For an introduction to this series, click here.
November 28, 2007
James covers a wide variety of topics here. There is a lot packed into 17 verses.
"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that 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. 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. 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. 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?'" (4:1-5)
We need to always be watchful of our fleshly desires, whether that be for more money, a better position in life, or whatever else. We hope James is using hyperbole here when he talks about killing, but maybe James is referencing something his readers would have been familiar with. Note the shocking term that James uses: "adulterous." We are the bride of Christ, and he has everything we really need, but we go traipsing off after a sinful pleasure and abandoning our true love. No doubt this called to mind the word picture found often in the Old Testament prophets of Israel cavorting with other nations for security and commerce instead of relying on God. James goes on to say that the Holy Spirit is grieved and is jealous of our flirtings with the world and our fleshly lusts. God takes our sins, even those that we think are minor, very seriously. It is much worse than a weakness or a mistake. It is a sign of our lack of faith and trust in the Lord for our good.
"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." (4:6-10)
Another source of discord is pride. Pride is very simply asserting our own ideas and our own desires above those of God and others. God will not honor the desires of a proud heart, but His ears are open to those who humbly seek His will. And if that means we need to afflict our flesh for a while, it is a worthy means to an end of humility. That is what James is talking about when he tells them to mourn and weep. This is certainly contrary to the prosperity false gospel we hear preached from way too many pulpits today. God wants us to be happy in Him, not happy in the fulfillment of our earthly desires. God did not save us for us to be self-fulfilled or self-actualized. He saved us to be servants of His, that we can be led by Him to do what He wants us to do.
Also note that we have the power to resist Satan, not by saying magic words to "rebuke" him, but by drawing ever closer to God. Satan only has the power over us that we and God allow him to have. Sometimes God uses Satan to work out his purpose: just look at the life of Job, and there are other examples in the Old Testament as well. And certainly God allowed the demons to control several people's lives in Jesus' day so that God would be glorified when Jesus cast them out. Of course God does not allow us to be possessed, but He apparently does allow Satan to stir up turmoil and problems in our lives. But these temptations are ultimately designed by God to bring us closer to Him. But when we allow Satan a foothold in our lives, that is when trouble starts. We dare not try to deal with temptation on our own. Our way of escape is to flee to the Lord, who loves us.
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (4:13-17)
This is an amazing lesson in trusting God. When things are going good, we have a tendency to think it is because of something we have done, and not the blessings of God. That is what these people were doing. They had their lives planned out, but they forgot to consider God's plan. We should seek the Lord's will in every detail of our lives, and not just decide what is best for ourselves. Most of the time when we do that we end up making a mess.
But I want you to notice especially that last verse, in context with the rest of the passage. The context adds a lot of richness to that one verse. Most of us just take that verse to mean that if we know we ought to do something good and we don't do it, it is sin. And that is of course true. But the context adds the element of urgency. The reason that neglecting to do something good is sinful is because our lives here on earth are short, and we don't know what may happen tomorrow. Most of us take our lives way too flippantly. The Lord takes our lives seriously, and we need to as well. If the Lord gives you an opportunity to do good today, take advantage of it not because you are afraid of sinning, although that is a valid but shallow reason, but because our lives are short, and we may never again have an opportunity to do good for that particular someone. This passage is an important reminder to live every day to the fullest. We never know what might happen tomorrow or even a few minutes from now.