled with awe and praised God (Mat_9:1-8).

The Gospel of Mark relates the account of Jesus sending His disciples out with a ministry of healing (Mar_6:13). And the Book of Acts relates numerous reports of the healing ministry of the apostles such as the account of Paul's healing ministry on Malta (Act_28:1-10).

In addition, the ministry of healing is enumerated as one of the "grace" gifts or spiritual gifts by Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church. In his major treatise on the functioning of the body of Christ and the use of spiritual gifts for the common good of the body, Paul refers specifically to the spiritual gift of healing in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, verse 1Co_12:9, and again in verse 1Co_12:30.

With all of that knowledge plus the many references to the ministry of healing in the Old Testament (i.e., Gen_20:17; Num_12:13; 2Ki_5:14; and 2Ki_20:1-5), James now calls for believers to call for the elders of the church. The inference of his statement is clear. He believes that God has entrusted the ministry of healing and, therefore, the spiritual gift of healing, to the elders of the church.

2. Let them anoint him with oil (v. Jas_5:14). In turn, the elders should anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord. The term "anointing with oil" has at least two significant meanings within the context of the Scriptures. First, there is the example of the anointing with oil as medicine. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan bathed the wounds of the injured traveler with oil (Luk_10:34).

Second, in the Old Testament, anointing with oil was often symbolic or sacramental; the prophet Samuel anointed Saul with oil when he was declared the king of Israel. That custom was followed within the kingdom of Israel. Jesus referred to this fact when the woman bathed His feet with an alabaster flask of fragrant oil (Luk_7:37-38). Jesus used the occasion to teach those present, and us who read the account, a basic spiritual lesson by saying, "You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil" (Luk_7:46).

The logical question now arises, should we anoint sick people with oil for medicinal purposes or for sacramental purposes? Some within the church would contend for the former and others for the latter. I would personally contend for both. I believe that God has given medical science every insight that has been gained. We should blend medicine and prayer together as we care for the sick.

When our oldest son, Daniel, was a little boy, he contracted a very serious illness. He was rushed to the Denver Children's Hospital where he was under the care of an outstanding pediatrician who was a committed Christian. As my wife, Jean, and I stood with the doctor next to Dan's bed which was covered by an oxygen tent, the doctor shared some counsel with us which I shall never forget.

He said, "I have done everything I can do. Dan has the best that medicine can offer. Now we must entrust him to God." He then continued, "I have found the best combination for healing is a healthy blend of penicillin and prayer."

That is the very message of James! Let the anointing of oil represent both the spiritual and medicinal. God is the source of both.

3. "Let them pray over him" (Jas_5:14). Prayer is the key word in this entire passage. Over and over again James encourages us to pray. Pray when in trouble—verse Jas_5:13. Pray when you are sick—verse Jas_5:14. Pray for one another—verse Jas_5:16. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective—verse Jas_5:16. Elijah is a vivid example of a man of prayer—verses Jas_5:17-18.

Notice how clearly this teaching corresponds to that of chapter 4, verses Jas_4:1-3. We often do not have because we do not ask or because we ask amiss (Jas_4:2-3). Now the promise is clear; if we ask according to the will of God (1Jn_5:14), "The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up" (Jas_5:15).

I believe that it may not always be the choice of God to heal physically, but I believe that it is always proper to call for the elders of the church, to be anointed with oil, and to pray for healing. Then we can leave the results with God. He is to be trusted with our lives and our bodies and all that we have and are. He is our Lord.

There is one more phrase which we must expose if we are to be faithful to the text. It is the closing sentence of verse Jas_5:15, "And if he has committed sin, he will be forgiven." There are those in the church who believe that all illness is the result of sin. James does not concur with that teaching. He uses the word "if."

"If" he has sinned, he will be forgiven. This corresponds with the teaching of Jesus as He responded to a question posed by His disciples concerning the man who was blind from birth. They asked Jesus whether this man was blind because of his sin or his parents' sin. Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him" (Joh_9:3). The conclusion of James is clear; if a person has sinned and prays the prayer of repentance and faith which is necessary for healing, those sins will be forgiven (Jas_5:15).


James 5:19-20

How to Restore a Backslider

As James has discussed the ministry of physical healing, he now closes his letter with some practical teaching on the important subject of spiritual healing. Without a doubt, this is the most difficult passage within the Book of James to exposit and to understand.

