3. Taming the tongue, 3:1-4:12

iii] Disputes derive from worldly passions


James now makes the case that devotion to the world by some members of the church has prompted covetousness (των ἡδονων, "pleasures" = insatiable bodily desires = violent covetousness) leading to conflicts and quarreling. The solution to such a problem lies in a humble acceptance of divine grace.


i] Context: See 3:1-12.


ii] Background: 1:1.


iii] Structure: Taming the tongue 3:


Disputes and quarreling derive from worldly passions.


#9 (v1-6 presents as an integrated whole):

Ungratified selfish desires are the cause of conflict, v1-2a;

God does not gratify selfish desires, v2b-3;

Selfish desires stem from a flirtation with the world, v4-5a;

God provides the grace to curb our selfish desires, v5b-6.


iv] Interpretation:

James is tackling the theme of wisdom and speech, 3:1-4:12. Having just warned against the evils that stem from jealousy leading to rivalry, 3:13-18, James now addresses the issue of coveting, leading to quarreling. He presents his argument as a moral challenge; the choice of being a friend of the world, or a friend of God. The next passage, v7-12, a call to repentance, although self contained, is none-the-less integrally linked to v1-6. Note the link between v6b, "God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble", and v10, "humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you." Both passages are linked in tackling the issue of "the misuse of speech in quarrels and slander", Blomberg.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:1

Instruction # 9, The necessary control of selfish desires, v1-6: i] Ungratified selfish desires are the cause of conflict, v1-2a. James asks his readers what causes the fights and quarrels that are disturbing their congregation. He makes the observation that this strife is caused by uncontrolled selfish desires permeating the personality of those causing the trouble. "You long for health, wealth and happiness, but can't get what you want, and so you quarrel and fight." Obviously the troublemakers in the congregation aren't actually killing each other, but their continued resentment is akin to incipient murder.

ποθεν adv. "what" - from where [do these wars come from and] from where [fights, quarrels, strife]. Interrogative adverb serving to introduce a rhetorical question. Here expressing cause / reason, as NIV; where do they come from? = what is the cause?

πολεοι [ος] "causes fights" - wars. Nominative subject of an assumed verb. This noun refers to a military campaign, the next to a more localized conflict. It seems unlikely that James is referring to physical violence in the congregation so a metaphorical sense is probably intended, as NIV. "What causes quarrels and arguments among you?"

εν + dat. "among [you]" - in [you]. Local tending toward association; "among".

ουκ "don't they come" - is it not. This negation in a question expects a positive answer; "is not the cause from your possessions waring in your members?" = Yes.

εντευθεν adv. "-" - from here, where. As ποθεν above; where do they come from? = what is the cause?

εκ + gen. "from" - ie., from. Expressing source / origin.

των ἡδονων [η] gen. "[your] desires" - the pleasures, delights / lusts [of you]. The more negative sense is probably intended, in the sense of personal gratification: "passions", ESV; "cravings", NRSV; "ungodly lusts", Junkins; "selfish desires", CEV.

των στρατευομενων [στρατευω] gen. pres. mid. part. "that battle" - soldering, waring. The participle, introducing a relative clause, is adjectival, attributive, limiting "desires"; "which war among your members" = "that fight to control your body", CEV.

εν + dat. "within [you]" - in [the members of you]. Local, expressing space / sphere; "your passions are at war within you", ESV. Again, this "fight" is internal, within the members of the human body / within, but some commentators think the reference is to the church body, of the fight being between members of the congregation, so Hamann, Martin, Wall (Community of the wise). "The fight is within the body of the individual Christian", Davids. "James traces all sin neither to pleasure nor desire, but ultimately to the core of disordered personality", Adamson.


This verse is difficult to punctuate and so has produced numerous translations. Davids observes a chiastic structure, but his translation disturbs the logic somewhat. We are best to follow the NIV11 which improves on the NIV and seems best to express James' point; "You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight." These parallel statements are tightly linked to v1.

