Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

Living in harmony (James 4:1-12)

James does not take any prisoners does he? There is no politically correct language here! Can you recognise yourselves in this text? Have you ever sit in judgment on another? If the answer is ‘no’ then please see me after because I want to shake the hand of a real angel! James is talking about the human condition, to want to be better than others, to want to look better in others eyes, to try to lift ones self-up above others.

Let’s look at this passage together: verse 1 “what causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”

The world’s wisdom states that human beings want to identify what they want out of life, and to make a plan to get it at all costs. This has become such a “normal” perspective that even Christians may see nothing abnormal about it. It even sounds industrious to most of us. The problem with this attitude is that it puts the focus of our lives on ourselves. Success, according to the world, is defined by whether we get what we want out of life. Worldliness is driven by envy—”I want that”—and selfish ambition—”I will do whatever it takes to get that.”

James noted in 3:15–16, that this un-heavenly wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, leading to disorder and all kinds of evil practices.

I will give you an example, that I know off  an elderly widow  was selling her bungle so she could move closer to her daughter, after many months someone comes in after she had already dropped the price quite considerably and offers even less than she was asking, because the old house needs a new bath room and new wiring and a couple of other bits and she admits that’s all true, so she sold but did not have enough money to move to a house near her daughter but had to by a flat. That’s a shame you say only fair if all those things had to be done, except that the buyer turned out to be a developer knocked it down and built two semis and sold one for 150% more than he paid the widow. Now it is not fair the widow was turned over, cheated.

And the hard nosed property developer says “Its business got to do what you can do, as long as I win all is well”. That is the world view.

Now James tells his readers off, who, though they are Christians, are continuing to live by the world’s warped wisdom. Apparently, the community that James was writing to was in conflict. He asks what is causing their fights and quarrels. They likely would have been tempted to answer that question by pointing to their opponents. James won’t let them get away with that. Instead, using another question, he says their conflict is driven by the passions or desires that are battling within them.

Just like unbelievers, these Christians had decided they were not willing to give up getting what they wanted. They were not willing to trust God to provide good for them (James 1:7) in His time. Driven by envy and selfish ambition, they wanted to win and to win now.

Verse 2 “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.” 

James continues making the case to his Christian readers that they are living according to the world’s wisdom. They are not trusting God to provide while serving others, which is the wisdom of heaven.

Driven by bitter envy to get what they want, and a deep ambition to serve themselves, James’s readers continue to kill, quarrel, and fight. Now many commentary’s say that this is not necessarily a direct accusation of murder or mayhem. The major point of James’s words are the effects which worldly wisdom leads to. James was likening their hatred of each other to murder? Regardless of the severity, it’s clear these people are off track.

At the heart of the problem is their response to not getting what they want out of life. In those moments when we realise that what we want is still out of our grasp, we always have a choice. The world’s wisdom tells us to sacrifice everything to get what we want, including the welfare of others (just like the widow). The world will tell us to fight, to scratch, to wound, if that’s what it takes. Driven by envy for what they want, be it that new tv, house, car, boat, to their way, so things are how they want them to be, James’s readers are frustrated when they keep coming up empty. So they fight.

James identifies their root problem: These believers in God refused to trust Him to provide what they needed. They refused to even ask God for what they wanted. God might say no, after all. They were not willing to trust that if God would not give it to them, it was something they could live without for now. They would rather hurt someone else in attempting to provide it for themselves.

Verse 3. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

James identifies their problem: They didn’t even ask God for what they wanted. They believed in God, but they didn’t trust Him to provide for them. And they really didn’t trust that if He would say no, that, that would be the best for them.

Here James reveals that when they did ask God for what they wanted, they were simply trying to manipulate Him, to manipulate God. Their prayers were not really requests; they were an effort to make God serve their selfish desires. They weren’t engaging in trust in the Father who loved them and wanted to provide what was truly best for them. Instead, they were trying to plug God into their worldly approach to get what they wanted.

