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James’ Program for Communion

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In James 4:1-10, we find a leader of a christian community telling its divided members to be what they are supposed to be: a community loyal to the one God. The community is divided; there are conflicts within the group. The rather strong language in v.2 suggests that even violence may have been inflicted.

The first thing that James tells the community is the source of their conflicts which he attributes to the members’ unbridled pursuit of pleasures. From this comes covetousness, violence and envy. Even prayer has become ineffectual because it has become the expression of self-seeking.

The fact that the community is mired in conflicts shows that its members have submitted to the world. When James calls them adulterers, he does so in the sense of the OT prophets who viewed Israel’s sins as a result of their idolatry, i.e., in its choosing something other than God to take God’s place in the center of its life (see especially Hosea). No one can serve two masters, the Lord has said; to love the world means being at enmity with God. To underline the idea that God will not suffer infidelity, James quotes a scriptural text which is no longer available to us. Literally it goes, “The spirit that He has made to dwell in us tends towards jealousy.” It can also be rendered as “The spirit that He has made to dwell in us wants us to love it exclusively.”

The passage actually echoes the idea that God is a jealous God (cf. Ex. 20:5, Deut. 4:24, Zech. 8:2). The phrase “The spirit that He has made to dwell in us” echoes NT passages (from Paul and John, especially) about the new situation of the Christian who has become a dwelling-place of the Spirit in baptism. By baptism, therefore, the members of James’ community are to be in submission to God and not allowing themselves to be drawn into opposite directions by their wayward passions.

In verses 6-10, James outlines the solution to the problem of division and conflict. This section is actually a moral application of the passage “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.” To submit oneself to God involves the following:

(a) Resisting the devil and drawing near to God. If the world is the place where the devil displays his works and entices with this lies, to go to the opposite direction (towards God) is the strategic move. The call to resist the Devil is also found in 1 Peter 5:8-9 where it is compared to a beast that symbolizes an institution that persecutes Christians. The first chapter of James contains an exhortation to resist temptation. He does not mention the Devil there, but the association of the Serpent of Eden with temptation leaves us to think that the mention of the “Devil” here is not adventitious.

(b) Cleansing hands; purifying divided hearts. The phrase reminds one of Psalm 24:3-6 where those who are clean of hands and pure of heart (v.4) are numbered among those who love the Lord (v. 6)

(c) Repentant lifestyle. Verse 9 is an echo of Prov. 14:13. The sense in James is that gaiety the characteristic of the worldly (cf. Isaiah 5:11-16) should be replaced by the weeping of those who repent.
James lets us understand is the way of the man who humbles himself before God.

The line of argument that James 4:1-10 follows is similar to the one in Phil. 2:1ff. Here, Paul exhorts the Philippians to unity and humility. In Phil. 2:3, for example, he writes:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.

And then what follows from v.5 onwards is the call to imitate the self-emptying and obedient Christ who has been exalted as “Lord” because of His utter subjection of self to God.

Originally posted 2006-02-21 22:12:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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