Either Christians throughout the Empire were murdering one another and stealing from one another in order to satisfy their own selfish desires to obtain what others possessed (James 4:1-2), or James wrote his epistle at least partially in code. The fact is, the churches of God were at the very time of James’ epistle experiencing and empire-wide trial in the form of a conspiracy (James 1:1-2) coming out of Jerusalem, intended to destroy the Messianic wing of Judaism.
The trial surfaced in the form of false doctrine (James 3:14-18) when there arose among the Messianic believers false teachers (James 3:1), who probably first attacked the existing leaders within the churches (James 4:11-12), but James advised the brethren to rather submit to God and resist the slanderous remarks of the false teachers (James 4:7). The new teachers were causing conflicts among the brethren, some of whom seemed to have grown weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9; 2Thessalonians 3:13) and become ripe for the evil doctrine of hoarding the material blessings of God for themselves (James 4:1; cf. James 2:1-3, 15-17), which is nothing more than a prosperity gospel—if your faith is strong enough you will have all you need.
James reminded those who had become weary of doing good that they had not received what they thought they should from God, because they hadn’t asked, or if they did ask, it was merely to consume God’s gifts upon their own lusts (James 4:2-3), and God won’t be a party to such behavior. James accused these of unfaithfulness to Jesus (James 4:4), because they had embraced the worldly doctrine of the Sadducees in Jerusalem, namely that men are wealthy, because God blessed them for their righteousness, while men are poor, because they are not righteous—evidenced in the fact God has not blessed them with riches.
Jesus had addressed this issue when the rich ruler (a Sadducee) had come to him asking how he might inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18), but when he found out that God required him to give away his wealth, which he had come to depend upon as though it were God (Luke 18:22), the rich ruler walked away. Jesus then remarked how difficult it would be for those who depended upon riches to enter into God’s Kingdom (Luke 18:24-25), but when the disciples heard this, assuming great riches were God’s blessing for great righteousness, they asked who then could be saved (Luke 18:26). Nevertheless, Jesus responded that nothing is impossible for God.
James addressed this very matter, because at long last it had surfaced within the churches of the Diaspora. It had surfaced earlier and was put down by Paul (Galatians 6:9; 2Thessalonians 3:13), but was at the time of James’ letter running rampant in the Messianic churches throughout the Empire, probably because Paul was at that time in prison and virtually unable to combat the conspiracy, or at least he couldn’t have been as effective as when he was free and a threat to visit the churches experiencing the trouble. James addressed those wealthy brethren, saying they were not only judging their brother in Christ, but were setting themselves up as judges of the law—becoming judges instead of doers (James 4:11).
Who is worthy enough to judge another man’s servant (James 4:12; cf. Romans 14:4)? Nevertheless, the then present testimony of at least some wealthy believers showed they boasted in their own worldly methods of profit and not in faithfulness to Jesus who had bought them (James 4:16; cf. 2Peter 2:1). Therefore, whoever knows how to do good and has opportunity, but refuses to do so, commits sin (James 4:17). So, instead of depending upon worldly methods of profit (James 4:13), we should place ourselves in the hands of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (James 4:15), because God alone is the Lawgiver, and he is able to save and destroy, provide for us and destroy our enemies (James 4:12). Our wealth will fail, but Jesus’ love will never fail us (1Corinthians 13:8).