People without Apostles. The People to whom James is writing (who are presently about to be charged with serious 'in-fighting'), are in a sense, unique. At the very beginning of the book of James he wrote: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
Where exactly were these Jews-recently-become-Christians, scattered? Outside of Israel. But to a specific country? James says … nations.
We learn from the following verse in Acts why and when this ‘scattering’ took place. Here is the initial cause of the ‘scattering’: Acts 8:1 ¶ And Saul was consenting unto his death. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
In this verse we are given the initial cause and also the extent or distance to which the believers were scattered., and that was Judea and Samaria. Basically this takes in all of the land of Israel, but it did not stop there. By the time we get to Acts 11, they were being scattered into other countries. We read ... They therefore that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to (or, except to) Jews. Acts 11:19
The phrase ‘except the apostles’ is important. Up to now there was only one large church and that was in the city of Jerusalem. (However, Philip was instrumental in bringing Christianity to Samaria, a neighboring province or country made up of half-Jews at about this same time – Acts 8:5)
But the Christian churches springing up in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch were without Apostolic leadership. This is a new phase for the spread of Christianity. Without a `how-to` manual … without a New Testament … how do churches develop? It had been the work of the Apostles to exercise their authority in the establishing of new congregations.
But what we have just read in Acts 8:1 is … the apostles remained in Jerusalem. As a footnote, the Apostle Paul would have been somewhere in the area. He was planting churches as quickly as he could. But the geographical area was huge and Paul would not be able to deal with more than one church at a time. As these fleeing disciples were arriving in Asia minor, they could possibly find one of the churches that Paul planted … but if they could not find one, they would form small group churches wherever they could. So James, the lead pastor in the huge Jerusalem church, since there are no Apostles living near these 'scattered' believers, takes charge of those who have left the country. (BTW we don’t have apostles today; … now the Word of God takes the place of the apostles)
We have discovered that James writes to those who were suffering persecution and had fled from persecution, and were struggling to get their lives back in order.
But he is also writing to some who appear to be wealthy. Perhaps they fled with all their money. Or perhaps they have been here a little longer than the new-comers and are already living fairly comfortable lives.
In the chapter we are looking at now, James is not talking to the suffering believers … but to those who are clamoring for power.
Civil War James opens this chapter with; James 4:1 ¶ What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
“A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation, state or republic”
I am using the above definition in a broader sense: a) infighting within the Church b) A fight with our selves within our own mind or soul.
Churches sometimes have ‘fighting factions’. Why? Usually it boils down to selfishness. (They certainly are not fighting over their right to serve!)
We fight, generally speaking, due to selfishness. But James brings up a very interesting point when he answers his own question: He has asked “What causes quarrels and fights?” But then he does not merely say, “Because you are all selfish people.” He says, you have a fight going on inside of yourselves.
We only begin to fight with other believers when we lose the internal battles that rage inside every one of us. Believers, each one of us, have two natures … much like a schizophrenic. We were given a Godly nature at the moment of giving our life to Jesus. But the old, original nature that we were born with … remained. The old nature has desires. It has extreme desires. James talks about lust. He talks about coveting. In the next verse he even talks about murdering! If our inner, born-again nature could only have the victory all the time … what wonderful lives we would have within our churches. But our old nature keeps popping up … and it listens to the voice of the tempter who is perched on our shoulder.
But we cannot simply blame the tempter. We have to realize that God holds us responsible for who we listen to. James elaborates on the battle … first within us, as he said in verse one, and then between us and other believers. He says, 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
I am quite sure that there were no real killings taking place with the local churches. Not actual killing. But are you aware of what Jesus considers to be murder? He said if you hate your brother you are a murderer. He did not say 'You are just like a murderer', He said, 'You are guilty of murder'.
Why do you think Jesus would say that? Very simply … when a murder takes place because of anger, the individual grabs whatever weapon is handy and he uses it. But Jesus recognizes that in many cases a person (we) can have the very same anger and hatred, but because there is no 'deadly weapon' readily available … we use what we can. And that is often our mouth … or tongue, as James pointed out in the previous chapter. We are held accountable for the thoughts and intents of our hearts. The very same anger that a murderer could have, we can have. And that is what we are held accountable to, and not the actual act.
