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May 17, 2021 2:00 am
Look at verses one through 12 of James chapter 4 tonight as we continue our series through this New Testament letter James for one through 12.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you, is it not this. Your passions are at war within you, you desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. Do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passion you adulterous people you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God, or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says he yearns jealously over the spirit that he is made to dwell in us, but he gives more grace. Therefore it says, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
Do not speak evil against one another brothers, the one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver in John's. He who is able to save and to destroy but who are you to judge your neighbor.
Pray father once again, we thank you that you are a God who speaks to us and that your words are living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, able even tonight to discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart Holy Spirit would you take these powerful words.
These living words and change our lives would you conform our wills to your will to conform our behavior to your law are thinking to your truth. Our affections, to your beauty. We pray this in Jesus name amen be seated and seminary.
Our professors taught us to assume that if the New Testament writer addresses a particular problem at that problem was probably not some theoretical problem in the church we can rightly assume it was an actual problem that the writer is dealing with.
If if Paul for example, repeatedly tells the Philippian church to rejoice. We can assume they must've not been rejoicing as they should have been.
If Peter continues to tell his readers to endure suffering and we can assume they must've been suffering. So, in light of this interpretive principle. What must have James's audience been dealing with. Think about the territory reported covered in this book in the in the first three chapters of his letter, James has repeatedly dealt with matters of conflict between Christians that he's addressed partiality he's condemned neglecting the needs of others that he has warned against harsh and cruel speech is called for repentance of jealousy and selfish ambition. Evidently the readers of James's letter, whoever they were. Didn't get along very well.
They had conflict issues, strife and infighting were the order of the day in the presence of strife in the church is not a problem. It's unique to James's time is it were all too familiar with the conflict is all too often present. Even today, so much so that a Jewish philosopher once made this conclusion about Christianity.
He said I have often wondered that persons who make boasts of professing the Christian religion, namely, love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men should quarrel with such rancorous animosity and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred that this rather than the virtues which they profess is the readiness criteria of their faith. The words according this Jewish philosopher the way you identify Christians who were the ones fighting so much. Jesus said by this. All people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Now if that ought to be true of us, then we ought to do all we can to avoid quarrelsome this to avoid fights and disputes with our brothers and sisters in Christ. No doubt there is a time and a place to fight to the death to die on the hill to wage the good warfare, but the text before us tonight reminds us that there was also a time when fighting a sinful when dying on the hill was anything but courageous.
The difference is I hope will see tonight between the noble fighting that we ought to be engaged in in this ungodly quarrelsome this that James is dealing with comes down to our personal ego.
Why are you so full of fighting and quarreling. James asks because you're so full of pride because you're so full of yourself.
James has just addressed the inability of earthly wisdom to make peace because earthly wisdom is driven by the engine of jealousy and selfish ambition.
It will never lead to peace in the church. So how then are we to live at peace with each other and demonstrate that the love that Christ says will be the distinguishing mark of his disciples. That's the very question that our text tonight answers and if if we were to summarize the point of this text. It would be this conflict between Christians is indicative of conflict with God.
Therefore, if we are to make peace with each other, we must first make peace with God. So with that in mind, let's walk through our text tonight. First of all, James describes for us the immediate cause of conflict. The immediate cause of conflict among Christians. We see this in verses one through three and read it again verse one says what causes quarrels and what causes fights among you, is it not this, that your passions that were passions. There are those things that excite us in sinful ways. Your passions are at war within you, you desire and do not have, so you murder and there's of course more than one way to murder you can literally kill someone in anger but I think James is context here suggests murder in a in a figurative sense like Jesus uses that term in the sermon on the mount when he says that unjust anger merely in your mind, your heart makes you liable for murder.
James goes on. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. And there's that same word again that he used in verse one passions of those things that that excite us to sin.
