Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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JAMES - Chapter 4

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James 4

Supplemental Commentary:


4, 1-10:  Sources of Discord.  In a series of introductory questions St. James denounces the Christians for their contentions, envy, and moral depravity.    2.  You do not have because you do not ask: i.e., do not pray to God properly.    3.  Some Christians perhaps objected that they did present their petitions to God, but they went unanswered.  The Apostle, however, points out that they asked amiss, i.e., without proper dispositions and motives.    4.  Adulterers: the Greek reads "adulteresses."  The context shows that St. James has spiritual infidelity particularly in mind.  The figure is quite common in the Old Testament and is used of the Jews who often fell away from the worship of the one true God: God and the world are rivals, and it is impossible to serve both at the same time (cf. Isa. 57, 3-10; Ezech. 16, 15-24; Os. 2, 2-6; Matt. 6, 24; Luke 16, 13; 2 Cor. 11, 2; 1 John 2, 15).    5.  The words of this verse are not actually found in Sacred Scripture, but are the expression of several scriptural passages showing the Holy Spirit's concern for the true Christian (cf. Wisd. 11, 25; Isa. 49, 15; 66, 13; Jer. 31, 3; Zach. 2, 8; John 3, 16 f).  The context clarifies an otherwise obscure verse: in Sacred Scripture God is often described as a jealous God who will not give His glory to another (Ex. 20, 5; 34, 14).  The idea is here applied to the Holy Spirit dwelling in the soul of the Christian; the Holy Spirit loves that soul so intensely that He entertains feelings analogous to envy if another supplants Him there.    6.  Moreover, God has a greater claim because He gives a greater grace, i.e., more valuable gifts than the world or its votaries can offer.  In order to receive these more abundant graces humility is the most necessary disposition required.    7-10.  St. James concludes the section by laying down certain definite practical norms of conduct for Christians.  In this respect his admonitions especially resemble our Lord's Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 5, 1-12).

4, 11-17:  Presumption.    11.  An admonition against the sin of detraction; he who speaks against the law and judges the law, offends against the new commandment of fraternal charity (1, 19.20.26).    12.  The person who rashly judges his neighbor presumptuously usurps a prerogative of God (Matt. 7, 1; Rom. 2, 1; 14, 4).    15.  The Greek reads: "you are mist"; and, "if the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."  These two conditions should always be expressed or implied in the accomplishment of any good work.  Life is uncertain and it is foolish to make far-reaching plans (cf. Job 7, 7; Ps. 101, 4; Prov. 27, 1; Wisd. 9, 9-14; Matt. 6, 34; Luke 12, 16-21; Acts 18, 21).  St. James does not condemn the prudent foresightedness of Christians, but those practices which are contrary to Christian virtue.  Such conduct is presumptuous in so far as it disregards God's providence.    17.  The instruction is complete: hereafter if they continue to offend against any of the points in which they have been instructed, their sin will be more grievous.

Confraternity Bible:

Sources of Discord  1 Whence do wars and quarrels come among you?  Is it not from this, from your passions, which wage war in your members?  2 You covet and do not have; you kill and envy, and cannot obtain.  You quarrel and wrangle, and you do not have because you do not ask.  3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it upon your passions.  4 Adulterers, do you not know that the friendship of this world is enmity with God?  Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of this world becomes an enemy of God.  5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit which dwells in you covets unto jealousy"?  6 But he gives a greater grace.  For this reason it says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  7 Be subject therefore to God, but resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  9 Be sorrowful, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sadness.  10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Presumption  11 Brethren, do not speak against one another.  He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law.  But if thou judgest the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.  12 There is one Lawgiver and Judge, he who is able to destroy and to save.  13 But thou who judgest thy neighbor, who art thou?

Behold now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and spend a year there, and trade and make money"; 14 you who do not know what will happen tomorrow.  15 For what is your life?  It is a mist that appears for a little while, and then vanishes.  You ought rather to say, "If the Lord will," and, "If we live, we will do this or that."  16 But now you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.  17 Therefore he who knows how to do good, and does not do it, commits a sin.