I think many would say that according to James God is for people who have connected their faith to good works, the people who have their life together. James actually answers this question, and that is not what he says.
In chapter 4, James says some hard things. He says that our interpersonal problems come from the fact that we don’t know how to handle our unfulfilled desires. He says that when we grasp and cling and fight for what we want we live like the world and stand at enmity with God. He makes very clear that God vigorously wants the immaterial parts of us — our minds and hearts and desires — to be redeemed as well as our actions (James 4:1–5).
That’s a message that can lead many to close the book and say, “That’s not who I am today. There is no good word for me here. I don’t fit.” When we walk away from scripture with that message, the issue is very likely that we need to keep reading. Look at the next verse:
μείζονα δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν· διὸ λέγει· ὁ θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν
But he gives a greater grace! So he says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”James 4:6
I think that first sentence is emphatic — that’s how I read it. James understands that 4:1–5 is heavy and the call is piercing, and so I hear verse six as an emphatic call to lift our drooping heads. Who is God for? He’s for the humble. If the first five verses make you feel lowly and in need of grace, then you are exactly the type of person God is for! James is saying that feeling lowly and in need of help is the only requirment for receiving more grace.
I haven’t always seen that flow of thought between verses 1–5 and 6. This morning it was A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures that really helped. Commenting on verse six, he writes,
“Greater grace.” Greater than what? “Greater grace in view of the greater requirement” (Ropes), like Rom. 5:20f. God does this. Wherefore (dio). To prove this point James quotes Prov. 3:34. God resisteth the proud (ho theos huperēphanois antitassetai).
A couple thoughts on how this condensed little commentary is helpful to me in Readings James 4:6. I appreciate Robertson asking “Greater than what?” That’s him saying, “So where in the world do the opening words of verse 6 come from? What’s the connection?”
He points to Romans 5:20, which is helpful because that verse is another place where scripture says God’s grace abounds when the requirements seem too much.
Finally, Robertson says, “To prove this point, James quotes Prov. 3:34.” When he says “to prove this point” Robertson is saying that the quote about God giving grace to the humble is cited by James intentionally to offer scriptural proof that greater grace is available to those who fall short and are humbled.
To summarize, here’s the flow of the passage as I read it with Robertson’s help:
- 4:1–3 – Our conflicts stem from our inability to control our desires.
- 4:4 – When our desires are unchecked, we are in conflict with God, not just other people.
- 4:5 – God genuinely cares that our inner life is redeemed.
- 4:6 – But don’t fear! He gives even more grace for this. If you hear and are humbled by the requirment, go to him for help. You are exactly who you need to be! Just ask for help. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (4:8).
I think that fits with the flow of the next few verses. James alternates between saying things that are hard to hear and pointing you to God for help.