Misuse of Speech in Quarrels and Slander – James 4:1-12

In our last section, James 3:13-18, we looked at the wisdom from above and the wisdom from below, where James contrasted wise living with false boasting and selfish ambition. As we turn the page to chapter 4, James continues giving direction to the church as he addresses some apparent conflicts in the churches and communities to which he writes. James uses harsh language in the first five verses of chapter 4. After asking the rhetorical question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James diagnoses their problem as originating from their pleasures. They are putting themselves above others and quarreling and fighting, as they do. They are befriending the world and in the process becoming enemies of God. This first section ends with verse 5 which can be a difficult verse to translate, but seems to utilize Old Testament language to speak of the Holy Spirit within, and God’s jealousy in the face of their spiritual adultery. As our jealous Husband, God desires that His people to be in a right relationship with Him. This is possibly an allusion to the imagery of book of the prophet Hosea.

In the second section, verses 6-10, James points God’s people toward humility and repentance. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James starts off this section announcing that God bestows grace to the humble; and then he exhorts the church with a string of commands (underlined below) in verses 7-10 showing how this is to be done: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lamentand mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. The text tells us that these are the paths to personal humiliation before God and exaltation in God’s presence.

In the third portion of the text, verses 11-12, James concludes the whole larger section which began back in chapter 3:1-12 with the taming the tongue. Here now James is transitioning into the next section by looking back, but also by looking ahead to the matter of God’s judgment on the wicked.

These verses obviously address some unidentified specific conflicts in the early church to whom James writes. Recalling Paul’s words to Timothy that, All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16), we can be assured that there is much for our church today to learn from this section of James’ epistle. It teaches us how to avoid quarrels and slander in our midst, as we act humbly toward one another, particularly in our manner of speech. So we may anticipate that this text will be profitable to our church as we meet this Sunday. Please pray for the service and come expecting that God will speak to you through His Word.

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