φονευετε [φονευω] pres. "so you kill" - [you desire and you do not have] you kill. The word is used of "murder". Assuming that actual "murder / killing" is not intended, the NEB has "bent on murder." "Frustrated desire, James make clear, is what is breeding the intense strife that is convulsing the community", Moo. So, "frustrated desire" is driving this bent, namely, a continuing resentment which is akin to "incipient murder", Mitton, cf., Matt.5:21. Possibly were the "frustrated desire" will ultimately lead if not corrected, so Moo.

και "-" - and. Coordinative; here best left untranslated.

επιτυχειν [επιτυγχανω] aor. inf. "[you cannot get] what you want" - [you are jealous and you are not able] to obtain, attain, get [you fight and you war]. Complementary infinitive completing the sense of the negated verb "you are not able." "You are murderously jealous of what others have got and which you can't possess yourselves and so you quarrel with each other", Phillips.


ii] Selfish desires will remain ungratified, v2b-3. The statement "you do not have because you do not ask" introduces a new thought which is tightly linked to v3. The link is somewhat chiastic; "you do not have, you do ask - you ask, you do not have." James notes that his readers are affected by the problem of unanswered prayer. "You ask and do not receive", presumably because you do not ask correctly." Many translations have "because you do not ask God", but the Greek text states "because you do not ask." Verse 3 identifies what they do not ask; they do not ask for the correct things, or as the Greek has it, "you ask badly", "wrongly". James could be referring to their motives, but it is more likely that the problem lies with what they are asking for. They are asking for all the gear that makes for a happy life; health, wealth and happiness - they need a dose of Ecclesiastes.

δια το + inf. "because [you do not ask God]" - [you do not have] because [you do not ask]. This construction introduces a causal clause, as NIV. The NIV supplies the object "God"; "James writes that the way for a Christian to get what his heart is set upon is to ask God for it, not pursue it ruthlessly and without regard for others", Mitton, so Moo, Davids. Given v3 ("your praying is corrupt"), "God" seems an unlikely object. It's not so much that they don't get what they desire because they don't ask God, but rather that their asking is flawed - they don't ask for God's promised blessings, rather they ask God to fulfill their own selfish desires; "you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly", Hamann.


James now explains the problem that exists with their desire / asking - they ask wrongly.

αιτειτε [αιτεω] pres. "when you ask" - you ask. The NIV employs a temporal clause to overcome James' short-talk. The REB opts for a conditional clause, "if you do ask", even concessive is suggested by Laws, "even if you do ask."

διοτι "because" - [and you do not receive] because. Causal conjunction introducing a causal clause, as NIV, but it could also be inferential here, "therefore".

καθως adv. "[you ask] with wrong motives" - [you ask] badly, wrongly. Modal adverb; emphatic by position. The NIV's stab in the dark is joined by many others: "for the wrong reasons", Barclay; "your request is improper", Junkins; "with the wicked intent of spending it on your pleasures", Moffatt; "in quite the wrong spirit", Phillips; "from what is in fact an evil motive", Cassirer; "for selfish reasons", CEV. It is widely held that God will hear and answer our prayers if we ask with unflinching faith, or with pure heart and motives, but in truth, the prayer that is answered is the prayer that is according to God's will, irrespective of our little faith or corrupted motives. Our God does what he promises; he does what he wills, rather than what we will. So, the problem of unanswered prayer lies with a request for the wrong things, what is not promised - requests that fall under the heading health, wealth and happiness. It is likely, therefore, that "wrongly" here means "asking for what you have no right to", Peterson.

ἱνα + subj. "that" - Here introducing a purpose clause; "in order that."

δαπανησητε [δαπαναω] aor. subj. "you may spend what you get" - spend it (money on something). It is somewhat of a stretch to argue that their prayers were for money so that they could "spend" it on their "passions". A more general prayer for health, wealth and happiness is likely, so that they could "expend = use, employ, consume" "these" (object unidentified) for "personal gratification"; "to use it for their own personal ends, and the satisfaction of their own desires", Mitton. "That you should be provided with the means of satisfying your appetites", Cassirer.

εν + dat. "on" - Local; expressing space / sphere, as NIV, although Adam argues that in this context εις would be expected, so he suggests reference / respect.

