Three weeks ago Kendall preached on the end of James 3 about two kinds of wisdom. The wisdom of the world brings jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder and every vile practice. The wisdom from God brings purity, mercy, righteousness and peace. And James especially stresses peace and peace makers.
Today, after two weeks of looking at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His death, burial and resurrection, we return to our study of the book of James.
James chapter 4 explores carnal conflict and its causes and its cure. For our lesson this morning let’s just walk through the first ten verses of this chapter and explore with James. It’s pretty ugly territory. He reveals the terrible trap we so easily fall into and how devastating a condition it is to be in it. Finally, he unveils the way of escape and gives us a clear concise prescription for recovery and victory.
Look at the first three verses. Here we see the symptoms of our fallen feelings.
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Now think about this picture James has painted for us. He asks two questions and then describes the frustrating path that comes out of his answers. What we see here is all too common, is it not? Humanity has a very hard time getting along with one another! Why? James gives us the answer.
I read this little excerpt from Vernan Palmer about human nature that you might find interesting:
The Minnesota Crime Commission reported on the growth of crime and reached a startling conclusion:
Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it — his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch. Deny him these once, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty, he has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. This means that all children — not just certain children — are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal — a thief, a killer, or a rapist.
All human conflict is ultimately traced back to the frustrated desire of wanting more than we have, and being resentful of what others have, whether it is position or possessions.
Now that sounds a bit strong to our ears, but the Bible says several things that would back this up.
Genesis 6:5, 8:21, Psalm 51:5, 58:3, Proverbs 22:15…
As Joe Beam put it, “A two year old may not be sinful, but it’s not from lack of trying.”
We are fallen creatures. Where does our fallenness show up first? In our desires for pleasure that war in our members. James is right! We all know that our wants motivate our actions and impact our relationships. But listen to how bad it can get! When we don’t get what we want what do we do? What does desire that is conceived give birth to? James has already covered this in chapter 1:15. What does sin grow up and produce? That’s right, death. Here James shows us that sometimes desire produces murder. Does that get you what you want? No.
The symptoms of worldly desires are not positive. Our desires take over our lives so that we love all the wrong things and begin fighting and quarreling with one another. Look around at our world today and notice all the conflicts and craziness all around us! We are swimming in worldly wisdom… no, we are drowning in worldly wisdom and it is destroying relationships all over the place!
Notice there are two groups in these first three verses. One group is having a terrible time and they are not praying, or asking God at all. They are either unwilling to pray or ignorant of their need to seek God. But the second group does pray. They have a sort of baptized desire list that they ask for, but their prayers go unanswered because their motivations are self-centered and not seeking God’s will.
Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto us. Jesus also said, “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” “What father having a son if he asked for bread would give him a stone or if he asks for a fish would give him a snake. If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father give good things to those who ask Him?”
God is not a kill joy in the sky that likes to keep us from enjoying things. He made all things for us to enjoy! In God’s presence are eternal pleasures! But the problem is that our fallen sinful flesh is willing to trade God’s treasures for the dust of this earth and love and long for and cling to the temporal world and forget God the giver of it all.
Whenever we turn from God to anything else, we end up at odds not just with God but with one another as well. Desires need to be trained toward heaven. Jesus said, Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is there your heart will be also. God wants your heart. Don’t give it away to the fallen world. You will only end up breaking the greatest commandments and destroying the very purpose of your life.
In the next three verses James looks deeper than symptoms and explores the spiritual condition that exists. He doesn’t mince words here at all. It is serious and requires serious rebuke and instruction.
You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
1 John 2:15 echoes the same message telling us: Love not the world, neither the things in the world, for if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them.
That’s a huge issue! Flirting with the world is dangerous! The world is very seductive to our hearts. The lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the boastful pride of life all lean toward the world and away from God. Jesus said, “It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, in fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Do these words disturb anyone else here?
What does James call those who love the world? He uses this word “friendship” and says friendship with the world is what? Think about what God’s word is telling you and me here at Signal Mountain today. Think about what our desires are for ourselves and our children. If your child was going to meet someone who you knew would captivate them and take them away and destroy their lives bit by bit until they were dead, what would you tell them to do if they saw that person?
If your child was in danger of becoming a friend of the world, how much more ought we to discuss this together with them, pray with them, warn them and do whatever we can to help them love God instead of this world. But there can be a problem. What if we ourselves are practicing friendship with the world? How might that influence our children’s choices? Maybe we as parents are not fully given over to the world, but do we flirt with the world and let it tickle our lusts and desires. Ask your children this question: Kids, is my life showing you more about how to love God, or the world? Ask your husband or wife the same question and let them answer openly and honestly.
Let’s admit it, we’ve all fallen in love with this world at some time or other. We’ve all let our desires and pleasures captivate us and drag us along. Listen to Titus 3:3-7
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Finally, James gives us the way out of this trap. It is not a simple decision. It is a kind of death.
Galatians 5:24 puts it this way.
All who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Earlier in that same letter Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.”
Listen now to James escape route from love of the world: verses 7-10
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
This is not a fun activity that you can enjoy with your friends. It is a life changing work of God. It starts with humility, moves to submission, causes resistance to evil, continues in closeness to God, cleansed hands, purified hearts, grief, mourning, and weeping. No laughing here. Just sorrow for sin. This is no time to enjoy, it is time for a sense of sadness that sinks in so deep it breaks your heart.
But joy comes at last. Joy that will last.
Psalm 51 is our model.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.