James 4:7-12


Last week's text, James 3:16-4:6, informed us concerning the sins into which the hearers of this letter had fallen. They had fallen into the hands of Satan. They were envious of each other and hateful toward each other. James called them "adulteresses." That is a very strong word. They had become quite worldly and had a condescending attitude toward Scripture.

Whether the second clause in verse 5 describes the envious nature of the sinful flesh or whether it tells us how much God yearns for the souls of wayward Christians should cause us little trouble. Both are true, though we do not think that the clause has a double meaning. What is very clear is that, according to verse 6, God's promise is greater than His threat. That is evidently the meaning of "He gives greater grace." This is followed by a quotation from Proverbs 3:34, which is also found in 1 Peter 5:5.

It is the Old Testament way of saying what Jesus said on a number of occasions: "Every one who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted," Luke 18:14. And, under the guidance of the Spirit, James repeats this thought in his own words in verse 10 of our text.

The Christian's greatest burden is his own sin and sinfulness, Romans 7:14. But it is terrifying when a Christian allows this sinfulness to gain mastery over him. On the other hand, God gives more grace. Where sin abounded, there the grace of God abounds so much the more. God does not take pleasure in the death of His children. He calls them back to Himself. Like the Prodigal Son they come to their senses by the grace of God and only by that grace.

We have many instances of this phenomenon in the visible Christian Church in our times. In such cases the preacher must preach Law as if there were not Gospel. And then, when he brings his hearers to their senses, he must preach Gospel as if there were no Law. The angels rejoice over such work of the faithful pastor. May the reader of these notes be just such a faithful man!

James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

There are ten effective aorist imperatives in verses 7-10. All are plural in number. All are imperatives. All are effective aorist which denotes decisive, once-for-all action. Verses 7-10 draw a conclusion from the quotation of Proverbs 3:34.

"Submit"  is used in various ways in the Scriptures, of Jesus towards His parents, Luke 2:51; of citizens toward their government, Romans 13:1; of Christians toward their leaders, 1 Corinthians 16:16; of the youth toward the elderly, 1 Peter 5:5; of wives toward their husbands, Ephesians 5:22; and of servants toward their masters, Titus 2:9.

In our text James is speaking of repentance. The first ingredient in repentance is hearty submission to God.

Concordia Bible With Notes: Be resigned to his will, be content with the allotments of his providence, and lay aside all envious desires.

If one is truly confessing his sins he will also meet the requirements stated in the previous sentence. All of our version place a full or half stop after "God." In other words, a new, but not totally unassociated with the previous, imperative comes in the word "resist." Note that this is a form of the verb used of God toward the proud in verse 6. We know what is God's attitude toward the impenitent, proud person. Our attitude toward Satan must be very similar to that kind of attitude.

"Devil" means "accuser." We shall refer to this idea later in this text. In last week's notes we mentioned that the wisdom which is not from above is demonic, see 3:15. That kind of "wisdom "leads to strife, anarchy, lust, hatred, envy, spiritual idolatry, love for the world and hatred toward God. These are caused by the devil. James says: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." The person who truly submits to God will do just this and God promises, unconditionally, that the devil will flee.

Franzmann: The best commentary on this verse is the account of the temptation of our Lord, Matthew 4:1-11.
Kistemaker: When we obediently do God's will, Satan cannot lead us astray but must depart.

Luther aptly remarked that if we sing psalms and hymns or read Scripture, "Satan will flee from us lest he scorch his wings."

Lenski: The one act involves the other. 'to withstand' him involves an attack on his part . . . . Success is also indicated by 'he will flee from you.'
Kretzmann: It means entire denial of self.

We think of similar words found in 1 Peter 5:8-9: "Be of a sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.." We think here also of the third stanza of the Battle Hymn of the Reformation.

Jesus taught us how to resist the devil. Luther learned how to resist the devil. Paul, Ephesians 6:11, Peter, 1 Peter 5:8-9, and James, in our text, stress the necessity of the constant battle with Satan. All assure us of victory before the battle begins.

A faithful pastor equips his parishioners for this terrible battle.

Before we leave this verse, we note that in verses 7, 8 and 10, where we find imperatives followed by future indicatives, we have examples of Hebrew parataxis for Greek and English hypotaxis. This Hebraistic sentence structure amounts in English to: "If, or when, you resist the devil, he will flee from you."

James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

On the basis of what was just observed in verse 7 the opening sentence of this verse means: "If, or when, you draw near to God, He will draw near to you." Davids notes similarity of language here to that of 2 Chronicles 5:2-4; Lamentations 3:57; Hosea 12:6-7; Zechariah 1:3; Malachi 3:6. All commentaries on James note the Old Testament language of verses 6 through 10.

Kistemaker: When God calls us to come near to him, he already shows us his love and grace.
Lenski: The aorist is again decisive. . . This is said to Christians who are to flee to God by repentance and faith, who will then always find him drawing near to them in grace, pardon, protection. The devil will flee from us, God will draw near us to . . . The Parable of the Prodigal illustrates the returning to God in repentance and his drawing near to the repentant one.

When wayward children return to their parents, the love of the parents grows intense and draws the wayward children. How much more does not the Lord draw near to those who draw near to Him and say: "God be merciful to me, a sinner."

Now follow two effective, aorist imperatives, which are reminiscent of Old Testament ritual language but denote spiritual action in the New Testament. These imperatives are addressed to "sinners" and "doubled-minded." These two nouns explain each other. They denote people who want to belong to God  AND  the world.

"Cleanse the hands" denotes newness of action. To sanctify the heart denotes newness of thought and intentions.

