There are chapters in the Bible that become the source of many sermons and could take a long time to consider in all of their implications for our lives today.  One of them is James 4.  Our title this month comes from the last verse, James 4:17.  But first, let’s look at some of the earlier verses.  James mentions the disagreements we have with others.  He asks, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”  Rather than blaming others or being angry with them, we should consider how the issues we face in life might come from within us. 

We are told to “ask and you will receive” (Mathew 7:7).  And James reminds us that we must ask God if we wish to receive.  However, when we don’t receive, it is “because you ask with the wrong motives” (James 4:3).  These wrong motives, James asserts, are because of our “friendship” with people of the world who do not love God.  God provides the Holy Spirit to “dwell in us” (James 4:5) so that we will have the right motives and will not seek to place friendship with the world before God.  God is willing to forgive our sins if we will ask as a result of God’s grace. 

Accepting God’s grace and asking for forgiveness of sins means placing God first in our lives which is hard for many of us to do.    The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) tells us of the importance of humility but the world tells us and encourages us to place ourselves above all else.  When we do this, we make our decisions based on what is good for me and maybe those who surround me.  The difficult step toward worship of God for many of us is the act of submission to God and others (humility).  Humbling ourselves before God is our act of submission.

When we achieve the act of submission to God and others, we are in a position to think of how our thoughts and actions might be centered on what we can do for God and others.  When we are instead centered on self, our responsibilities to others receive little attention.  Which leads us to our title and James 4:17:  “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is a sin for them.”  When we know the good that we should do, what would keep us from doing it?  It could be a lack of confidence, a lack of faith, a conflict with ego, other things considered more important for our time and effort or just laziness.  God will not tell us we “should do” if we are not competent or lack the opportunity.  What we “should do,” we must do.

To do what we must do, we need the submission that says whatever God wants becomes number one in our priorities.  God wants us to serve Him and others.  But being centered on self tends to preclude a devotion to serving God and others on a sustained basis.  As opportunities to serve God and others come to our attention, what is our response?   James 4:17 tells us that to turn away is a sin.  As Christians we are told to avoid sin.  So what is your opportunity to serve God and others?


The primary purpose of the study questions is to help the reader to more fully grasp the significance and implications of the topic.  You may send responses, questions or thoughts for comment by God’s Plan for Service to [email protected] or to GPS, 1226 Knox Valley Drive, Brentwood, TN 37027. 

  1. When you pray, do you ask with the right motives? (James 4:3)
  2. Read James 4:17 and reflect on how it applies to you.
  3. Looking at all of James 4 (find your Bible and read it), what is your favorite verse?

God’s Plan for Service is a non-profit radio, magazine and email Christian ministry.

Kenneth W. Oosting, Ph.D.

Similar Posts
Latest Posts from Nashville Christian Family Magazine