The continuity from the preceding passage is the theme of humility. Humility is characteristic of the truly wise (3:13); it is the stance for receiving God's grace (4:6); it is commanded in the description of repentance (4:10); the opposite of humility is implied in the question immediately preceding this new passage: "But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?" It is natural for James now to confront directly the opposite of humility, which we would call arrogance.
Dibelius emphatically dismisses any literary connection between this passage and the preceding verses (1976:230). Davids also misses the continuity of theme and sees no direct connection to 4:1-12 (1982:171). He is perhaps overly distracted by the question of the identity of the hoi legontes ("you who say"). He and Laws perceive two distinct classes being addressed by James: merchants in 4:13-17 and wealthy landlords in 5:1-6. Laws concludes from the term emporeusometha ("carry on business") and from the rhetorical address "Come now!" that James is speaking about a distinct class of traveling traders who at this stage would not likely have been a part of the church in sufficient numbers to be singled out as a group of Christians (1980:190). If so, James would be addressing rhetorically people outside the church for the benefit of the Christians who are actually reading his letter. This is a possibility, since James refrains from calling them "brothers" and makes no distinctly Christian references about them. On the other hand, Davids believes James reserves the term plousioi for rhetorically addressing the "rich" who are not part of the church (as in 5:1). In this view, James's avoidance of the term plousioi in 4:13 means he is there addressing people within the Christian community.
Though Davids underestimates the continuity of the humility theme, this continuity actually supports his view of the identity of the entrepreneurs in 4:13-17. James has been addressing Christians about humility ever since 3:13 and has reached a climactic reference to arrogance at the end of 4:12. He would most naturally continue to address believers in 4:13, warning them about arrogance especially in their business endeavors. James will escalate this message in the next paragraph (5:1-6) through his rhetorical address to unbelieving rich oppressors. They will serve as examples of the arrogance described in 4:13-17, carried to the level of murderous greed. This is a more elaborate example of James's argument in 2:1-7, where he first warned Christians about their own sin of favoritism and then reminded them that they were acting like the unbelieving rich who were exploiting them and blaspheming the name of Christ.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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