Faith That Works, James 4 - Part 1 Jim Erwin
February 25, 2018
How are you coming on your memory verse this week? Have you put that purple card someplace where you can see the verse and work at it getting it in your head? That’s the goal of memorizing Scripture-to get it into our heads so that we’re thinking and reflecting on it, letting its truth be lived out in our hearts. We’re not after memorizing for memorizing’s sake or to have something to boast about-we’re after memorizing in order to be transformed by what God is telling us. So if you’ve worked on this week’s verse let’s say it together-James 3:13. And I trust you’ve had the chance to do that this week-to display the meekness of wisdom in your life. That theme of wisdom has occurred several times in our study of James. We saw it in week one where James told us to be praying for wisdom because God gives generously to all who ask Him. And then every week afterwards we’ve seen the practical wisdom that James wants us to understand-be doers of the Word, not showing favor to the wealthy, taming the tongue and seeking wisdom from above. And this week is no exception as we’re going to see several more commands for demonstrating wisdom.
Earlier this week I was confronted by this idea of practical wisdom when I was trying to install a new bathroom faucet onto the sink. I thought how could that be hard-a couple of handles and a faucet-but there were lots of parts, washers and gaskets and bolts and tubes to connect. And the instructions said read the entire manual through first before assembling. Have you encountered this statement before? We think we’re doing a good job if we just read the manual each step of the way-but to read all of it first is what we’re supposed to do. Are you someone who reads the whole manual first before starting? You’re following it by the book. Who doesn’t read the manual at all-you just take the pieces and start putting it together? That’s adventurous! I won’t ask how often you’ve regretted it! But I found a hilarious article about this online-but it was serious:
The article was entitled: How to force yourself to read the instruction manual first. The picture on the box makes putting together your new bike look so easy-why mess with long, complicated instructions when you can simply eyeball the picture design and get it done in half the time? If this sounds like you, you may be one of the many people who would rather “wing it” than sit down and go through a complicated instruction manual. Perhaps you get lucky sometimes and figure out how to put something together, but for the most part you end up with five extra pieces and your daughter falls on her face because her bike disintegrates as she rides it. Like childbirth, people sometimes tend to forget some of the harshness associated with not reading the instructions first. However, for your safety and the safety of your family, here is how to force yourself to read the instructions. 1) Confront the reasons why you avoid instruction manuals. You feel as though instructions are a waste of time. You think that you already know what you are doing or you are in too big of a hurry to stop and read all the instructions. 2) Make yourself at least glance at the instructions whenever you receive a new item. Recall the last time you tried to assemble something new and it blew up in your face. Hopefully the item didn’t actually blow up in your face, but think about what went wrong and why (most likely because you didn't consult the instruction manual). 3) Determine how important it is to read the directions. Ponder the ramifications of not reading the directions. In some cases, not reading the directions could put you or your family in harm’s way. 4) Consider that you could be missing out on important/exciting features. Remember the last time you “winged it” when putting together your entertainment system and only found out years later that the system had an extra component for storage. 5) Have someone else hold you accountable. Tell your spouse, roommate or friend that he/she needs to back you up in your goal to read the instructions first. And that last one is my favorite. I can just imagine the conversation-Hey, I’ve got a problem I need you to hold me accountable for. Yeah, what is it? I don’t read instructions manuals. Can you help me better achieve this goal in my life? Yeah-okay.
But as funny as that is, we rarely read through the entire instruction manual first, in fact we often hardly read it if we can get the item assembled on our own. About the only time we do read it is when trouble sets in or something isn’t working right. And I think all too often we treat God’s Word that way, like it’s an instruction manual that’s optional or only necessary during a crisis or trouble. We know we should read it, we know we should read it ahead of time and make sure we understand what it says-but usually we only go to it after we run into problems. Not until things are falling apart in our lives or we encounter obstacles or face difficulties or experience challenges, do we say-I should read my Bible more, I should be more consistent in my devotions, be more faithful in my quiet times and more focused on God’s Word. Haven’t we all been there? Turning to God’s Word only after we’ve hit a dead end or reached rock bottom? Now certainly God wants us to turn to Him then. He graciously welcomes us with open arms and speaks to us through His Word. But as we encounter a book like James that’s filled with practical, everyday wisdom-we’ve got to be a people who read it through first, long before we reach rock bottom. That instead of thinking we already know how to best live our lives, we need to turn to the Lord and humbly ask Him to instruct us; that He would teach us how to properly apply this instruction manual He’s given us.
