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Commentary – Overview
James 4:1-10; The Avoidance of Worldliness
James saw an epidemic of worldly living among his readers. In 4:1-10 he warned against worldliness and
showed its effects on the prayer life of his recipients. In 4:11-12 and in verses 13-17 he showed,
respectively, that worldliness produced a critical spirit and a godless self-confidence.
In describing the effect of worldliness on the prayer life, James showed that his friends resorted to
scheming, quarreling, and striving in order to obtain their wishes. They failed to receive what they truly
needed because they did not ask. Whenever they did ask, they failed to receive because their request was
tinged with self-will (4:1-3). James’s description of God in 4:5 demonstrated that God tolerated no rivals
and wanted complete commitment from His followers. God could make heavy demands on His followers,
but He could also provide the grace to meet those demands (4:6). In 4:7-10 James uttered in rapid-fire
fashion ten imperative appeals to submit to God and avoid worldliness.
Most of us do not like conflict. We often see conflict as originating from the pressure of others for us to
conform to their plans or opinions, but often that pressure comes from within us. We create the conflict
because we don’t want to follow any plan but our own. This internal conflict often leads to conflict with
others. And while it usually starts with something small, conflict can often escalate into something that has
a negative impact on the entire church. While we are not necessarily called to resolve the conflict simply
by giving in to the other person’s desires, we are called to humble ourselves under God’s desires. This
week’s study in the Book of James should help us acquire a better understanding of conflict and how to
deal with it.
1 What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war
2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not
have because you do not ask.
3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil
4 Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever
wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.
5 Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously?
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KEY WORD: Adulteresses (v. 4)—Spiritual adultery is God’s people choosing idols and substitutes over God
Himself. Using the feminine noun continues the Old Testament‘s frequent practice of depicting God’s people in a
marriage relationship with Him.
James got right to the point. The people were warring and fighting, resulting in strife, struggles, disputes, and
quarrels. The plural form of the words stresses the persistent nature of the interpersonal clashes rather than
isolated events. It may seem a bit extreme to describe the squabbles in our relationships in such strong terms,
but the fact is that if we do not deal with the minor squabbles, they can easily escalate into all-out wars.
Long before modern psychology came along, James offered some profound insights on the root cause of
conflicts. Pressure merely uncovers the origins of conflict. Simply put, conflict arises when we don’t get what
we want. Conflicts can have their source in self-centeredness, prayerlessness, and worldliness. These three
sources of conflict are not separate from each other. A constant interplay exists between self-centeredness,
worldliness, and the motives behind our prayers. Each can be found weaving its ugly web into the trap of
Self-centeredness or selfishness occurs when personal wants conflict with other people’s wants. James
exposed three aspects of self-centeredness: cravings, desire, and covetousness. Cravings reflect a sinful, self-
indulgent attitude of excess, focusing on physical, bodily gratifications. While these are not necessarily evil
intentions, they create internal angst. The English word hedonism, the philosophy that values satisfying self
above all else, comes from this word. Parenthetically, the Bible is not against us having pleasure. Rather, it is
against us finding pleasure in the wrong things or in wrong ways. Desire is lust for something or someone,
setting our hearts on what does not belong to us. Covetousness means to be moved with envy, often using evil
means to get what one wants, including murder. When we covet, we steal what does not belong to us. We set
our desire on an earthly object and pursue it at all costs, including running over people and hurting them to
accomplish our purpose.
Conflict happens when we allow our sin nature to rule. When selfishness, personal preference, and our
opinions take priority, we are inviting conflict. Loving things at the expense of people opens the door to
quarrels. The essence of conflict is selfishness. James’s point is simple—look within not outside for conflict’s
Prayerlessness is either not praying or making requests of God with wrong motives. Legitimate prayer
requests can have illegitimate motives. Prayer petitions can attempt to control God. We ask God to grant our
requests for personal convenience, pleasure, or gain. Such prayers are asked with wrong motives, often
translated as diseased or sick. We sometimes make sick or diseased requests of God. Sick motives are
generally associated with our desires, the same Greek word in verse 1 from which we get hedonism. Our
desires for personal pleasure are not acceptable motives for prayer. Such prayers don’t characterize a spirit-
controlled and kingdom-advancing prayer life, seeking instead to accomplish one’s personal will rather than
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God’s will. People praying like this use prayer as a means to gain benefits for themselves. That’s trying to use
God as a genie to grant our wants instead of meeting our needs. Prayer was never intended to use God.
Praying consistently with God’s agenda, we will not utter selfish requests.
Prayerlessness is a form of selfishness, revealing that our hearts are not focused on God. When we are in
relational conflict, too often we scheme, tell our side of the story, or read books on dealing with difficult
people—but we don’t bring the problem to God in prayer. Maybe one reason we don’t pray when we are in
conflict with another person is because it’s hard to pray for someone and be angry with them at the same
Our prayers to resolve conflict are not merely so we will experience peace or so we will be relieved of
stress, but so God will be glorified. God is not glorified by quarreling and strife. He is not magnified by constant
Worldliness describes a life separated from God, a lifestyle of pursing a selfish agenda devoid of God’s
desires. When we live such a life, we become spiritual adulteresses—turning away from God to idols, friends
with the world. We deliberately choose to follow the world’s anti-God system, hostile toward God—hating
God, even God’s enemy—opposing God. Instead of being faithfully wedded, James’s readers had, by their
worldly ways, turned their backs on God and were having an affair with the world.
Those are shocking words as James tried to jar his readers from spiritual complacency. He wanted them to
drop their excuses and squarely face the magnitude of their sin. They were playing politics in the church,
attacking one another, and rallying others to their cause. They were squabbling among themselves, but
shrugging it off as just normal behavior. James implied, “Yes, fighting and warring may be normal in the world,
but you’re not of the world!” Believers are part of God’s family. He longs for His children to get along and to
experience peace among themselves. When we engage in selfish conflict we are not acting like God’s people.
We will not resolve conflict until we correctly identify its source. If we are blaming others, we probably
have not identified the source. Few conflicts are 100 percent one-sided. Even if one party is only 5 percent
responsible and the other side is 95 percent responsible, the 5 percent side needs to face any responsibility he
or she has and not blame the other side. Deal with the source and most conflict will cease.
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6 But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
7 Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts,
9 Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
KEY WORDS: The proud (v. 6)—The term refers to those who choose to align their hearts with any one or
anything other than God, thus making Him their rival. Proud people don’t realize their need, seek independence,
and don’t recognize their sin.
The humble (v. 6)—The term conveys a state or attitude of lowliness or poverty. As the term relates to Christ,
humble people have the right view of themselves—lowly, impotent, and unworthy; but they have the right view
of God—exalted, powerful, and provider.
James, always the practical writer, transitioned from the cause of conflict to the actions to resolve conflict. He
revealed that we overcome the pressure of conflict through humility, submission to God, resisting the devil,
drawing near to God, and getting rid of our sin. Just as the three primary causes of conflict—selfishness,
prayerlessness, and worldliness—are woven together and inseparable, so too are the actions to resolve
conflict. These powerful remedies are not progressive actions that come one after another. They are needed
ingredients in the recipe toward resolving the pressure of conflict.
James underscored the need for humility. James quoted Proverbs 3:34. Pride is at the heart of all
disobedience to God and of almost all relational conflicts. If God resists the proud, but gives grace to the
humble, then we want to make sure we do not make ourselves God’s opponents. The proud are those who
seek to live their lives without God’s intervention and help; the humble, on the other hand, realize their need
for God and depend fully on Him. Humility facilitates conflict resolution. It recognizes our weakness and
insufficiency yet it recognizes God’s all sufficiency and His power. Very little relational progress is made
Submission to God means we submit our wills to His. We attend seminars on being more assertive, but no
seminars exist on how to submit. This military term describes responding according to one’s rank. Submission
is not a popular concept, but it is a biblical one. When we submit to God we acknowledge His authority. We
allow Him to be God in our lives and our relationships. Submission can’t happen without humility. They are
like two sides of the same coin. Submission to Christ does not necessarily remove conflict, but it removes the
pressure we can feel because of conflict. Since all conflict begins internally we have to resolve the inward
conflict before we reach outward peace. The real conflict is inside of us. Who’s in charge? When we submit
ourselves to God, we recognize His right, His role, and His rule. Submission to God is reflected in our
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submission to His authority, His Word, and His providence.
Don’t pass over this command too quickly. Conflict cannot and will not be resolved simply by praying about
it—though prayer is needed and important in any conflict resolution; nor will conflict be resolved by talking
about it—though talking is essential and required by the parties involved. All conflict resolution necessitates a
renewed submission to God. It is recognizing that all conflict resolution requires a satisfactory answer to who’s
going to run one’s life.
Furthermore, believers can easily drift away from God. If we are engaged in continuing quarrels and
conflicts, it might be because we are not close to God. We’ve drifted. He calls us to draw near to Him, with the
promise that He is ready and waiting to draw near to us. We cannot be close to God at the same time we are
angry or bitter toward someone else. Jesus emphasized in Matthew 5:23-24 that drawing near to God includes
clearing up any relational difficulties as much as it is in our power. If we think we are close to God, but we are
angry and bitter, we deceive ourselves. Submit to God; draw near to Him.
To resist the Devil is to actively oppose or withstand Satan. Resist is also a military word, meaning to stand
against in war. This is the only proper reaction in dealing with the Devil. It means to stand against or oppose.
Paul used it with reference to spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:13. Devil literally means slanderer, speaking
falsely against God and people. James called his readers to action, to preparedness. Satan uses our selfishness
to start and to continue conflict. We need to recognize his ploy. Satan wants to destroy every good marriage,
relationship, and church. He loves conflict. He wants to cause confusion, stress, hurt feelings, disappointment,
anger, and chaos. Watch out for his schemes and prepare with the proper tactics for defeating him. We are
never to run from Satan. We are never to turn our backs on him. (No armor in Ephesians 6 is for the back.) We
resist by standing strong in the power of Jesus. We refuse to give in. And, when we stand strong, Satan will
flee from us.
Drawing near to God is the act of coming into God’s presence. In much the same way as the temple priest
approached God for worship and sacrifice; we come near to God in worship, prayer, and Bible study. When we
start drawing near to God, He journeys the rest of the way to be with us. This is the great promise and
assurance of His daily, minute-by-minute presence in our lives. Two corresponding results come by our
drawing near to God: one, we enter His presence, and, two, we lose the pressure of conflict with others.
Conflict is often a sign of immaturity. Living in the presence of God we grow in faith. As we grow, we soon
discover the issues that upset and bothered us don’t have that effect anymore. In addition, as believers spend
time with God, the better we get along with one another. When arguments arise, it often means somebody is
not spending time with the Lord. Is the conflict in your life in direct proportion to the time you’re spending
Getting rid of sin is the act of repenting of our sins and seeking God’s cleansing. Cleanse and purify are
active synonyms—to make pure or holy. The word combination draws on Old Testament stipulations that
priests purify themselves before performing temple rituals. These are God’s works in the believer’s life. Hands
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refer to outward behavior or conduct while hearts refer to inward behavior or attitudes. James challenged his
readers to clean up their acts, withdraw from evil actions, and stop using hurtful words.
James did not want believers to rejoice until they had earnestly humbled themselves to God and taken
appropriate action to resolve any conflict among them. They were to be miserable and mourn and weep.
These words indicate deep feelings of remorse for any responsibility for conflict. They call for heartfelt and
open repentance, an outward evidence of sorrow. That laughter must change to mourning does not indicate
we should wander around dour and hopeless. In Scripture, laughter often signifies the fool or foolish
behavior—ignoring or making light of God’s teaching, choosing to live according to selfish desires, relishing sin,
or scoffing at the notion God will bring judgment.
Kent Hughes tells of an old preacher who received a report of a woman in a service he had conducted. The
messenger said the woman had gotten “joy in the Lord,” or salvation. The preacher pointedly questioned, “Did
she ever get any sorrow?” He knew that to truly experience the joy of sins forgiven, one first has to experience
the grief of the sins.1
James concluded the needed actions to conflict resolution by reiterating the need to humble ourselves. In
humble we should see a person falling face down before a powerful lord, hoping to garner favor. God offers
two options when it comes to humility: Be humble or be humiliated. It is far better that we humble ourselves
now rather than have God humble us later. The key to developing biblical humility is in the phrase, before the
Lord. Only those with hardened hearts could be proud in the presence of the Lord. The truly humble person is
the one who submits to God, resists the Devil, draws near to God, and has gotten rid of sin. A humble person
will seek to resolve conflict and live in peace with others.
Coming to an understanding of the causes of conflict and taking actions that lead to conflict resolution are
not easy. They require total honesty and a deep look within to see one’s own part in the conflict. Once that
has been discovered, it then takes courage to implement the actions necessary to attempt to bring the
warring and fighting to reconciliation. But, the value is indescribable. People live in peace. Believers expand
God’s kingdom through witness. God’s church discovers unity of purpose. And, God’s name is glorified and
honored. The cry, “Can we all get along?” will be changed to “We all get along!” Our children will recognize it.
The people around us will notice. God will be pleased.
1. R. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 189.
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SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern
Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Adulteresses—James used this strong term in James 4:4 to stress the spiritual infidelity of some on his
audience. In the Old Testament God often was pictured as the husband of the Israelites. Although God was
consistently faithful to His covenant relationship, the Israelites often were unfaithful. The story of Hosea’s
marriage to Gomer illustrated this infidelity well. Just as Gomer failed to be faithful to Hosea, the Israelites
had been unfaithful to God. Jeremiah also compared Israel to an unfaithful spouse (Jer. 1:51).
ADULTERY: is the act of unfaithfulness in marriage that occurs when one of the marriage partners
voluntarily engages in sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex other than the marriage partner.
Old Testament: Israel’s covenant law prohibited adultery (Ex. 20:14) and thereby made faithfulness to the
marriage relationship central in the divine will for human relationships. Many Old Testament regulations
deal with adultery as the adulterous man’s offense against the husband of the adulterous wife. Yet both the
adulterous man and woman were viewed as guilty, and the punishment of death was prescribed for both
(Lev. 20:10). The severity of the punishment indicates the serious consequences adultery has for the divine-
human relationship (Ps. 51:4) as well as for marriage, family, and community relationships.
Several Old Testament prophets used adultery as a metaphor to describe unfaithfulness to God. Idolatry
(Ezek. 23:27) and other pagan religious practices (Jer. 3:6-10) were viewed as adulterous unfaithfulness to
the exclusive covenant that God established with His people. To engage in such was to play the harlot (Hos.
New Testament: Jesus’ teachings expanded the Old Testament law to address matters of the heart.
Adultery has its origins within (Matt. 15:19), and lust is as much a violation of the law’s intent as is illicit
sexual intercourse (Matt. 5:27-28). Adultery is one of the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19). It creates enmity
with God (Jas. 4:4), and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9).
The New Testament associates remarriage after divorce and adultery. Marriage is a lifelong covenant
between a man and a woman. Divorce does not break the bond, so remarriage is viewed as adultery except
in cases where unfaithfulness was the reason for the divorce (Matt. 5:32; Mark 10:11-12). The marriage
bond is broken by death (Rom. 7:3; 1 Cor. 7:39).
Adulterers can be forgiven (John 8:3-11); and once sanctified through repentance, faith, and God’s grace,
they are included among God’s people (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
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The proud—In James 4:6, James contrasted the proud and the humble. The Greek word for proud points to
someone who is arrogant or boastful. C.S. Lewis, the noted Christian apologist of the 20th
pride “the great sin.” Pride, Lewis said, is “essentially competitive.”1
Proud people are typically self-
centered, always looking out for number one. God consistently opposed the proud who fail to honor Him.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, noted, God “has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts”
PRIDE: Undue confidence in and attention to one’s own skills, accomplishments, state, possessions, or
position. Pride is easier to recognize than to define, easier to recognize in others than in oneself. Many
biblical words describe this concept, each with its own emphasis. Some of the synonyms for pride include
arrogance, presumption, conceit, self-satisfaction, boasting, and high-mindedness. It is the opposite
of humility, the proper attitude one should have in relation to God. Pride is rebellion against God because it
attributes to self the honor and glory due to God alone. Proud persons do not think it necessary to
ask forgiveness because they do not admit their sinful condition. This attitude toward God finds expression
in one’s attitude toward others, often causing people to have a low estimate of the ability and worth of
others and therefore to treat them with either contempt or cruelty. Some have considered pride to be the
root and essence of sin. Others consider it to be sin in its final form. In either case, it is a grievous sin.
“Boasting” can be committed only in the presence of other persons (1 John 2:16; Jas. 4:16). “Haughtiness”
or “arrogance” measures self as above others (Mark 7:23; Luke 1:51; Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2; Jas. 4:6; 1 Peter
5:5). This word refers primarily to the attitude of one’s heart. First Timothy 3:6; 6:4; and 2 Timothy 3:4 use a
word literally meaning “to wrap in smoke.” It emphasizes the plight of the one who has been blinded by
Pride may appear in many forms. Some of the more common are pride of race, spiritual pride, and pride
of riches. Jesus denounced pride of race (Luke 3:8). The parable of the Pharisee and the publican was
directed at those guilty of spiritual pride, the ones who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,
and despised others” (Luke 18:9). James 1:10 warns the rich against the temptation to be lifted up with
pride because of their wealth.
The humble—James noted that God has a positive relation with the humble. These people are often poor
and readily acknowledge their dependence on God. Earlier, James wrote that God chose “the poor in this
world to be rich in faith” (Jas. 2:5). Anyone, rich or poor, can recognize his or her spiritual dependence on
God rather than on mere human resources. That’s being humble.
HUMILITY: A personal quality in which an individual shows dependence on God and respect for other
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Old Testament: The Old Testament connects the quality of humility with Israel’s lowly experience as slaves
in Egypt—a poor, afflicted, and suffering people (Deut. 26:6). The Hebrew word translated as humility is
similar to another Hebrew word meaning “to be afflicted.” In Old Testament thought, humility was closely
associated with individuals who were poor and afflicted (2 Sam. 22:28).
What God desires most is not outward sacrifices but a humble spirit (Psa. 51:17; Mic. 6:8). Such a humble
spirit shows itself in several ways: (1) a recognition of one’s sinfulness before a holy God (Isa. 6:5);
(2) obedience to God (Deut. 8:2); and (3) submission to God (2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 34:37).
The Old Testament promised blessings to those who were humble: (1) wisdom (Prov. 11:2); (2) good tidings
(Isa. 61:1); and (3) honor (Prov. 15:33).
The experience of many kings indicated that those who humble themselves before God will be exalted (1
Kings 21:29; 2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 32:26; 33:12, 19). Those who do not humble themselves before God
will be afflicted (2 Chron. 33:23; 36:12). The pathway to revival is the way of humility (2 Chron. 7:14).
New Testament: Jesus Christ’s life provides the best example of what it means to have humility (Matt.
11:29; 1 Cor. 4:21; Phil. 2:1-11). Jesus preached and taught often about the need for humility (Matt.
23:12; Mark 9:35; Luke 14:11; 18:14). He urged those who desired to live by Kingdom standards to practice
humility (Matt. 18:1; 23:12).
The person with humility does not look down on others (Matt. 18:4; Luke 14:11). Humility in the New
Testament is closely connected with the quality of “meekness” (Matt. 5:5). While God resists those who are
proud, He provides grace for the humble (Jas. 4:6). Primary in the New Testament is the conviction that one
that has humility will not be overly concerned about his or her prestige (Matt. 18:4; 23:12; Rom. 12:16; 2
Paul believed that quality relationships with other people, especially those who had erred spiritually,
hinged on the presence of meekness or humility (1 Cor. 4:21; Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25). The New Testament
affirms, as does the Old Testament, that God will exalt those who are humble and bring low those who are
proud (Luke 1:52; Jas 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6). The Greek world abhorred the quality of meekness or humility, but
the Christian community believed these qualities were worthy (2 Cor. 10:18; Col. 3:12; Eph. 4:2).
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ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
GENUINE Humility By Charles A. Ray, Jr., associate dean of the research doctoral programs and professor
of New Testament and Greek at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.
THE ENGLISH WORDS “humility” and “humiliation” both come from the same Latin root, but the two words
convey dramatically different meanings, the first generally positive, but the second generally negative. In
the same way, the Greek New Testament uses five different words for “humility.” These five, each coming
from the same Greek root word (tapeinos), had a wide range of uses in the first century.1
The adjective tapeinos appears in the New Testament 8 times, the verb tapeinoo 14 times and 3 noun
forms (tapeinosis, tapeinophrosune, and tapeinophron) appear a total of 12 times. The word group was
common during New Testament times. For example, the word group occurs 278 times in the Greek
translation of the Old Testament.
Old Testament Roots
The Greek adjective generally meant “low” and could describe an object’s physical location. The
Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, used this word to contrast Israel’s lowland from her
hill country (Josh. 11:16). Leprosy could be identified because the disease was deeper (tapeinos) than the
skin (Lev. 13:3). The Jewish historian Josephus used the adjective to describe a section of the Jerusalem
temple that was lower on the ends than in the middle.2
Luke quoted Isaiah 40:3, where the verb describes
mountains and hills being leveled to prepare for the coming of the king (Luke 3:5).
The word group could also describe a person’s status, or lack thereof. Gideon complained that his family
was the weakest (tapeinos) in the tribe of Manasseh (Judg. 6:15). When Saul offered his daughter Michal
to David in marriage, David objected that he was a poor (tapeinos) commoner (1 Saul 18:23). Amos
condemned the rich who boasted, “We can buy the poor with silver and the needy (tapeinos) for a pair of
sandals” (Amos 8:6).3
The psalmist grouped the orphan and the oppressed (tapeinos) as being in special
need of God’s justice (Ps. 10:18). The word was also used to describe a person’s lack of character. Josephus
reported that soldiers of the Roman emperor Galba accused him of timidity (tapeinophrosune) in the face
The verb form could describe a variety of negative conditions inflicted on others. Both the Egyptians (Ex.
1:12) and the Ammonites (Judg. 12:2) oppressed (tapeinoo) Israel at different times. The Philistines were
subdued (1 Chron. 20:4), and later the tribe of Judah defeated the tribes of Israel (2 Chron. 13:18). In both
references the verb tapeinoo describes the action. Second Samuel 13 uses the verb several times to
describe Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar.5
The Old Testament also uses this verb was to describe self-
denial as a Sabbath observance (Lev. 16:29,31) and fasting (Ezra 9:5).
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In all of the above occurrences, the word group paints a negative (or at best neutral) picture in which the
base definition of “low” is evident. The word group could refer to the person’s low birth, low occupation,
current bad fortune, or low character.6
In contrast, the word group for tapeinos was used in a positive sense as well. In secular Greek writings the
word group occasionally appeared as a virtue associated with modesty and moderation.7
thought the humble often were contrasted with the proud, arrogant, and haughty: “Before his downfall a
man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility” (Prov. 18:12).8
The first-century Jewish author
Philo discussed two types of humility: one grew from weakness and the other “from the strength of
perseverance.” The second type involved laying aside arrogance.9
At times humble circumstances must be defended Esther’s use of a humble appearance because the fate of
the Jewish nation depended on her actions, Josephus also recorded the complaint of a certain Sameas, that
when Herod was called before the Sanhedrin to answer charges against him, Herod’s attitude lacked a
submissive nature (tapeinos). The decorum of the court demanded such an attitude even from someone
In the Old Testament this positive attitude toward humility and the humble is rooted in God’s attitude
toward them. Perhaps the most succinct expression of this attitude is in Proverbs 3:34 (a passage quoted in
James 4:6 and 1 Pet. 5:5): “He mocks those who mock, but gives grace to the humble.” Not only does He
give grace, but God also is actively involved in reversing the fortunes of the humble: “The Lord is near the
brokenhearted; He saves those crushed (tapeinos) in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). God’s attitude is often expressed in
a reversal of fortunes between the proud and the humble, the rich and the poor. Ezekiel records God
saying, “Things will not remain as they are; exalt the lowly (tapeinos) and bring down (tapeinoo) the
exalted” (Ezek. 21:26).
New Testament Applications
The reversal of fortunes motif is in the New Testament as well. Luke twice quotes Jesus as saying that
everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke
14:11; 18:14). The first quotation comes at the conclusion of a parable told to address the problem of
guests clamoring for the best seats at a party. Those who seek their own interests are in danger of being
humbled by the host.
The second quotation comes at the conclusion of a parable addressed to those who considered themselves
righteous. In the parable the tax collector, who refused to even lift his eyes from the ground, was judged
righteous. Luke follows this parable with the account of Jesus receiving the children (Luke 18:15-17). In
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Luke’s account Jesus warned the disciples that the kingdom belongs to those who are like children. In
Matthew’s account of this incident, he quotes Jesus as saying, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like
this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). Status in the kingdom is
reversed from status in the world.
Just as God’s attitude toward the humble defines the Old Testament view of humility, Jesus’ example
defines the New Testament view. Jesus urged His followers: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and
burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and
humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves” (11:28-29). Notice that Jesus’ character (gentle and
humble in heart) allows us to learn from Him.
Paul ties together the reversal theme and Jesus’ example of humility in the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-
11. Humility demands that we consider others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). In order to do
this our attitude must be Christ’s attitude (v. 5). Although Paul used the verb tapeinoo in verse 8 to
describe Jesus’ action, Jesus’ humility is not limited to this one verse. Rather, the incarnation itself is given
as an example of an attitude that trusts God to work in lowly circumstances to accomplish His good
pleasure (vv. 11,13).
James uses Proverbs 3:34 and the reversal of fortunes to bracket several pairs of words that describe an
attitude attuned to God.11
Because God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6), we can humble ourselves
before God and trust Him to reverse our lowly circumstances (v. 10). Such an attitude will not allow us to
fight with one another or be friends with the world (vv. 1-4). Nor will it allow us to criticize our brother or
sister or rely on our own planning and ability to achieve success (vv. 11-17).
COVET The Meaning By R. Raymond Lloyd, Visiting Professor, Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary,
1997-1998 and retired Pastor, First Baptist Church, Starkville, Mississippi.
FROM THE “LETTER” OF THE LAW in the first nine commandments, God moved to the “spirit” of the law in
the Tenth. The Decalogue concludes with a commandment regarding the inner motivation and intention of
a person’s heart added to the previously listed outward acts of behavior. What does it mean to covet?
Two words in the Old Testament are translated “covet.” Both appear in the Tenth Commandment. In
Exodus 20:17 only hamad appears, while in Deuteronomy 5:21 hamad is used in relation to a “neighbor’s
wife,” and awah is used for the remaining objects. Both mean “to desire” and appear to be used
interchangeably, though there may be slight variations.1
Our focus will be upon hamad, the more common
term used in both versions of the Decalogue.
The basic meaning of the word is “to desire,” “to take pleasure in.”2
The verb and its derivatives may have
positive, neutral, or negative connotations. The positive idea may be reflected in the object of the desire:
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desire the ordinances of the Lord (Ps. 19:10), or “should desire him” (Suffering Servant, Isa. 53:2); or the
subject desiring: God has desired the mountain (Jerusalem) as His abode (Ps. 68:16), or “the desired of all
nations” (Hag. 2:7). The ethically neutral use may be seen in phrases like goodly garments (Gen. 27:15) or
delicious food (Dan. 10:3). The most frequent use of the word is in the negative setting, relating either to a
subject that is wicked (Prov. 12:12), or godless (Job 20:20); or to a forbidden object, as idols (Isa. 1:29;
44:9), and illicit lovers (Ezek. 23:5-7).
Fundamentally the word carries no moral connotation. Whether it is evil or not to desire must be decided
from the context: namely, the subject, or the object of the desire, or the action it will precipitate, or what
the spirit of the desire does to the individual. The predominant use appears to have “devaluing overtones”
of undisciplined, selfish desire.3
Here, the desiring for one’s own personal possession or gratification that
which belongs to another shows its darker side. Thus the translation “covet.”
A further question arises. May the word actually go beyond the emotion of desire to include the action
stimulated by it? Set in the context of the Decalogue, clearly, the first nine stipulate a specific action.
Should not the Tenth, therefore, follow the same pattern? In so doing, the context would dictate that the
word includes the idea of both “desire” and the “steps to appropriate” the desired things; hence, to steal.4
However, examining other Old Testament passages where hamad leads to actual possession, a second verb
is supplied to make the meaning clear.5
If hamad meant “desire” and “seize,” it would appear that a second
verb conveying the sense of “appropriating for one’s self” would have been necessary. In addition,
Deuteronomy, as if to clarify the meaning, adds the verb awah, which, as we have already seen, is limited
to desire and is synonymous with hamad. This implies that hamad is limited to the emotion, and perhaps
the intrigues leading to acquisition of objects, but not the act itself.
Thus, to covet is an internal emotional and mental process, a burning desire to obtain something for
oneself. As such it becomes a most carefully chosen word with which to conclude the Decalogue. The Ten
Commandments are introduced with the command, “You shall have no other gods before me,” depicting
the foundation of the covenant. It closes with “you shall not covet . . . ,” describing the foundation for the
breakup of the covenant. Covetousness becomes the basic sin, opening the door to the violation of every
other command: Coveting other gods is the gateway to idolatry; coveting “free love” of the fertility cults is
the gateway to worshiping other gods and sexual irresponsibility; coveting possessions is the gateway to
stealing; coveting total freedom is the gateway to disrespect for parents and the Sabbath; coveting self-
justification is the gateway to lying.6
Numerous are the examples of the obsessive desire in a person’s heart
and mind that precipitate a person actually committing the overt act of sin.7
The biblical writers saw
covetousness and illegal procurement as automatically accompanying each other. Covetousness appears
last in the Decalogue as a uniquely comprehensive command; violating it may well bring about the violation
of one or all of the others.
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What is implicit in the Ten Commandments Jesus made explicit in the Sermon on the Mount: Lust is the
forerunner of adultery; anger the forerunner of murder. Sinful conduct has its root in sinful desire.
The WORLD as a New Testament Concept By Randall L. Adkisson, senior pastor, First Baptist Church,
“WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING?” “Welcome to my world.” “That’s out of this
world.” “The third world.” “The new world order.” “He is in a world of his own.” “She is a
woman of the world.” “You and me against the world.” “It’s a small world.” The Arab
world.” He is in a world of hurt.”
SUCH STATEMENTS remind us that words carry different meanings or nuances of meaning depending on
the context of their use. In English the meaning of “world” changes depending on the term’s social,
scientific , or personal context. As in modern English, so too biblical words express different meanings
depending on the context of their usage in a historical period, cultural setting, or literary phrase.
The English New Testament translates several Greek words into “world.” As with Old Testament terms for
“world,” each New Testament term can present differing nuances of meaning depending on its context.
Ge, one of the Greek worlds for “world,” primarily designated the physical earth, much as the Hebrew
Used extensively in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, where 120 of its 250 occurrences are found, the
term focuses on the world as a landmass. Almost every New Testament writer made use of the term in this
New Testament authors used ge as the common term to designate the earthly sphere. So in Acts 1:8 the
gospel moves to the ends of the earth. In Matthew 5:35, the world is the footstool of God. But ge may
also designate any size area of the earth from a national landmass to the small piece of land on which a
seed may fall. Thus, in Matthew 10:15 it designates Sodom and Gomorrah, but in the parable of the sower,
it represents the singular spot of soil on which a seed is planted (Matt. 13:8; Luke 8:8). This term is morally
neutral, designating the world neither as evil nor virtuous, but ge does designate a place of corruption that
will ultimately pass-away (Matt.6:19).