Remember we are talking about God hear the God of the universe, now I used to pray that Arsenal would win or score another goal, and I am sure I prayed that the ref would disallow that silly header by one Trevor Brooking at Wembley in 1980 for some little team called West Ham, I was there, not the sort of goal to win the cup, but if God were interested in football the first football match would have never ended, lord please let us score before the final whistle, one side then the other the poor players would have been playing for ever.

The God who loves us won’t allow Himself to be used to aid envy and ambition, so that we can look big or even good. He wants us to bring our requests to Him with a spirit of humility and trust. He wants us to trust Him, allowing Him to give to us the good He has for us as a gift and in His perfect time.

And James says in Verse 4 “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.”

Because James’s readers were unwilling to trust God in this way, He now calls them adulterers. He associates their choice to continue following the wisdom of world with the sin of a husband or wife who sleeps with another. Spiritually speaking, these Christians are cheating on God with the world.

James says something which should be obvious to us, but it’s not: We can’t be friends both with the world and with God. Worse, anyone who continues to be friends with the world is living as God’s enemy. It’s important to understand what James is not saying here: He is not saying Christians should never be friends with non-Christians. Nor is he saying that Christians should never engage their culture, or with the people they meet. That’s not what this passage is about.

James is clear: Christians who choose to continue to live according to the wisdom of the world, driven by envy and ambition, seeking what they want above all else, are not living as friends of God. They are living in adultery as God’s enemies.

When I give my life to Jesus nearly ten years ago, I decided I was not going to be like a lot of people who went to church, people I thought as hypocrites, Sunday Christians, that first Monday at work was not a good day for some, a lot changed, I had stopped all the underhand shady stuff, all the lying that company’s do, your part is not in yet sir we will have a word with the wholesaler. Some in the company were not happy, but I am sure God was.

Verse 5. “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us”

James is saying that God is jealous—in the sense of being concerned and involved—for the Holy Spirit He has made to live inside of those who have trusted in Christ. As I said a couple of weeks ago God is not happy when we suppress the Holy Spirit.

In other words, if we continue to live according to the world’s wisdom, God takes that choice not to trust Him very personally. He is jealous for us. He won’t easily allow us to continue to lead lives of self-service and self-reliance when He has placed His Spirit in us.

Verse 6. “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’”

Now James offers reassurance. Even if we have been living this way, we have not outrun the grace of God. This grace is given to all who trust in Jesus. Our sin is serious, shocking, and wicked, but God gives more grace. He forgives our sinfulness in Christ and continues to give us the good we have not earned.

James quotes Proverbs 3:34. This relates a simple, but powerful idea: God opposes the proud. Our refusal to trust God to provide what we need, what He wants for us, and our insistence on getting what we want for ourselves is an act of pride. We are attempting to be the God of our own lives. God will lovingly, jealously oppose us when we do so—but He will not reject us in Christ.

Instead, He calls us to humble ourselves and receive more grace from Him. He calls us to repent of the sin of self-reliance and demanding what we want, and yield to Him, receiving with gratitude all the good He chooses to gives us and all the seeming good He chooses to withhold.

God is calling us back to the peaceful, faithful path of trusting Him.

Verse 7. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” 

So what should we do when we realise we’ve been on the world’s path? This verse reveals the beginning of James’s answer: submit to God again. Give up, getting what you want, and willingly receive all the good He gives. We must surrender our battles to achieve our own desires, and turn to serve others instead. We must resist the devil. James’s promise is clear: If we quit the path of the world and resist the devil, he will run away from us.

But we must resist, though. Resistance requires us to actively pull away. It demands we continually counter his lies by telling ourselves the truth about our God’s goodness, love, and power. The devil won’t remain in the presence of our submission to the truth of God’s Word.

