Meeting God's Demands - James 4:7-10

The Daunting Task of Meeting the Demands of a Holy God

James 4:7-10


The Text

Read 4:1-10 and listen for ten imperatives in vs 7-10

ESV James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

The ten imperatives (not ESV renderings)…

v 7-8a  

Therefore…….Imperatives…  (directed to “you”)

submit to God


resist the devil


he will flee from you

come near to God


he will come near to you

v 8b

sinners clean  your hands


double minded purify your hearts

v 9






let your laughter turn into mourning


     joy into gloom (“let … turn” supplied but not in text) 

v 10

be humbled before Lord


he will lift you up

The Flow of the Argument

God’s Rebuke v 1-4. James rebukes the Christians in the diaspora who were becoming more and more like the world and thus enemies of God. (see Burdick EBC 194)

God’s Jealous Demands v 5. If v5 describes God’s jealous demand that believers sever friendship with the world… then


God’s Provision 6a. Then v 6a is saying that God gives them the necessary enabling grace to meet the demands he imposes on them. He is a compassionate and understanding God who grants believers what they need to meet His requirements. What a deal!

This reminds us of 2 Cor 12:9, “my grace is sufficient for you.”  or Rom 5:20, “where sin increased, graced abounded all the more.”  This “more grace” given  means that God’s “jealous” concern for  complete obedience is a great demand yet God gives adequate grace for people to meet his demand - it is “more” than his demand.

And by the way, God’s jealous yearning to see this spirit which he breathed into man ( Gen 2:7) be free from evil and bad choices which robs it of joy and purpose is good and proper - he desires to have complete allegiance from man (cf RSV).

God’s Condition 6b. However, there is a stipulation for receiving this abundant enabling grace. Humility 6b. Or to say it plainly, only those who admit their inability to do what God demands will receive this grace needed to meet God’s demands. Here James quotes ESV  Proverbs 3:34 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. (similar to Psa18:27; 34;18; et al). 

Illust:  The Matador. A piece of cake we might say. All I have to is be humble. Not so fast.

"Pali, this bull has killed me." So said Jose Cubero, one of Spain's most brilliant matadors, before he lost consciousness and died. Only 21 years old, he had been enjoying a spectacular career. However, in this l958 bullfight, Jose made a tragic mistake. He thrust his sword a final time into a bleeding, delirious bull, which then collapsed. Considering the struggle finished, Jose turned to the crowd to acknowledge the applause. The bull, however, was not dead. It rose and lunged at the unsuspecting matador, its horn piercing his back and puncturing his heart…

We should never consider pride dead before we are. Craig Brian Larson in accessed 6/16/17

James’ Advice vs 7-10. The citation of Prov 3:34 drives vs 7-10. If God does give enabling grace to the humble then it stands to reason that we must submit to God if we are to have any hope of receiving the strength needed to meet God’s holy demands (7a). In other words, we can’t please God by means of our own strength; we are dependent on Him. Therefore, the only reasonable course of action to place ourselves under His sole authority - submit to Him (which itself is an act of humility). 

So, vs 7-10 is James’ advice in light of God’s perspective 1-6.

How to Meet God’s Demands

The main idea of v 7-10 is how to meet God’s demands. (see Moo 146ff; Davids in NIGTC 164ff)

  1. In light of the fact that God dispenses grace to the humble thus enabling them to meet His demands, we must begin by submitting to God if we are to have any hope of meeting His demands 7a

  • “Therefore” indicates that what follows is an outgrowth of what precedes in vs 5-6.
  • This first of ten imperatives, “submit yourselves to God” is the heading for vs 7-10 and is correspondent to and nearly synonymous in concept with the last imperative, “humble yourselves” in vs 10. The  series of  eight imperatives in between (in pairs) are governed by the “submit” imperative and flesh out what submitting looks like. They tell us how to humbly submit to God. (1 Peter 5:5-9 is nearly identical with this section)
  • “Submit” is the familiar term used in conjunction with the church submitting to Christ Eph 5:24; wives to husbands Col 3:18; Christians to one another Eph 5:21; Christians to civil authorities Rom 13:1;  and et al. The term (ὑποτάσσω )means to place under (Thayer 5493) or to bring under firm control (Louw-Nida 37.31).  Clearly a subservient relationship is envisioned. I prefer “to rank under”, a military concept. The term can refer to an enforced submission but here it is a command that Christians can choose to obey or ignore!
  • The superior being is God, the one to whom submission is owed.    Three ways this is played out:

B. Submission calls for distinct contrasting alignments to both the Devil and God 7b-8a

1. On the one hand, we must combat the Devil 7b 

  • The term “resist” is ἀνθίστημι meaning to stand against. The idea is firm refusal to yield (Friberg 2112). As Louw-Nida (39.1) suggests, this is a hostile attitude that results in equally aggressive behavior against someone! This isn’t child’s play. What does opposing the Devil look like?
    • It is probably helpful to know how the Devil attacks us so that we can know how to defend ourselves. And it just so happens we can read all about this in Eph 6:10-18.  We are up against his “schemes” (detailed methods) and “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces of evil” (v10-12), and “fiery darts” (v 16).  Therefore, v13, we are to “ take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand (ἀνθίστημ) in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm”. The pieces of  armor are defensive (don’t go looking for a fight); they protect our whole person head to toe; they are spiritual in nature; they are available to every believer. (Eph 6:10-18 is a fantastic separate study)
  • Of note is that the name for Satan is διάβολος the accuser or slanderer; literally to throw across (A/S 106) and rendered the Devil. Compare English diabolic implying maliciousness. (Rev 20:2 indicates that Satan = Devil = Dragon. These names indicate that the goal of Satan is to “separate us from God.” (Moo 148). Never take your opponent lightly! 
  • Even though “resist” are different words in v 6 and 7,  there is perhaps a word play. God resists the proud; the humble are to resist the Devil.
  • The result of vigorous no-holds-bared opposition to the Devil is that he will leave you alone. The vivid term is “flee” from you. It means to move quickly in order to avoid danger or difficulty (L/N 15.61). Dropping everything and running away! Disappearing. What a promise. (An aside - the same term is used in 1 Cor 6:18, “Flee immorality”).
  • Illust: Martin Luther was often very graphic in his description of the activities of the Devil. Asked one time how he overcame the Devil, he replied, "Well, when he comes knocking upon the door of my heart, and asks, 'Who lives here?' the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, 'Martin Luther used to live here but he has moved out. Now I live here.' The Devil seeing the nail-prints in the hands and the pierced side, takes flight immediately. Bill Butsko 12/25/2010 in accessed 6/16/17

2. "On the other hand, we must approach God 8a

  • “Draw near” is the term ἐγγίζω meaning to come near based on the adverb meaning a near place. It might carry the idea of a narrow place where two people are “close at hand”.  So, the verb it is to come near. (Cremer 223-24) So the basic idea is intimacy.  What does drawing near to God look like?

    • First, many suggestions are offered but none better that what ESV  Hebrews 7:19 says, “(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” In context it is clear: coming near to God is impossible by means of the mediation of the Levitical priesthood and old covenant. Coming near to God is only possible by means of the divine priest, Jesus Christ and the new covenant! In short, get to know Christ. This is an ongoing life long endeavor. The concept of our incredible union with Christ (Christ in us; we in Christ) takes on a new significance. It is all about the person of Christ
    • And second, prayer as mediated by Christ. So, avail yourself of the one mediator between God and man; the only means of access to the holy heavenly father.ESV  Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
    • The result is that in the future, that is, following your coming near to God through Christ, God will come near to you. 
    • Given that the term is used of the nearness of the paranoia or second coming, could this be a reference to the second coming when God, in Jesus, will indeed “come near”? {ESV  James 5:8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (Cf Heb 10:25; 1 Pe 4:7)} Not sure about this.

