No bragging, judging, or cheating on God
Don’t cheat on God1 Why do you disagree with each other and get into arguments? I’ll tell you why. Isn’t it because you’re fighting with those uh-oh urges inside you? 2 You want something so much that it’s driving you crazy. But you can’t get it. So you end up killing someone over it. Or you envy someone. But you can’t have what they have. So you argue about it and get in a fight. Here’s the problem: you don’t have what you want because you don’t bother to ask for it. 3 Or you ask for something and don’t get it because you ask for the wrong reason—a reason that’s selfish and downright lustful.
4 This is spiritual adultery; you’re cheating on God. Don’t you know that when you cozy up to this world you’re doing the opposite with God? If you want to make friends with this world, you should know that you’re also making an enemy of God. 5 Do you think the Bible is joking around when it says, “God is jealous over the spirit he put in us; he wants us to stay true to him.”
6 God gives us an extra helping of kindness. the Bible says so.
“God takes a stand against the proud, but he pours out his kindness on the humble.”7 Devote yourself to God. Reject the devil and he’ll leave you. 8 Move closer to God and he’ll move closer to you. Wash the sin off your hands. Clean your life, clean your heart, and stop trying to fit into this world when you belong to another. 9 Own the misery that you feel for the sins you’ve committed. Grieve. Cry. Instead of laughing, try mourning. Instead of feeling joyful, feel the shame. 10 Present yourself to the Lord just the way you are: low down and humble. He’s going to change that for you, and give you a big boost up.
Stop judging people; it’s not your job11 Dear family, don’t badmouth each other. If you say something bad about a fellow believer or judge that person for something, you’re breaking the law and you’re passing judgment on the law. And let me tell you this, when you criticize and judge the law, you’re not someone devoted to the law. You’re just someone who grumbles about it. 12 There’s only One who gave us the law and who serves as the judge. I’m talking about the One who is able to save us or kill us. So who do you think you are, passing judgment on your neighbor?
Don’t brag; you’re not that smart13 And another thing. There are some people out there who say things like, “Today or tomorrow we’ll go to this city or that city, spend a year, do some business, and make some money.” 14 You people don’t have a clue what your life is going to be like tomorrow. You’re just a morning mist that appears for a fleeting moment and then evaporates—poof.
15 Here’s what you should say. “If the Lord is okay with it, we’re going to live our lives and do this or that.” 16 As it stands now, you’re bragging too much. That kind of arrogance is just plain wrong. 17 There you have it. The person who knows the right thing to do but doesn’t do it, that’s what you call sin.
It’s unclear where this hard-to-translate quotation came from. Exodus 20:5 is one of many verses that describes God as jealous, much like a husband would be of his wife, or the other way around.
Often translated “grace.”
The disagreements that Christians have are because of “those uh-oh urges inside” (4:1). Other Bible translations call the source of those fights: “pleasures” (New American Standard Bible); “evil desires” (New Living Translation); “selfish desires” (Contemporary English Version). What kind of desires do you think James is talking about and do you really think they are the source of arguments that Christians have?
James seems to say that when we “cozy up to this world” we are committing “spiritual adultery; you’re cheating on God” (4:4). If James is right, what are the parallels? What is it about cozying up to the world that qualifies it as cheating on God?
James said “God is jealous” (4:5). Why do people read that and think that jealousy seems unbecoming of a deity? They say that jealousy seems petty and beneath God Almighty. How would you respond to a criticism like that?
James tells his readers to stop judging each other (4:11-12). Paul told his readers to kick one of the members out of the church: “Show this man the door to his destruction” (1 Corinthians 5:5). And he told his associates, Timothy and Titus, how to select good church leaders and how to avoid the bad ones (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). So which is it, do you think? To judge or not to judge, that’s the question.
James could seem to be going overboard in the section “Don’t brag; you’re not that smart.” He tells people not to presume they are going to do something in the future. He wants them to qualify it. So if he were here today he might argue that it would be arrogant for us to say, “I’m gonna take a vacation in three months, get the boss out of my hair, and the ocean sand between my toes.” James would tell us to take God on our vacation, too. As in, “If it’s okay with the Lord, I’m gonna…” Do you think James got that right, or for those of us in the United States, is he messing with our First Amendment right of free speech?
James switches the definition of sin. We usually think of sin as doing something we know is wrong. James phrases it the opposite way: “The person who knows the right thing to do but doesn’t do it, that’s what you call sin” (4:17). Why do you think he put it that way?