Verse 8. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” 

James calls us to draw near—to move closer—to God. This comes with an additional promise: God will respond by moving closer to us. That’s an incredible act of mercy on God’s part. The God of the universe owes us nothing, including His closeness. What grace on His part to come in our direction at all! This is especially gracious, and is a response to our step in His direction.  Next, James calls us to clean our hands. He calls us double-minded people: trying to serve both self and God. James pleads with us to purify our hearts. For James’s Jewish readers who had grown up under the law, these commands would have called to mind ceremonial washings. The idea here is to completely turn from our sin, to resolve that we will serve God, and to begin again. That is what true repentance is.

Verse 9 “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” 

James is guiding us through a time of repentance, when we have recognised our own sin.

True believers, those who claim to believe God and who have received His loving gift of salvation, ought to feel shame and sadness over their sins, at least temporarily. If we have been living only for ourselves, realising this should make us sad. We should be motivated to grieve the lost hours, days, and years spent in pursuit of worthless things.

I know I have,  and that grieving can be tough, but the rewards are worth it.

We must not be too quick to rush on to a position of “everything’s fine now.” Our rebellion happened. We cheated on God. We lived as His enemy for a time while we were friends with the world. Tears are an appropriate and necessary response if the repentance is genuine—as are the end of tears after receiving God’s grace and forgiveness once more. This time of grief is not meant to be a lifestyle or a pattern.

Verse 10. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Now I reckon everybody wants to be exalted. We all want to be glorified. Maybe we wouldn’t say so. Maybe we don’t feel it all of the time. But part of the motivation for living according to the world system is to get respect for ourselves. This comes in having the things we want, getting the respect we feel we deserve, or living in the comfort and pleasure we crave. God asks us to quit the world’s way of pursuing those things. Instead, He calls us to trust Him to raise us when the time is right without trying to get that glory for ourselves.

That requires real humility. We agree not to make our daily lives about ourselves, and God promises to make it about us when and how He sees fit. That’s how Jesus lived, after all. Paul described Jesus’s life on earth in Philippians 2:7-9  Like this “Jesus, God Himself, refused to fight for His right to be glorified. He “made himself nothing and became a servant, even to death. Then, when the time was right, the Father exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name”.

God calls us to walk that same path: Humility today, God’s glory forever.

Verse 11. “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.”

Now James warns his readers not to turn on each other in slander or in judgment of each other. As used in the Bible, slander means to question someone’s authority, to spread hurtful lies about someone, anyone, or even to say unkind, unhelpful things about anyone. To judge someone is to assume a position of authority over them. James’s Jewish readers had high respect for the Old Testament Law. His point is that to disobey the Law by judging another person is a way of putting yourself above the Law. If you’re going to be a doer of the Law, just be a doer. Don’t be a volunteer judge of how others are doing. Again, James is urging all who call themselves Christians to walk in humility in our relationship with God and with each other.

Verse 12 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?”

Few people are more eager to judge others than those who are struggling to do right themselves. In the previous verse, James insisted that to speak against and judge our neighbours is to make ourselves judges of God’s Law itself. It’s not our job. This is especially true because, as James wrote in verse 6, God gives us more grace in response to our sin. For us—Christian believers who are forgiven only by God’s grace—to try to make ourselves arrogant judges of other people’s sin is an extreme form of hypocrisy.

Here, James makes it clear that God is the only Lawgiver and He is the only Judge. He is the only one able to save or destroy. If we mean to have our works judged by the Old Testament Law, the Judge will destroy us as guilty sinners. If we mean to be forgiven by the Judge on the basis of His grace through faith in Jesus, we will be saved. As people dependent on God’s grace, we should not presume to pronounce any verdict against others based on our own judgment. What arrogance that would be!

So in conclusion living in harmony is living in Gods way, to love God, to love our neighbour as ourselves, to forgive one another, to live life as Jesus showed us, in harmony with everyone. And not to be like the rest of the world.

Are you a child of God set apart as one of God’s children? Or are do you have one foot in both worlds - a Sunday Christian, a hypocrite?

Let’s Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for your love for us that when we have done wrong you will forgive us, help us Lord to forgive others and to live our lives in a way that will glorify you. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen