The first step is to identify any problem (vv. 1-2). Without any hint other than complimenting the peacemakers (3:18), James directs attention to a situation that could destroy the church’s effectiveness, their reputation for harboring peace destroyers. The origin of the dissension lies within them. The wars to which the verse alludes probably are not to be taken in the literal sense of two contending armies aligned on the battlefield. Such action would be impossible in the community of Christians. The fighting alludes to the internal commotion within a person, a result of personal lusts, as given in 1 Peter 2:11, a warning against “fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” Similarly, the reference to “kill” by James could describe the internal rage of a person at another person. Jesus saw the connection between rage and murder, that one should never be “angry with his brother without a cause,” that to berate the brother is to invite the danger of “hell fire” (Matt. 5:22).
James probably alluded to another teaching of Jesus in the words that “ye have not, because ye ask not.” Jesus promised, “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find: knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7).
In dealing with conflict, we must isolate its source (vv. 3-4). Building on the thought James had injected, that the scattered Christians had not asked God, James then anticipated their retort, that they had placed their plea before God. He identified where they had gone wrong. Their prayer was not to seek God’s guidance, but to enlist God’s help in satisfying their lusts (v. 3). At this point James lapses into a scathing denunciation of their actions, calling them adulterers and, sadly, adulteresses. Their wives had added other men to the conjugal relationship. We need to put these words into context. All through the prophetic writers a common thread is woven. Israel of old, in lapsing into idolatrous practices, were abandoning the One and only true God for pitiful substitutes. In application, the Christians of the Diaspora were lapsing into the acts of the sexually oriented Greek gods and goddesses.
Unless they were diligent, James knew their down fall would be their pride (vv. 5-6). The warning given by James almost exactly parallels the same warning given by Peter who declared, “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Pt. 5:5). Both express the thought as given in Proverbs 3:34. James encourages them with the thought that the Holy Spirit guards us diligently (v. 6).
Available to all believers is the mandate of self humbling (vv. 7-10). These words reflect the teachings of Jesus who said: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11, 12). James adds one additional requirement, the necessity of resisting the devil. The criticism against being double-minded goes back to 1:8. The double-minded person stands at a divided highway, unable to choose one way or the other. The loyalty is divided. The allusion to having pure hearts is another reference to Matthew 5:8. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Though not a part of our main text, the judgmental person is condemned, as also by Jesus (Matt. 4:11, 12).
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