What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
We human beings don’t have to learn selfishness; it’s already a part of who we are. Children quickly learn the word “mine” and know how to pull a toy from another’s hands without an example to go on. Though these self-focused behaviors are easy to spot in a toddler, if we’re honest, not much changes in adulthood. James 3:16 says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
Today’s passage gets right to the heart of love for self versus love for God. When we love only ourselves and put our own self-interests at the forefront of our lives, we are enemies of God. Friendship with God is, in part, humbling ourselves, drawing near to God, and repenting of our sin. Humility before God changes the tone of our relationships with others—from fights and quarrels to peace, from judgment and criticism to love. Are you actively choosing to humble yourself as James commands believers to do?
In chapter 3, James highlighted the good fruit of impartiality and peace. He now warns against the bad fruit of loving the world and seeking our own passions and lusts over living like Christ did.
- In verses 1–3, what are the causes of quarrels and fights?
- What does verse 3 expose about one’s motives?
- Why does James call the recipients of his letter “you adulterous people” in verse 4? (See Isaiah 57:2–3, 8.)
- What does God promise the humble (4:6, 10)?
- What are the ten commands that James gives in verses 7–10?
- What does it mean to be double-minded (4:8)?
- Who should brothers not speak evil against (4:11)? If you speak evil against a brother, what are you also speaking evil against?
- What does one become when speaking evil against a brother?
- What does this passage say about God, particularly as seen in verses 4, 6–8, 10, and 12?
- James chooses a strong word in verse 2—“murder”—regarding our response to not getting what we want. Read Matthew 5:21–22 and 1 John 3:15. How do these verses expound on what it means to murder another person in this way?
- Read Exodus 20:5. How does knowing God’s love for us and jealousy for our attention color the choice to have friendship with the world as opposed to friendship with God, as highlighted in James 4:4–5?
- In verse 4, James states that to be friends with the world is to be an enemy of God. Even so, God yearns for us as his people (4:5; see Zech. 1:14). In verse 6, what is the solution that James presents to the problem of our hearts being inclined toward the world?
- Read James 4:11. What law is spoken evil against or being judged, as seen in Matthew 22:36–40 and Romans 13:8–10? We know that the law was given both to expose our great need for God, as well as to set us free into an understanding of God’s best way to live. What freedom comes from James’ command, “Do not speak evil against one another”?
- Putting selfish desire first (i.e., hedonism) is the root of all relational problems. It is through humbly putting God and others first that we are able to have God’s peace in our relationships. What are your personal relationships like? Are there characteristics of that relationship that resemble James 4:1–3?
- Are there desires in your life that you have not been honest with God about? What are you afraid of? Why would you avoid praying about this?
- Is your heart divided between a love for the world and a love for God?
- In verses 7–10, what does each command reflect about humble life as a Christian? As you reflect on each one, does it reveal areas you struggle with?
- Is there anyone in your life that you speak evil against? What effect does judgment have on that relationship?
This devotion is adapted from the James Study Guide. Pick up a copy today for only $9.99. The Study Guide includes a 15-week curriculum, a small group study, a group inductive study, as well as 75 daily devotions for your personal or family worship.