ἡδοναις [η] dat. "pleasures" - pleasures, delights, passions. Certainly "appetites", but not necessarily "illicit pleasures / lusts." "God bestows not gifts only, but the enjoyment of them: but the enjoyment which contributes to nothing beyond itself is not what He gives in answer to prayer; and petitions to Him which have no better end in view are not prayers", Hort via Moo.


iv] Selfish desires stem from flirtation with the world, v4-5a. James puts a two pronged question to the untrustworthy church members who love to flirt with the fading glamor of this world; "Don't you realize that you can't have an intimate personal relationship with the living God and at the same time be a lover of the things of this world, or do you think that what the Bible says about mammon is just empty words?" Just as in human relationships, we can't take two lovers to ourselves.

μοιχαλιδες [ις ιδος] "adulterous" - adulteresses. Vocative. Used here in the sense of those unfaithful to God. "You are not to be trusted", TNT.

ουκ "don't" - [do you] not [know]. Used in a question expecting a positive answer. James is reminding his readers that they indeed do know that flirting with the glamor of this world, corrupted as it is, undermines their relationship with God.

ὁτι "that" - introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they know.

ἡ φιλια [α] "friendship" - the friendship, love. Indicating "identification to and (intimate) relationship with something or someone", Blomberg. "You are like unfaithful wives flirting with the glamor of this world", Phillips. Note that Phillips' use of "wives" follows the feminine noun "adulteress", but the use of the feminine simply follows OT metaphorical usage - Israel, the bride of YHWH, flaunts herself with pagan deities. Given that adultery is usually a male problem, specifying "wives" is somewhat unjustified!

του κοσμου [ος] gen. "with the world" - of the world [is enmity with god]. The word can be used in a positive, neutral, or negative sense. Here, as with John in his letters, and Paul, it is used in a negative sense. The world is the environment of human affairs and associations apart from God, possibly "in alienation and estrangement from God, in rebellion against him", Hamann. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective; "love for the world", NJB, "loving the world", Weymouth. Yet, it seems more likely adjectival, possessive, as also του θεου, "of God"; "the world's friendship", Moffatt, as opposed to "God's enmity." We can't be the world's lover, possessed by the world, and at the same time God's lover, possessed by God, cf., 1Jn.2:15. James is reflecting the dichotomy of Jesus' teaching on mammon; that loving one entails hating the other. Of course, our association with one does not deny an association with the other, since Jesus is speaking about matters of the heart, the core focus of our psyche; "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also", Matt.6:21, cf., Rom.8:7.

ουν "therefore" - Inferential / drawing a logical conclusion.

ὃς εαν "anyone" - whoever. Introducing a 3rd. class relative conditional clause where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "whoever, as the case may be, .... then ...." if anyone chooses / wills to become the world's lover then an enemy of God they become / are made.

ειναι pres. inf. "to be [a friend]" - [chooses] to be [a friend of the world]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "chooses, wills." It may also be classified as introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what is chosen / willed.

εχθρος adj. "an enemy" - [is made] an enemy. The adjective serves as a substantive, limited by the possessive genitive "of God." Most translations opt for "enemy", although hostility is not necessarily the point being made. The word is chosen as the opposite of a lover, but an ex lover is not necessarily a hater. It is usually an issue of indifference, sometimes with hurt, and possibly anger. It is hard to express the state of a non-lover, but the point is this, if our raison d'etre is mammon, then we undermine the bond of love we have with God in Christ. We should not think that "we can live in intimate fellowship with God when the set of our hearts is towards the world", Motyer.

θεου (ος) gen. "of God" - Usually treated as an objective genitive, but it could be treated as adjectival, possessive / relational, even adverbial, reference, "an enemy with respect to God."


Verse 5 is recognized as one of the most difficult verses in James to exegete. It begins with what seems like a formula introduction to a citation from scripture, the source of which citation is illusive. Yet, 5a is probably not a formula introduction, but simply a counter to the rhetorical question in v4; "don't you know that ............ (5a) or do you think that scripture speaks with empty words?" "Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality?" Phillips. The following statement, v5b, relates to v6 rather than v5a. So, v5a is a statement of fact, or possibly a question, rather than a quote from scripture.

"or" - Here disjunctive; introducing a mutually exclusive opposite.