So at the heart of the quarreling and infighting within the body of Christ, our sinful passions inordinate desires for what we do not have anger that leads to a murderous spirit covetousness what others have aided prayer that is motivated from a self-centered, self-serving heart. The immediate cause of conflict between Christian brothers and sisters, is our desire to have what we don't have, particularly when we see others enjoying what we don't have and make no mistake were not simply talking about desiring and covering the material possessions of others, it certainly includes that these inordinate desires that lead to envy and strife are often desired for many things. Beyond the material. In fact, it is probably more often than not the nonmaterial stuff that we covet things like the reputation that other people have the the opportunities that other people enjoy the position or influence that that others around us seemed to wield. We wanted for ourselves and we don't have it so we dwell on it and we grow jealous of course we tell ourselves. It isn't jealousy where masters of self deceit will tell ourselves were envious it's it's just a virtuous desire to be used by God. Like other people are used by God or just a noble desire to serve and be useful to the kingdom like everybody else is serving in and being used in the kingdom and so we add these desires to our prayer list is a somehow that baptizes and redeems our selfishness.
But deep in our hearts is this nefarious hidden drive to be noticed and needed and praised and promoted. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight.
You ask and do not receive because you ask in order to spend it on your passions. The immediate cause of Christian conflict is a frustrated desire to want more than we have of the position and possessions of others I think are most honest moments.
We realize that much of the conflict we have with other people is is really not a frustrated desire to be useful to God.
It's a frustrated desire to be noticed and to be made much off so the immediate cause of quarrels and fights as our selfish passion for that which we do not have within James goes deeper by pointing out the root cause of conflict. It turns out that my problem isn't just the competitive spirit toward my fellow Christian know it's much worse than that.
This brings us to our second point, which is the root cause of the conflict. The root cause of quarrels and fights in the church is a competitive spirit towards God himself. My problem isn't primarily a jealousy problem with other people is an idolatry problem with God. Look with me again in verse four you adulterous people do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God and was just out there for minute it seems as if James is changing the subject, out of the blue he was addressing the problem of conflict in the church problems between one Christian and other Christian but here in verse four he suddenly starts addressing problems between a Christian and God. He goes from talking about quarrels and infighting in the church took to talking about worldliness will what is James's train of thought here is a changing subject midstream. I don't think so. I think in verses four and five James is actually deepening his analysis of the quarrelsome Christian Bible peeling back another layer of of the proverbial onion in order to expose the root cause of conflict infighting in the church. So let's follow his logic carefully.
He begins with his conclusion by saying you adulterous people know that's Old Testament metaphorical language for idolatry you idolatrous people, so whatever it is that he's about to say it's going to mean that his readers are acting idolatrous sleep. Look at his next statement. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God. In other words, the device that James is just addressed in verses one through three is now described as friendship with the world so that the quarrels and fights that issue from the heart, consumed with pleasure and envy are indicative of worldliness is very interesting is in it. If I were to ask you what does worldliness look like you would probably describe certain outward behaviors that are overtly typical of people who hate God. Maybe things like illicit sexual activity or gross materialism, substance abuse, and you'd be right. Those are certainly worldly things, but James points out that worldliness involves not only loving the stuff of this world, but also loving the spirit, the character of this world, its values, its orientations, its attitudes, some of which may appear on the surface to be very benign, almost spiritually minded, but are in fact worldliness malignancies of the worst sort. Needless quarreling and fighting is typical of people who love themselves above all and loving oneself above all, is typical of those who hate God and hate his standards so the quarrelsome spirit than regardless of how minor it may seem to us is a denunciation of one's loyalty to God in favor of friendship with the world. And James says whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Why is that well is because God demands absolute devotion. He refuses to share the film in your heart with any other little G God's verse five. Do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says he yearns jealously over the spirit that he is made to dwell in us.
His demand for absolute devotion is really a quality of his perfection. Think about it.
God is is perfectly righteous.
He's perfectly good if he truly loves us he would want us to love the highest good. He would want us to believe the absolute truth you would want us to delight in the deepest beauty he would want us to idolize anything that is less-than-perfect and so he doesn't want us to worship anything other than himself. His jealousy is a valid jealousy, a righteous and good jealousy. But when we align ourselves with the world by embracing the world. Attitudes of world behavior, we incur the displeasure of our good and jealous God so quarrelsome. This is a is a characteristic of a worldly person and worldly people have put themselves at odds with God which means to be quarrelsome and covetous and envious is to be idolatrous.
