Realistic wisdom

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How competitive are you? What drives you?

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Bible passage James 4:1–12

James 4

Submit Yourselves to God
 1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

 4You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
   "God opposes the proud
      but gives grace to the humble."

 7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

 11Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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In James 1:12–18 we saw that wisdom means having a realistic view of what lies in our hearts. James uses the analogy of war to again look at the battle of desires that rage inside of us (4:1b,2): the strong-willed determination in us all to have our own way. Life becomes a competition when we give ourselves over to these desires, whether they be for money, power or possessions. We inevitably clash with others.

James is stark in his condemnation: ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?’ (v 4).

The solution is clear (v 7): aware of our fallen nature, and the drives within ourselves, we are to ask for God’s help. Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 9:24: ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ It’s in giving ourselves up that we find our true selves. Look within and in the long run you will find only weakness; but look to Christ and you will find his life and his peace – all you need and more!

Submitting to God also involves a decision to stop judging your Christian brothers and sisters (v 11) because true biblical wisdom leads to harmonious rather than competitive relationships with others.


Are you finding yourself clashing with someone in your family, work or church? Bring this relationship to God and ask him to help you to find a greater understanding of your own motivations and a way through to improved relations.

Michelle Smart

Deeper Bible study

Acknowledge to God those relationships in the church family that you find difficult. Spend a moment assessing your own desires and motives there.

There are no half measures here! No polite accommodation or pick-and-mix. There is a clear choice: either we are friends of the world or we are friends of God. Even more starkly, James states that friendship with the world makes us enemies of God.

In the examples James chooses at the start and close of today’s passage, friendship with the world shows itself in the way we act and speak to one another. In verses 1 and 2, pleasure-seeking and frustrated envy cause us to quarrel and fight. In verses 11 and 12, judgemental comments and insidious gossip erode reputations and relationships. Because of the closeness of a church community and our openness to share our problems and failings with one another, confidentiality and acceptance surely need to be of the highest quality. Yet, in my experience, too many people leave because of careless words and open or implied judgement.

So, in the end, what can we do? Verse 6 is the key: ‘But he gives us more grace’. God reaches towards us and invites us to respond. Our response is couched in terms of a series of actions (vs 7–10). First, we commit to an active allegiance to him, then we man the defences, draw close so we can see and hear, clean ourselves up and, finally, pour out our sorrow and regret that we ever left him. There’s a plan of action here that has implications for how and when we read the Bible, intentionally worship and, if necessary, change our habits and routines. And guess what? The result will be a lifting up, a renewed attitude to life and to others.

Brian Radcliffe

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Isaiah 65,66

John 1


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  • Rachael Hampton | Monday, 02 October 2017

    Whoa! James is speaking to the churches here?! Anger, envy, fight and kill to get what you want! Amp expands 'kill' to 'hate is to murder as far as your hearts are concerned.' (Sounds like something his Brother would have said.) No wonder James exhorts us to weep and mourn over these wrong attitudes. Way too many people have be in hurt in churches, as Adam wiould testify, and I have friends who have suffered spiritual abuse. When people's lives and words show fruit that is not true to God's nature, surely it is right to make a personal assessment, while leaving final judgement to God. James says that SPEAKING out our opinions of others' behaviours and condemning them is wrong. Thank God that He gives us more and more grace (power of the Holy Spirit to resist this evil tendency and all others fully...... He gives grace continually to the lowly (those who are humble enough to receive it) v6 Amp. Thanks Angela for reminding us of Paul's words that Christ is our wisdom. May we live out of His wise and loving life within us today.

  • Stephen Thiselton | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    Let's not forget we will be spending eternity with them, when we consider how to behave towards our Christian brothers and sisters, and consider how much we value such relationships.

  • Angela Munday | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    Quarrels and fights are worldly and result from evil intentions that seek to destroy the good; may we listen to each other and to God. With Christ's spirit within us we begin to joyfully say 'no' to everything that is not from God. When God sees us struggling to live Christ's way He pours more grace into our lives; we need never try to run on empty ......"Come close to God and God will come close to you." ( verse 8 ) RUTH, may your tired body receive new strength and life. Amen.

  • Derek Forster | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    And all ye men of tender heart, Forgiving others, take your part, O sing ye! Alleluia! Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, Praise God and on Him cast your care! Let all things their Creator bless, And worship Him in humbleness, O praise Him! Alleluia! Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son, And praise the Spirit, Three in On

  • Lynda Spencer | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    In the past when I have read that friendship with the world is enmity towards God I always thought it meant 'worldly pursuits' outside the church building. How hard hitting to read Brian Radcliffe's clear and unambiguous interpretation for which I am so, so grateful. The Lord has spoken clearly to me today about a relationship I am finding extremely difficult, and encouraged me to renewed and fervent prayer. Thank you!

  • Graham Keen | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    In the midst of this talk of relationships within the fellowship, I am exhorted (verses 7-10) to resist the devil, to wash, to purify myself, to humble myself. Satan will flee! God will draw near! Wow. Thank you Lord.

  • David Chipchase | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    Great comment STEPHEN.

  • Roger Hall | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    On my first quick view I misread the headline words to read: "Elastic wisdom!" If we find ourselves falling into Judgement, and failing, the answer is More Grace, More Wisdom! Then we know the truth: "My Grace is sufficient for you!"

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    Not sure what spiritual abuse is Rachael? Coming from the perspective that my body in the past was violated and my soul has been injured by unkind people and my own pride, but Holy Spirit, Christ within me cannot be defiled by the Devil or anyone else. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something.

  • Barbara Sabin | Tuesday, 03 October 2017

    STEPHEN thank you for your comment, my Father would tell me when I was a girl that I needed to remember that the people I found difficult to get along with would be with me in glory so to be sure to try as far as I was able to get along with everyone, not to be boastful but to live in peace with everyone. I have tried to remember that and asked in prayer for tolerance, goodness and kindness towards others. William Booth in his later life preached a one word sermon 'others' .

  • David Forbes | Wednesday, 04 October 2017

    bit late commenting. as i listened to this passage in james the words seemed to come across as so real and fresh.. likr a letter written personally to me . "7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded". These 2 imperatives in v.7 ...submit and resist go hand in hand ( I didnt realise these 2 gems came one aftet each other) speak boldly of what we should do. They draw us to God and take the offensive against the one who would tempt us. When we submit were placing our lives under the shadow of His wings. We're abiding in Christ. May we consciously learn to do this and from that position still take up our armour of the Spirit. We're reminded we cant conveniently attribute al our sins to the devil.. many are of our own volition. So we need to take stock and start acting like children of our heavenly Father.

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