James 4:1 From whence come wars and fighting among you?
Howard W. Hunter
On the campus of one of our large universities there were recent riots by students carrying large placards, some of which had the words, "We demand peace." It cannot be denied that we live in troubled times and that the lives of most people in the world today are affected by war. Both sides of the controversy have stated their terms for peace, and politicians talk about an equitable and lasting peace despite the fact that down through history there has been almost continual warfare and political unrest.
The Apostle James, in writing to Israel, asked this question:
"From whence come wars and fighting among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." (James 4:1-3.)
At the time of this writing, the Jews were revolting against the Romans in defense of their religion and fighting to procure the liberty to which they believed themselves entitled. They had been split in many factions and were having conflicts among themselves. At the same time they were waging wars against the heathens in Egypt, Syria, and other places, killing many and being massacred in their turn.
James asks this question: Does not war come from lusts? The Jewish contentions and predatory wars were generated upon lust. Lust has been the motivating force of the wars that have afflicted and desolated the world. One nation has coveted another's territory or property or has attempted to force its will or way of life upon another by resorting to physical violence as a means to accomplish its purposes. Nations kill, slay, burn, and destroy until one of them is overcome. History is a repetitious recital of intentional and wanton destruction of life and property. Today is not different from the yesterdays. The populace prays and cries for peace. (Conference Report, October 1966, First Day-Morning Meeting 14-15.)
James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss
Neal A. Maxwell
Clearly, when our prayers are uninspired, we petition for things we should not ask for, even though we do so innocently. This is, in effect, what we do when we pray and "ask amiss." (James 4:3.)
When we ask amiss, God, being perfect, must reject our petitions: "And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you." (3 Nephi 18:20. Italics added.)
The task is to draw close enough to the Lord that we progress to the point where we petition Him according to His will, not ours. "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." (1 John 5:14.) In modern revelations the Lord has declared His willingness to grant us the requests contained in our petitions if what we ask for is expedient for us. (D&C 88:64-65.) (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 94.)
Neal A. Maxwell
We are told by God that we receive no blessings except by obedience to the laws upon which those blessings are predicated (see D&C 130:20-21), prayer is required as part of that process of learning to ask for what is right. "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us" (1 John 5:14; see also 3 Nephi 18:20; James 4:3; 2 Nephi 4:35).
We cannot expect the blessings of prayer unless we submit sincerely, meekly, and fully to the process of prayer.
Granted, finite minds do not fully understand the infinite mind of God. We are not fully comprehending when our agency brushes against His divinity. Yet we should trust Him as our provincial petitions meet His universal omniscience...
It is necessary for us thus to place our desires and needs genuinely and unselfishly before God in prayer. It is in this process of placing our desires before Him, to a greater extent than we usually do, that we can listen and learn concerning His will. Such could not be done if we were ritualistically submissive or only partially involved.
Of course, after we place our petitions before Him we are to be submissive: "Thy will be done." But this is the last part of the process of petition, not the first.
Learning to pray is, therefore, the work of a lifetime. If we keep on praying, we will keep on discovering. (That Ye May Believe [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992], 179.)
James 4:4 know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?
James does not mince words: "Know ye not, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). Nor does John: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world . . . is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof" (1 John 2:15-17). "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. . . . We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. . . . And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 3:13; 4:6; 5:19). (Mormonism and Early Christianity, edited by Todd M. Compton and Stephen D. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987], 294.)
Spencer J. Condie
As we cling to the iron rod and partake of the gospel fruit of the tree of life, we become enemies of the world, and some begin to scoff at us from their perch in the great and spacious building seen in Father Lehi's dream (see 1 Ne. 8). We are then called a peculiar people because we do not drink martinis before banquets, we do not toast others with a glass of wine, nor do we finish our meals with a cup of cappuccino coffee. (Your Agency, Handle with Care [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 50.)
Neal A. Maxwell
Because our behavioral standards are different, we must come to despise the ridicule of the world. The scorn and derision of the world are fleeting. James, who was not shy concerning truth, counseled, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4.)
Those who are in error must not call the cadence for our lives, for those who boast of their sexual conquests are only boasting of that which has conquered them-in the same way that drinkers who make nervous jokes about drunkenness are only mocking that which has come to mock them. We may pity behavioral clones, but we do not envy them. (Notwithstanding My Weakness [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 102 - 103.)
James E. Faust
I owe my text to Elder Marion G. Romney, who, at a Brigham Young University devotional in 1955, stated: "Now there are those among us who are trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil." This is a contradiction of terms. Elder Romney goes on: "Must the choice lie irrevocably between peace on the one hand, obtained by compliance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and contention and war on the other hand?"
Someone once said, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." But it doesn't work that way. The Savior said, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Today many of us are trying to serve two masters-the Lord and our own selfish interests-without offending the devil. The influence of God, our Eternal Father, urges us, pleads us, and inspires us to follow him. In contrast the power of Satan urges us to disbelieve and disregard God's commandments. ("Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil," Ensign, Sept. 1995, 2)
James 4:7 Resist the devil, and he will flee from you
James E. Faust
We need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan's power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat. The Apostle James counseled: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." And Nephi states that "he hath no power over the hearts" of people who are righteous.
We have heard comedians and others justify or explain their misdeeds by saying, "The devil made me do it." I do not really think the devil can make us do anything; certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him.