So, yes, in that sense … murder was happening in the churches to whom James is writing. The things we 'covet' within our church body setting are not so much money and possessions. It is more for power and influence and popularity. James indicates that people were using force. Arguments and quarrels involve force. We could keep from confronting our 'enemy' perhaps, and just talk behind their backs. That way we are not fighting and quarreling.
But harboring the resentment and talking to others about it is also destructive to the whole body. And destructive to ourselves, I might add. And when we confront our church 'enemy' (our church 'competition'), to the extent of lying and slander – we are murdering our brother’s character. We are using force to get our way.
And some of them were reverting to using spiritual force. Prayer 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. They were praying, but for what? They were praying for their passions … popularity, control, praise. They were asking God for these things, but they were not receiving them. James plainly tells us that it is wrong to ask God for things that we want. He wants to teach us to ask for things that God wants for us.
When we ask for things that we want … where does that come from? A big part of that has to do with our old nature. Secondly some of it has to do with listening to enticing suggestions from the Tempter. And thirdly it has to do with our proximity to the world around us.
And to help us with this last one, James adds; 4 You adulterous people! Do 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. (ESV)
James has used the word 'adulterous'.
The Philips translation renders it like this: James 4:4 You are like unfaithful wives, never realising that to be the world’s lover means becoming the enemy of God! Anyone who chooses to be the world’s friend is thereby making himself God’s enemy. Or do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality?
And verse 5 adds this .. (ESV) 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?
You can't get more clear than this. We need to let this really sink in. We are in a relationship with God. Do we truly realize how God feels when we flirt with the world? James also uses the word 'enemy'. Becoming an enemy of God is NOT what we want.
Well then, why do we do it? And how do we live with ourselves … while we are being considered enemies of God?
I can see only one way. We actually don't believe that we are enemies of God … and we come up with this conclusion through the process of 'rationalization'. Generally we are rationalizing when we begin our sentence with 'But'.
“But I am only doing this because ...”
So allow me to do some analyzing (hopefully not rationalizing)
We would become friends of the world for these reasons: For pleasure purposes For business purposes For raising our profile or status. And for reasons that I may have missed.
Let's look at the first one – pleasure. Here are two verses of scripture that seem to be opposites of each other.
First from Hebrews: (Moses) … chose rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. Heb 11:25
And the second scripture: For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 1Pe 3:10,11
Let's contrast these two verses.
Hebrews states that the world offers pleasures. It also states the pleasures are temporary.
The passage from 1Peter speaks of enjoying life (it's pleasures)
Hebrews speaks against choosing pleasure and yet Peter says 'Here is how to do it.'
To be fair, Hebrews 11:25 limits its comment to 'pleasures of SIN'. The word sin as used in the New Testament usually is the word hamartia (ἁμαρτία)
The principle meaning is 'to miss the mark'. Sinning is to 'miss the mark'. What mark? Perfection or total holiness. Guess what, we all miss the mark every day. Sometimes missing the mark is a conscious decision, at other times it does not involve any conscious thought. For example, James1 tells us that if we know of something good that God wants us to do … and we fail to do it … that is sin.
I believe the context in which James is speaking AND also the context in which Peter is speaking, has to do with conscious decisions.
To clarify, Moses made a conscious decision to align himself with the people of God, even though it meant hardship and suffering.
And Moses, if you remember, did not endure any of the hardships of the people of God until later. Life was OK as long as he was living in the household of the Pharaoh. He was in line privileges for the rest of his life. But when he defended an Israelite who was being mistreated by an Egyptian task master, he made a decision to 'side with' the people of God.
It was that action that caused him to physically leave Egypt and never again have the opportunity to go back to what he had before.
We sing it this way, “I have decided to follow Jesus … no turning back … no turning back”.
To bring this to reality … we have to live and work in this world. What if we find ourselves in a situation, where to mention that we are on the Lord's side, is simply not permissible?
I have heard recently that a child in an elementary school was asked to not wear a T-Shirt with the name Jesus on it. What does the child do? If he (or his parents) say, “Oops, I'm sorry. I won't do it again.” … what would we say just happened? They have just entered a situation in which he or she is being called on to take a side. And if they chose to apologize and comply, they have just taken a stand.
