Our Worship Gathering for Sunday January 24 was cancelled due to Snowstorm Jonas and the 30+ inches that we received. I have posted the sermon that I would have given along with the questions that we would have discussed in our gathering.
Much of what we have been talking about these past 3 weeks in our series entitled All Day, every day: exploring the book of James has led us to this point. Much of the themes of the book, and our discussions culminate in James 4. Without what James is talking about in chapter 4, all the discussion before in chapters 1-3 aren’t even possible.
Three weeks ago we began this series by looking at James 1 and talking about Trials and Temptations. We will definitely be revisiting that discussion a bit today. Without what we’ll be talking about today, the trials and temptations have the potential to derail us, knock us down and out for good.
Two weeks ago we talked about the relationship between faith and works. We talked about the idea that while faith alone saves us we should have a faith that isn’t alone. In fact, I believe if our faith is alone (without works) do we even really have faith. James in chapter 4 will get us to the true root of the balance of faith and works.
Last week we talked about that tricky and often hard to control piece of flesh that sits in our mouths- the tongue. We talked about how often we speak words of death, to ourselves and to othersAnd we talked about even though no human being can truly tame and control the tongue, we are to give the reigns and the steering mechanism of our tongues to him. But without James 4 and what he unpacks in it, our control over the tongue won’t work.
So what is in James 4 that is so important. Why does the entire book seem to hinge on this chapter. What’s in it that will help us and direct us and enable us to live out everything that we have just talked about over the last 3 weeks? Let’s crack it open and see what is in James 4 and why it is foundational to live all day, every day under the rule and reign of Jesus the King.
James 4:1-10 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
James is trying to get to the heart of the matter, our hearts and what lies within them which then comes out whether in word (as we talked about last week) or in deed (what James is starting with here in chapter 4). Jesus himself in Matthew 15 says, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” The early Jewish Christians that James is writing to (and really all followers of Jesus since the beginning) were struggling with an internal battle that raged within them and seeped out of them into their relationships with other followers of Jesus. James puts this battle this way when he says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” Because Scripture is all contextual, there is no double that James was seeing this fighting and quarreling within the early church and is writing to address the early followers of Jesus and sharing with them what the root cause of their division and fighting is. James is saying that within each person lies desires that are fundamentally against the ways of God, what we call our sinful nature. These early followers of Jesus (and by nature everyone ever) had desires for material things, as well as things like their own way, people to follow them, etc… These internal desires then led into conflict with others. James says that when they don’t get their own way, it led to death. Now is he saying that the early Christians got so wrapped up in their own desires that it lead to people killing each other literally, or is he alluding to a way that Jesus used the word killing/murder in the Sermon on the Mount? James is looking back to the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus also used the word murder to express more than actual killing, but also as an inward condition of the heart shown outwardly by anger. So these early Christians were quarreling, fighting, and “killing each other” because they weren’t getting what they wanted.
This led even into their relationship with God himself. There desire to get what they wanted even bled into their prayer lives. James goes on to say, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” There are two problems regarding how these early followers of Jesus were dealing with their desires. It was either no prayer or selfish prayer. The first one was they weren’t even asking God for what they needed. They did not seek God for their needs. Ever been there? I know that I have many times, trying to figure it out on my own. And used prayer as the last resort and not the first option. James reminds each of us of the great power of prayer and why we may live unnecessarily as a spiritual pauper, simply because we don’t not pray or do not ask when we pray.
The second problem in relation to their desires and their prayers were the fact that if they ended up praying, their prayers were all about themselves, their desires, their needs and their wants. They asked with wrong motives so they could spend what they got on themselves. The word spend is the same verb used to describe the wasteful spending of the Prodigal Son. The prayers of these followers of Jesus were self-centered and self-indulgent. Ever been there? Take a step back and look at the content of your prayers…are they all about you, your needs, your desires? I know that I have been there before.
The root of the problem that James then turns his attention to is the fact that we all have a divided heart. James uses the evocative word adultery to describe this idea of a divided heart and divided loyalty. He says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” Obviously James isn’t referring to actual adultery. He is referring to the idea of spiritual adultery where Jesus is our groom and the church is the bride, and the bride is playing the field, so to speak. Running around behind his back with the world. Being friends with the world means being enemies with God- spiritual adultery. But what does James mean when he says friendship with the world? The world is the way the world behaves, the pattern of life, the underlying implicit story, the things people want, expect, long for and dream about that leads them to ask, think and behave. So probably a better word or what James is getting at is the world system, the world system that is aligned against the ways of God. To be a friend of the world system puts you in enmity with God. To be a friend of God means that you tame the desires that are waging war inside of you for the things that you can’t get, the desires that push you to fight and even “kill” and make war.
But how in the world do we live all day, every day under the rule and reign of King Jesus? How do we follow Him and thrive in the midst of trials and temptations? How do we live out the balance of faith and good deeds? How do we live out our faith in the world? How do we get control over our tongue? And how do we become friends of God and not enemies? James draws it all together in verses 7-10 and gives us some tangible ways that we are to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus and apply all that we have talked about and everything that James has written up to this point. He says in verses 7-10, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
The first thing that we need to do to be friends with God and live out the Kingdom is to submit to God. Put our lives under his rule and reign. We should submit to God because he created us, because his rule is good for us, and it is the only way to have true peace. But what does it look like to submit to God and his rule and reign in your life? It obviously looks like what we have talked about the last 3 weeks. But it also looks like the things that James spells out. It means resisting the devil. To resist the devil means to stand against. If we are friends with God, and if we submit to God we will by nature then stand against and resist the devil. Submitting to God doesn’t just mean resisting the devil. Submitting to God means running away from the devil but running towards or drawing near to God. There is an invitation and a promise. That when we draw near to Him, through spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, and worship, his promise is that he will draw near to us.
Submitting to God also means being repentant for your sins. The times when you run after other lovers, when you commit spiritual adultery, making sure to turn around, repent of those times, and run after God a fresh. And it’s means approaching life, our relationships, and our faith in humility unlike how the recipients of this letter were acting at the beginning of chapter 4 with arrogance and pride and seeking their own benefit.
NT Wright in his commentary The Early Christian Letters for Everyonesays this about verses 8-10 and submitting to God, “Verses 8-10 (drawing near to God, cleansing hands and hearts, mourning and humility) seem to me like an agenda for at least 6 months of spiritual direction or perhaps for an extended silent retreat.”
If we are serious about living all day, every day for King Jesus and for his Kingdom, if we want to live faithfully during trials and temptations, if we want to show our faith by our deeds, and if we want to tame the tongue, than let’s take James’ words to heart and Submit to the Lordship of Jesus in your life. Submit to God. Resist the devil. Draw near to God. Mourn and Repent of your spiritual adultery. And live humble lives in how you engage with each other.
But what does it mean on the ground in the every day to submit to God and draw near to Him. How do you submit to God and what spiritual disciplines have you used that help you draw near to Him? How does this Scripture help you live under the rule and reign of God? And what might God be saying to you about living and submitting to his rule in your life? Let’s talk about those things together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and or message?
2. What does it mean in the every day, on-the-ground reality to submit to God and draw near to Him? How do you submit to God and what spiritual disciplines do you use to help you draw near to God?
3. How does this Scripture help you live under the rule and reign of King Jesus?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?