C. Submission requires decontamination of both actions and attitudes 8b

  • We, the readers, are addressed as "sinners" and "double minded". Ouch!
    • “Sinners” is the most common term for sin that means one who misses the mark. I think most Christians accept and understand this sad designation..
    • However, being called “double minded” is a bit more complicated and uncomfortable. The term may mean two souled, or two minded, or two breaths δίψυχος. It is based on the verb ψυχω to breath or to blow and thus to make cool and then the noun ψυχος meaning “cold” (ESV  John 18:18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. …). 
    • So perhaps the idea is “to wax cold” or be indifferent (as metaphorical use in Mat 24:12). The only other usage nails it: (the person who refuses to believe that God can answer prayer) “is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”(ESV  James 1:8). Yikes! No one wants to be called unstable. Thus the bottom line is one characterized by an unstable disposition (Cremer 588). It seems to recall the person mentioned in vs 4 who wants to be a friend of God and the world at the same time or the one who speaks both cursing and blessing (3:9-10).
  • The remedies for these maladies are similar.The solution for acts of sin is to clean up ones hands. Thus, clearly this deals with outward actions. Change! In theological terms, this is an ethical cleaning. The solution for an indifferent perspective is to purify the heart. Now we are talking about internal attitudes. In theological language this is a moral cleansing.
    • In general, just how can we decontaminate our lives from the inside out? The answer:ESV  Psalm 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” 
    • It is possible to clean up the outside (hands) but not touch the inside (heart). But it is not possible to change the inside (heart) without also changing the outside (hands).
    • Many commentators believe these actions are describing a believer’s genuine repentance of the sins spoken of 3:13-4-3.  

D. Submission assumes distress over both personal sin and impending judgement 9       Another couplet…

  • The person who submits to God will be demonstratively overwhelmed by his personal sins 9a

  • This is conveyed by three parallel imperatives (the first half of a couplet) that are nearly synonymous. 
    • “be wretched” =  (ταλαιπωρέω ) “be sorrowful or grieve”  over distressing circumstances (L/N 25.136)
    • “mourn” =  (πενθέω)  “to be sad” or to grieve” over distressing circumstances (L/N 25.142)
    • “weep” =  ( κλαίω ) “to cry or grieve” (L/N 25.138)
    • The OT prophets issued the same kind of plea: ESV  Joel 2:12 "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

  • The person who submits to God will soberly reflect on what he deserves as a sinner 9b

  • This is more difficult to figure out. But I think what the author is doing is suggesting that failure to obey God is no laughing matter. “Mourning” (the noun form of “morn” in 9a) and “gloom” or dejection (the term may mean “heaviness”) should replace hilarity (the term may mean “lightheartedness”) as we consider the enormity of our sin. 
  • In other words, a cavalier discounting of sin as just a minor imperfection of the human condition is disastrous. Downright folly. 
  • This may be a reference to the coming of the Lord in judgement. The way to avoid God’s certain coming judgement is to “…mourn and weep for sin now.” (Moo 150)

E. In light of the fact that God dispenses grace to the humble thus enabling them to meet His demands, we must always practice humility in submitting to God if we are to have any hope of meeting His demands v 10

  • Here the focus is on humility. It is a command “humble yourselves” similar to the command to “submit yourselves” in v 7. Bookends. Thus, we might state it as as one grand concept - “humble submission.”. 
  • Humbling ourselves means that we see our unworthiness and smallness and consequently banish all haughtiness, arrogance, and pride. We are able to see who we really are and see who God really is and then act accordingly. 
  • Whereas vs 6 promises that God brings grace to the humble, v 10 promises that God exalts the humble.

  • Illust: Chan Gailey former football coach at Georgia Tech told how he learned the lesson of humility when he was coaching at Troy State.
    • He was on his way to practice when a secretary found him and said he had a phone call. He told her to take a message. “But”, she said, “it is Sports Illustrated”
    • As he made his way to his office, he began to think about the great publicity an article on him would be for his program at tiny Troy State. The more he thought about it, he started thinking he might be on the cover. 
    • When he answered the phone the person on the other end asked, “Is this Chan Gailey?”  “Yes it is” he replied confidently. 
    • “This is Sports Illustrated, and we are calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?”
    • Coach Gailey’s conclusion: “you are either humble or you will be humbled.” (Alan Price account of Gailey speech in Dalton Georgia 4/20/04)