Monday, January 28, 2013

James 4:1-10 - A Plea for Purity


James 4:1-10 - A Plea for Purity

The epistle of James could be considered NT wisdom literature. Like the OT book of proverbs, it is filled with pithy practical statements, which can prove invaluable for those seeking to practice “pure religion” (1:27). Addressed to a Jewish audience, James reflects a Hebraic outlook – including heavy reliance on OT Scripture. One could easily imagine James writing with the Hebrew Scriptures in one hand and a pen in the other. Yet, this epistle is perhaps the most catholic of all the NT letters. 
Structure can be difficult to discern in this epistle. In fact, at times there seems to be no connection between adjoining units of thought. Practical godliness may be the one unifying theme. This epistle is not about theology proper. It is about theology incarnated.     
Presupposed
            I come to this text with a number of what I believe to be helpful presuppositions. Most importantly, I believe that the God who is Truth inspired all Scripture. I also believe the epistle of James to be Scripture. Therefore, I believe that the entire epistle of James is a true and authoritative word from God.
            I believe that language is one of God’s good gifts to us. Though He does use other means of revelation, our Lord has chosen reveal the particulars of His will through words. If God has spoken to us in Scripture in an intelligible way, all meanings cannot inhere within the text. I do believe that He has spoken to us meaningfully. I am optimistic concerning the understandability of the epistle.

