The context of this James 4 passage today is clearly found in the Chapter before (remembering that chapters and verses are a later addition – to make it easier for us!)
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (4:1)
It is the “tongue”, described as a “fire” (3:6). Also those who “harbour bitter envy” and “selfish ambition” (3:14).
I can imagine when James asks the question, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (3:13), he is thinking that there is no-one who is “wise and understanding” because all he can see is “disorder and every evil practice” (3:16)
And so we get to Chapter 4 and James asks the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it…you kill…covet…quarrel…fight…do not ask God…ask with wrong motives…spend what you get on your pleasures.” (vs.1-3)
James goes on…calls them “adulterous people” (v.4). He accuses them of being an “enemy of God”, due to their “friendship with the world”(v.4).
These are terrible accusations. Imagine what a hard time we would give our leaders if they stood up and made these accusations against us!
But, isn’t there some truth in all this for us? I will ask that again in another way…are we not guilty (to some degree at least) of these very things? We might not kill, but we hate, especially when we are opposed, spoken to or our desires blocked….we covet what others have….we quarrel with others…fight…we do not ask God, and when we do it is often with wrong motives… we spend what we get on our own pleasures – before we think of others or of God.
Where is the hope for us in all this?
James gives us the answer. He says (to these very same people he has been addressing) “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…purify your hearts…grieve, mourn and wail…humble yourselves before the the Lord”
What about Ezekiel 32? Did you get through all that? God’s judgment on Egypt. We are reminded that evil forces are being overcome. One day God will overcome all evil, making the world as He initially intended. We are also reminded that God is sovereign over the world. Even the greatest leaders, like Pharaoh will bow before God.
The last word….”Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up”(v.10)