As a result, the church has not always agreed upon the interpretation of this passage. However, we will attempt to reveal the basic tenets of truth that will be applicable and practical for all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

  1. "If anyone among you wanders from the truth …" (Jas_5:19). In Jas_1:16, we are warned against erring. Now James shares counsel for those who have "erred" or "wandered" from the truth. The Greek word for this activity is planáō which can also be translated as "deceived" or "gone astray."

The "wandering" or "straying" has taken the person away from the truth. Jesus Christ is the personification of truth. He came declaring that "I am the way, the truth, and the life …" (Joh_14:6). He stated that if we would know Him, we would know the truth, and the truth would make us free" (Joh_8:31-32).

To err from the truth is a great tragedy. James calls upon his fellow Christians to respond to such a problem with directness.

2. "And someone turns him [the sinner] back…" (Jas_5:19). Theologians and biblical scholars have debated the meaning of this passage for centuries. The usual question which is posed is, "Does this passage teach that a Christian who errs from the truth is saved or lost?" This leads to the theological argument between the Calvinists and the Arminians.

Frankly, I don't believe that the question which separates Calvinists and Arminians is the most vital question of this passage. I find that all Christians agree that an erring brother or sister is in deep trouble, and that he or she needs to repent and return to Christ.

The more vital question is, "How do we become involved in the ministry of restoring such a backslider?" James focuses much more on the need to be involved in such a ministry than he does in explaining to us how to do it. How do we turn (convert) a sinner from the error of his way and save a soul from death, therefore covering a multitude of sins?

All of us realize that we cannot "convert" another person. God does not allow us to violate anyone nor does He violate anyone. He does not force His will upon us. He invites us and longs for us to know and to do His will—but the decision to do so is ours.

Therefore, based upon other teachings of the Word of God, I believe there are at least three steps we can take to be involved in the vital ministry of "restoring" backsliders. First, we must take the initiative. I believe that the strong implication of the teaching of James is that we should not be passive about a brother or sister who is erring from the truth. We should take the initiative to do something about it.

Second, we should pray. In the preceding verses, James repeatedly instructs us to pray when we are in need. It is always appropriate to pray for those in spiritual need.

Third, we can love. The ministry of love is the primary calling of every Christian. Jesus said that the life of love was the distinguishable mark of the Christian (Joh_13:35). God has called us to prayerfully activate the ministry of the Holy Spirit to love and invite, to woo and draw sinners to repentance.

3. "Will save a soul from death …" (Jas_5:20). Some biblical scholars believe that this reference is to physical death. They cite the reference of Paul in 1Co_11:29-30 when he speaks of those believers who are sick or dying because of their spiritual sickness.

However, because James specifically refers to the phrase, "will save a soul from death," it is more likely that he is referring to spiritual death. The word for soul is psuchḗ which refers to the spiritual part of man rather than the physical. This, of course, is in keeping with the clear teaching of Scripture that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom_6:23).

4. "[This will] cover a multitude of sins" (Jas_5:20). The teaching of James ends with the focus on grace and forgiveness. Peter teaches that love covers a multitude of sins (1Pe_4:8). And John teaches that God is the source of love; God is love! (1Jn_4:8).

With God's love comes grace as opposed to judgment and forgiveness in contrast to condemnation (Joh_3:16-18). When a sinner turns from his or her wandering from the truth and returns to God, all the resources of God's love are unleashed. The psalmist declares that as far as the east is from the west, so far does our Lord remove our sins from us when they are confessed to Him. He forgives and forgets (Psa_103:12).

Jesus, the One who came to save us from our sins, shared great truth of great joy when He said, "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luk_15:10). No wonder there is such great joy in the church when an erring brother or sister repents and returns to the living Christ!

James 4:1-3

How to Live with Faith and Humility

Scripture Outline

  1. How to Pray Without Pride (Jas_4:1-3)
  2. How to Become Humble (Jas_4:4-10)
  3. How to Escape Judgment (Jas_4:11-12)
  4. How to Plan for the Future (Jas_4:13-17)


Humility is of great importance to James. It is the major focus of this fourth chapter. We are told that only as we humble ourselves in the sight of God will we be lifted up by the Lord (Jas_4:10).

Although James makes that direct statement about humility, he also makes many indirect statements which have great bearing upon Christian living. As usual, his teaching is both practical and workable. He is concerned that humility should be integrated into the lives of all of us who are sincere about following Jesus as Lord.