So open your Bibles to James 4. We’re going to encounter a series of specific commands that he wants us to understand and apply, but before he gives us those commands, he wants us to recognize some hard things about ourselves. James is never one to sugarcoat the truth. We’ve seen that throughout this series and he certainly doesn’t do it here. Look at James 4:1a. Now that’s a great question-and before we read what James says, how would we answer it? What would we say is the reason for the quarrels and fights in our lives? I think we could summarize our gut reaction in one word-others. It’s other people’s fault, it’s the other people in my life that are the reason for quarrels-they started it or they don’t get where I’m coming from, they don’t see it like I do and until they see that I’m right I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. And nobody likes that-but our gut reaction, our natural inclination is to say that other people are what causes quarrels and conflicts. That those things are the result of something external and outside of us, based on people or factors we can’t control. But what does James say, how does he answer it-verse 1a-that there’s lots of annoying people in your life. No-verses 1b-2a. James is saying it’s not out there, it’s in here-our hearts. Did you notice that crucial word within? James is saying that quarrels and conflicts are the result of the passions and desires that are already at war within us as believers. That word passion or pleasure is from the Greek word hedone from which we get our English word hedonism-the belief that pleasure is our chief pursuit in life. James is speaking about the driving desire for worldly pleasures that grips our hearts. We want what we want and we’ll do whatever it takes to get it-lie, steal, manipulate, cheat, even murder. Look back at verse 2a. And since James is writing to believers it’s easy to assume that he’s speaking in a metaphorical way-that we murder with our words or cut people down with our comments-and we certainly do. But one commentator pointed out that this is exactly what King David did. He desired to have Bathsheba who didn’t belong to him-his worldly passions burned within him so in order to have her he had to eventually murder her husband. David’s a perfect example of what James is talking about so maybe this happened in one of the churches he was acquainted with. Maybe James is reminding people of a horrible situation that took place.
But whether he’s speaking of actual murder or figurative murder, the idea is still the same. Those passions at war within us are what cause the conflicts and quarrels, they’re what cause the disorder and every vile practice that was talked about in chapter 3. As a person struggles with conflicting desires, his or her inner life becomes a battleground. The old sin nature with its self-seeking focus battles against the new nature. And when the old nature wins, it enthrones those pleasures as the goal in life, and thereby diminishes the importance of other people and makes pleasure the ultimate thing. I came across a good quote about this passage that said-Pleasure-seeking Christians are walking civil wars. Have you ever thought of yourself that way-a walking civil war? But that’s what we become when we let these passion war within us. Certainly, it could be physical or sensual pleasure like we saw with David. But it could be materialistic or monetary pleasure, it could be the drive for comfort and security or even something positional or professional; that there are things you want to achieve in your career or for your reputation or status so that you’ll do whatever’s necessary to arrive there. And notice how this affects our prayer lives-verses 2b-3. This is when we go to God in prayer with the wrong motives. We treat God more like Santa Claus than the all-powerful, sovereign God who knows best so we demand nothing less of Him than granting us what we want. Lord, bless me with this and make it all work out just like I want-and we’re not satisfied until He does. James says this is praying with the wrong motives. Have you ever fallen victim to that? I certainly have. It’s easy to do. So Point 1: Selfish Hearts and Selfish Prayers: result from a pleasure-first life. That anytime you put your pleasure and your desires or comfort as your main priority, and don’t submit them to God, you’ll end up here. James is saying that you and I can’t maintain a pleasure-first, comfort-first, my desires-first life without damaging our relationships with others and rendering our prayer life useless. What a sobering reality when we find ourselves to be a walking civil war.