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Oikoumene, a cognate of the Greek term oikos meaning “house” or “dwelling,” speaks of the world as it is
inhabited, the dwelling place of man and by expansion, mankind who dwells upon the earth.2
particularly fond of the term, employing it in his Gospel and Acts 8 times out of its 15 usages. But in the
Book of Revelation, the term reveals its distinction most clearly. Here, God judges the oikoumene, John
specifically using this term to indicate the judgment of mankind. Thus, the hour of testing will come upon
the whole world (Rev. 3:10). Satan deceives the entire world, that is all of mankind (12:9). And the kings of
the whole world are gathered for judgment (16:14). In every case the term designates the inhabitants of
the world, not its landmass.
In exaggerated speech oikoumene may designate a subsection of mankind but as if the designated
subsection were the only important part. So Luke said that a census was taken of the “world,” but clearly
meant only the Roman world or the jurisdiction of Caesar (Luke 2:1). Such usage was common when
speaking of the Roman Empire.
Aion—Age or Era
Aion, another Greek word for “world,” is indicative of a cultural environment. Often translated as “age,”
this word denotes the political, cultural, even religious atmosphere of an epoch of time.3
The period may
be as extensive as the period between Jesus’ advent and return (Matt. 13:40). Or it can designate the
general period in which the reader lives, thus the “worries of this age” choke out the efficacy of the Word
of God (Mark 4:19, HCSB). Even so, the riches of the present world (aion) may cause a believer to trust in
his or her financial resources instead of God (1 Tim. 6:17).
Kosmos—The World . Kosmos, familiar to the English reader because of its frequent transliteration and
familiar cognates cosmos, cosmic, cosmology, and even cosmonaut, may refer to the world with the many
varying shades of meaning often attributed to the English term “world.” Thus, it may designate the sum of
all things that man perceives in the created order, or merely the physical earth, or mankind, or the place of
human habitation as opposed to the abode of God and supernatural creatures. The term can also
designate a political or religious culture. Because of its plentiful and varying usage, this term is the most
significant for the study of John’s Gospel.
Although John used kosmos throughout his Gospel, Epistles, and the Revelation, the interpreter must take
care because the apostle often varied its nuance of meaning within close textual proximity. Kosmos may be
morally neutral in one verse but then designate non-believing, even evilly motivated mankind in a nearby
Great error and complete misunderstanding result when a reader demands the term carry the same
meaning throughout John’s writings or throughout the New Testament.
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In and Out of this “World”
Because of its multiple nuances of meaning, the “world” of the New Testament text is at one place to be
loved and at another to be loathed depending on its contextual usage. Although Paul developed the
concept of kosmos some in this writings, the most extensive use of the term is in the Johannine writings,
particularly in John’s Gospel. In fact, John used the term 105 of the 186 times it appears in the New
The relative lack of usage of the term in the Synoptic Gospels, only 15 times, seems to reflect the Hebraic
style of designating the created order with the phrase “heaven and earth.” This is paralleled closely by
usage in the Old Testament where the concept of “all created things” is so designated (see Gen. 2:1-2;
The wide divergence of meanings of the term kosmos should remind the biblical student to be sensitive to
the importance of context when reading. In John, God so loved the world that He initiated the incarnation
even before He laid the world’s foundation (John 3:16-18; 10:36; 17:24; 1 John 2:2). Yet, John called
believers to hate the world, not allowing its touch to stain their sanctification (1 John 2:15-16). In one
Gospel context, Jesus created and entered the world, but in another, He would not even pray for it (John
1:9-10; 17:9). Variously, John used the term to designate all people, the tangible things of creation, the
fallen social order, and the determined antagonistic forces of opposition to God’s rule.
In John 17, the reader will do well to thoughtfully consider each use of the term. John’s first use speaks of
creation, pairing kosmos with ge (17:4, 5). Yet, almost immediately, the “world” becomes the sum of all
mankind who refuse to believe in Jesus as Messiah (vv. 6, 9). Still again, the “world” is the seductive
trappings of life lying in wait for the unsuspecting disciple (v. 15).
The modern reader should not consider John as muddled in his thinking; rather remember that modern
usage of the term “world” also carries many different nuances. Just as the sense of the term is easily
determined in modern cultural and literary contexts without thorough examination, the biblical usage is
generally simple to comprehend even when different nuances of meaning are used within close proximity
to one another. Yet a purposeful pause to consider the exact nuance of meaning will add great strength to
one’s biblical understanding.