“No Laughing Matter” - Notes on James 4: 9-10
It is often the case that we encourage one another to rejoice. In the beginning of his letter, James explicitly exhorted the brethren to count it as joy when they meet various trials. Why, then, would the command be given in James 4:9-10 that the brethren “be wretched and mourn and weep” and to let their “laughter be turned to mourning” and their “joy to gloom?” *
Think back of the sins addressed in James 2:1-13 (partiality), 2:14-26 (faith without works), and 4:1-5 (affinity to the world). It is in view of these sins that James is calling for them to be wretched, to mourn, and to weep. Indeed, despite the grace they have received, they have chosen to act treacherously. They were disloyal or faithless to their Savior and Lord. For this reason, it is only right that they should be miserable for having committed such sins.
With the same force, James commands them to let their “laughter be turned to mourning” and their “joy to gloom.” It is implied in these phrases that those being rebuked were actually taking delight in their wrongdoing. They were taking sin lightly and allowing the things of this world to be their source of gratification. Note what James says after his command that they grieve over their sin-- “humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” See also 1 Peter 5:6-7.
As an example, recall the sin of David when he took Bathsheba. He fell into temptation, and he did so for the temporary pleasure of sin. However, when he was convicted through the prophet Nathan, he repented in dust in ashes. He acknowledged his transgressions and cried out to God for mercy (Psalm 51). In the same manner, the child of God should be ashamed when falling into sin. He should not remain in it. He should not delight in what is evil but cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
Clearly, we as believers need to realize that it is not a light matter to do wrong or to fall into sin. Sin is to be hated, not desired. Believers should lament and be grieved when falling into temptation, remembering the cross and all that it means.
If you are a child of God, meditate on what the Apostle Paul declared to the saints in Rome and in Colossae, as found in Romans 6:1-14 and Col. 1:9-14, respectively. Let us never forget: sin is no laughing matter.
* For the command to “be wretched,” consider the word “wretched” in Rom.7:24. For the command to “mourn and weep,” consider the usage in Mark 16:10. These words, together, express both external and internal sorrow. “Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief” (James 4:9 NLT).