Submission And Boasting
James 4:1 – 17
Submission and Boasting
Christians plagued by fights and quarrels,
I wonder what you might think, if I were to say to you that Trinity Mount Barker is a church plagued by quarrels and fighting,
People motivated by selfish desires.
It’s not a pleasant thing to hear about our church, and if you’re new with us this morning, you might think, actually I’m not sure that I want to be a part of a, part of a group like that!
And yet, it’s true!
There are fights and quarrels among us.
People here are motivated by selfish desires and passions.
Now, let me be absolutely clear, in God’s kindness, fights, and quarrels, and selfish desires, are not the distinguishing characteristics of TMB.
When I catch up with people from here during the week, the things that people want to talk about, are not what this other person has done,
It’s not , he said this, she said that,
Not by any stretch of the imagination.
And we can be, we should be, very thankful to God that that’s the case.
And yet, here’s James, almost certainly James the brother of Jesus. He the leader of the church in Jerusalem,
He’s writing, chapter 1 verse 1, to Christian people scattered among the nations, and he knows that those churches he’s writing to, are plagued by fights and quarrels, and coveting, and selfish desires.
James, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thinks that God’s people no matter where they are in the known world, face this issue, and need to do something about this issue.
And so, we would be fooling ourselves, wouldn’t we, if we thought we were any different?!
If we thought we were exempt from this,
If we imagined, that this was a danger for other Christians, but not for us.
The diagnosis: Christians are worldly and driven by pleasures (v 1 – 3)
When you go to the doctor, they check out various things about you, and look for symptoms. And then having observed the symptoms, the doctor says, “This is the diagnosis.
Here’s the problem;, this infection, or this injury”, or whatever it is,
So, the symptoms that James observes, are fights and quarrels, and coveting,
But the problem, the diagnosis, is that people are living in a worldly way, that is, they’re being driven by their pleasures.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
And desires there in verse 1, is actually the same word translated pleasures down at the end of 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.
Now, we know what it is to be motived by pleasures and desires. That’s how little kids live, isn’t it?
“You have that toy.
I want that toy.
So I whack you on the head with this toy, and while you’re busy crying, I take the toy.”
That’s being driven by desires and pleasures.
And unsurprisingly, James says, that kind of living leads to fights and quarrels.
And even more, You desire but do not have, so you kill, James says. Probably this is hyperbole. If Christians were actually murdering each other, he’d no doubt have more to say about it,
But Jesus had said the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount, equating getting angry, with murder.
And remember James is Jesus’ brother. Maybe he lay in bed at night listening to Jesus practice the Sermon on the Mount!
Perhaps not! But it’s not surprising that James would echo Jesus’ own words.
So we’re probably not talking actual murder, but these are symptoms that warn us that something is seriously wrong.
When I was a kid, my dad got bitten by a snake. We lived in Darwin, and he’d gone outside one night, but he didn’t know anything had happened, until later on, he started feeling really, really sick!
Now the being sick was just the symptom. The problem was that he’d been bitten by something venomous. And the symptom says, something bad is going on, you need to do something about it!
And if we were to take a look at our lives, and replay some of our conversations, and our thoughts, if we see any of these symptoms there, fighting, quarrelling, coveting,
Then we need to pay attention to where the symptoms point.
James says there’s a problem of worldliness.
Those Christians in the first century, were slipping back into the patterns and priorities of the world around them;,
Envy, covetousness, seeking after pleasures, and that was all becoming apparent in their lives.
Worldliness breaks fellowship with God (v 4)
And this worldliness will break fellowship with God.
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
James isn’t saying, you can’t be friends with people in the world.
Probably lots of us know Christians who have taken these words to mean that kind of thing; “Cut yourself off from the world.”
But James is hardly a book about living in a Christian ghetto is it? James thinks Christians are going to be very involved in the world.
But Christians will have different priorities and motivations, to those which prevail in the world around us.
Not because we think we’re better than other people, but because a Christian is someone who’s been transformed, and is being transformed, by the Spirit of God.