How to Pray Without Pride

James begins his teaching regarding the conflict of pride and prayer by posing an important question, "Where do wars and fights come from among you?" The basic assumption is that such conflicts are taking place within the interpersonal relationships of his readers.

The word James uses for "war" is pólemos, which means just that: war or battle. The word translated as "fights" is máchē which can also be correctly translated as strife, struggles, or quarrelings. To be sure, both of these words denote interpersonal conflicts.

James not only poses the question; he gives a very graphic and appropriate answer. Simply stated, we are involved in conflicts because of our desires for pleasure or lusts that are in conflict within our very selves. We are at war inwardly so it is natural for us to be at war outwardly.

The word translated as "desires for pleasure" or "lusts" is the word hēdonḗ from which we get the English word "hedonism." In His parable of the sower, Jesus warned about the thorns of riches and the pleasures of this life which would come and choke the Word of God in our lives (Luk_8:14). Paul describes us who are now living in Christ as those who once served various lusts and pleasures (Tit_3:3).

In verse Jas_4:2, James proceeds to describe the manifestations more specifically. He makes three specific statements concerning the dilemma of aggressively desiring but never getting what is desired. His is a description of the paradox of sin—always seeking but never finding, always desiring but never being fulfilled.

"You lust and do not have." The word that James uses for "lust" is different from that which he used in verse Jas_4:1. Here the word is epithuméō. It means "to long for or to set one's heart's desire upon something or someone." It is sometimes translated as "covet."

The word can denote a negative form of lusting such as looking "at a woman to lust for her," as Jesus warned against (Mat_5:28). Or it can be used positively to desire the right or godly thing, as in the statement made by Jesus at the Last Supper: "I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luk_22:15).

The problem that Jesus describes is that we often desire something, but often we do not get it. In the most negative of terms, people who covet something or somebody do not receive the same without taking some kind of initiative. That brings James to his second statement.

"You murder and covet and cannot obtain." When a person covets, he or she often has to use evil means to get what they want such as stealing, scheming, or even killing. James gets directly to the point by describing killing or murder as the human solution to the sin of coveting. The word used for covet in this phrase is zēlóō from which we get our word zealous. The best translation is "to be moved with envy." Murder is the ultimate result of coveting and envying.

Yet, according to James, even with murder and envy we cannot obtain what we actually want. Again, we see the futility of sin. It promises us so much but gives us so little. Indeed, there are the pleasures of sin for the moment, but deep and lasting fulfillment can never come from sin—including lusting, coveting, and envying.

"You fight and war." James returns to his opening statement in verse Jas_4:1. The result of lusting and murdering and coveting and not obtaining is more and more conflict—fighting and warring! And, although each of these words is a description of the life lived in the flesh without Jesus as Lord, James is acknowledging also that such wars and fightings also take place within the church. As Christians, we are plagued by a residual of our old nature which brings us to lusting, fighting, and conflicting.

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of working on the staff of the great evangelist, Billy Graham. My first assignment was to work with Charlie Riggs, a veteran of many evangelistic crusades and a man who walked closely with God.

One day, as we were talking about conflicts within the church, Charlie shared an insight with me which I shall never forget. He quoted from Pro_13:10 which contends that "by pride comes only contention." I have found it to be so. Where there are conflicts and fightings and warrings within the church, the sin of pride is always present.

It is pride that makes us lust and covet and envy and murder and fight and war. Pride is to the life of the flesh what humility is to the life of the Spirit. It is at the very foundation of the lifestyle which displeases God. Pride always brings contention.

Have you ever noticed how the obvious in life can totally elude us? In our society, it seems that we have majored in making the simple complicated. To the contrary, Jesus had a great knack for making the complicated simple so that even I can understand it.

The teaching of James at this point is so simple, it is almost embarrassing to repeat it. In short, he is saying, "You can lust and covet and fight and war and murder and do anything else, but there is only one reason you do not have; it is because you do not ask" (Jas_4:2). And, I might add, we should not merely "ask," we should "ask God!"

Is it not true that one of the great problems of our prayer lives is simply the fact that we don't pray? In the flesh, we do all the things which James enumerates such as lusting and fighting and warring. These things are natural for us to do. After all, haven't we been taught to "look out for number one—me?" And haven't we been told that "God only helps those who help themselves?" And so, even as Christians often we are tempted to try to get things through natural or fleshly means.