ὁτι "-" - [do you think / suppose] that [the scripture says in vain]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing that they might suppose.

κενως adv. "without reason" - in vein, with empty words. Modal adverb, expressing manner; hapax legomenon / once only use in the NT.


v] God provides the grace to curb our selfish desires, v5b-6. "God's gift of sustaining grace is enjoyed only by those willing to admit their need and accept the gift", Moo.

The complexity of this verse continues. One of the better detailed presentations of the problems posed by this verse is outlined by Dan McCartney in his Baker Academic commentary, 2009, p209-217. Simplified, the problems can be summarized as follows:

• Is το πνευμα, "the spirit", the Holy Spirit, the God-breathed human spirit, or an evil spirit within humanity?

• Is το πνευμα the subject or the object of the verb "longs", or the subject of the verb "dwells"?

• Is the word φθονον, "envy, jealousy", to be taken negatively, or positively?

Numerous computations and permutations have been offered, but we are best to follow the approach of NIV11; "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us", NRSV. Our God desires that love should flourish within us, as intended, rather than selfishness, and he has provided to the humble the grace to be that loving person. "God yearns jealously for the loving devotion of the spirit he implanted in us", Barclay - loving devotion rather than selfishness.

επιποθει [επιποθεω] pres. "he [jealously] longs for" - he [toward envy] desires, craves for. Taking the positive sense "to greatly desire, long, yearn for"; the assumed subject being "God".

προς φθονον [ος] "jealously" - toward envy. The prepositional phrase is adverbial, modal, expressing manner. The noun "envy" usually takes a negative sense, but here a positive sense is surely intended. Something stronger than "truly cares", CEV, so "jealously yearns for."

το πνευμα [α ατος] "the spirit" - "The spirit that God breathed into man to make him a living creature", Moo; "the human spirit", Davids, Blomberg, .... McCartney suggests that James is referring to the spirit of wisdom, "the presence of God in divinely given wisdom and understanding, ... that spirit with which the Messiah was to be anointed, cf., Isa.11:2." "In order to keep the S/spirit one must remain in submission to God (James 4:7)."

pro. "-" - which. Introducing a relative clause limiting "the spirit"; "the spirit that he has made to dwell in us", ESV.

εν + dat. "in" - [he has caused to dwell] in [us]. Local; space / sphere - here expressing incorporative union.


δε "but" - but/and. Transitional. Usually treated as an adversative / contrastive, as NIV, TNIV, NRSV, ... but then logically "the spirit" in v5b would be a corrupted human spirit driving human envy; "the evil spirit that dwells in us fills us with envious longings, but the grace God gives is stronger." If we follow the interpretation of v5b given above, δε must be a connective, coordinative, or possibly even inferential, "therefore." God greatly desires the loving spirit abiding in us to flourish and therefore he pours out his exceeding grace upon us.

μειζονα comp. adj. "more [grace]" - [he gives] greater [grace]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to give." Emphatic by position. God desires, with a deep longing, that love should flourish in our psyche. We struggle to be what God would have us be, too often driven by selfish motives. So, he gifts us, graces us, with the wherewithal to be the person we are in Christ. "The more God demands the more he gives by way of grace to meet what he desires of us", Hamann / "God gives what he demands", Augustine, cf., 2Cor.12:9.

διο "this is why [Scripture says]" - therefore [it says]. Inferential, establishing a logical connection to set up a citation introduction. As such, it serves as part of a formula introduction for a quotation from Proverbs 3:34 used to support v5b-6a, even explain further; "It's common knowledge that ......", Peterson / "as scripture says ..."NJB.

ὑπερηφανοις dat. adj. "the proud" - [god opposes] proud, haughty, arrogant people. The adjective serves as a noun, dative of direct object after the αντι prefix verb "to oppose."

ταπεινοις dat. adj. "the humble" - [but he gives grace] to humble people. The adjective serves as a noun, dative of indirect object after the verb "to give." The quotation serves to take the issue of divine grace further by making the point that the grace given to support what God greatly desires from us, is given to those who approach God with humility. "God's gift of sustaining grace is enjoyed only by those willing to admit their need and accept the gift. The proud, on the other hand, meet only resistance from God", Moo.


James Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]