Look where this leads if left unchecked-verse 4. It’s the age-old idea that you can’t have it both ways, that a person can’t be good buddies with the world and still be good buddies with God. That word enmity describes hostility and opposition. Enmity doesn’t describe a middle ground where you’re friends with God and the world. Enmity says there’s a dividing line and you’re on side or the other. If you have the NIV it uses the word hatred. That’s strong language. When I think of two groups that have enmity with each I’m reminded of Chicago Bears fans and Green Bay Packers fans. The last Bears game I went to was when they played the Packers and we parked at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago and took the bus over to Soldier Field-and my dad and brother and I were amazed at how they were yelling at each other and taunting each other on the bus. We thought war was going to erupt right there on the bus before the game even started. The Bears fans and the Cheeseheads going after each other. But the reality is that you’re one or the other. You can’t be a Bears fan and a Packers fan-it doesn’t work that way. In fact, I was born in Wisconsin and at an early age my dad told me that we were living in enemy territory. He could have quoted this verse-whoever wishes to be a friend of the Packers makes himself an enemy of the Bears! But there’s all sorts of sports rivalries where the same could be said-and often that enmity and hatred surfaces during the game. When we lived in England some of the soccer brawls that would take place between fans after the game were legendary. But here in this passage, James is saying it’s a very real thing when it comes to the world and God-verse 4. So Point 2: Wrong Friendship: results in hostility and opposition to God. Now James isn’t necessarily talking about people. This isn’t saying to have enmity or hatred towards your unbelieving neighbors or coworkers. Jesus was a perfect example of reaching out to people and being labeled a friend of sinners. He had a heart to connect with people and point them to the truth of His saving grace. He knew the difference between intentionally engaging with unbelievers for the purpose of being salt and light versus pursuing friendship with the world for the sake of pleasure and popularity. And that’s the big difference we have to recognize. Are we drawing close to the world in order to find our sense of purpose or fun? Are we turning to the world’s pleasures or buying into the philosophies of the world that tell us to satisfy our desires and follow our dreams? Or are we seeking the Lord and asking how we can live on mission in the world but not becoming friends with the world?
Look at what Jesus said in John 17:14-18. Jesus isn’t saying to flee the world or abandon it. This is a prayer so He could have asked for God to immediately beam believers into the heaven the moment they’re saved. But He doesn’t ask for that. We’re to remain in the world despite its hatred and challenges, but we’re not to fall in love with the world and become best buds with it. We’re not to derive our primary pleasure or satisfaction from what it offers. Because did you notice how James describes it when we do? According to verse 4 it’s adultery-that the more we are conformed to the pattern of this world, the more we identify with the world and buy into its philosophies, the more we betray God and cheat on Him. That’s the picture James is painting. He’s describing an affair that makes someone more and more opposed to God because they’re falling more and more in love with the things of the world that stand against God. I’m reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. That’s saying as believers we don’t belong to the world anymore, in fact we don’t even belong to ourselves. We belong to God and were bought with the price of His own Son who died for us. Therefore, we’re called to live in a way that honors and glorifies Him. But the world says do all sorts of things to your body, do what feels good, what seems right to you, pursue pleasure and fulfill your desires. And the moment we do that we become an adulterer to the One who bought us. Back to Point 2: Wrong Friendship: results in hostility and opposition to God. It’s not a good place to be.
