This article contains an exposition of James 4:1-James 5:6, as well as some discussion questions on the material.

3 pages.

James 4:1-5:6 – The Communion of Saints

Struggle of Faith🔗

Once again, we should keep in mind the theme of this epistle: the church is in the world but not of the world. The church has to wage a struggle of faith, inwardly as well as outwardly (Ephesians 6). This struggle, commanded by God, is the catalyst which unites believers.  But woe to the church, when it ceases to have as its ultimate goal the dominion of Christ's grace. If we cease to live as sojourners in accordance with the message of the Gospel, the Church will begin to look like the one James describes in chapter 4:1-6. He uses expressions such as "conflicts", "wars".

Where do these sins originate? It is a result of our various lustful desires: our love of pleasure, our love of ease, our sensuality. They produce a strong desire to escape the humiliation and hardship which accompany the struggle of faith. Our prayers are hindered; lustful desires mingle with our prayers. We become dissatisfied. The church no longer acts as the bride.

In verse 6, "proud" means adulterers. The church and its sins are labeled in the style of the Scriptures (Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 1-3; Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:24-28). Being friends of the world means to become enemies of God. Being friends of God means to become enemies of the world. God did not put enmity into the world without reason (James 1:27; John 15:18, 19; 17; 1 John 2:15-17).

Verses 5 and 6 are difficult to understand. If several translations are consulted it becomes obvious that different translations can lead to contrary ideas. For the sake of greater clarity, this is what James says: "The church lacks the perspective of Pentecost, and no longer exercises the communion of saints."  In the old dispensation, it was "Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” (Proverbs 3:34) This means even more for us today. In this dispensation the Spirit of meekness has been given us, so that the church can show the disposition of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3). Let us use our greater riches (Pentecost) with increased responsibility.

Undivided Service🔗

In verses 7-10, does James negate the beginning of his epistle (James 1:22 ff.; see outline 2)? Has he lost the firm confidence in the glorious dominion of Christ's grace? Is there a reason for gloom?  No!  He proclaims the dominion of Christ's grace with great joy, even though Satan continues to wage a fierce battle against the church.  If the church is to enjoy its only comfort, it must live in faith and obedience to its Lord and Head. We must submit to him, and to no other, even though we live in the realm of Satan. He has but a short time (Revelation 12:12). Compare the expression "draw near" in verse 8, to Exodus 19:22; Ezekiel 44:13; Isaiah 29:13; Psalm 65:4; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Zechariah 1:3; Malachi 3:5,7 and compare "cleanse", in the same verse, to Genesis 35:2; Exodus 30:18; John 17:19; 1 Timothy 2:8, and others. The Lord demands undivided service to him. Only then can we truly give of ourselves in the communion of saints. Compare "double-minded" in verse 8, to James 1:8.

The word Rules🔗

The Word of God demands the submission of the flesh to the Spirit. If this submission is missing in the church of the Lord, selfish desire will give birth to quarrels, a lack of prayer, impenitent prayers, and rebellion against those in authority (vv. 11, 12).   

James does not judge himself (cf. v. 4). He does not prohibit the use of the Word as a means of judgment in the church's struggle against sin.  In fact, this is our calling (Isaiah 5:20; Matthew 7:1-6). What does James actually forbid? He prohibits judging according to the flesh as the world does. The world does not judge the sins of the church because it has a great love and zeal for God and his law. Even though the world may present the facts correctly, this is only done in the spirit of vain glory.

When believers do not use the Word in judging fellow believers, they are also guilty of exalting themselves. We must not judge ourselves and our brothers according to our personal ideas and our own lives. Only the Word of God may rule our relationships. We can edify our brothers and sisters only if we submit to the Lord (Belgic Confession, 27).

Dependence on the Lord🔗

Boasting about ourselves, our good words, and our accomplishments is also a form of conforming to the world. This means that we live our daily life without God.

Travelling was a common activity in the ancient world of the Roman Empire (think of Paul). Some Christians had become apathetic about life, and no longer depended on God. Even though they possessed the Word of God, they did not act accordingly. James reprimands them for this shortcoming. He emphasizes that they are completely dependent on the Lord.  Life is, at best, uncertain (Proverbs 27:1). Verses 15 and 16 introduce the well-known provision of Deo Volente, or "Lord willing". Instead of self-satisfaction in our independence, we must depend on the Lord and show this in our daily conduct.

Warning to the Rich🔗

The warning to the rich (5:1-6) is reiterated with the same words ("Come now", 4:13). James directs these words to the rich members of the congregation. James does not tell the other believers to spurn or despise them, rather he calls the rich and places them under the discipline of the gospel, just as Christ did (Luke 6:24-25; 1 Timothy 6:9-10; cf. Amos 6:3-7). The ownership of property is a risky undertaking (Matthew 6:19). James emphasizes the attitude of the owners; he points out the injustice of retaining the wages of the labourer (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Job 31:38-39; cf. Psalm 146). He shows that a selfish, luxurious life is an abuse of God's gifts (James 1:17); it is a sin against God and neighbour (v. 6).

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. What can we do when unbelievers point out the sins of the church?
  2. Must we always use the phrase "Lord willing" when plans are made, for instance, announcements of meetings?   
  3. What does the Scripture teach us concerning our possessions?
  4. What are the requirements for relationships in the church?  Discuss the problems of personal relationships which have become evident in our modern life.    

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.