            I come to this text as a believer. I am prepared to “be a doer” of these words. From within an obedient love relationship with God, I expect to understand His expectations as revealed in Bible doctrines (John 7:17; 1 Cor 2:9-16). Only within such a relationship can Scripture be understood as it ought to be understood (Zimmerman, 97-107).
Author/Text/Reader
The traditional view (beginning with Origen) is that this epistle was written by James, the brother of our Lord. Tradition (Josephus and Eusebius amongst the witnesses) also holds that he ultimately died a martyr’s death. If tradition is correct in this instance, we can conclude that the epistle was written prior to A.D. 62, when, according to Josephus, James was martyred (EBC, 162). James, the brother of our Lord, was raised in a godly Hebrew family in the town of Nazareth. There is much contention about exactly which of his phrases are Hebraisms. It is agreed, however, that he makes use of them. Apparently, he was quite familiar with both the Greek and Hebrew versions of the OT Scriptures (Adamson, 18-19). James’ pastoral passion shines throughout the epistle. He wants to see his readers put the “royal law” into action.
The vocabulary of this epistle consists of 570 words. Of these, 73 occur only here. It is believed that at least ten words of the letter were first coined by James himself. This text expects action. Within 108 verses are found over 50 imperatives (Adamson, 18-19).
The epistle assumes a Christian audience well-versed in the OT Scriptures. Shared theological understanding is largely assumed. Readers will be confounded by much of what James says if they do not bring these theological concepts with them to the text. The epistle is not introducing new concepts as much as it is challenging readers to obey what they already know. Right action is emphasized as a higher priority than right belief (2:19).
Literary Form
            James is considered epistolary literature. It is much more a general religious tract than are most of the NT letters. Its lack of unified argument and assortment of ethical admonitions make it look less like a letter than a sermon. Dibelius considered James to be a collection of homilies. And Luther went so far as to say that James guilty of ‘throwing things together…chaotically.’ Others, such as Adamson and P. B. Davids, have seen much more unity in the book (Moo, 38-40).
Though the entire NT is occasional, James is less occasional than perhaps any other NT book. It does not appear to be written to correct specific situations. It includes no personal greetings. And it ends abruptly, with no farewell.
Finally, the imagery of the book deserves mention. This epistle is filled with pictures – the rolling sea, flowering grass, a vapor, wars, a ship, a woman giving birth to sin, a mirror, a horse, wild animals, springs of water, a farmer, businessmen, people without food or cloths, a rich man with fancy clothes and a gold ring, rusted gold and silver, and moth-eaten clothes. The concrete imagery of the book adds to its power and appeal.  
Unit of Thought Under Consideration
            The focus in this paper is James 4:1-10. This unit of thought is typical of the general atmosphere of the epistle. The entire pericope is an exhortation to practical godliness. The OT is very much in the forefront. Hebraic expressions make an appearance. As usual, the writing is very direct.
Outline of James 4:1-10
I.                    Lust
a.      Lust is the source of contention
b.      Pray for the things you want
c.       Do not pray selfishly (a reason for unanswered prayers)
II.                  Love for the World
a.      Considered spiritual adultery
b.      Can be overcome by God’s grace
                                                              i.      Be humble
                                                            ii.      Submit to Him
                                                          iii.      Resist the devil
                                                           iv.      Draw nigh to God
1.      He will draw nigh to you
                                                             v.      Cleanse your hands
                                                           vi.      Purify your hearts
                                                         vii.      Be afflicted
1.      Mourn
2.      Weep
3.      Humble yourself
Verse by Verse
             Verse 1: From whence come wars and fightings among you? It is not hard to imagine the sort of wrangling that was taking place within those ancient communities. What is the source of such strife? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? The word translated lusts is h`donw/n and refers to pleasure or enjoyment. Greek philosophers and diaspora Jews both disapproved of lives lived in pursuit of pleasure. Plato, Plutarch and Philo all considered wars to be the result of physical passions (Keener, 698). Following the example of the rabbis, James points to the physical members as the locus of the passions (Adamson, 166). These Christians failed to live harmoniously because they were living for pleasure rather than exhibiting the self-giving love exampled by our Savior.
            Verse 2: You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. James makes good use of hyperbole in this verse. Their divisions are magnified to the point of absurdity, making the imprudence and ungodliness of their strivings plain to see. Rather than seeking good gifts from the God from whom every good gift descends (1:17), these wayward believers were greedily grasping for the things they perversely desired – and yet found no satisfaction. This lack of satisfaction, as it so often does, gave way to violence (143-146, Moo).
            Verse 3: You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss that you may consume it upon your lusts. The depth of the covetousness buried within the hearts of those James addresses is a solemn warning of the extent to which sin can lead to delusion. These people were bringing their greed to God in the form of petitions. God wants us to make our requests known to Him, but, if our desires are selfish and destructive we cannot expect for Him to hear us. May the Lord preserve us from such self-deception.
            Verse 4: You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Apparently, copyists were confused by the original text which only referred to adulteresses and therefore added the masculine. However, the OT regularly refers to Israel as an unfaithful wife to God (e.g. Hos. 1-3) – explaining James’ use of the feminine alone. Adulteresses without the accompanying masculine counterpart is witnessed by Alexandrian and Western witnesses (Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek NT). According to the Expositor’s Greek Testament, “…the weight of the evidence is strongly in favor of this reading.” Regardless, the point remains the same – if you choose (boulhqh/|) to be a friend of the world (in NT generally refers to humanity in rebellion against God) you become the enemy of God.
            Verse 5: Do you think that the Scripture says in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy? This text has been called “one of the most difficult in the epistle” (EBC, 193). NT writers sometimes interweaved various OT texts to suit their contemporary purposes (Keener, 699). This may be an example of such meshing. Though this quote does not exactly correspond to any OT text, the general idea is likely that conveyed in Exodus 20:5, 34:11, etc. The God who bought us with an infinite price earnestly desires to keep our devotion.
            Verse 6: But he gives more grace. Wherefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God’s jealous devotion to us (and the demands that come with it) is not a problem since he gives us more grace. James continues to demonstrate his internalization of the OT Scriptures, quoting Proverbs 3:34. This begins a call to action that is expected to produce responses from God Himself. James’ perspective is synergistic. Charles Hodge gives this helpful insight, “Sanctification does not exclude all cooperation” but instead demands “unremitting and strenuous exertion” (Oden, 215). The cooperation expected is not apart from God’s grace. As Arminius put it, “Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without Grace.” (Olson, 144). This sort of cooperation is summarized by Paul in Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation…For it is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.” Grace does not destroy freedom. Rather, “divine grace is most truly itself when it is enabling human freedom. God is both the source and goal of human freedom” (Wainwright, 84). Since God resists the proud, it behooves us to humble ourselves and receive greater grace.
            Verse 7: Submit yourselves therefore to God. The first step in the process of cooperating with grace in order to receive more grace is to submit to God. By yielding to His will we glorify God and draw grace to ourselves. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. By submitting to God we resist the devil. Satan fell by pride and is constantly seeking to draw others away from God through pride and other folly. When the enemy sees that you are yielding to God he knows to fear the one who works in you.
            Verse 8: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. The theme of cooperation with divine grace continues. This drawing near is reminiscent of OT language referring to the activities of the priesthood (Ex. 19:22; Lev. 10:3; Ezek. 43:19; Adamson, 174). These verses do not prescribe a lazy fatalism. Earnest pursuit of God is rewarded. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Mat. 5:6). Those who seek God with all their power will find him (Jer. 29:13). Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. In the OT, priests were to wash their hands when entering the tabernacle (Ex. 30:19). Anyone responsible for the shedding of blood (even if only guilty by association) was to wash their hands (Deut. 21:6). Now those who had defiled themselves through lust, envy, fighting, and friendship with the world are called to follow suit. A divided mind is contrasted with a pure heart. It is the pure in heart who will see God (Mat. 5:8). The double-minded cannot even expect to have their prayers answered (1:5-8). This “harsh diatribe rhetoric” (Keener, 699) is employed to bring God’s people to the purity that is essential to life with a holy God.
            Verse 9: Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. These pursuers of pleasure are now called to a zealous repentance. If they will replace their gusto for sin with an equally earnest repentance, there is hope for their souls.
            Verse 10: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Orientals showed their repentant attitudes by rolling in the dust. When they felt that they had received forgiveness they would arise and cleanse themselves (Beacon, 234). This principle of humility before honor is found time and again throughout Holy Writ. Even our Lord humbled himself before He was exalted. If it was fitting for our Lord to abase Himself, how much more appropriate is it for those who have committed spiritual infidelity to humble themselves?
Conclusion
James has some hard words for us. Those who resist the temptation to reject such a pointed message will be rewarded with peace with God and neighbor. James reveals that, through specific, divinely ordained, methods, sin and strife can be overcome. Those who make use of their grace-enabled freedom to submit to God will be delivered from their oppressors and exalted in due time.






References
Adamson, James. (1976). The New International Commentary on the New Testament: James.
Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI
Burdick, Donald. (1981). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: James. Zondervan: Grand Rapids,
MI
Harper, A. F. (1967). Beacon Bible Commentary: James. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City: Kansas            City, KS
Keener, Craig. (1993). The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity
Press: Madison, WI
Moo, Douglas J. (1985). Tyndale New Testament Commentary: James. InterVarsity Press:            Downers Grove, IL
Oden, Thomas. (1992). Life In the Spirt: Systematic Theology: Volume Three. HarperCollins
Publishers: New York, NY
Olson, Roger. (2006). Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. InterVarsity Press: Downers
Grove, IL
Wainwright, Geoffrey. (1980). Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life.
Oxford University Press: New York
Zimmermann, Jens. (2004). Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian
Theory of Interpretation. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI