Short Sermon on James 4

Imagine coming to church, or a bible study, and seeing your church family in a brawl. Conflict abounding between everyone. The cause of this? Everyone is envious of what each other has, lusting after the things they cannot acquire. In chapter 4 of the book of James, James responds to news of a similar situation:

 1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore 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 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. [NASB]

James is writing to Jewish Christians spread throughout the known world. A lot of commentators believe that many of these Christians originally came from the church in Jerusalem and would have had previous encounters with James as their pastor. Whatever the circumstances of James’ relationship with the people he is writing to, it is clear throughout the book that he has some idea of what is going on in their lives and he writes as someone with authority to speak into their lives. James chapter 4 deals particularly with the attitudes and actions of those he is addressing. James had received news on dissension and conflict within the body, people were chasing their lusts and desires over right relationship with their brethren. The men and women he was addressing had turned in relationship with God for friendship with the world. James makes it clear that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  Even though we may not see this same level of conflict in our church today, we can relate to the cause of the conflict.

The temptation to befriend the world is something we face everyday, the world is always offering its pleasures. It can be easy to accept the worlds offer and even syncretize what the world says with our biblical worldview. But do we really weigh the costs?

I found my study of James chapter 4 particularly challenging in my life. God showed me the areas in my life were I was forsaking him for the world. What I found that I was asking myself, and what we all need to ask is:

Are we following God, or are we friends with the World?

Now to truly answer this question we need to figure out what James means by friendship with the world, what James has in mind for following God, and what exactly does following God look like in our lives.

What does James mean by friendship with the world.

Reading verse 1-3 we get an Idea.  “1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” The world is all about chasing selfish desire, doing what you can to please yourself.

The world encourages us to pursue those things that please the flesh, not the things that further the kingdom of God. The things of this world will often fly in the face of what God has for us.

Now this is not a call for a monk like existence separate from all that is in the world. From the wider context of the entire New Testament we can see that we are called to live in this world.

This is a call against partaking of this world. We need to be in the world, but not partaking of what it offers.

Equating friendship with the world as open hostility to God may seem a little harsh, but it makes sense. When we are partaking of all the world offers we are not following God’s will for us, and we are not do listening to His voice. We are in effect turning our backs and walking with his enemy. From scripture we can see that the world, and the indulgence of our sinful nature that it espouses, are enemies of God. In Roman culture friendship extended beyond a one on one relationship. A friendship would include assimilation of a friend’s friends and enemies. By befriending an enemy of God, we are switching teams.

Friendship with the world is following in its ways, and puts us in enmity with God. What are the ways of the world? In the words of John Wesley “Anything that cools my love for Christ is the World.”

Are we following God, or are we friends with the world? We have seen what friendship with the world looks like, but what is the James’ call for us to follow God?

Friendship with God, following Him, is a call to submission.

In verses 5-10 we see this call. 5Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” God desires our submission and He wants our sole devotion.

Unfortunately in our culture submission is seen as a bad thing, the idea of submitting, placing ourselves under someone else’s authority, is so counter culture.

The Greek word used in verse 7 is hupotassō(hoop-ot-as-so), unfortunately for those of us panicking at the thought of submission, it means what we think it means. It is a very military word, bringing the Idea of subordinating oneself to someone with a higher rank,  The Bible Exposition Commentary puts it like this “This word is a military term that means “get into your proper rank.”” God is the highest ranking being imaginable, and who are we that we would not subordinate ourselves under his orders?

If you have been reading along in your bibles you may have started panicking when I read verse 5, possibly thinking I read it wrong. In the NASB and the ESV it reads 5Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “Hejealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? “, but in the NIV it reads “5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” These two very different translations come about because; for this  passage the original Greek does not distinguish the subjects and objects of the words very well for us. I read a bunch of different commentaries, and discovered that most lean towards the NASB and ESV translation. It is also interesting to note that this is not actually a direct quote of the Old Testament but a summarization of some of what it says. In the context of this discourse it means that God jealously desires our sole devotion. God wants for us to have Him as our sole devotion in life, and He will tolerate no others taking that role.

Choosing to follow God, to befriend Him and not the world, requires submission, but this submission is not a bad thing, it is a willing subordination to the will and desires of our Loving and Mighty God.

Are we following God, or are we friends with the world? We have seen what friendship with the world is and that James is calling us to follow and submit to God, but what does submission entail?

What does submission look like?

Submission is displayed in many different ways, we have already seen that in submitting to God we need to give him our sole devotion, but what else? Verses 8-17 tell us a lot about submission.

8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-mindedBe miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

James draws on some powerful imagery here to convey the need for submission to God in the people’s lives.

In verse 8-9 James’ shows the need for repentance, and seeking God. In verse 8 the call to “cleanse your hands, and purify your hearts” would have struck a cord with his Jewish audience. This is the language of temple sacrifice and cleansing, the people needed to be clean of the pollution their sin caused, they needed to repent. This is made clear in verse 9. This verse is filled with powerful emotional imagery, harkening back to the prophets of the Old Testament. They would tear their cloths, weep and mourn for the nations of Israel and Judah. These nations had given themselves fully to the sins of their neighbours and where bringing upon themselves the wrath of God. In this verse James is calling out his audience on how they were taking joy in their sin, they needed to get down on their knees and repent, not continue in their evil ways. This call to repentance is a huge part of submitting to God. Not only are we to submit to him externally, but we are to repent of our sin, ask for forgiveness and turn our backs on what we were doing. Only when the people did this, humbled themselves, would God exalt them.

In verse 11-12 James call’s the people to not speak evil against each other. In submitting to God we need to submit to His law, and by speaking evil against each other James’ audience would be putting themselves above the law, in essence judging the law by their own standards. God is the only judge, and He is the lawgiver, in our submission to Him we need to follow His statutes.

Verse 13-16 has the capacity to be taken in a few wrong ways. In these verses James is calling his audience, some think he may have specifically been addressing some wealthy merchants and businessmen, to submission in their plans, not to stop their business and not make plans at all. Verse 16 reveals that the real problem behind their planning is their attitudes. These men were making their plans outside of God’s will, they were not submitting to his will but forging out on their own. H. A. Ironside used to tell a story that reflected this attitude. It went like this “I remember one night in Stockton, Calif, … I was preaching about the coming of Jesus. As I was in prayer I was conscious of a woman getting up and going out, for in those days the skirts would swish whenever a lady walked. It seemed to me that this lady must have gone out in a hurry. When I finished my prayer and went to greet the friends at the door, I found a woman pacing back and forth in the lobby. The moment I came, she said to me, “How would you dare to pray like that—“Come Lord Jesus?” I don’t want him to come. It would break in on all my plans. How dare you!” I said, “My dear young woman, Jesus is coming whether you like it or not.” Oh, if you know Him and love Him, surely your heart says, “Come, Lord Jesus!”” God calls us to submit all our plans to His will.

Our submission to God involves seeking his face, repentance, and giving all our plans up to Him.

Are we following God, or are we friends with the world?

In verse 4 James writes: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” We need to choose God over friendship with the world.

The world will always be enticing us with its friendship, so we need to continually be making the choice, every day, to submit our plans, and our lives to the Lord. We need to do his will. George W. Truett once said “To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge, to find the will of God is the greatest discovery, and to do the will of God is the greatest achievement.”

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