Causes of Division.* 1Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions* that make war within your members?a 2You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. 3You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4Adulterers!* Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.b 5Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks without meaning when it says, “The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy”?* 6But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:c
“God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”*
7So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.d 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.e 9Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.f
11Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law.* If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?g
Warning against Presumption.* 13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”— 14you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.* You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.h 15Instead you should say, “If the Lord wills it,* we shall live to do this or that.” 16But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17i So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.*
* [4:1–12] The concern here is with the origin of conflicts in the Christian community. These are occasioned by love of the world, which means enmity with God (4). Further, the conflicts are bound up with failure to pray properly (cf. Mt 7:7–11; Jn 14:13; 15:7; 16:23), that is, not asking God at all or using God’s kindness only for one’s pleasure (Jas 4:2–3). In contrast, the proper dispositions are submission to God, repentance, humility, and resistance to evil (Jas 4:7–10).
* [4:1–3] Passions: the Greek word here (literally, “pleasures”) does not indicate that pleasure is evil. Rather, as the text points out (Jas 4:2–3), it is the manner in which one deals with needs and desires that determines good or bad. The motivation for any action can be wrong, especially if one does not pray properly but seeks only selfish enjoyment (Jas 4:3).
* [4:4] Adulterers: a common biblical image for the covenant between God and his people is the marriage bond. In this image, breaking the covenant with God is likened to the unfaithfulness of adultery.
* [4:5] The meaning of this saying is difficult because the author of James cites, probably from memory, a passage that is not in any extant manuscript of the Bible. Other translations of the text with a completely different meaning are possible: “The Spirit that he (God) made to dwell in us yearns (for us) jealously,” or, “He (God) yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” If this last translation is correct, the author perhaps had in mind an apocryphal religious text that echoes the idea that God is zealous for his creatures; cf. Ex 20:5; Dt 4:24; Zec 8:2.
* [4:6] The point of this whole argument is that God wants the happiness of all, but that selfishness and pride can make that impossible. We must work with him in humility (Jas 4:10).
* [4:11] Slander of a fellow Christian does not break just one commandment but makes mockery of the authority of law in general and therefore of God.
* [4:13–17] The uncertainty of life (Jas 4:14), its complete dependence on God, and the necessity of submitting to God’s will (Jas 4:15) all help one know and do what is right (Jas 4:17). To disregard this is to live in pride and arrogance (Jas 4:16); failure to do what is right is a sin (Jas 4:17).
* [4:14] Some important Greek manuscripts here have, “You who have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Why, what is your life?”
* [4:15] If the Lord wills it: often in piety referred to as the “conditio Jacobaea,” the condition James says we should employ to qualify all our plans.
* [4:17] It is a sin: those who live arrogantly, forgetting the contingency of life and our dependence on God (Jas 4:13–16), are guilty of sin.
b. [4:4] Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13; Rom 8:7; 1 Jn 2:15–16.
c. [4:6] Jb 22:29; Prv 3:34; Mt 23:12; 1 Pt 5:5.
f. [4:10] Jb 5:11; Mt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pt 5:6.
g. [4:12] Mt 7:1; Rom 2:1; 14:4.
h. [4:14] Prv 27:1 / Ps 39:6–7.