The point is godless conflict with other Christians is really conflict with God Christians. This raises the stakes exponentially when when we are quick to fight each other because we love ourselves so much. We are not merely sinning against fellow believers, we are committing an affront to the grace of God that amounts to idolatry. We may not consciously think that we are declaring that our allegiance lies with the world rather than with God. When we qualified the folks. Verse four makes it clear that that's exactly what were doing and God will tolerate no rivals. We must be holy, his or we are not his and all. So, just to summarize these first five verses if your life is characterized by by quarreling and fighting. You got a selfishness problem. You may mask your selfishness behind 100 different lies. You might even mask it behind the life of fervent prayer asking God, but asking wrongly in order to spend it on your passions. None of that changes the fact that your driving motive is one of preoccupation with self, and in fact, that preoccupation with self is indicative of an even greater problem, it's indicative of a deep-rooted idolatry in which you have declared yourself a friend of the world and thus an enemy of God to the immediate cause of conflict is jealousy of other people. The root cause is idolatry of the heart.
So what is the solution to conflict. We see it here in verses 6 to 10 in this section contains both the principle to remember and a command to obey. First of all there's a principal to remember in verse six, James says but God gives more grace.
Therefore it says, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is a reference to Proverbs 334. It's a conditional promise. If we humble ourselves, which is the opposite of what the Christian is doing in verses one through three. If we humble ourselves. God promises to give us grace. He he promises to give us his favor instead of enmity, there is friendship with God. This makes humility essential doesn't it St. Augustine once said, if you ask me what is the first precept of the Christian religion. I will answer first, second and third humility, God requires humility. Without it we have no hope of making peace with each other.
We have no hope of making peace with God.
But Augustine also said that God gives what he demands he demands humility, but he gives humility.
The graciousness of God means that even though his standard is very high standard of perfection, even though a standard is that high. He enables us to live up to that standard. First, by crediting to us the righteousness of Christ. Christ became pride for us, that we might become humble in him, but also by bringing us to the point of actually practically displaying the righteousness of Christ church, God is teaching us humility and all the while he is treating us as if were already humble.
That's the gospel that's the good news. God makes high demands of us and then graciously gives us everything he demands so there's a principal, a conditional promise, which means something were going to have to do.
But even are doing is is covered by and fueled by the grace of God. So what is it they were supposed to do what is his command were supposed to obey were supposed to be humble were supposed to be humble. How do we do that verses seven through 10 tells us for seven submit yourselves therefore to God. Verse eight. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Verse 10 humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. These three imperatives. Reiterate essentially the same thing submitting to God drawing near to God humbling yourself before the law of the Lord are essentially synonymous the way we submit to God is by drawing near to him in humility the way we draw near to God is through humble submission, the way we humble ourselves before the Lord is to draw near and submission to his will to these three actions toward God admitting to him drawing near to him humbling ourselves before him are are inseparable can have one without the other two. How do we do these things. James gives us very specific instructions. One is negative, and three are positive. First, the negative, we do these things by resisting the devil in other words, we submit to God by not submitting to the devil is like you can't be friends of the world and friends of God. You cannot submit to God while submitting to the devil. Their mutually exclusive. God requires absolute devotion, but the other three positive imperatives. First we draw near to God by conforming our actions to his will.
We draw near to God by conforming our actions to his will.
Verse eight says cleanse your hands, you sinners. This is obviously metaphorical. It's not like those useless signs that hang in the restroom.
The fast food restaurants giving meticulous instruction on how to wash your hands literally no James means behave morally. Cleanse your hands morally live a life that is compliant with God's moral law are you acting murderously toward a Christian sister stop it and treat her like the bride of Christ in your actions in your behavior.