See verse 5, Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace
Firstly, if you ever have trouble remembering where something is in the Bible, or exactly what the words are in the Bible, take heart from James! What he says the Scripture says, actually isn’t found anywhere in the Bible! But it’s a theme that we get in a number of places in the Old Testament, like Exodus 20, or Zechariah 8. James kind of gets the vibe of a few places, rather than an actual quote from any one place.
But more importantly, this reminds us of the whole approach James brings to his letter.
These pages aren’t instructions for all the good things you should be doing, in order to live a good life,
Or to make God pleased with you, or anything like that.
This letter is about the lives of people who have been brought into relationship with God through Jesus.
This is all about what your life looks like if you’re a Christian, because of the work that God is doing in you.
And because of that, a Christian person will necessarily be different to the world around them.
don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?
A Christian person can’t continue to make decisions solely according to desires and pleasures.
In the Greco-Roman world friendship meant something different to what friendship means in the Facebook era.
Friendship mean having everything in common, sharing , everything that you had.
One historian calls it “both spiritual and physical unity.”
And when you share everything with the world,
Then you are out of step with God,
You have aligned yourself with the world, against God.
It’s the same problem of double-mindedness that we’ve seen all through James.
The problem isn’t that James’ readers have no interest in God at all. They’re Christians! They have some time for God.
But their loyalties are divided. They fall into the trap of thinking “well it doesn’t matter if I’m selfish and living for my pleasures, as long as I do some things that please God in this part of my life.”
You might have a mixer tap in your kitchen sink. And when you don’t want all cold water, you mix in a little bit of hot.
We think, “as long as I’ve got something in my life that God wants,
Something I can point to.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve kept coming back to this picture of the red sock in the wash with all the white clothes, haven’t we?
The red sock goes in, it changes everything else.
Everything comes out coloured.
But what often happens with the Christian person, is that they get immersed in the world, which is a good thing, that’s what we’re supposed to do, but instead of chaning the colour of everything else, it’s the Christian who gets changed, and comes out, colour-less, looking like everyone else.
This double-mindedness, becoming worldly, James describes it using the language that God used to describe Israel in the Old Testament, when they turned away from him, and lived like the world around them.
You adulterous people, James says.
In seeking friendship with the world,
In seeking after the world’s priorities instead of God’s,
In being motivated by your passions, you are committing spiritual adultery.
You are God’s man, or God’s woman, brought into relationship with him, but you’re committing adultery with the world.
That’s a pretty horrible picture, isn’t it?
Adultery is sickeningly destructive choice of behaviours, and that’s the image that the Bible uses, to picture someone who lives with the world’s priorities and motivation, while still trying to pass themselves off as one of God’s people.
Worldliness. Could the diagnosis be any more serious?
I don’t think so.
The antidote to worldliness: Come near to God (v 5 – 10).
But fortunately for us, James offers the antidote.
And if you’ve been with us over the 5 weeks or so that we’ve been in this letter, it will come as no surprise to you, that the solution to this problem of worldliness,
Of mixed up priorities,
Of being driven by passions, and having fights and quarrels, the antidote that James offers is not to stop fighting and stop quarrelling, is it?
See, James doesn’t just stay “stop quarrelling.”
That would be the legalistic response. Give people a rule to follow and expect their whole lives to be changed.
But because the fights and quarrels are a symptom, not the cause, simply telling people to lift their game isn’t going to have any lasting effect.
Legalism never does.
No, the solution is the gospel!
Come near to God James says, and he will come near to you
Of course, you don’t have to be quarrelling and fighting and killing, to be in need of coming near to God.
These are symptoms of a life lived according to worldly passions, but they’re not the only ones.
Maybe if we looked at our lives we’d see pride,
Unfair criticism of others,
Envy and jealousy,
A self-reliance rather than a trust in God,
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
See, there are lots of terrific benefits of the Christian faith, and let me say, at the funeral last weekend, we saw one amazing benefit of the Christian faith;, the hope that we have in Christ for resurrection and life beyond this life,
I’ve spent this last week being stopped in the street by people who were at the funeral, “Excuse me, are you the pastor?” they ask, and they talk about the phenomenal hope in Christ that they saw in Nathan and Kerry, and heard from the Scriptures as we gave thanks to God for Eddie and Charlie Watts.
