The Pulpit Commentary

James 4:1-12 (James 4:1-12)

REBUKE OF QUARRELS ARISING FROM PRIDE AND GREED . A terribly sadden transition from the "peace" with which James 3:1-18 . closed.

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James 4:1 (James 4:1)

Whence wars and whence fightings among you? The second "whence" ( πόθεν ) is omitted in the Received Text, after K, L, Syriac, and Vulgate; but it is supported by א , A, B, C, the Coptic, and Old Latin. Wars … fightings ( πόλεμοι μάχαι ). To what is the reference? ΄άχαι occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in 2 Corinthians 7:5 , "Without were fightings, within were fears;" and 2 Timothy 2:23 ; Titus 3:9 , in both of which passages it refers to disputes and questions. It is easy, therefore, to give it the same meaning here. πόλμοι , elsewhere in the New Testament, as in the LXX ., is always used of actual warfare. In behalf of its secondary meaning, "contention," Grimm ('Lexicon of New Testament Greek') appeals to Sophocles, 'Electra,' 1. 219, and Plato, 'Phaed.,' p. 66, c. But it is better justified by Clement of Rome, § 46., ινα τί ἔρεις καὶ θυμοὶ καὶ διχοστσασίαι καὶ σχίσματα πόλεμος τε ἐν ὑῖν —a passage which has almost the nature of a commentary upon St. James ' s language. There is then no need to seek an explanation of the passage in the outbreaks and insurrections which were so painfully common among the Jews. Lusts ( ἡδονῶν ); R.V., "pleasures." "An unusual sense of ἡδοναί , hardly distinguishable from ἐπιθυμίαι , in fact taken up by ἐπιθυμεῖτε " (Alford). With the expression, "that war in your members," comp. 1 Peter 2:11 , " Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul."

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James 4:1 (James 4:1)

The origin of strife sad conflict to be sought in selfish lust.

Our "members" are the field of battle in which, or rather the instruments with which, the conflict is fought; and all the while they are really warring against the soul ( 1 Peter 2:11 ). The conflict, therefore, is a suicidal one.

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James 4:1-3 (James 4:1-3)

Wars and fightings.

Gazing upon the fair portraiture of the heavenly wisdom with which James 3:1-18 . closes, we perhaps feel as if we could make tabernacles for ourselves in its peaceful presence, that we might continue always to contemplate its beauty. Immediately, however, James brings us down again from the holy mount into the quarrelsome and murderous world. He points us to the "wars" and "fightings" that rage throughout the human family. He returns to the " bitter jealousy and faction" that eat like a gangrene into the heart of the Christian Church. For the congregations which the apostles themselves formed were tainted with the same impurities which cling to the Church in our own time.

I. THE PREVALENCE OF STRIFE AMONG CHRISTIANS . (Verse 1) In the believing communities of" the Dispersion" there were many elements of discord. The time was one of political agitation and of social turbulence. Within the Churches there were sometimes bitter theological disputes ( James 3:1-18 ). And in private life these Jewish Christians were largely giving themselves up to the besetting sin, not only of Hebrew nature, but of human nature; they struggled for material self-aggrandizement, and in doing so fell into violent mutual conflict. But do not quarrels and controversies of the same kind rage still? Christian nations go to war with one another. Employers and workmen array themselves against each other in hostile camps. Churches cherish within their bosoms the viper of sectarianism. Fellow-believers belonging to the same congregation cease to be on speaking terms with one another, and perhaps indulge in mutual backbiting. How sad to contemplate the long "wars" waged in hearts which should love as brethren, and to witness those outward "fightings" which are their inevitable outcome!