The child (or the parents) will face some kind of hardship if he or she disregards the command. - But if he or she complies with the command … life can be enjoyed as usual.
That is one aspect of choosing the way of pleasure over God's will for us.
There is another aspect. Pleasures can rob us of the allotted time we are given to focus on Him.
The world we live in has been called 'evil' in scripture.
Apostle John wrote, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. I John 2:15-17
God urges us to take our eyes off of the things offered by the world and change our focus to those things which are eternal.
Doing this did not happen automatically when we gave our lives to Jesus and become born-again Christians.
Paul helps us by using the word 'redeem'. He says that we have to 'redeem the time'. In literal English it means to consciously 'buy back time'. In easy English, it means to make the best use of time.
If we look at it literally, we understand that having time to focus on God and His daily path for my life, means that there may have to be a cost. You cannot 'buy' anything back for free. So what does it cost to redeem time? It means 'this for that'. I have to exchange this time slot that is all about me … for that time slot which will now be devoted to service to Him.
Our 'friendship' with the world, personally as individuals, varies so much in 'width and depth'. In other words, life is so individual and unique to each of us, that it becomes a personal effort of introspection to see which part of our lives have connected with world, to the exclusion of our God. And in that same introspection we would have to see how deep does this connection really goes.
Friendship with world spans things like who we 'buddy' with, who we partner with in work agreements, who we work alongside to better our community, etc.etc.
I have touched on individual friendship with the world. Now a few words about corporate or business 'friendship' with the world.
In the case of individual friendship with the world, the real downside is what it does to our relationship with God. The more of the world that we have in us, the less of God we have in us. God is jealous over the loss of relationship and we lose out as our spiritual life suffers.
In the case of corporate friendship with the world I am referring to our church, as an organization, becoming world-friendly.
I suppose I could say that the more of the world that comes into the church, the more it causes us to suffer spiritually as a body, but that is not really true .. or at least it is not the main thing. The ones who really suffer are the people of the world. Here's why I say that.
God said, For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." Ezekiel 18:32
And Paul added, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,” Acts 17:30
God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, He commands them to repent … He does not want to ultimately have to cast them into the lake of fire.
So how does God reach out to them? Through you and through me? Yes and no. Evangelism will happen one on one. We can bring people out of darkness into God's light one person at a time. But the design of God was that the church would stand out as the light of the world. If the world comes into the church, there is much less light.
Jesus gave us a mental picture. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
I must point out that in our modern English language we do not have a plural form of the word 'you' … (except in Texas where they say 'You-all'). In old English the plural for you, was 'ye'. The new Testament, having been written in Greek puts a plural 'you' in this verse.
So Jesus would be saying 'You-all (the church) are the light of the world. You-all are like a city set on a hill, shining in the night.
I am mixing another scripture in here: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye (you-all) shine as lights in the world; Php 2:15
Another plural 'you'. You, the church shine as lights in a dark world.
If a church partners with another organization that is non-christian to feed the hungry, provide low-cost housing or whatever other ministries we might be wanting to offer .. by virtue of the word 'partner' we cease to stand out corporately as the light of the world. When that happens the lost are not drawn to the light.
So James clearly says .. to partner with the world you become God's enemy. Strong words. Wise words.
James has mentioned their fighting and quarreling in the church. He has mentioned compromising their testimonies by holding hands with the world. He has told them that it is wrong … it must stop.
An expected response from the readers might me, “How do we change this now? We are so entrenched in this.” And it is like James is saying, You can do it. But only if you will humble yourselves. Humility, in their case, means, “Just admit you have been wrong! God will give you the grace (favor) to make the turn-around”
Here is how James puts it” 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
It is our old nature that gets us into trouble, tempting us with pleasure, status (being thought of admirably in the world) and for quick ways to get rich.
James reminds us that victory against our old nature begins with humility.
True humility, he says, is submission to God. (saying, Yes Lord … You are right … I am wrong, I have sinned)
It seems as though he says the second step is to resist the devil.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
We are responsible for our actions … even when 'the Devil made me do it'. We are responsible for paying attention to him to begin with.