But even that which was mind-blowing to those people who don’t have it, that’s not even the very best thing that the Christian faith offers us.
That is, a relationship with God himself.
And here, God holds out that offer, that he’s already made in the gospel, he offers himself again as the antidote to worldliness.
And just think for a moment about the people to whom God is offering himself here.
It’s not people who have got it all together is it?, Who are doing everything exactly right?
That’s not who James is writing to!
He’s writing to people who he knows are quarrelling and arguing.
They are double-minded,
And yet even to these Christians, God promises , himself.
If God promised himself to them, well, he promises himself to us!
If you worry sometimes that God seems far away.
That the state of your life separates you from God,
That maybe you are more caught up in the motives and priorities of the world than you should be,
If you worry that your desires and passions exclude you from God’s presence and from relationship with him,
If your mixer tap is turned nearly all the way round to worldliness, with maybe just a trickle from God’s side,
Look at these people!
Christian men and women, fighting and quarrelling, getting to the point of killing, and to them, James says, Come near to God and he will come near to you
You are not too far,
Too entrenched in your ways,
Too caught up in your adulterous affair with the world, for your relationship with God to be made right.
God is determined, that nothing will hinder our relationship with him.
“Draw near to me”, God says, “and you will find me there.”
Here is the promise, from God’s own lips, of prayers being heard.
Maybe you wonder, “Are my prayers even heard? Or am I just speaking out into the ether somewhere?
Well, here is God’s promise, to be near, to hear.
Maybe you wonder, can I be comforted, in the midst of heartache?
Here is God’s promise, to be near.
Can I be changed? , Can God be at work in me so that I’m not, what I don’t want to be?
Here is God’s promise, to be near.
What is it to come near to God?
So what actually is it, to come near to God?
Some Christians use this language to describe what happens when we gather on Sundays. You might have heard that in church, “we are now, coming near to God.”
But we know that God doesn’t live in church buildings, particularly, which is good news for us, because God’s certainly not going to live in the middle school building!
For other people though, “come near to God”, is about feelings, or emotions, or imagination.
“Create the right environment, and you’ll feel God’s presence” they say.
But it definitely doesn’t seem like James doesn’t think that our feelings or imaginations are able to bridge the chasm, that our passions and desires have carved into our relationship with God
You read verses 1 to 6, and simply imagining, or feeling, the presence of God, doesn’t seem to be anything close a solution to the problem, does it?
So what it is to come near to God?
Coming near to God means submitting to God (v 7)
Well it starts with submission to God.
James has quoted there from Proverbs 3, God opposes the proud, but shows favour to the humble, and then he gives a string of commands, of which come near to God is one, and all of the others fill out that picture.
Verse 7, submit yourselves, then, to God,
The same idea expressed differently in Grieve, mourn and wail, verse 9,
And again in verse 10, humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
So we don’t have to decide for ourselves, what it means to come near to God.
It’s not up to me to decide, “Well, I like to come to God, this way”,
And for you to say, “Well, for me, there’s this other means of coming near to God, that kind of , works for me!”,
No, we’re told exactly what it is, this antidote to worldliness.
Instead of submitting to the devil, submit yourselves, to God
Instead of submitting to the devil, resist the devil,
Instead of feeding your desires and passions, grieve mourn and wail, see your sin the way God sees it,
See your sin the way it really is.
Humble yourselves before the Lord,
Come near to God.
The word for submit in James’ original language is literally “obey.” It’s the word used to describe Jesus as a 12 year old boy, obeying his parents in Luke 2.
Some of you will be familiar with the novel “The Shack” which has been quite popular among some Christians in the past. In that book, the character Papa, who is the God figure, Papa says to the human character, Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience;, it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we, the Trinity, are submitted to you, the human, in the same way.
But see that that’s entirely contradictory, to what James says here.
And it’s entirely contradictory to Jesus’ own example.