James is calling us back to the basics of Christian discipleship. He is reminding us that we no longer need to use tools of sin. They don't work well. Instead, God has entrusted to us spiritual tools—including prayer. We, ourselves, are no longer the source for our success. The Lord wants to be our Lord, not only in word but in deed. He simply desires to provide for us. He loves us and wants what is best for us.

Therefore, we do not need to be anxious or worry or fight or scheme or murder. We simply need to ask. We need to walk in the Spirit and commune with Him and ask for what we need. He has promised to supply all of our needs (Php_4:19). But so often our lives are empty and we go without what He longs to give us, simply because we do not ask!

In verse Jas_4:3 James now leads us to the most challenging problem of all. This is the problem of asking God for something and not receiving it because we have asked for the wrong reason or with the wrong motive.

The problem with sin is the problem of missing the mark. That is the problem which James is identifying—to ask amiss. The phrase, "ask amiss," is translated from the Greek word kakōs, which is usually translated in the Scripture as "diseased" or "sick," as in Mar_1:32.

In other words, we can ask God for things with "sick" or "diseased" motives. In fact, James identifies what such motives are. He says that we ask amiss "that you may spend it on your pleasures." We are back to the word hēdonḗ which we found in verse Jas_4:1. Our lusts or our desires for pleasure are not acceptable motives for prayer. They are characteristics of the flesh—not the Spirit. Like all sin, they will lead us to death rather than life.

In contrast, John shares with us the proper motive for prayer when he writes, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1Jn_5:14). The focus of Christian living and the motive of prayer are the same—God has called us to forsake doing our own thing and to seek to do the will of God. Only then can we be fulfilled and only then will God answer our prayers.

James 4:4-10

How to Become Humble

Humility is essential to Christian discipleship. Jesus spoke about the importance of humility on a number of occasions, including the time He called a child to Him and said, "Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat_18:4). Jesus also said, "Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Mat_23:12). Following in the footsteps of his Master, Peter teaches us to "be clothed with humility" (1Pe_5:6).

James shares our Lord's deep concern that His followers walk humbly before Him. In the most practical and helpful way, James tells us not only that we should be humble, but also how to do it. James gives us three "how to" steps which will enable us to walk humbly with God.

First, resist the devil (Jas_4:7-9). We can never be truly humble if we are not willing to actively resist the devil. Not to do so is to be an adulterer or an adulteress (Jas_4:4). To be involved in friendship with the world is to be at enmity with God (Jas_4:4).

The Greek word for "enmity" is a very strong word, échthra, which is sometimes translated as "hatred." If that is so, James is saying that anyone who is in love with the world (a friend of the world, phı́los) hates God. In fact, that is the closing statement of verse Jas_4:4, "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

What a powerful and sobering statement. And, if that were not enough, James proceeds to substantiate that contention by presenting some very strong supporting evidence from the Scriptures. His first statement has caused much discussion among biblical scholars since it is not a direct quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures but rather seems to be a paraphrase of biblical truth.

Some scholars relate the phrase, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously" to Gen_6:5 while others refer to Gen_8:21 (Jas_4:5). However, it seems more likely that James is referring to the concept of God being a jealous God (Exo_20:5) Who will not share His allegiance with another. In other words, we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God alone!

In the sixth verse, James quotes from Pro_3:34 which states, "Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly." The statement of James is clear, "God opposes the proud." You cannot be living by pride and be accepted by God. But the promise is also clear. "God gives grace to the humble."

It was that promise which Christ made to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2Co_12:9). The grace of God is readily available to all who will trust in the Lord and follow Him. But He opposes the proud. We must resist the devil. We cannot be a friend of Christ and of the world. The two are in opposition to each other.

In addition, James gives some very specific suggestions regarding how we should resist the devil. In verses Jas_4:8 and Jas_4:9, he enumerates four specific steps we should follow in resisting the devil (Jas_4:8-9).

1. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners." This is an appeal to our outward lifestyle. Our conduct must be clean.

2. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded." This is another reference to our motives. Our spiritual hearts and motives must be pure before God. We must allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives and must forsake being double-minded (Jas_1:8).

3. "Lament and mourn and weep." This is an obvious reference to the act of repentance. We must not only acknowledge the existence of our sins, but we must feel sorry that we have sinned against God. We need to weep tears of repentance.

4. "Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." This is a continuation of his call to godly repentance. He is not commanding us to forsake the joy of the Lord. Instead, he is asking us to depart from the shallow laughter and temporary joy that comes from the life of sin.

The summation of all this teaching is simply that we need to quit playing games with the devil and with sin and become serious about forsaking sin. We need to resist the devil in every area of our lives. We cannot play with the fire of sin without being burned. We cannot please God while we are playing games with Satan. We need to declare war on him. We need to resist him.

And, as we do, the promise is clear—he will flee from us. Through Jesus Christ, we are assured of victory over the devil. We cannot resist him in the flesh, but we can do so as we live in the Spirit! For example we should use the shield of faith with which we will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph_6:16). Resist the devil—and he will flee from you!

As we have just discussed, the first step toward the life of humility is to resist the devil who is the source of all pride. The second step is to draw near to God (Jas_4:8) who is the source of all authentic humility.

We begin our relationship with God by submitting to Him (Jas_4:7). And that is the way we walk with Him day by day. He is the Lord—the Master, and we are the servants—the willing slaves. In order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luk_9:23). There is no other way to be a Christian. Our wills need to be committed to know the will of God and to do it.

Submitting to God can sound cold and nonrelational. But it is not! God calls us to a relationship of love, trust, grace, forgiveness, openness, and all the other marks of a loving relationship. And yet, He will never force His love upon us. As someone has said, "God is not a divine rapist." He does not coerce or manipulate. He loves and invites and responds.

That is the context of, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (Jas_4:8). What a wonderful invitation and what an incredible promise. It takes risk to reach out to another or to attempt to draw near to someone else. God has promised not to "back off." He is always ready to respond appropriately to us with His love and grace.

As we draw near to Him and allow Him to draw near to us, a marvelous thing takes place. Jesus refers to this phenomenon as "abiding" in Him and He in us (Joh_15:4-5). As we are possessed more and more by Christ Himself, His character increasingly supplants ours. We become more and more like Him. As we die to self and are filled with the Holy Spirit, the "fruit" of the Spirit flows from our lives. We become more and more like Jesus—including becoming more and more humble. His humility becomes ours.

The third step we are to take is to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord (Jas_4:10). The steps are clear. If we are to be humble, we must begin by emptying ourselves of self and sin by resisting the devil. Next, that emptiness must be filled by the Holy Spirit as we draw near to God and we allow Him to draw near to us and to fill us to overflowing with Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Only then can we accomplish the admonishment of James to humble ourselves. We cannot do so in our own strength. It is impossible for us to humble ourselves by our own cleverness or ingenuity. We need the power of God Himself.

A person who is truly humble is a person who has turned from sin and the devil and is walking with God. Authentic humility comes from God. A humble person is one who has seen himself as he really is in the sight of God, has repented of his sin, and is following Jesus as his Lord.

The promise to such a person is also clear. As we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, "He will lift you up" (Jas_4:10). It is never God's desire to "put you down." It is sin that leads us down to death and destruction. The Lord delights in lifting you up. Indeed, he who humbles himself will be exalted.

James 4:4-10

How to Become Humble

Humility is essential to Christian discipleship. Jesus spoke about the importance of humility on a number of occasions, including the time He called a child to Him and said, "Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat_18:4). Jesus also said, "Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Mat_23:12). Following in the footsteps of his Master, Peter teaches us to "be clothed with humility" (1Pe_5:6).

James shares our Lord's deep concern that His followers walk humbly before Him. In the most practical and helpful way, James tells us not only that we should be humble, but also how to do it. James gives us three "how to" steps which will enable us to walk humbly with God.

First, resist the devil (Jas_4:7-9). We can never be truly humble if we are not willing to actively resist the devil. Not to do so is to be an adulterer or an adulteress (Jas_4:4). To be involved in friendship with the world is to be at enmity with God (Jas_4:4).

The Greek word for "enmity" is a very strong word, échthra, which is sometimes translated as "hatred." If that is so, James is saying that anyone who is in love with the world (a friend of the world, phı́los) hates God. In fact, that is the closing statement of verse Jas_4:4, "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

What a powerful and sobering statement. And, if that were not enough, James proceeds to substantiate that contention by presenting some very strong supporting evidence from the Scriptures. His first statement has caused much discussion among biblical scholars since it is not a direct quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures but rather seems to be a paraphrase of biblical truth.

Some scholars relate the phrase, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously" to Gen_6:5 while others refer to Gen_8:21 (Jas_4:5). However, it seems more likely that James is referring to the concept of God being a jealous God (Exo_20:5) Who will not share His allegiance with another. In other words, we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God alone!

