James 4:3 Meaning of Verse and Simple Commentary

James 4:3
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Explanation and Commentary of James 4:3

It is truly a profound privilege to be able to approach the throne of God with boldness and ask him things and for help (Heb 4:6). We are told in many places that not only does God allow it, he likes for us to depend upon him in this way.

There is nothing wrong with “spend[ing] what you get on your pleasures” provided your heart is in alignment with God when you ask. So why does James say that our motives are wrong when we ask God for something we would take pleasure in?

James seems to be speaking to the category of things that we want bad enough to fight, or even murder for (Ja 4:1-2). He appears to be speaking of the lusts of the heart that we might crave and that would take the place of our satisfaction in God. God gives us good gifts to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17) but they must always be seen as less important than the giver himself. When we have become passionate about a thing, then it has become an idol, and the motive for asking has become sinful.

Breaking Down the Key Parts of James 4:3

#1 “When you ask,”
We are admonished to pray to God who is like a good Father who will give good gifts to his children when they ask (Mt 7:9). The problem is not that we would pray, but that we would pray with some sort of sinful motive and desire to satisfy some lust for pleasure that goes beyond the bounds God has given us.

#2 “you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,”
God is a kind and generous Father. He is also a wise and good Father who will not give us what will hurt us. He will not give us a gift that will replace himself in our hearts, because he loves us too much and does not wish to see us come to harm. It is not always what we ask for that is the problem, but rather how and why we ask. God always tests the heart.

#3 “that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
How do you “spend what you get?” We are called to manage wealth as stewards of what is God’s for his glory and his purposes. He does provide us enough for our modest enjoyments, and it brings him glory for us to use his gifts for our wholesome rest and recreation in his name. But when we cross the line into something we must have in our pleasure-seeking, we show that we need pleasure more than we need God. He will not have a rival God, because he loves us.

Bible Study on James 4:3

Expert Overview of James

Biblical Translations of James 4:3

NIV
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

NLT
And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

ESV
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

KJV
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

NKJV
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James 4:3 Meaning and Commentary

About the Author of this Blog Post
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. She is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.