And it’s entirely at odds with what the word itself means!
Literally this word submit, means to “put in order , under something or someone else”
To submit to God means to place ourselves under his lordship, and to commit ourselves to obeying him in everything.
To come near to God, is to submit to his priorities, and not the world’s,
To act on God’s motivations, not driven by our passions.
It’s the exact opposite of what we see in the opening verses of the chapter,
God doesn’t submit to us. But the antidote to worldliness is for us to submit ourselves again to him.
Submit to God in how you plan for the future (v 13 – 17)
And those last few verses of the section, are really just one particular application of what James is saying here.
See the businessman who’s super confident in his planning, who kind of maps out the future, and says, “well, this is how it’s going to be.”
That’s not submitting to God, is it?
That is, as James says in verse 16, boasting in your arrogant schemes.
Now, he’s not saying “Don’t plan anything.” We should all toss our diaries in the bin on the way out!
No, he tells us exactly how we ought to plan for the future “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Submit yourself to God.
Put yourself under him, and be ready and willing to make changes to what you’ve planned, if it becomes clear to you that the path that you’ve started down, is not how God would have you live in the world!
Sometimes we live as if the things that we do,
The things we sign up for,
The sport that we get involved in,
The plans we make with our families,
The financial decisions we commit to,
We live as if these things are firm and fixed, and if it turns out that the path I’ve gone down is at odds with God’s will for how I ought to be living my Christian life, then God’s just going to have to learn to live with disappointment!
You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
You go outside on a cold Adelaide Hills day, and your breath is a mist, that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Your plans, your social calendar, your retirement planning, are nothing, when compared to God’s control of, and rule over the world.
Submit to God, in your plans,
In how you organise your life,
In what goes into your diary,
And if necessary, what comes out of your diary.
Coming near to God means radical repentance (v 8 – 10)
Coming near to God also means radical repentance.
Remember James is talking to Christian people. He’s not talking about the repentance that’s involved in coming into relationship with Jesus for the first time.
If we continue our medical analogy, part of the treatment plan for worldliness and double-mindedness among God’s people, is radical repentance.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded
This morning already we have confessed our sin together. We used those words from Psalm 51, acknowledging our sin, our failure to do what is right.
And sometimes people ask me why we do that. And sometimes people even say to me that we shouldn’t do it.
They say if we’re Christian people, which most of us are, then we’ve already repented, we believe that Jesus died for all our sins, past, present and future, so we don’t need to repent again.
And let me say, I’m all for being absolutely convinced, of the sufficiency of Jesus’ death in our place, for all our sin and rebellion. There is nothing left to be done in order for us to be saved and welcomed by God.
But James here uses this language of repentance, and confession, and acknowledging my sin, and being grieved by my sin, as the appropriate response of Christian people, when we become aware of sin in our own lives.
If we can see the double-mindedness in our lives,
If we can see that the mixer tap is mixing in some of the world’s priorities and behaviours,
Something has to be done.
There must be a departure from sin,
A re-submission to God,
A washing and purification, not to achieve relationship with God,
But to restore fellowship that we’ve broken through our double-mindedness.
And notice this radical repentance, involves both external behaviour, wash your hands, and an internal attitude, purify your hearts.
I think probably, James has got Psalm 24 in the back of his mind. There King David asks, “who can come near to God?” And then he answers his own question, The one who has clean hands and a pure heart
That’s what’s always been required to have proper fellowship with God;, Not to be double-minded, or worldly, but a pure heart.
Often at home, when we’re getting ready to sit down for dinner, my wife Kathy will ask our kids, “Do you have clean hands?”, and then I often chime in, “Do you have a pure heart?”
And they all kind of look at me and roll their eyes!
Only one of those things is necessary if you want to sit down for dinner at our table, but both are necessary if we are to have fellowship with God.
We can’t be double-minded, worldly.
The problem that we face isn’t that we fight and quarrel all the time!
None of us are like that all the time, But we take on these aspects of worldliness, even though we’ve already been brought into relationship with God through Jesus.
It’s adultery, James says, Double-minded
Which part of worldliness do we prefer to God himself?