In the sixth verse, James quotes from Pro_3:34 which states, "Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly." The statement of James is clear, "God opposes the proud." You cannot be living by pride and be accepted by God. But the promise is also clear. "God gives grace to the humble."

It was that promise which Christ made to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2Co_12:9). The grace of God is readily available to all who will trust in the Lord and follow Him. But He opposes the proud. We must resist the devil. We cannot be a friend of Christ and of the world. The two are in opposition to each other.

In addition, James gives some very specific suggestions regarding how we should resist the devil. In verses Jas_4:8 and Jas_4:9, he enumerates four specific steps we should follow in resisting the devil (Jas_4:8-9).

1. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners." This is an appeal to our outward lifestyle. Our conduct must be clean.

2. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded." This is another reference to our motives. Our spiritual hearts and motives must be pure before God. We must allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives and must forsake being double-minded (Jas_1:8).

3. "Lament and mourn and weep." This is an obvious reference to the act of repentance. We must not only acknowledge the existence of our sins, but we must feel sorry that we have sinned against God. We need to weep tears of repentance.

4. "Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." This is a continuation of his call to godly repentance. He is not commanding us to forsake the joy of the Lord. Instead, he is asking us to depart from the shallow laughter and temporary joy that comes from the life of sin.

The summation of all this teaching is simply that we need to quit playing games with the devil and with sin and become serious about forsaking sin. We need to resist the devil in every area of our lives. We cannot play with the fire of sin without being burned. We cannot please God while we are playing games with Satan. We need to declare war on him. We need to resist him.

And, as we do, the promise is clear—he will flee from us. Through Jesus Christ, we are assured of victory over the devil. We cannot resist him in the flesh, but we can do so as we live in the Spirit! For example we should use the shield of faith with which we will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph_6:16). Resist the devil—and he will flee from you!

As we have just discussed, the first step toward the life of humility is to resist the devil who is the source of all pride. The second step is to draw near to God (Jas_4:8) who is the source of all authentic humility.

We begin our relationship with God by submitting to Him (Jas_4:7). And that is the way we walk with Him day by day. He is the Lord—the Master, and we are the servants—the willing slaves. In order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luk_9:23). There is no other way to be a Christian. Our wills need to be committed to know the will of God and to do it.

Submitting to God can sound cold and nonrelational. But it is not! God calls us to a relationship of love, trust, grace, forgiveness, openness, and all the other marks of a loving relationship. And yet, He will never force His love upon us. As someone has said, "God is not a divine rapist." He does not coerce or manipulate. He loves and invites and responds.

That is the context of, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (Jas_4:8). What a wonderful invitation and what an incredible promise. It takes risk to reach out to another or to attempt to draw near to someone else. God has promised not to "back off." He is always ready to respond appropriately to us with His love and grace.

As we draw near to Him and allow Him to draw near to us, a marvelous thing takes place. Jesus refers to this phenomenon as "abiding" in Him and He in us (Joh_15:4-5). As we are possessed more and more by Christ Himself, His character increasingly supplants ours. We become more and more like Him. As we die to self and are filled with the Holy Spirit, the "fruit" of the Spirit flows from our lives. We become more and more like Jesus—including becoming more and more humble. His humility becomes ours.

The third step we are to take is to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord (Jas_4:10). The steps are clear. If we are to be humble, we must begin by emptying ourselves of self and sin by resisting the devil. Next, that emptiness must be filled by the Holy Spirit as we draw near to God and we allow Him to draw near to us and to fill us to overflowing with Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Only then can we accomplish the admonishment of James to humble ourselves. We cannot do so in our own strength. It is impossible for us to humble ourselves by our own cleverness or ingenuity. We need the power of God Himself.

A person who is truly humble is a person who has turned from sin and the devil and is walking with God. Authentic humility comes from God. A humble person is one who has seen himself as he really is in the sight of God, has repented of his sin, and is following Jesus as his Lord.

The promise to such a person is also clear. As we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, "He will lift you up" (Jas_4:10). It is never God's desire to "put you down." It is sin that leads us down to death and destruction. The Lord delights in lifting you up. Indeed, he who humbles himself will be exalted.

James 4:13-17

How to Plan for the Future

James gives us very practical advice regarding how to plan for the future. However, before sharing that counsel, he considers three specific sins which would prevent us from planning for the future according to God's will.

