Question on James 4:9

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Brian Lee

Puritan Board Freshman
Have been struck while reading James 4:6-10, specifically on verse 9: “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” How am I to apply this- as the letter was written to believers, so I’m understanding the v6-10 portion specifically driven towards those who have slipped off the path a bit? And are desirous to correct their way? In lieu of this (if I’m understanding correctly at all), verse 9 is to mean to practically remove pleasantries and turn to being miserable with morning and weeping = mourning over sin? To mourn, is that a General sorrow, with actual crying being indicative of true sorrow? Can one be sorrowful without tears? Obviously yes I think- at this point I’m writing as my thoughts come. I guess to distill what I’m saying- is how to practically apply verse 9?

I did a general search on the passage within PB, wasn’t able to find much
I am not a biblical scholar, but these are my responsive (nether exhaustive, nor authoritative) thoughts to your question from my own reading (and probably teaching I've received from godly men) over the years.

James is an eminently practical book, tying the inexorable practical holiness that must proceed from justifying, then saving faith. So tying works to faith, James is saying if you confess this faith, your conversation will be thus. In that consideration, he'll proceed to discuss meekness, wisdom, etc. and will distinguish wisdom & craftiness (3.13-18), the former being pure, peaceable, gentle ... full of mercy and good fruits, the latter being styled as earthly, sensual, devilish. This latter "wisdom," craftiness -if you will- has as its aim the fulfilling of one's own lusts, which -by the way- is the root of temptation (one's own lusts, Chapter 1). So when we come to chapter 4, considering everything that's been discussed up to that point, as well as all the analogy of Scripture, it cannot be the bare prohibition of pleasantries, but rather, against a man's own lusts, that "wisdom" which is earthly, sensual, devilish, and which hides the sinfulness of sin, hardening a man therein. Rather, as those things enflame the blindness -and, according to a particular person's place, station, temperament, even some lawful enjoyments may exacerbate- seek then to mortify those members, drawing near to God, beholding oneself in that "perfect law of liberty," (1.25), one can see his objective condition, left to himself. Thereby, through faith and the Spirit's blessing, he will rightly be humbled, and have the subsequently holy lifting up. This being afflicted, mourning, will not always have the same kind of intensity, or coverage, but will be a regular part of the believer's life, as he works now in his inheritance, being fitted to enjoy perfectly his eternal inheritance to come. There will be admixture of lawful "pleasantries," but held loosely, as they are to be used, but not loved in this present life.
Whether or not there are grossly guilty, present perpetrators of adultery (v4) present before James is not the issue. James’ teaching presumes Jesus’ teaching: that adultery is a sin of the heart long before—or even in the absence of—the blatant, outward engagement. The potential is there, and that’s enough to make us guilty. James is laying down the LAW of God, in all its potency, that some holdout against conviction might be broken.

There’s another background (besides Jesus’ teaching) that James is calling on, with this 7C language. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets had long-since used the metaphor of adultery to confront the people of God with their idol-worship. Jehovah was Israel’s husband; he had married her to himself, Ezk.16:8, but she had gone after the gods of the nations all around, like a wanton wife, further in Ezk.16, and also Hos.2, Jer.3, and elsewhere.

Jer.3:20 “Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel,saith the LORD.”

James challenges his Christian hearers with the same message: You folks cannot be living as those who outwardly are committed to Christ, while in your heart you love the world. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” This is the kind of question that invites a strongly positive response—not just “yes,” but “of course you’re right.”

After some encouragement for believers, that God will give them grace; James follows this with a series of exhortations, imperatives, in vv7-10. Submit to God, resist not God, but the devil; and the core directive: draw near to God; finally cleanse, purify, lament/mourn/weep, and humble yourself. vv9 & 10 really belong together like a couplet, akin to the prior couplet in v8. Maybe in v9 James is thinking about Ezra 9:6, "And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." Ezra was a man of God, but he did not hesitate to see himself as one in need of repentance, especially as he was burdened by not only his personal sins, but the sins of the whole faith-community.

Rather than thinking that tears and distress over sin and sins is the proper domain of those that "clearly need it," we should all take time to lament and mourn and weep over our personal sin, and the sin of the church, and the sin of humanity all around and every day. Humbling oneself like that will lead to the Lord himself lifting us up.
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