So if we were to allow James to, twist the knife a little,
What desires, verse 1,
What wrong motives, what pleasures, verse 3, are you, not willing to give up?,
Am I, not willing to give up?,
What choice, or pattern of life, is putting you at risk of becoming an enemy of God, verse 4?
What is it, that maybe even right now, is holding you back, from coming near to God?
Because whatever that is, it’s getting in the way of God coming near to you.
Is there some part of our life, that we are not willing to submit to God?
Quite willing to submit to God’s rule in every area of life, , except this bit.
This bit where I’m committing adultery with the world.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Jungle Doctor stories by Paul White, the CMS missionary in Tanzania. Remember, little leopards become big leopards, and big leopards kill!
But I was thinking of another one of those stories during the week, where one of the characters catches monkeys, by drilling a hole in a hollow gourd, putting a banana inside, and tying it up some place where the monkey will find it.
Monkey walks along, smells the banana, puts his hand inside and grabs the banana, but now he can’t get either his hand or the banana out of the hole.
All the hunter needs to do is come along and pick up the monkey,
Monkey sausages for dinner!
Now, I don’t know that it’s actually a proven method of catching monkeys, but we get the point don’t we?
What could possibly be worth hanging on to, that would cost us so much,
That would stop us coming near to God.
The antidote to worldliness is only possible because of Jesus
Finally, let’s remember, that this call to repent and purify ourselves, is only possible because God has already provided the ultimate purification.
Without God sending Jesus to die the death the we deserved for our rebellion against him, we wouldn’t even want to come near to him!
To desire God for who he is,
To want what God wants, requires the work of God in us in the first place.
God’s already been at work in us, but this cleansing and purification that James prescribes for us, is a re-cleansing, a re-purification.
I had to clean out one of our stormwater pipes on Thursday morning because it had got blocked.
The pipe was already there,
It was in place,
It had functioned in the past,
But I had allowed it to become blocked.
And so I needed to take action to remove the blockage.
James pleads with us to remove whatever temporary blockage we’ve allowed to make its way into our fellowship with God.
But this antidote to the problem of worldliness depends on Jesus’ death in our place in another way too,
See without Jesus taking the punishment for sin and rebellion that we deserve,
Even if we wanted to come near to God,
And even if we could,
And if God did, in response, come near to us,
What would happen?
We would be utterly consumed, by God’s righteous anger!
There was a preacher in the 18th century named Jonathan Edwards. He was one the leaders in the revival that became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards is perhaps most famous today, for a sermon he preached on the 8th of July, 1741, called “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
Edwards’ point, was that on our own, we cannot come to God,
We have no access to God,
We can expect nothing from God, except the right and just punishment for our sin and rebellion against him.
If we were to draw near to God when we were like that, that would be utterly terrifying!
The only reason that the thought of God coming near might not fill us with fear, is if God has already brought us into relationship with himself through Jesus.
And so do you see, that this antidote to worldliness, is in fact wonderfully assuring?
It speaks to you of your status.
If you’re a Christian here this morning,
Here is the assurance, that when God looks at you, he doesn’t see your sin and rebellion,
He doesn’t see you as someone deserving of judgment.
He sees you as someone to whom he wants to come near
Here is God’s own promise, that you can be welcomed, and have relationship, and access to him.
Here is God’s promise, that you have nothing to fear, from the creator of the world, reaching out his hand, and beckoning you to come in.
Here is God’s promise, that when you face your death, you will be welcomed as one of God’s own people.
In the 2nd Century there lived a Greek philosopher named Epictetus. He observed that Caesar could free people from “wars and battles”, but the emperor was powerless to free people from attitudes like envy.
The might of Rome can go a long way to creating peaceful existence for people, but you can’t make a law to stop people being envious.
You can’t make a rule that stops fights and quarrels.
See friends, the antidote to a love affair with the world, or double-mindedness to pick up that theme throughout the letter, the solution is not to do less, but to do more.
Don’t think I just need to do less fighting and quarrelling, but realise you need to do more drawing near to God.