The sin of presumption (Jas_4:13-15). The sin of presumption is an arrogant display of pride. James warns about this sin within a context very familiar to his readers. He uses the analogy of a Jewish merchant who makes his plans to go to another city, spends a year there by buying and selling, and then returns home with a profit.

This merchant presumes that his plans are his to make, and that God has nothing to say about it. He plans, and it is done. Solomon warned about such presumption as he shared the proverb, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Pro_27:1).

We tend to forget that we are mere human beings who are finite. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Only God has that ability. He alone is infinite and all-knowing.

James tells us not to be presumptuous about our plans, but we should also not be presumptuous about life itself. Life is like a vapor or mist which appears for awhile and then vanishes away (Jas_4:14). Our lives are not in our hands. They are in God's hands.

Jesus reminded us of this important truth as he presented a graphic parable of a rich man who was so wealthy that his barns were filled to overflowing. He said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods." But the Lord said, "You fool! This night your soul will be required of you" (Luk_12:15-21).

It is presumptuous to think that we can live and plan without God. Presumption denies who we are, who God is, and how much we need God day by day. Indeed, life is a gift of God which comes by His love and mercy.

The sin of boasting (Jas_4:16). The second sin about which James warns us is the sin of boasting. The Greek word for boasting is alazoneı́a which finds its roots in the characteristic of a wandering quack which was not unlike the medicine man of the frontier days in America. This quack offered cures which were not cures; he boasted of things which he was unable to do.

That provides a graphic description for the sin of boasting. This sin is based upon the invalid assumption that we are able to control our own destiny; that we have the power to determine the course of our own lives.

Interestingly enough, the word "boasting" appears just two times in the New Testament—in this James passage and in 1Jn_2:16 where it is translated "pride of life." James says that this boasting is evil. This is the same word for evil, ponērós, which is used in the prayer which the Lord taught His disciples in saying, "deliver us from evil" (Mat_6:13). And it is the same word that James uses in warning us about becoming "judges with evil thoughts" (Jas_2:4).

The sin of omission (Jas_4:17). Finally, James warns against the sin of omission when he writes, "To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (Jas_4:17). Without a doubt, this is a most difficult form of sin with which to deal.

Sin is missing the mark by not only doing wrong, but by failing to do what is right. Again, James is urging us to be "doers." To know what is right and then not to do it is a form of disobedience. The Lord gives us a commandment, and we either ignore it or simply fail to do it.

Jesus shared a prime example of such a person in His parable of the talents. Two of the men who received talents from their master invested them wisely and received great reward from their master who was well-pleased. However, one of the men buried his talent and simply returned to the master what he had received. With him, the master was exceedingly displeased and punished him harshly (Mat_25:14-30).

The man had sinned against his master and against himself. In fact, this is one of the great sins of contemporary Christians within our society. God has given us so much, and we often do so little with it. We miss the mark repeatedly because we fail to do what the Lord is calling us to do.

After identifying the three specific sins, in verse Jas_4:15 James shares with us a practical formula which we should use in making our plans for the future. This simple and important formula contains one basic contention, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."

Instead of presuming or boasting or missing the mark by failing to do God's will, we should commit ourselves to the Lord and to doing His will. Our planning is based upon the conviction that our lives and our future are not in our own hands but in the Lord's! We need a dual sensitivity to the world around us and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The phrase the apostle Paul shared, "If the Lord will permit" (1Co_16:7) was more than literary style—it was the conviction of his life. And so it should be the conviction of our lives. The great Latin phrase, Deo volente (God willing), should become the motto of our lives. We should live with utter dependence upon the sovereign will of God. Our lives are His, and the future is His.

Several years ago, a Presbyterian pastor friend of mine died very suddenly in the prime of his life. As I phoned his wife long distance to express our sympathy and love for her, she shared a wonderful story. At that time of deep grief, she was finding her greatest source of comfort to be coming from the words of a poem which her husband had written shortly before his unexpected death. The title of that poem, which was its major theme, is a wonderful commentary on this passage of James and upon authentic godly planning for the future. "Whate'er my God ordains is right! I trust Him utterly!"

Conference Call Instructions

Bible Study Conference Call

Welcome, to the Oak Grove Baptist Church Weekly Bible Study Conference Call.

You can join the conference by dialing: (404) 891-6338 after prompted enter the conference ID# (which is the church telephone number) (770)775-4749. When prompted give your name and remain on the line for the conference to begin. The conference will begin when the host joins the conference and when two or more participants are online, please be patient while listening to the music.