But God always has an incredible response. Look at verse 5. And that truth is really good news. James is saying that God jealously longs for the spirit He made to live in us. Last week we saw how bitter jealousy is a bad thing in chapter 3, but here in chapter 4 God’s jealousy is a good thing. At different times in the book of Exodus, God told the Israelites that He is a jealous God-and that doesn’t mean God envies His people or wishes He could have things He can’t. Rather God’s jealousy points to His love; it’s based upon His relationship with us. Think about it in terms of marriage. It’s a good thing that you’re jealous for the affections of your spouse. If anything threatens that or seeks to steal your spouse’s affections away from you, you’ll stop it and put an end to it. You want your spouse singularly centered on you and in love with you. And it’s the same with God. As believers we’re called the bride of Christ-and He wants our affections to be centered on Him alone and nowhere else. God doesn’t want you finding your joy and satisfaction elsewhere. First of all He knows that nothing else will ultimately satisfy you, but that’s because He’s made you to find your joy and satisfaction only in Him. So God guards your relationship with Him and jealously longs to have that deep, satisfying connection with you. This is a jealousy to be thankful about. Now maybe when you think of jealousy, you think of some crazy jealous husband who’s always freaked out that his wife is going to find someone better than him because he married out of his league. So he guards over her and watches her like a hawk and always asks what she’s doing or where she’s going. But he’s paranoid and jealous all the time because he’s insecure about himself. That’s not God’s jealousy for us. There’s no insecurity in Him that guards over us, rather His jealousy is a solid and secure reality because He’s seeking what’s best for us and what we’re created for-which is a relationship with Him. God is telling us to run from the things of the world, to resist friendship with the world, because all we need is found in Him. Look at-Isaiah 62:3-5. There’s the beauty of His jealous love for us. Or what did David say about his relationship with God-Psalm 63:1-4. That’s what God jealously guards-for us to realize our need to worship Him because His love for us is better than life-James, R Kent Hughes, p 157:
To realize that the awesomely holy God who transcends the universe and is wholly other and self-contained is at the same time personally and passionately and lovingly jealous for our affection–this realization ought to stop any of our “affairs” with the world and cause us to bow our souls adoringly to Him.
And yet, maybe as you read that, as you hear these words from James 4 you realize that you’ve been having far too many affairs with the world lately. Maybe you feel convicted that your friendship with the world has grown, while your walk with Christ has weakened. Maybe you feel like you’ve been too zeroed in on your own passions and desires that you’ve lost sight of God and His love for you. Where do go from there? What happens when a jealous God sees right through your unfaithful behavior? Look at verse 6. This is such an incredible response! If we think about a typical jealous spouse, they might blow up or get mad-grace might be the furthest thing. But with God grace is what’s always present, always available. It never runs out, it’s never exhausted. So Point 3: Our Jealous God: always responds in endless grace. The very moment we see our unfaithfulness and weakness, right when we come to that place of hitting rock bottom or feeling convicted that we ignored God and lost our first love, He answers with grace. He doesn’t say-You’re going to have to work hard at proving your faithfulness to me. You’re going to have to show me some serious dedication in your devotions, you’re going to have to be really serious about obeying my commands and acting really pious and then I’ll think about extending you some grace. We’ll need to put you on spiritual probation and see how you do. But that’s not how it works. That’s not what God does because that’s not what grace is. Grace isn’t where we earn our way back to God by our good behavior. Grace is when we know we’ve hit rock bottom, and that we’ve let God down or wandered away from Him, and He still reaches out to us because He loves us. I like how John Piper describes this in his book Future Grace, p 81:
God is not the God of some grace–He is the God of “all grace”….
Grace is grace because it highlights
God’s own overflowing resources of kindness.
Grace is eternal because it will take that long
for God to expend inexhaustible stores of goodness on us…
It is one millisecond away and ten billion ages of ages away.
There is no end to grace because there is no bottom to the well from which it comes. The purpose of our salvation is for God to lavish the riches of His grace on us and it will take Him forever to do it. This is a mighty thought.
God will shower us with His endless grace for all eternity. That’s what heaven is all about-experiencing the infinite ways God wants to bless His children-and it last for eternity. There is no bottom to the well of His grace.
