James 3:13-4:10

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These small group studies of James contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

James 3:13-4:10 Inductive Bible Study

Outline:

I. Heavenly wisdom vs. worldly wisdom (3:13-18)
A. Actions reveal a wise or unwise heart (13-14)
B. Worldly wisdom (15-16)
C. Heavenly wisdom (17-18)
II. Worldly behavior (4:1-4)
A. Worldly lusts (1-2)
B. Worldly motives (3)
C. Worldly love (4)
III. Humble yourselves (5-10)
A. God wants to have a close relationship with us (5)
B. Be humble and wary (6-7)
C. Humbly repent and turn to the Lord (8-10)

Discussion Questions:

I. Verses 13-18

What is James’ focus in verses 13-18?
Is it similar to any other passages we have already studied in James? Which ones? (Being a doer and not only a hearer. Being a person who shows their faith by their action.)
How do you think an unbeliever would define “wisdom”?
How would you define “wisdom”? How do you think James would define “wisdom”?
How would others know if you are wise since wisdom is an invisible character quality?
Explain the phrase “gentleness of wisdom”.
Explain verse 14, specifically the phrase “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”
How can their be two different sets of wisdom? Can there be two almost opposite courses action that are both wise? Where does worldly wisdom come from? Is it really wisdom? If not, what is it?
What are some of the key tenets of worldly wisdom?
What are some of the key tenets of heavenly wisdom?
What does this tell us about how understanding/knowledge/wisdom will effect our lives?
In what way does verse 17 portray the characteristics of wisdom when it looks like it could just be a list of Christian virtues?

Teaching Points:

1. James here continues his series of points on practical Christian living focusing again on action instead of knowledge, doing instead of hearing. To look at it another way, he is speaking out against hypocrisy in the church. This hypocrisy comes in many forms including professing faith in Christ, but not persevering in trials, showing partiality towards certain people in the church, being a hearer but not a doer, saying one has religion, but not looking after orphans and widows or controlling his tongue, blessing God and cursing man with the same mouth, professing faith, but having no action to back it up and two more this week: considering yourself wise, but not living it out and loving the world more than God.

2. James often teaches through the rhetorical method question. Why? This focuses his message more directly on the recipients. It is intended to make people consider whether they are in this category or not. People are forced to consider his message instead of just thinking, “oh he is talking to someone else.” In this case we need to ask ourselves the question “do we consider ourselves wise and understanding?” If we answer “no”, then we obviously need to work on becoming more wise. If we answer “yes”, then he hits us with the phrase “let him show by his behavior his deeds in the gentleness  of wisdom.” In other words, if you are really wise, you will live it out. Based on his teachings, it is safe to assume that James would have some choice words for people full of head knowledge, but loose living. It seems his mission was to try to reconcile Christian living with Christian doctrine.

3. How do you think an unbeliever would define “wisdom”?
How would you define “wisdom”? How do you think James would define “wisdom”?
How would others know if you are wise since wisdom is an invisible character quality?
Explain the phrase “gentleness of wisdom”.

4. Explain verse 14, specifically the phrase “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”
Starting in verse 14 James begins describing earthly/worldly wisdom. He is giving a test by which we can measure if actually are wise or not. We can look at our actions to see if we are living wisely. So what is worldly wisdom like? Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition both indicate a competitive and combative spirit. You want what others have. Your desire is to push yourself forward no matter who you step on on the way. You look out for your own interests ahead of others. In conversations, you will probably boast about your worldly successes and talk about how to make more money and get a higher status. The have nots are jealous of the haves and the haves are jealous of the have mores. The end of verse 14 is saying that if you have this kind of attitude, but think you are wise you are being arrogant and lying against the truth. In other words, if you answered yes to the question “who among you is wise?”, but have this kind of jealousy or ambition, then you are a liar, you are not wise in God’s eyes.

5. How can their be two different sets of wisdom? Can there be two almost opposite courses action that are both wise? Where does worldly wisdom come from? Is it really wisdom? If not, what is it?
What are some of the key tenets of worldly wisdom?

This wisdom is spread by Satan from the beginning. It can sound good or reasonable on the surface, but at its heart is selfish. It goes back to the time of Cain and Able. Abel pleased God. Cain was jealous of what Abel had, so he killed him. There are two different sets (perhaps more, but for our discussion worldly against heavenly) of wisdom because the assumptions about life we live on are different. Evolutionists believe that there is no God. They will never be judged or held accountable for their decisions. After life there is nothing more. Right and wrong are relative because there is no absolute standard; it is defined on what is good or bad for you or perhaps for society at large. Now if you live with this set of assumptions the wise course of action would be to pursue your own pleasure and your own selfish ambitions. Whatever makes you happy, do it. But the Christian has a completely different foundation we live in. We believe there is a God. WE will be judged for how we live our lives. There is life after death. There is an absolute standard. Right is not about what is pleasant for us, but about what pleases God. our actions are eternally significant. This leads to a completely different conclusion. Wise for us is to do whatever God tells us to do. We need to understand the HUGE differences between heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom when making choices.

Do you want to make decisions with earthly, natural, demonic wisdom? Then you MUST NOT simply follow the majority or go along with culture. Give some examples of worldly wisdom you see prevalent in culture (gross materialism shown by extreme commitment to jobs ,education, etc.). We must critically evaluate every decision we make and most importantly evaluate our lives to see if they are in line with our beliefs. You want to go to college and get a degree. Ask yourself why? Ask yourself if God wants you to do that? Don’t just do it because everyone else does. You want to get a second degree. Ask yourself why? Is it because the prevailing theory in China is “if you have the possibility to go on for further study, do it.”? You want to get married? Is it because culture says you have to get married by 30 or because God wants you to? You want to buy a house. Is it because culture says you have to buy a house to get married or because you think God wants you to buy a house? From these few examples we can see how strong culture’s influence is. Most Christians in China automatically accept most things in culture without looking at them critically, but do you realize that culture is driven by earthly, demonic wisdom? This kind of wisdom is not from God and must not govern our lives. If you only learn one thing from this passage on heavenly/worldly wisdom I hope it is to be a Christian who lives out your beliefs in the world, not a Christian who lives like the world and also has your beliefs.

  1. What are some of the key tenets of heavenly wisdom?
    What does this tell us about how understanding/knowledge/wisdom will effect our lives?
    In what way does verse 17 portray the characteristics of wisdom when it looks like it could just be a list of Christian virtues?We can see a lot of the practical issues James has been hammering home listed here. Why? Because a Christian wisely living out his faith will be doing these things.
    Pure – Similar to without hypocrisy. Full of integrity, sincere. Proper motivation.
    Peaceable and gentle – Self-explanatory. Jesus is the prime example.
    Reasonable – MacArthur says “The original term described someone who was teachable, compliant, easily persuaded, and who willingly submitted to military discipline or moral and legal standards. For believers, it defines obedience to God’s standards.
    Full of mercy – James already discussed that those with true religion will look after orphans and widows in their distress.
    Good fruits- Faith will have fruit.
    Unwavering – We won’t give in when we face trials.
    Without hypocrisy – Being a hearer but not a doer or blessing God and cursing man with the same mouth.

    II. Chapter 4:1-4

Discussion Questions

What are the main points of 4:1-10?
Why do you think James’ often uses the rhetorical question/self answer method to teach?
Explain what James is referring to by “pleasures” or “hedonism”?
What group of people do you think James is describing in verses 1-4?
If you had one word to describe them, what would it be?
If he is talking to worldly people, unbelievers, then what can we as believers get from it?
Explain the phrase “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” Why are friends of the world enemies of God? Does this mean we should hate the world? What is normally meant in the Bible by “world” or “worldly”? Do you love the world? Are you overly attached to it? Do you find yourself full of selfish ambition? Do you love the pleasures of the world? Can you think of some other verses in Scripture that talk about worldliness or the dangers of loving the world?

Teaching Points

James once again uses the question/answer method to teach. His questions generally highlight his main point that he is going to focus on. He often brings up an issue with a question and then methodically answers it. The question implies that there were quarrels and conflicts among them. He was going to tell them why they had this problem. It was an external manifestation of an internal problem. So what was the internal problem they had?

