7 February 2017

James 4:1-12

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (v. 7)

Psalm: Psalm 102:1-11

The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to www.methodist.org.uk/biblemonth.


This passage begins by explaining that arguments and disputes have their roots in the heart, the cravings at war within the self (verse 1-3). It is this that leads to "disputes and conflicts" (v. 2). James' observation is similar to that of Jesus, who identifies the heart as the source of inner defilement (Matthew 15:10-20). James notes that false desires lead to prayer driven by selfishness (verse 3), rather than love of God and neighbour.

James also warns more broadly against "friendship with the world" (v. 4), a warning found also in 1 John (1 John 2:15). While the world allows each person to pursue their own wants and needs, friendship with God entails seeking the will of God above all else. While there is some uncertainty about how best to translate verse 5, the NRSV translates that God "yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell within us", probably referring to God's desire for the complete loyalty and love of God's own people. Since we belong to God, God judges those who love the world over God.

While our failure to love God wholly may lead to despair - after all, our hearts often wander - James reminds his readers that God "gives all the more grace" (v. 6). Those who humble themselves under God find that God meets them where they are, empowering them to follow Jesus. Verses 7-10 explain exactly what it means to humble oneself. It means drawing near to God, repenting of wrongdoing, and allowing oneself to be lifted up by God.

Having addressed the theme of wrongful speech in the previous chapter (link), James revisits it in verses 11-12. Believers should avoid speaking evil of each other. God, after all, is the ultimate judge, and to "speak evil" (v. 11) against a brother or sister sets one up as a judge rather than a fellow recipient of God's goodness and grace.

To Ponder

  • Do you think that James is right in his explanation of the origins of "conflicts and disputes" (v. 1)? Why?
  • What does 'friendship with the world' look like today for you, and how can you avoid it?
  • In what ways can you maintain a sense of humility before the Lord (verse 8)? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.