Friday, July 29, 2011

James 4 - Strife and Worldliness

Pride Promotes Strife

[Chapter 3 warned of envy and self-seeking. Last week we used the examples of Adam & Eve seeking wisdom in a self-seeking or a self-glorifying pursuit to "be like gods". In contrast we saw Solomon also seeking wisdom but with humility for the purpose of serving God's people as judge and king.

For James this warning wasn't a hypothetical concern, it was a real problem in the church.]

1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

[The timeless the wisdom of the Bible is always impressive to me. 2000 years after James penned this letter we still have worldly churches; from churches promoting lust by accepting homosexuality, and other unmarried couples, to prosperity preachers encouraging greed. Beyond their sloppy handling of the scriptures to support these heresies, they miss the idea that worldliness conflicts with godliness and retards the spiritual growth of believers who would follow this path. Here James tells us these worldly passions have led to strife and conflict in the church.

But as we saw with wisdom, there is a right way to seek those things we need, primarily by trusting in God rather than ourselves.]

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

[Probably James 4:3 doesn't get quoted much in worldly churches. It clearly refutes that idea the prayer is the key to some supernatural candy store. Remember the Lord's prayer? In it Jesus focused first on God's glory, then our needs, and finally God's will. As long as we seek our needs in God's will, for God's glory, we will be well balanced in our prayer lives, and have every confidence that God will hear and answer.]

4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"?

[Jews were very familiar with the idea of spiritual adultery. Israel was constantly warned against worshiping and serving other gods. Most of you remember the song Buhlah Land, that phrase comes from Isaiah 62:4 "But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah". Hephzibah means "my delight", and Beulah means "married". So you see the connection that God's desire was for Israel and they were to be married to the promised land. To drive out the other inhabitants and their false god's was an act of fidelity. In marriage we forsake all other relationships to pursue our desire in one husband and one wife.

Marriage is the symbol of our relationship with Christ, where we forsake worldly affections to pursue our desire in him. But some of us cheat; we have a side romance going with the world, where we give too much affection to things that draw us away from God.

"friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God", that is a harsh saying. Remember Ephesians 2:2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God's anger, just like everyone else.

"Obeying the devil" and "subject to God's anger" is the natural unredeemed state of man. So when we seek friendship with the world we become traitors to the grace of God, turn-coat's, who give aid and comfort to the enemy, and commit treason against the Kingdom of God.

But verse 5 reminds us that God is jealous toward His bride, since He has redeemed us for Himself, he will not look kindly on our infidelity. It is only the Holy Spirit that gives us the desire to do God's will.]

6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:

"God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." (Proverbs 3:34)

[When you read this passage quoted from Proverbs 3:34 instead of "resists the proud" it probably reads something like "scorns the scornful" depending on your translation. To scorn means to mock or talk arrogantly, so you see the connection between pride and scorn. Of course the beautiful part is the promise of grace to those who humble themselves before God.]

Humility Cures Worldliness

7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

[Once in the spirit of humility, God has a specific plan to engage us in active resistance to the plans of Satan. A worldly Christian is a powerless Christian, but in submitting to God's will, we can join the fight. The effectiveness of our witness is contingent on our willing submission, first to resist the Devil, then to draw near to God (remember Jesus' teaching about abiding in the vine), to stay close to our source of power. His warning to the disciples was "without me you can do nothing".

So worldliness leaves us defenseless against the evil plans of the Devil. Anytime Satan can deceive us into a fleshly approach to a spiritual battle, we have lost before we even begin. So verse 9 moves us to regard our sin the same way God does, so we can repent and recover, to be an effective witness in a spiritual war.

Ephesians 6 which tells us about the armor-of-God, also reminds us that " we do not wrestle against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12); so resisting Satan with our own will power, is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Sometimes we get frustrated in serving God, and think "I'll get up earlier, and work harder", or we make great plans "I will do this and that"; when the correct approach is to start out on our knees humbly seeking God and his will, getting as close as we can to the Lord, understanding that it is His work and it must be accomplished in His power.]

Do Not Judge a Brother

11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

[To me the judging and evil speaking in these two verses sounds like gossip. Any one of us can get filled with pride and decide to let everyone know how others fall short of our standards. Whereas church leaders are commanded to exercise discipline to wavering followers; that is a very serious and loving correction first attempted in private, and bears no resemblance to church gossip. Jesus taught about this process in Matthew 18 and followed it with the parable of the unforgiving servant. With this approach he makes is clear that the two most important virtues in this process are humility and forgiveness. When James was teaching on "taming-the-tongue in chapter 3 he pointed out in verse 2 that "we all stumble in many things", a humbling reminder.]

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