The power to resist Satan may be stronger than we realize. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power." He also stated, "Wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed." So Satan and his angels are not all-powerful. ("Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil," Ensign, Sept. 1995, 6)
Neal A. Maxwell
James gives us great counsel: If we resist the devil he will flee from us. (James 4:7.) But as Paul warned, if we "give place" to the devil instead of for a portion of God's words (Alma 32:27), we have made a basic decision in life (Ephesians 4:27). (Things As They Really Are [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 42.)
James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another
Have you noticed how easy it is to cross over the line and find fault with other people? All too often we seek to be excused from the very behavior we condemn in others. Mercy for me, justice for everyone else is a much too common addiction. When we deal with the name and reputation of another, we deal with something sacred in the sight of the Lord.
There are those among us who would recoil in horror at the thought of stealing another person's money or property but who don't give a second thought to stealing another person's good name or reputation.
...To those who doubt the importance of the commandment, may I pose two simple questions: (1) How can you say you love your fellowman when behind his back you seek to diminish his good name and reputation? (2) How can you say you love your God when you cannot even love your neighbor?
Any feeble attempt to justify such conduct only brings more forcibly to mind those explosive words of the Savior found in the book of Matthew:
"O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? ...
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. 12:34, 36-37).
("Your Name Is Safe in Our Home," Ensign, May 1999, 82)
James 4:12 who art thou that judgest another?
"In reading the words of James, I often remember experiences in wards and branches where I have lived. I recall, with some remorse, those who came into the ward without gold rings and a pleasing appearance, who were neglected Sunday after Sunday. I also recall those who came well dressed, projecting all of the social graces, and how ward members flocked around them in their great eagerness to extend a welcome. James constantly calls one back to the words of the Master: 'They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.' (Luke 5:31.)" (Arthur R. Bassett, "The Royal Law," Ensign, June 1976, 76)
John K. Carmack
Fair and tolerant treatment of another person ought to result from the operation of the principle that every man, woman, and child is a part of the family of a loving and concerned Heavenly Father. There should be no checking of bank accounts, yielding to influence from friends in high places, notice taken of high standing in the community, or exercise of political power in deciding whether to treat another decently and fairly. (Tolerance: Principles, Practices, Obstacles, Limits [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 58 - 59.)
James 4:14-16 For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that...vanisheth away
The Lord can't stand it when we boast in our own strength. He knows how weak we are. He knows we can't control what will happen to us. This is why we were commanded not to make oaths, swearing by God and the heavens. If we can't make it happen, we should not swear that it will. We are reminded that we can't "make one hair white or black," nor can we "add one cubit unto [our] stature" (Matt 5:36; 6:27).
James repeats this same theme. He underscores our weakness without God, "ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain" (v. 2). To paraphrase, "you make plans on what you are going to do, where you are going to go, but you are not in charge. You don't know what is going to happen tomorrow" (see v. 13-14). To assume you are the master of your own destiny is evidence of worldly pride and "God resisteth the proud" (v. 6).
Compared to God we are nothing. Seeing God's creations Moses concluded, "man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." (Moses 1:10) David contemplated, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:3-4)
James is trying to teach us humility-that even in our planning-we should acknowledge that nothing will happen without God allowing it; "ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that." We do not have the power to declare what will happen. We should always acknowledge that the Lord is in charge. Otherwise, we are boasting, and "all such rejoicing is evil."
James 4:17 to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin
To fail to do good, when you know what is right, is sin-it is a sin of omission. Elder Maxwell noted, "the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission?" ("The Pathway of Discipleship," Ensign, Sept. 1998, 8)
James E. Faust
I fear that some of our greatest sins are sins of omission. These are some of the weightier matters of the law the Savior said we should not leave undone. These are the thoughtful, caring deeds we fail to do and feel so guilty for having neglected them. ("The Weightier Matters of the Law: Judgment, Mercy, and Faith," Ensign, Nov. 1997, 59)
David O. McKay
To know one's duty, to learn the truth, is the duty of every Latter-day Saint, of every man and woman in the world, including those outside of this Church. There is a natural feeling which urges men and women towards truth; it is a responsibility placed upon mankind. But that responsibility rests upon the Latter-day Saints in greater degree than upon their fellowmen-because the Latter-day Saints have learned the truth that the everlasting gospel has been restored.
But knowing a thing, or merely feeling an assurance of the truth, is not sufficient. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17)
This thought brings us to consider the second duty mentioned in this revelation by the Prophet Joseph Smith. "Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence." (D&C 107:99) The man who knows what his duty is and fails to perform it is not true to himself; he is not true to his brethren; he is not living in the light which God and conscience provide. This comes right home to you and to me. When conscience tells me that it is right to go along in a specified line, I am not true to myself if I do not follow that. Oh, I know we are swayed by our weaknesses and by influences from without; but it is our duty to walk in the straight and narrow path in the performance of every duty! (Steppingstones to an Abundant Life [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971], 197 - 198.)
Spencer W. Kimball
People tend often to measure their righteousness by the absence of wrong acts in their lives, as if passivity were the end of being. But God has created "things to act and things to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:14), and man is in the former category. He does not fill the measure of his creation unless he acts, and that in righteousness. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not," warns James, "to him it is sin." (James 4:17.)
To be passive is deadening; to stop doing is to die. Here then is a close parallel with physical life. If one fails to eat and drink, his body becomes emaciated and dies. Likewise, if he fails to nourish his spirit and mind, his spirit shrivels and his mind darkens. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 148.)