“’God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.’
So submit to God. But resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”
James 4:6b-8a (NET)
My family includes a number of graduates of Texas A&M University; my father, my daughter, my son, a brother-in-law, and a nephew and his wife all went to school there. Those of you from Texas probably know first-hand of the fierce loyalty that A&M elicits from its students and graduates. Being the child of an Aggie, I grew up singing the fight song and pulling for the then-always-losing football team. My Aggie loyalty is fierce, although I never went to school there.
As I write this in December 2006, we are looking forward to watching the Aggie football team play Cal in a bowl game. My daughter received her MBA from Cal so we wondered where her loyalties would lie in the game, but her allegiance to A&M is too overwhelming. When she had to make a choice, she had to choose the Aggies!
God calls us to total loyalty and complete allegiance to Him. We should look a bit like the Aggie fans—unquestionably loyal! No other love should compete with that love to God!
1. James’ tone here is very harsh. Contrast the term he uses to address his audience here with those you find as you scan the book. Look again at the message of 4:4-10. Why may he use harsh terminology here?
We read 4:4 literally and wonder if there is a lot of adultery going on in the churches to which James writes, but the rest of the verse helps us see that this is spiritual adultery rather than physical adultery.
2. Look up the following verses to help you understand the biblical background for the use of this term in a spiritual sense. Write down your insights.
What does it mean to be the “world’s friend” (4:4)? Keddie has a great explanation:
“Friendship with the world,” then, is when these inner desires and motives are in harmony with those of the world that does not know and does not want to know God. It is when we seek what the world seeks, when we want the riches that fade away, when we hunger for the praise of men that God says is a snare, when we much prefer the pleasures of ‘the old man with his affections and lusts’ to the righteousness of Christ—it is then that we know we are friends with the world and would rather not be distracted or interfered with by the God of the Bible.27
3. Now, explain James 4:4 in your own words as if you were explaining it to a friend who is confused.
4. Read these verses and write down how Israel’s adultery in the Old Testament times made God feel, knowing He must feel the same way when His New Testament people are not loyal to Him.
a. Jer. 2:11-13
b. Mt. 23:37-39
Because James 4:5 is a very difficult verse in Greek, it has been translated in varying ways. Moo helps us understand the two major ways of understanding this verse: “1. James is referring to God’s jealousy for his people: ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’ (NRSV). 2. James is referring to the human tendency to be envious; the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely (NIV).”28
As you can see, these are two very different ideas. Read each with the first part of James 4:6. In the first idea, the greater grace is the ability that God gives us to overcome sin. If the second is correct, James is saying that God’s grace is sufficient to help us remain loyal to God alone.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Read any commentaries or study notes in a study Bible for further insight into James 4:5-6. Write down your thoughts about which translation you tend to accept based on the context.
5. Responding to God: Spend time with God asking Him to show you any disloyalty toward Him in your life. Are you the “world’s friend” in any way? Reread Keddie’s explanation on the previous page. Spend time before God just listening to what He says. Confess your disloyalty before Him and consider how you have made Him feel. Thank Him for His greater grace. Write down what He says to you.
6. Sharing Question: Share one thing with your small group that God showed you in your time with Him. Write down something that you intend to change because of it.
Read James 4:4-10.
1. According to 4:6, what kind of person is able to receive that greater grace of God? What descriptions of that kind of person do you see in vv. 7-10?
2. How does humility relate to the friendship with the world (v. 4) that commits adultery against God?
Stronger Jeans (optional): Go back and scan James and consider how humility relates to the other descriptions of faith in the true believer.
3. How do the following verses compare with James’ message in this part of his letter?
4. Sharing Question: Share about a time when you humbled yourself before God and received His grace for your situation, even if He didn’t deliver you from the consequences. What enabled you to recognize the pride in your heart?
5. Responding to God: Thank God for His grace and for His willing desire to give it freely to you when you humble yourself before Him. Is there a situation in your life right now where you need to humble yourself and accept His will and His wisdom rather than your own? Talk to Him about it and write down your thoughts in the form of a prayer or poem.
Read James 4:4-10.
Moo says that “to submit to God” means to place ourselves under his lordship and therefore to commit ourselves to obey him in all things.”29
1. Compare 1 Peter 5:5-9 with this passage and write down your insights.
James 4:4-10 is a call for repentance from God’s people (meaning us) who have allowed the world to encroach upon their loyalty to God.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Study the term repentance. Look up both Old Testament and New Testament verses to see how they use the word.
2. How does Isa. 57:15 encourage you to humble yourself and repent of anything in your life that fails to put God first?
3. Sharing Question: Is there any area of your life where you are resisting God’s lordship rather than resisting the devil? What one practical thing can you do to help reverse that? It may be memorizing some scriptures that relate; you may need to turn off the television or computer; perhaps, you should refuse to listen to gossip or criticism.
4. Read Ps. 51, David’s humble confession of his adultery. Reread James specific instructions for humbling yourself before God in 4:7-9. Which of these do you see David do in this psalm? How?
5. Responding to God: Use Psalm 51 as a pattern to confess whatever you wrote in question #14. Write it down below.
Read James 4:11-12.
1. How do you see these verses relate in the context of the verses that precede them?
2. What reasons does James give as to why we should not slander or speak against each other?
3. How does Mt. 7:1-5 relate to what James says here?
The NET Bible translates James 4:11 “Do not speak against one another” while the NIV uses the word “slander” and the KJV says “speak evil”.
Keddie explains that this doesn’t just refer to verbal abuse, but that it includes more:
What the law calls defamation of character and what we call smearing another’s good name, or character-assassination. It is every statement that is made with the purpose of belittling someone, or besmirching his or her reputation, and encompasses everything from out-and-out lies to veiled innuendoes, and even includes true statements when these are told only to hurt the person about whom they are made.30
4. Sharing Question: Have you ever been the brunt of that kind of speech? Without sharing the details of who said what, share with your group how it made you feel.
5. Responding to God: Write a prayer confessing any of the kinds of speaking against others that Keddie described. According to Mt. 5:21-24, you may need to go to someone and ask for forgiveness.
Read James 4:13-17.
1. Reread James 1:10-11. Compare James’ message in these two passages.
2. James is not saying that planning is wrong, but attitudes may be. What is wrong with the attitude of the person described?
3. What do you learn from Paul’s attitude in the following verses that relates to this passage in James?
4. Sharing Question: Have you ever been guilty of leaving God out of your plans? If so, what happened? How did you feel?
Moo warns us against thinking that James is telling us to focus on using specific words when we talk about the future: “James attributes no magical significance to the words themselves. ‘If the Lord wills’ can become nothing more than a glib formula without any real meaning.”31
5. What insights do you receive from Mt. 25:31-46 into James 4:17?
Stronger Jeans (optional): How does the story of the Good Samaritan relate to James 4:17? Find it with your concordance and read it. Write down your insights.
6. Sharing Question: What plans are you making for the future right now? How much time have you spent asking God for His will in the matter and searching His word for guidance? Is there anything you need to change in your attitude? Be transparent with your group and ask them for prayer about this area.
7. Responding to God: Draw a picture of you, your future, and God. Where do they all fit? Talk to God about where He is in the picture.
Val’s story relates to both last week’s lesson and this week’s lesson. Following the world’s wisdom and pride brought difficult consequences to her family, which humbled them; that opened the door for the blessing and grace of God.
My husband and I were raised in Christian homes and based our marriage on the biblical principles we were taught both at home and in church. As a young couple with babies it was natural and easy to follow those principles, keep a tight budget and prioritize our needs/wants, etc. (Things were pretty basic back then!) However, as the years progressed and my husband’s career progressed, we slowly began to listen to the insidious voices of the world telling us “you deserve this”, “treat yourself to the best”, etc. We listened to our children’s voices saying “everyone else has one”, etc. Before we realized it we were making choices to “keep up with the Jones” instead of following the principles the Bible had taught us. We knew the truth, but turned a deaf ear to it! Even though we were entrenched in church, even holding offices of leadership, we were at the same time trying to keep our children dressed in designer wear like everyone else, choosing only the top camps for them, and our vacations had to be “over the top”—not the familiar beach trip we always had loved and looked forward to each year.
We went through the motions of making investments of the financial resources God was providing and we were following the advice of a faith-based financial firm; however, we were drawn to this group by acquaintances following a prosperity-based gospel and living “well” (at the time we did not know that “well” meant living way beyond their means!) We were praying about each investment, but our hearts were not tuned in to hear God’s wisdom or will for us—we just continually asked Him to bless our choices. Things seemed really good when suddenly the bottom fell out of the market where the bulk of our investments had been made. All our plans for college money, bigger and better homes, cars, etc. were shattered in one swift change of fortune. It was a real awakening for us as we wrestled with God emotionally and He began to show us the errors of our ways and the false hopes placed in the wrong things and for the wrong reasons. We also realized how foolishly we had jeopardized God’s “best” for our family as we indulged ourselves and our children with things of the world.
We confessed our sinful ways to God and to our children, who were nearing college at the time. God was gracious and brought us together as a family committed to do our best to start again—this time under the strong guidance of God’s wisdom, not our own. Almost immediately the blessing of God began to manifest itself in unexpected ways. It was not an instant success story with a fortune dropping from the sky, but it was a daily blessing to meet our needs and help us grow in our faith each time we recognized the hand of God in our situation. With the reality that I would need to go to work full time in order to meet the college expenses, I was blessed with a good management position near home and with wonderful people. (They hired me because they were familiar with my administrative skills with an area women’s bible study group and with various positions held in church—not reasons the world would look at as “worthy” of the position.) A true blessing of God that lasted for ten years when, by my choice and God’s leading, I was able to retire from the job entirely to deal with our aging parents’ needs. It was a true blessing to be able to be there for them as they had been there for us through all our early years. (The following year that firm merged with a larger one and split in many directions—another blessing of God to save me the headaches that would have meant as a manager!)
Our children took on extra jobs while attending college, but never had to miss out on any activity of meaning to them. In fact, in some instances, because of their job positions they were able to be placed in the midst of dignitaries and future acquaintances that would prove very advantageous to future education and job prospects. Another blessing from God. Every time an unexpected expense would arise, the money would be provided in a way only God could have provided. We all were becoming more aware of God’s hand in our lives on a daily basis and we saw our faith grow measurably. We were given opportunity time after time to testify to His goodness and faithfulness to meet our needs. We all became bargain shoppers—and learned what fun it can be—and we all became better managers of God’s gifts to us. We began to invest more in God’s Kingdom work and to personally invest ourselves and our time to help the less fortunate. We had been given a lesson in priorities by God’s wisdom that we had to share with others. Life had more meaning than ever before!!
Today we see the fruits of that period in our lives and are thankful that God took a firm grip of our family and saved us from further destruction. We see our adult children making wise decisions and following after Christ in their lives and marriages. We see them instilling God’s principles in their children and making the difficult calls in guiding them along the way because they know it is what they must do to give them God’s best in the long run of life. The lies of the world are out there to entice and snatch us from the ways of wisdom and they are easy to follow if we don’t ask God daily to help us to see with His eyes what His best is for us. God is faithful and He heaps undeserved grace on us daily. Living in that knowledge is true wisdom that gives true meaning to life. We thank Him for teaching us His Truth.
27 Gordon J. Keddie, The Practical Christian: The message of James (Darlington, Eng.: Evangelical Press, 2000), 158.
28 Moo, 188.
29 Moo, 192.
30 Keddie, 166.
31 Moo, 206.