Are you coveting the opportunities and skills in the steam of your Christian brother stop it and begin to serve and promote him in your actions, so first of all, we draw near to God by conforming our behavior to God's will, but that's not enough. Secondly, we draw near to God by conforming our minds to God's truth. Verse eight again purify your hearts, you double minded. Purify your hearts, and the heart is a is a big word. It can refer to the seat of our physical life. It can refer to the seat of our spiritual life can refer to the seat of our mental thought life. The context makes it clear that James is referring here to the seat of our mental life because he addresses the command specifically to the double minded. Purify your hearts, you double minded is not enough that we mechanically conform our outward behavior to God's law. We must also conform our minds are our belief system. Our thought processes are reasoning to God's truth is possible to act humbly toward other people while still believing in your mind that you are God's greatest gift to humanity. But how hipper. How hypocritical that would be. Instead, we must conform our actions to what God says is good and our thinking to do what God says is true. Thirdly, we draw near to God by conforming our emotions to God's verdict by conforming our emotions to God's verdict of God says were guilty of behaving and thinking like worldly things we ought not be glib and dismissive about it as if it's really not that big of a deal know it is a big deal.
Verse nine is not of a feel-good verse. It's quite the opposite. It says be wretched and mourn and we let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom number years ago my daughter asking me an amusing and telling question.
We were at some event where the audience was predominantly charismatic and she was observing the. The noticeable distinction between the way they conduct themselves in worship and the way we Syrians conduct ourselves in worship and she turned to me and that in that event, and said that he wants the difference between charismatics and Presbyterians and she said you know other than the fact that they are happy now think she meant anything derogatory by it. Although I definitely gave further the hairy eyeball for saying that.
I just think in her own mind she could resolve this noticeable gap between emotional expression and worship in these two very different theological camps on not saying that overt expressions of of positive emotion are inappropriate in worship. Certainly am not saying that. But there is a theological reason why Presbyterians are inherently more restrained in their expression. They charismatics not that all Presbyterians are restrained for the right reasons, nor that all charismatics display a motion for the right reasons or or in inappropriate ways. If we are a sober people before the Lord. I pray it is because we take sin seriously. If we cannot mourn and weep before the Lord over our sin. We don't rightly understand the depth of our sin.
I don't mean to pour cold water on anyone's enthusiasm, but there is a danger of being far too unaware of our own depravity and far too shallow in our contemplation of the holiness of God. Jesus said in Luke 625 woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and we see you can laugh at your sin now and mourn on Judgment Day where you can mourn over your sin now and rejoice at the side of Christ when he breaks to the clouds. It will be those who have taken their sin seriously in this life that will be able to dance and rejoice and feast and laugh in the next CS Lewis married Joy David Mintz shortly before she contracted incurable disease and died as Lewis grieved the loss of his wife. He began to write about his his grief and he wrote this he said the pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal. In other words, Lewis realized that had he never loved his wife Joy. He wouldn't have had to deal with the pain of losing her. If you're going to love something that deeply you're taking a risk because there will be great pain if you ever lose that love.
That's the deal.
I think that quote when I read James four because in a sense the gospel reverses Lewis's thought.
He said he said the pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. The gospel says the pain I feel now over the sinfulness of my fallen condition is the happiness I will have one day in glory. We can experience the sorrow and mourning in pain that accompanies repentance now in this life rather than trying to mask that painting covered up with something to pretend joy.
Then one day, that pain will give way to true joy joy unspeakable and full of glory, the pretend joy now yield eternal sorrow, then or sincere sorrow now will yield eternal joy for that's the deal. So we are called to submit our mind are will and even our emotions to God.
That's what humility before the Lord looks like I will briefly comment on one more thing related verse eight before and move on. Some have read this command to draw near as some sort of work that we do to manipulate God to to get him on the hook to the control God it it's not because that would be contrary to grace. Remember, James is audience is composed of Christian so he's not speaking of salvation. Here he speaking of restoration of fellowship is in giving us the grounds of justification. It's giving us the starting point of renewing broken fellowship between God and his child. We cannot claim that we took the first steps of the guy would take the next step. Even his invitation for us to draw near to him in the promise that follows of him drawing near to us is gracious on God's part, because nothing obligated him to make such a promise. And yet he makes so we have a selfishness problem that is really a deep-seated idolatry problem. But God gives grace as we humble ourselves through submission to his will to his truth to his verdict. The last point, then, is the test of resolve conflict.
