Daily Devotional

October 26, 2019

Daybreak: James 4:1-17

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

My dad was quite a storyteller, and he often told his children and grandchildren about a hard time he went through during his military service in World War II. Early in the summer of 1944, while stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in Arizona, he received a letter from Mom (his sweetheart at the time) which made him think she was breaking off their relationship. In later years, Mom’s remarks about that letter made me think she was really just trying to nudge him into officially proposing . . . but whatever her intent, Dad concluded that his courtship of several years had to end. 

Far away from home, and already facing an uncertain future because of the war, that was a devastating blow. In his words, he “hit bottom” emotionally. Dad was a Christian — he had given his life to God when he was eleven years old — so he instinctively turned to his Heavenly Father for comfort and guidance. He went out to a dry drainage ditch that ran alongside a runway on the base, and there he prayed. However, he was not alone with God; he also wrestled with the enemy of his soul. As he sought the Lord, Satan taunted him, “You’re at the bottom. You might as well give up serving God.” Resisting that assault with everything in him, he told the devil, “If I’m at the bottom, then the only way from here is up. And I’m coming up fighting!”

Thankfully, my dad’s story has a happy ending. A few weeks later, he came home on furlough while camp meeting was in progress. He invited Mom for a date at Laurelhurst Park in southeast Portland, and as they sat beside the small lake in the middle of that park, he proposed to her. She said yes! They were married a few days after camp meeting — with time for a four-day honeymoon before he had to report back at his military base. 

My father’s story teaches a vital lesson: Don’t listen when the devil says to give up! In time of trial, the enemy will try any strategy to persuade us that our situation is hopeless. However, if we submit to God by placing our lives under His authority and committing ourselves to Him, and then resist the enemy of our souls when he attacks, we are guaranteed victory. According to our focus verse in James, the devil will flee from us.

James’ readers were familiar with spiritual conflict. They were the “scattered abroad” throughout the Roman world by persecution, and many of them were poor and oppressed (see James 2:6). What an encouragement to their faith James’ words must have been in that difficult time!

Are you engaged in a spiritual battle today? Is the enemy of your soul on the attack? If you have submitted your life to God, He will fight for you and the devil will flee. Submit to God and hold on in faith! With God’s help, you can withstand any assault and come through victorious. 

Background

Chapter 4 of James addresses the remedy for the carnal nature — a nature that manifests itself in unholy behaviors such as strife, wrong desires, worldliness, and disunity.

In verses 1-10, the Apostle confronted church members, asserting that their quarrels — the “wars and fightings” mentioned in verse 1 — were due to internal warfare that was rooted in carnality. “Lusts” in verse 1 could be translated “strong desires” and referred to their desire for personal gratification. 

In verse 2, James’ use of forceful words such as “kill” (expressing the inward attitude of the heart rather than literal murder), “fight,” and “war” were meant to arrest attention, and stressed the seriousness of their attitudes. It is noteworthy that James was more troubled by a selfish spirit and the bitterness of quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of behavior. Asking “amiss” in verse 3 referred to asking with the wrong motives. Selfish, jealous, and contentious attitudes result in prayers being unanswered. 

In verse 4, James’ reference to these individuals as “adulterers and adulteresses” was a figurative reference to their faithless and disloyal behavior in ignoring God and opposing His will, rather than an allusion to sexual misconduct. Jesus made a similar comment in Matthew 12:39 when He condemned the people of His day as an “adulterous generation.”

Verses 5-10 present the remedy for sin and carnality — Christ-like living through submission to God. In a series of imperatives or commands, James urged these believers to “submit” themselves to (or literally place themselves under) the authority of God. Then they were to “resist” the devil, “draw nigh” to God, “cleanse” their hands, “purify” their hearts (implying observable actions), “be afflicted…mourn…weep” (to show remorse and repentance for their past unfaithfulness), and “humble” themselves. Fully yielding oneself to God is required for each of these actions. 

Bible scholars agree that the words “the Scripture saith” in verse 5 were not a reference to a specific passage, but to general Old Testament teaching that the natural man is ruled by selfish emotions and desires. Since the natural man is inclined towards envy, and envy leads to “wars and fighting,” James’ reference is a link between his prior corrections and the coming exhortations. To substantiate his point, in verse 6, James quoted Proverbs 3:34, reminding his readers that God is able to provide greater supporting grace to those who submit to Him. 

In verse 8, James’ sharp address of the recipients of his epistle as “sinners” and “double minded” no doubt was intended to penetrate their consciences and spur them to come to God for cleansing.

Verses 11-12 further address the subject of conflicts between believers. James’ emphasis on the words “brother” and “brethren” — used three times in verse 11 alone — reveals the importance he placed upon Christian unity. His point was that when a person slanders, judges, or criticizes another Christian, he is setting himself above the law that God has established.

Verses 13-17 are an exhortation to trust God in making future plans. The exclamation “Go to now” in verse 13 was a colloquial expression comparable to our “Come now.” The comparison of life to a fleeting vapor (verse 14) was intended to stimulate carnally minded individuals to assess their priorities in light of eternity. The accusation that “ye rejoice in your boastings” pointed out that one who brags about future plans while failing to recognize God’s sovereignty is not only foolish, but evil. The chapter concludes in verse 17 with a challenge for believers to live according to what they know in the Lord.

Amplified Outline

(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)

IX.    Faith and conflicts (4:1-17)
    A.    Conflict with the flesh (4:1-10)
        1.    The problem: subjection to the world (4:1-4)
            a.    The source of conflicts (4:1)
            b.    The fruit of subjection (4:2-3)
            c.    The error of subjection (4:4)
        2.    The solution: subjection to God (4:5-10)
            a.    The exhortation of Scripture (4:5-6)
            b.    The instruction of the Apostle (4:7-10)
    B.    Conflict with fellow Christians: the command and reason (4:11-12)
    C.    Conflict with unspiritual thinking (4:13-17)
        1.    The attitude (4:13)
        2.    The fallacy (4:14)
        3.    The alternative (4:15)
        4.    The error (4:16)
        5.    The conclusion (4:17)

A Closer Look

  1. What did James liken our lives to in verse 14? 

  2. What are some of the specific indicators of carnality James alluded to in this chapter? 

  3. What do you think is meant by the instruction in verse 8 to “Draw nigh to God”? What are some ways we can do this?

  4. How can an assault by the enemy of our souls contribute to our growth as disciples of Christ?
     

Conclusion

When we submit to God and are living holy lives before Him, He will help us win the victory in every confrontation with our spiritual enemy.

Reference Materials