James 4:7–17 (NKJV)
After giving a warning about asking for the wrong things from God, or not asking for anything at all, James moves to instructions about how to overcome evil. He makes clear the need for a serious demeanor toward the temptations of the world.
7 Therefore submit to God. 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 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.James 4:7-10
James begins with a stern instruction to submit to God. Being in submission to God will help with the next assignment. He tells the reader to resist the devil, and promises victory to those who resist. His promise is that the devil will flee from the resisting believer. He further promises that if one draws near to God, that God will draw near to him or her. The remaining instructions are all a further delineation of the proper actions of a Christian who is following God in obedience. Cleanse your hands from sin, purify your hearts and have a mind with integrity, singly focused upon the Lord. Lament and mourn and weep over sin. Stop laughing and mourn over the sinfulness in the life of one’s self and others. Joy must give way to gloom. The final call of this section is to humble oneself in the sight of the Lord. When an individual is fully submitted to God, then the Lord will lift him or her up.
11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?James 4:11-12
James then moves forward in his instructions, telling the believer not to speak evil of one another. As members of the family of God, the body of Christ, the believer should not speak negatively with evil intention. The believer who judges his brother speaks evil of the law, judges the very commandments which say that one should not. If you presume to judge the law, you are not obedient to the law, but rather a judge. However, there is but one Lawgiver, able to save and to destroy human lives. How can a human being presume to love his or her neighbor and yet judge that neighbor in disobedience to the Lord?
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.James 4:13-17
17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
The final section of this passage seeks to place a sense of the sovereignty of God over time and space. He warns against planning far in advance of an event, or a business venture, or a job. No individual knows what may happen tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. As has often been quoted, “…what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” The fragility of life, the temporary nature of it, should be in view when making plans. James says that one should say that if the Lords wills we shall do this or that. Planning beyond a reasonable expectation of life length is arrogant, boasting of life that is not guaranteed. “All such boasting is evil.” James then wrote of the need to do good at all times. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This speaks to the distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is a sin committed by an individual, perhaps premeditated, and definitely intentional. A sin of omission is when someone knows to good, and simply does not do it. Christians should pray, read the Word of God, do good to others, care about the weak and poor, witness to unbelievers, etc. These things are good things, and not doing them is sin.
This passage of Scripture instructs the believer to submit to God and resist the devil. James further tells believers not to speak evil of a brother, and then reminds the believer of the frailty of life and the need to submit even the few days we live on this earth to the will of God. This instruction helps the believer frame his or her life in a way that will fulfill the will of God and lend the most credibility and influence to one’s witness for Christ. We should do the same as James instructed the Christians of His day. Be humble, be kind, and do the will of God, because humility wins.