II. THE ORIGIN OF STRIFE . (Verses 1, 2) "Whence" comes it? asks James; and he appeals in his answer to the consciences of his readers. The source of strife is in the evil desires of the heart. Usually, it is true, all wars and fightings are traced no further than to some outward cause. One nation attacks another professedly to maintain the country's honor, or perhaps to rectify an unscientific frontier. Trade strikes and locks-out are to be explained by an unsatisfactory condition of the labor market. Ecclesiastical contentions are all alike justified by some assumed necessity in the interests of truth, and sometimes also by a misinterpretation of the words, "first pure, then peaceable" ( James 3:17 ). And the personal quarrels that break out among individual Christians are sure to be ascribed to severe and gratuitous provocation. But here, true to his character as the apostle of reality, James sweeps away these excuses as so many dusty cobwebs. He drags out into the blaze of gospel light the one true origin of strife. "Wars" and " fightings " have their fountain within the soul, and not without. They come "of your pleasures," i.e. of the cravings of your carnal hearts. it is royal pride, or the lust of power, or sometimes the mischievous impatience of an idle army, that "lets slip the dogs of war" between nations. It is avarice and envy that foment the social strife between capital and labor. It is the spirit of Diotrephes that produces the evils of sectarianism. It is the wild and selfish passions of the natural heart that stir up the animosities and conflicts of private life. These passions "war in your members;" issuing from the citadel of "Mansoul," they pitch their camp in the organs of sense and action. There they not only "war against' the regenerated nature ( 1 Peter 2:11 ), and against one another, but against one's neighbor,—clamouring for gratification at the expense of his rights and his welfare. This truth is further expanded in verse 2, and in a way which recalls James 1:14 , James 1:15 ; or which suggests the analysis of sin given by Thomas a Kempis: "Primo occurrit menti simplex cogitatio; deinde fortis imaginatio; postea delectatio et motus pravus et assensio." The first stage is that of unreasonably desiring something which we have not. The second is that of murderously envying those whose possessions we covet—cherishing such feelings as David did towards Uriah the Hittite, or Ahab towards Naboth. The third stage is that of open contention and discord—"ye fight and war." But common to all the stages is the consciousness of want; and at the end of each, as James 1:2 reminds us, this consciousness becomes further intensified. Ye "have not;" "cannot obtain;" "ye have not,"—even after all your fierce strivings. The war-spirit, therefore, is generated by that unrest of the soul which only the God of peace can remove. It has its source in that devouring hunger of the heart which only the bread of God can appease. And to cure it we must ascertain what the great nature of man needs, in order to make him restful and happy.

III. THE REMEDY FOR STRIFE . ( James 1:2 , James 1:3 ) It lies in prayer. If we would have our nature restored to restfulness, we must realize our dependence upon God. To struggle after the world in our own strength will tend only to foster the war-spirit within us. Perhaps we have not hitherto directly consulted the Lord about our worldly affairs. If not, let us begin to do so now. Or perhaps we have "asked amiss," in praying chiefly for what would gratify only the lower elements of our nature, or requesting blessings with a view to certain uses of them which would not bear to be mentioned before his throne. We cannot e.g. expect God to answer the prayer that our worldly business may prosper, if we secretly resolve to employ what success he sends in catering for self glorification. The things that we ask must be what we need for the Lord's service; and we must honestly purpose so to use them. The cultivation of the true spirit of devotion is the way to contentment with our lot in life. We shall secure peace among the powers and passions of the heart, if we "seek first our Father's kingdom and his righteousness." Regular soul-converse with God will exorcise the demons of discord, and call into exercise the gracious affections of faith, submission, gratitude, and peace.


1. The wickedness of the war-spirit.

2. The defilement and degradation which result from allowing selfish motives to govern the heart.

3. The blessedness of making God our Portion, and of resting contented with our allotted share of temporal good.

4. The duty of forgiving our enemies, and of promoting peace in the Church and in society.—C.J.

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James 4:1-10 (James 4:1-10)

War or peace?

He has just been speaking of peace. But this leads him to survey the actual state of things: disputes, strifes, murders. (For condition of Jewish society at this time, see Plumptre's notes: " rife with atrocities.") And he will ascend to the origin of them. Whence come they? They proceed from the restlessness of the unregenerate nature, seeking, but seeking in vain, its satisfaction in the world. These two topics, then, are introduced to us: dissatisfaction with the world; satisfaction in God.

I. DISSATISFACTION WITH THE WORLD . Man's nature consists of higher and lower, spiritual and psychical, the one designed by God to govern and regulate the other. But without such governance the desires of the lower life are riotous and rampant, and the members of the ungoverned man are the battle-ground for base cravings. And from the man himself the battle is projected into the world.

1. But what is the result of this unbridled craving for the world? A nature that is never satisfied.

2. And what the guilt of this condition? The guilt of absolute ungodliness!

II. SATISFACTION IN GOD . But, it may be said, we are naturally so prone to sin; we covet, we envy, as being to the manner born. Yes, truly; and only God's grace can suffice. But God's grace can suffice, and it is abundantly given ( James 4:6 ).

1. Let us notice the terms upon which this grace is given.

(a) of the will—cleansing the hands and purifying the heart ( James 4:8 );

(b) of the feelings ( James 4:9 ).

2. And the results of this craving after God?

So, virtually, in the ascension of Christ; so actually by-and-by ( John 14:3 ). The same old war in the members, from the beginning until now. It must be put down by a more righteous war. A war which demands all the abounding grace of God. Let us learn, then, sternness towards sin; strong trust towards God. And so he will give the victory.—T.F.L.

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