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James 4:9

ESV Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
NIV Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
NASB Be miserable, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into gloom.
CSB Be miserable and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
NLT Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.
KJV Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

What does James 4:9 mean?

James continues to describe the process of repenting from worldly self-reliance and ambition. Thus far, he has instructed us to submit to God and resist the devil. We are to draw near to God, with the confidence that God, in His grace, will draw near to us. We are to cleanse our hands and hearts of the sinfulness and double-mindedness we had been choosing.

Now in this verse he calls us to engage in an emotional response to our sinfulness. He calls us to cry, to mourn, to be gloomy, even. He calls us to set aside laughter and joy. James is not suggesting that we embrace sadness as an ongoing lifestyle. On the contrary, Christians are to be known for their joyfulness. James himself opened this letter by instructing believers to chalk their hardships up as joy (James 1:2)!

Rather, James is directing us through a season of repentance, when we have recognized our own sin. True believers, those who claim to believe God and who have received His loving gift of salvation, ought to feel shame and sadness over their sins, at least temporarily. If we have been destructively living only for ourselves, realizing this should make us sad. We should be provoked to grieve the lost hours, days, and years spent in pursuit of worthless things.

We must not be too quick to rush on to a status of "everything's fine now." Our rebellion happened. We cheated on God. We lived as His enemy for a time while we were friends with the world. Tears are an appropriate and necessary response if the repentance is genuine—as are the end of tears after receiving God's grace and forgiveness once more. This season of grief is not meant to be a lifestyle or a pattern.
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