Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He also serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin. This lesson treatment is published in the February 2021 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout.
Lesson Aim: Be single-minded in your devotion to the Lord.
By Mark Scott
Certain words are warm. Words like infant, soft, secure, and love. Another such word is friend. While it sometimes is used in a “distant” and unflattering sense (Matthew 20:13; 26:50), most of the time it functions as a term of endearment (Isaiah 41:8; John 15:14). C.S. Lewis suggested that while lovers might look at each other face-to-face, friends walk with each other “side-by-side.”
To put faith into action, doing must go hand-in-hand with hearing, mercy must triumph over judgment, blessing must overcome cursing, and friendship with God must go beyond talk. But is there a way to measure that friendship, that is, to take stock of it? Can it be observed? Is there any objectivity to it?
Friends of God Humble Themselves Totally
Humility marks the life of a friend of God. Humility is lowliness of mind. It puts God and others first. It is remarkably self-forgetful. James minces no words in these most aggressive direct addresses in his Epistle. He called believers adulterers, sinners, and double-minded. Pride undoes the work of God in our souls. James knew that at the heart of fights and quarrels were the desires (where we get our English word “hedonism”) within us. Untoward desires (lusts) lead people to kill. Coveting brings about more quarreling and fighting. Wrong motives and ungodly pleasures frustrate our prayers.
Pride sets one in opposition to being a friend (lover) of God. To love the world is to become estranged from God and an enemy of God (1 John 2:15-17). The Lord equipped us to be humble by placing within us a spirit that yearned for him as opposed to self. He gives additional grace to help us. While James 4:5 is very challenging to translate and understand, the next verse serves to clarify. God will stand opposite the proud but show favor (grace) to the humble.
Friends of God Obey Commands Completely
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. But James gave his own “ten commandments” to the “twelve tribes.” Verses 7-9 contain ten imperatives—submit, resist, come near, wash, purify, grieve, mourn, wail, change, and humble yourselves. Alongside these ten commandments are three promises—the devil will flee, God will come near, and the Lord will lift up.
In verses 11-12, James gave an excursus about what living out those commands completely looks like in dealing with others. A friend of God does not slander (lie about) fellow believers or judge neighbors. To speak against a fellow believer is to set oneself against the law, which calls for taking care of that person. This is one of the places in Scripture where the vertical and horizontal intersect. If God is the ultimate Lawgiver and Judge, then people are eliminated from that job. If God’s people busy themselves in obeying James’s ten commandments, they will not have time to critique other people.
Friends of God Hold Plans Loosely
God’s people do not live with presumption or pretense. James used “now listen”—a figure of speech known as an “apostrophe”—as a way to call out readers and listeners. This technique is used when the writer or speaker wants to pretend that his audience is not really within earshot. In reality, the audience he is addressing is very much the one he wants to address. It is a rhetorical device that James used again in 5:1.
Some of the rich in the church evidently were presuming on God by not including him in their pursuits and plans. Instead of holding their plans loosely, they made and confirmed their own self-serving arrangements. They planned to travel to various cities in the Diaspora and set up businesses and make money. But never once did they ask if God was behind the idea. They failed to pray the prayer that never fails: “Thy will be done.” Pride once again prevailed over being a friend of God.
These folks not only excluded God from their plans, they failed to remember they were unable to predict the future, and their lives were but a mist . . . a vapor (see Ecclesiastes 1:14; Hosea 6:4; Luke 12:20). The last verse of the text is rather stunning. Friends of God do good. They discern the good that should be done, and they do it. To not do good is to sin. Could it be that James was actually teaching that making wrong career choices (or at least presuming against God) could be sin? Friends of God strive to bring him delight—they do not strive to hold God at bay through presumption.