The problem was they were worldly. This is the second type of hypocritical so called Christian in the church. The first claimed to be wise, but followed the world’s wisdom. This kind claims to love God, but actually loves the world. They are the apostate within the church, the goats that think they are sheep. We’ve seen a number of tests to check if we are real believers including test of trials, pure religion, faith/works, heavenly vs. worldly wisdom and now worldly lifestyle. The key problem is seen in verse 1. The source of all of these external problems is their pleasures. This doesn’t refer to having fun, but a loving of worldly pleasures rather than God. The English word  hedonism comes from this Greek word. Some philosophers have used this word to depict their worldview for the meaning of life. The hedonist is a person that lives for pleasure. Solomon describes this worldview in Ecc 2:1-2. The love of pleasure is taking over many countries in the world. It is a large reason why empires such as the Roman empire fell. AT the beginning the people were hard working, but once the nation became rich people became lazy and wasted away their days. You have movie theaters, amusement parks, leisure spas everywhere, a tv in ever home no matter how poor the person is, personal computers with more tv on them internet bars where kids go to play for tens of hours at a time, and these are just a few, and these are just a few of the relatively harmless forms of entertainment compared to some much worse forms. The US used to be very hard working and goal driven. Now people are getting lazier and lazier the more they love entertainment of various forms. For unbelievers this love of pleasure wages war in their bodies. They know they should work, but they cannot control their desires. These desires sometimes start of innocent, but left uncontrolled they grow and can lead to fighting, quarreling, and even murder.

What is the proper outlet for our desires? The proper thing to do instead of trying to fill them ourselves is go to God. Pray for Him to give us the desires of our heart. An example would be a desire to get married. Instead of letting this desire grow uncontrolled and trying to fill it by yourself by having a physical relationship outside of marriage or just marrying based on your own desire, you should take this desire to God. You say, “I have, but he didn’t answer.” Well, maybe the problem is you asked with wrong motives. Maybe you are approaching marriage by what you can get out of it rather than what you can give. Maybe you have a selfish mentality. Maybe your motivation is pressure from others or a financial motivation. Or maybe you want money so you ask God and when He doesn’t make you rich you are surprised. Well, maybe you have wrong motives. You want to use the money for yourself rahter than God’s work. You want to buy a bigger house, a large flat screen TV, or go on a dream vacation. Your motivation is purely self-centered. Cross-references.

In verse 4, James hits his point home, friendship with the world is hostility towards God. Loving the world is hostility towards God. A friend of the world is an enemy of God.
Explain the phrase “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” Why are friends of the world enemies of God? Does this mean we should hate the world? What is normally meant in the Bible by “world” or “worldly”? Do you love the world? Are you overly attached to it? Do you find yourself full of selfish ambition? Do you love the pleasures of the world? Can you think of some other verses in Scripture that talk about worldliness or the dangers of loving the world? Cross-references.

Worldly refers to the worldly system of thought that is contrary to the Bible and righteous living. Some examples include such nuggets as “Look out for number 1” and “Live and let live” and “akuna mattata” and “no tomorrow”. Materialism, superstition, loose morals, and selfishness are all examples. The world is ruled by Satan and manipulated by him; therefore friendship with the world is hostility towards God. We must choose one or the other.

III. Verses 5-10

Discussion Questions

In what way is God jealous? Isn’t jealousy bad? What is the difference between good and bad jealousy? What does God’s jealousy tell us about His character?
What will God do to the proud people? Can you give some examples from the Bible of God humbling/judging the proud?
Is there any middle ground that we can take on the whole world or heaven issue?
What is the opposite of resisting?
Is verse 8 directed towards believers? Why or why not?
What is the main teaching in verses 8-10?
What does it mean to “be miserable and mourn and weep?” Does this mean that since a believer is to hate the world and not give their lives to worldly pleasures, we will live in gloom and doom?
In what way will God exalt us if we humble ourselves in His presence?

Cross-references:

Chapter 3
13. 1 Peter 2:12
15. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 3:18-23, Ecc 1:2
17. Ecc 12:13-14, Luke 22:25-26
Chapter 4
2. Galatians 5:16-26
3. 1 John 3:221 John 5:14-15Psalms 37:4-5
4. Romans 8:5-11, 1 John 2:15-17, John 15:19, 1 Peter 2:9, Mark 8:38
5. 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16
6. Proverbs 16:18
7. 2 Timothy 2:22
10. 1 Peter 5:5-6

Study James 4:11-17

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