Kretzmann: Wherever Christians still long after the flesh-pots of the world, they must be brought back to their right minds by such a loud call to loyalty.
Davids: The 'sinners' are those who act contrary to the law of God. The 'double-minded' are those who try to be committed to both good and evil, God and the world.
Kistemaker: James clearly implies that he is speaking not of being ceremonially clean but of being spiritually pure.
Lenski: 'Double-minded' is like 'adulteresses' which is used in verse 4. They have a hankering after the world.

James 4:9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

In verse 8 we had three aorist imperatives. We have another three in this verse. Davids considers them to be not only effective, but also ingressive, beginning to do that which they had not done previously. "Be miserable, feel miserable," it denotes the inner attitude of repentance.

Look at Matthew 5:4. What a wonderful promise! God afflicts us for our good. True repentance leads to temporal and eternal blessings. Look at Jesus' wonderful promise in Luke 6:21. Weeping leads to laughter. The text is speaking of weeping over sin.

"Laughter" and "joy" explain each other. They amount to godless laughter and joy, the laughter and joy of the world.

Rienecker: 'Laughter,' the word indicates the leisurely laughter of pagan gods and men in their pleasures. It is the laughter of a fool who rejects God as the One who determines reality and believes man to be an autonomous being. . . . 'Gloom,' it describes the condition of one with eyes cast down like the publican in Luke 17:13.
Bengel: This verse pictures a blessed affliction.
Davids: The inner attitude is to be matched by outward expression.
Kistemaker: Repentance means that a death has occurred in our own lives. We grieve because of sins we have committed against God and our fellow man, compare David, Psalm 6:6; Paul in Romans 7:24-25. . . Peter repented, went outside, and wept bitterly, Luke 22:60-62. Note the godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:10.
Lenski: James describes what must take place when sinning Christians return to God on their knees in true repentance.
Kretzmann: Throughout this passage a person may find many allusions to the Old Testament calls to repentance, such as were uttered by the prophets. . . . Whereas they formerly laughed in the boisterous manner of the world and with the children of this world, they should now substitute bitter lamentation.

James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Note again that we have the same construction as in verses 7 and 8, paratactic in Hebrew, or hypotactic in Greek and English, meaning: "If you humble yourselves before the Lord, He will lift you up." On the thought see Matthew 18:4; 23:12; Luke 14:11; and Philippians 2:8-9.

Concordia Bible With Notes : Instead of fighting and warring for worldly compensations, honor, and pleasure, commit yourselves quietly to God, and he will lift you up to true honor in his own time and way.
Augustine: If you ask me what is the first precept of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.

"Lord" is here very likely Jesus.

This final imperative summarizes all the others and is followed by a glorious promise.

Davids: Such true repentance will not be without results; God will give grace to the humble . . . The point is clear; all is not lost.

It is important to note this because James has just called them "adulteresses, sinners and double-minded." God is always gracious to the repentant, no matter how far they have strayed.

James 4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.

Franzmann: Turn from that refined form of murder, verse 2, the malicious word against your brother, verse 11. Turn from your quarrel with God, which is what your words against your brother come to; for when you condemn your brother, you condemn God's law, which demands of you a whole and unbroken love for your brother, verse 11. Turn in fear to Him who has power to destroy, the one Lawgiver and Judge whose office you dare not usurp, verse 12. Turn in faith and hope to Him who is able to SAVE as well as to destroy, verse 12.

Franzmann sees a definite connection between verses 11-12 and verses 1-10. Not all commentators agree on this.

"Slander" means to talk behind peoples' back, deliberately putting them down, a destructive type of talking about the neighbor. The sense here is to quit doing what one is already doing.

Remarkably enough, James calls them "brothers." There is still hope. Note Psalm 101:5. David associates slander and a lack of humility. Slander comes from a proud and arrogant spirit. In verse 7 James called the devil the "slanderer." Slander is the work of the devil. Moses associates slander with murder, Leviticus 16:19.

The remainder of verse 11 reads: "The one who slanders a brother or judges his brother slanders the Law and judges the Law. "To slander another person, especially a fellow Christian means to sit in judgment on God's Law, saying that God is wrong in calling slander a sin.

The last sentence reads: "And if you judge the Law you are not a doer of the Law but a judge of the Law. "Not only is such a person sinning by not doing what the Law says, but also is sinning by implying that the Law should not condemn slander. It implies that the Law should not protect one's neighbor. It means to make oneself superior to the Law, God's Word.

Kretzmann: The humility which is required of Christian will show itself not only in their behavior toward God, but also toward their neighbor.

Correct. The acid test of humility is the test of how we treat our fellow human beings, especially fellow Christians.

Davids: If one can judge with respect to the law one is no longer under the law, but a judge.

James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you -- who are you to judge your neighbor?

There is only "one" who is both law-giver and judge of Law. That is God. There is only "one" who reserves to Himself the prerogatives either to save or to destroy. That is God. The slanderer makes himself judge. He arrogates to himself the right to destroy. He tries to play god. Therefore, the searching question: "Who are you who judge your neighbor? "This is said of the slanderer.

By no means is James forbidding us to use the Law to show people their sins so that they might repent, nor is he forbidding us to use the Law to show forgiven sinners how to live. That is a healthful use of the Law which is in keeping with God's will.

Lenski: The one article combines the two nouns "the lawgiver and the judge." Since God is the one he is also the other. . .  "The one able to save and to destroy." These two acts establish God's position, Matthew 25:46.

The thought of this verse is similar to that of Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37 and Romans 14:4 and 13.

Kretzmann: The passage contains a warning which cannot be repeated too often.

Correct. Slander of fellow Christians is so common in the visible Christian Church that we easily become callous to this sin.

If ever a text was a call to repentance and renewal, this one is it. Dear preacher, preach this text carefully, honestly, lovingly, evangelically.


(Adapted from "Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,"
by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 76-79)

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