Submitting to God and resisting the devil, go together.
I have never come across a verse where we are told to talk to the devil personally. Jesus said to Peter, Get behind me Satan. And Jesus talked to Satan during his temptation in the wilderness … and yet there is not a scripture that says we are ever to speak to Satan – other than to command the demon in Jesus' name to depart from a possessed person.
But if submitting to God is the first step in resisting the devil … the second step would be to have a scripture response and reason for our behavior and decisions.
James says … submit to God. (verse 8-10) and be REALLY ashamed of ourselves. Notice his strong language here.
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 wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
This is how James (the Spirit of God) views friendship with the world. We must let this sink in. Lord have mercy on us.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This is repentance. It sounds so easy. Emphasis on the word 'sounds'. Before James moves on he mentions one more time:
11 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.12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Don’t slander!! No gossiping or talking behind someone's back!!
It is human nature (not divine nature) to try to get ahead. We do this via competition. We want to be better than others. In the process we put others down.
But now James moves on and preaches to us who are nice enough to refrain from ‘getting ahead’ by slandering and beating up our brother … but we still want to get ahead … so we do it another way.
So James gives one more … 'Winning by Strategy'. I will offer the next few verses in the Philips translation.
13 Just a moment, now, you who say, "We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit"!
There is the strategy. Have we all done that at one time or another? This is just one form of financial planning. We think, “I need to put something away for retirement … or at least for a rainy day”. James says,
14 How do you know what will happen tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air.
And that might just serve to underscore our thinking further. We could say, “Exactly! We have no idea what tomorrow may bring … all the more reason to put some money aside.” But James, in his wisdom, adds this,
15 Your remarks should be prefaced with, "If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive and will do so-and-so."16 As it is, you take a certain pride in planning with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong.
Much of what James is saying really hits home to us today. We may have been guilty of saying with some degree of pride. “I am so glad we had the foresight to invest with … so and so. So many young people spend it as it comes in. If we had done that, where would we be now?”
James corrects that prideful attitude by saying, You should have said … If it is the Lord's will etc.
That sounds do-able … right? It sounds easy, almost. Well, I think that just saying those words does make it a bit too easy. James means something quite specific here.
Over the years we have have adopted the phrase, Lord willing we hope to . . .
“Lord willing we hope to move Saskatchewan, farm for a few years, and set some money aside for our retirement.”
“Saskatchewan?,” you are thinking … “Not going to happen.”
Don' t laugh. In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus said, "Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops, So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods, and I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’But God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you will be asked for your soul! Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich in the eyes of God."
Who said there is no money in farming?
So we say, 'Lord willing' … and that makes is all OK?
Not really. It goes much deeper than this.
What is the difference between saying, “Lord willing I will move to Edmonton and take a job that offers incredible benefits and good wages. After that, Lord willing I will move back here and settle down”. -or- “If it is God's will I will move to Edmonton” … etc.
There is a huge difference. These two statements are direct opposites. In the second one we want to know what the Lord’s will, plan and purpose is in our lives and we have determining whether He wants us to move to a certain place for a while to accomplish it. In the first case, we have a plan of our own and we want the Lord to permit us to do it. One starts with God … the other starts with us. I hope you can see the difference.
Let's summarize this section …. It is wrong to fight and quarrel with others to get ahead.
So we agree, we should not fight with others. But James says it is also wrong to strategize our own future outside of the will of God.
Simply put, we are servants. As servants of God, He has a field of service for you. It is not yours to pick and choose. He wants to be consulted and he want to reveal his will to you. He wants to reveal where it is that He wants you to work, and He wants you to know just what that work is. But He does not necessarily 'spell it out'. We need to want His will and purpose to be fulfilled in our personal lives, and then we need to pray about it, and then we need to search His word to see where we might be the most effective for Him.
And now James says, Now that you know better ...
17 Well then, if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.
James is not finished with them yet.
Some are struggling with others to 'get ahead'. Other are strategizing their own success. Who has he not dealt with?
In the next chapter James has some very harsh words for those in the church who act like they pretty much 'have it made'.
1 James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.