James 4: Deep Repentance

An intervention can be an unforgettable experience. Friends and family members come together to confront lovingly an individual who needs drastic change, often because of addiction. Loved ones seek to wake someone up to the desperate reality of the situation. The idea is that an entire group is much more difficult to ignore.

James 4 is, in some ways, like an intervention. James gives some of the most severe commands in the New Testament. Professing Christians should wail, mourn, and weep as they turn their laughter into gloom (4:9-10). Why this barrage of warnings? Just like the quiet presence of numerous loved ones can wake someone up to the dire reality of his situation, the loud presence of these loving commands can wake us up to the desperate reality of our situation if we have become complacently addicted to our sin.

At first glance, the chapter seems disjointed. James initially addresses quarreling, fighting, and bickering in the church (4:1-3). These arise, he says, from a devotion to earthly pleasures (4:1, 3 — sometimes translated as “passions” or “lusts”). James then discusses worldliness and humility before the 10 or 11 stern commands begin in 4:7 (one command is implied). He then addresses the danger of a hypercritical spirit among Christians (4:11-12) before discussing the topic of financial overconfidence (4:13-17). What do these topics have to do with each other? Is this passage just a random list of sins to avoid?

One clue to the theme of the chapter is the conclusion of Chapter 3, where James says that true wisdom produces meekness (3:13). Meekness, sometimes translated as “gentleness,” is a consistent refusal to be obsessed with oneself. Chapter 4 provides a picture of what happens when people aren’t meek. Church members fight because they care more about their earthly pleasures than each other. Worldliness, moreover, is spiritual adultery that arises from arrogance (4:4-6). People who are obsessed with themselves are hypercritical of others and, therefore, disregard God’s command to love one’s neighbor (4:11-12). Those who are smug
make financial plans with no reference to God’s will (4:13-17).

Devotion to pleasure, arrogance, self-obsession, and smugness — the theme of the chapter is pride. When church members see themselves as more important than others, they fight, criticize, and devote themselves to a world in which mammon becomes their god. If we’ve slid into these life habits, there appears to be no good outcome — unless we repent deeply and truly turn from our sins, our double-mindedness, and our self-importance.

In light of James 4, here are two questions. First, have you ever wept over your own sin? Think of David, Peter, or the prodigal son. They messed up, and they all mourned over their sin. If you’ve grieved over your own sin, you’ll be less likely to fight with or criticize brothers and sisters. You’ll be less likely to prioritize financial prospects over the will of God. Second, have you taken comfort in the forgiveness of God? Verses 7, 8, and 10 provide rich promises for those who submit to God: The devil will flee. God will come to us and lift us up. These rich promises apply to those who repent.

James doesn’t explicitly mention the Lord Jesus in this passage, but the cross of Christ is the reason Christians who have begun to be the type of people who fight, criticize, and embrace the world can, through deep repentance, experience God’s presence again.

This entry was posted in .