If God is truly dealt with our self-centered, quarrelsome spirit in our idolatry. If we have sincerely submitted our mind, will and emotions to him. Then there will be visible fruits. The constant quarreling will diminish. At least, that the corals caused by our disobedience will diminish. James gives a very visible proof for test or evidence that progress in signification is being made. Look at verses 11 and 12 do not speak evil against one another brothers, the one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.
But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
There's only one lawgiver and judge, he was able to save and to destroy but who are you to judge your neighbor. See slander and pride go together. Slander is the fruit of which pride is the root if you deal with your pride. You're not going to be given to slander, to speaking evil of your brothers and sisters in Christ. And if you're not given to slander your reducing the quarreling and fighting that was typical back in verse one. The ability to not slander others is a test of proof that this tendency to relish conflict. This tendency to be quarrelsome, has indeed been mortified now wish I wish we had more time tonight to dig into verses 11 and 12 which is notice briefly the grounds James gives for why slander is evil, slandering our brother is evil because it is at its heart, a slandering of God's law is wrong to slander our brothers and sisters in Christ is that it's hard it's a slandering of God's law. This disconnection between slandering another Christian and slandering God's law means that it it's not a general sort of judge. Mentalism it's being condemned here.
There is a time and a place to judge others. We can get other Scriptures and see that very clearly, but know what is being condemned here is the sort of judge mentalism that judges the morality of others on the basis of my own preferences in my own inclinations rather than on the basis of God's clear-cut revealed will, if judging others is wrong on the basis of the fact that it is an attack on God's law and the sort of judge.
Mentalism that James is condemning is the kind that it makes its own whims and its own ideas.
The standard of righteousness. That's wrong. This kind of slander than is one theologian said is not a transgression of merely one commandment but a transgression against the authority of the law in general and therefore against God. James is saying don't judge others according to your own made up standards because that is to put yourself in the place of God to morally judge the actions and attitudes, and motives of others by some standard other than God's standard of morality is to demean not merely those who my judge is to demean the very law of God itself. I wish I wish I could say more, running out of time so your homework this week is to go home and read Romans 14. In light of this tax James 41 through 12. Meditate on those two in in relation to each other. John Calvin said is evil when we confidently condemning others whatever it is not please us in doing so we assume to ourselves what peculiarly belongs to God. So one of the tests for the proofs that we have indeed received the grace God promises to the humble is that we will stop being quarrelsome with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
More specifically, will not charge them with sin simply because they crossed us. We will have made peace with God by submitting to him and his word and in so doing we will make peace with our fellow Christian by way of applying this text to our lives and encourage a Christian to learn to love genuine Christian unity. If you don't see sincere unity is a beautiful thing will hardly be motivated to modify a quarrelsome spirit. Learn to love Christian unity. Secondly, honestly identify your lusts. What are those things that you are willing to selfishly fight about.
In order to obtain it's a lust it's an inordinate desire learn to identify them honestly. Thirdly, don't be fooled by worldliness in a worldliness often masquerades as religious and spiritual zeal was very virtuous at times and yet it's worldly. It's it's enmity with God forcefully realize that humbling yourself before God simply means obeying God and hating sin the end of the day to be humble before God is to obey God. Fifthly, if after all of that you are still incapable of restraining your tongue from speaking about everyone else's faults and start over because you've not yet humbled yourself sufficiently before God and finally do all of these things with the recognition that God's grace is sufficient for these things, God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble spray but I thank you for the grace that sours in Christ we don't ever want to take that grace for granted for the very words we read tonight are gifts of grace from you are given to us who are prone to fight needlessly, selfishly, proudly you correct us where we need it because you love us like a father, help us now to respond that correction as submissive, humble sons and daughters.
We pray in Jesus name, amen