And that’s highlighted really well in the story of the Prodigal Son. Do you remember him? He was the young, arrogant kid who took the family inheritance and ran off to spend it. Of course, Jesus describes how wisely he spent it-Luke 15:13-16. So here’s this guy who’s hit rock bottom, the guy who became too good of friends with the world and subscribed to the pleasure-first lifestyle. He chased after everything that James is warning us against-and where it got him was nowhere-well, it got him to lick his lips and think pig food was tasty. That’s a low spot in life-when you’re craving the pig trough. But what does he do? Jesus says he came to his senses and decided to head home and earn his way back into his father’s house-Luke 15:17-19. It seems like a logical plan-something that any of us would try to do-or have already tried to do with God. Okay Lord, I’ve messed up big-time. I’ve really blown it and chased after the world and made a train wreck of my faith so I’m going to work hard and be a better Christian and earn my way back to you. You’ll see how hard I’ll try, how devoted I’ll be. Maybe you’ve said something like that-that’s what the prodigal son was saying. But what did the father do-Luke 15:20. That is grace. The son didn’t do anything to earn his way back. He didn’t repay his father a dime. Instead in humility and brokenness he just headed home-and before he even got there-did you notice Jesus words-still a long way off-the kid wasn’t even close to home-but before he even got there the Father ran out and lavished his grace upon him. And that’s exactly what our heavenly Father does to us. What’s the requirement for grace? It’s an awkward question because there really isn’t a requirement-grace is God’s love and compassion freely given to us. But how do we obtain it? How do we encounter His grace? Exactly the same way the prodigal son did-in humility and brokenness. Back to verse 6. That’s a quote from the book of Proverbs-and we’ve seen this close connection between Proverbs and the book of James, but he’s reminding us that grace isn’t ours because we’ve started to live better and work more diligently at our faith. Grace is ours when we give up on our pride, when we abandon the notion that we can do it, and we turn to God in helplessness and humility. Back to Point 3: Our Jealous God: always responds in endless grace. That’s what we see from the prodigal son’s father-his jealous love made him run out to his son in grace and welcome him home. And that’s what our God does for us-and it all begins with humility and honesty. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve got it all figured out or try to make people think you’re some sort of super spiritual person that doesn’t have any issues. Be honest with yourself and humbly come to God. It’s okay to admit your love affair with the world. It is-that’s what you’ve got to do. It’s only when you admit that the world tugs at your heart that God can begin to transform you.
Earlier we started off talking about instruction manuals-and reading them through first because of the essential information we need to put the thing together. Here’s where James brings us the essential information, the practical wisdom we need. Here’s his series of commands for us-but we can only begin to do them when we humble ourselves and experience God’s transforming grace. That’s the starting point. No one comes to God with an unbowed heart or a head held high. It doesn’t work that way. The cross isn’t for the proud or boastful. We come to Him in humility and submission-verses 6-8a. Those are the big three-submit, resist, and draw near. That’s our memory verse for the week-and it’s the crucial part we all have to do. If we’re followers of Christ, if we claim to believe in Him and walk with Him-then these three things are of utmost priority in our lives. To submit to God saying-Lord, I’m yours. Not my will be done, not my way or my plans or desires, but yours. Then we’ve got to resist the lies and schemes of the evil one-to walk away, to flee, to leave the place of temptation. Not to draw ourselves close to it, but to draw near to God. I love this verse-because again it’s exactly what we see with the prodigal son. He began to draw near to His father and right away the father drew near to him. That’s what happens to us. It’s why Jesus told that parable. And what’s the result of drawing near to God? Having our hands and our hearts cleansed and purified of sin-verses 8b-10. We live in a world that says exalt yourself. We live in a world that says assert yourself-but that’s not how God wants us to approach Him. He wants us to draw near to Him in humility and brokenness, grieving over our sin. And what’s the result-to be cleansed and purified. That’s what drawing near to God accomplishes-we’re washed and forgiven and made new. You don’t come to God to stay filthy and dirty, you come to be clean. I’m sure after hanging out by the pig troughs the first thing the prodigal son did when he got home was take a shower. I bet it felt great to wash off the filth and stain of his foolishness-and celebrate the fact that he was back home. That’s what God commands us to do with our sin as we come home and draw near to Him-to be cleansed and purified as we’re abiding in His presence. If it’s been a long time since you drew near to God, His grace is calling you back. There’s no pre-existing conditions you have to meet, nothing you need to do in advance or things you have to prove, but simply humble yourself and draw near to Him-because when you do, He’ll draw near to you. And that’s what we’re made for-not being near to the world, but being near to God in a relationship with Him.