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In today’s passage from James this 1st Century pastor issues a very urgent call to the persecuted and scattered Jewish Christians to renew their walk with God. Yes, they are disciples of Jesus. Yes, they have paid a great cost for their faithfulness to Jesus as LORD. And yet, the warning signs are there in their common life as a faith community. Somehow a kind of “rot” has set in which needs urgent attention on their part. James has come to hear of behaviour in their relationships which simply does not belong in a community of the Christ, the King of Love.
Just as a good doctor will not just diagnose what is wrong with you physically by the symptoms, but also explain to you what is happening and why, and then prescribe a remedy, James writes this hard-hitting, jam-packed section of his letter to his fellow-Christians to:
- Diagnose the ROT
- Explain the REASON, and
- Prescribe the REMEDY
Why would this be of interest to us today, all these centuries after James wrote these words? Well frankly because their ROT constituted some timeless problems which rear their heads in our lives too. And also because, whether we share their specific rot or experience different kinds of rot in our lives, the REASONS are often very similar … and … the REMEDY he prescribes is spiritually like that “wonder drug” that medical researchers would love to discover. It works for every ROT.
So let’s open up the verses of James 4:1-12 and get going. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that they contain the timeless Word of God for anyone seeking renewal in our Christian lives.
The ROT (v.1-3; 11-12)
These verses do present both the rot in this group of Christians as well as aspects of the reasons, but for now let’s just focus on the kind of rot identified. Boy, this Church was in trouble. James describes:
- Fights and Quarrels: This was such a serious issue that James first diagnoses “fights and quarrels” in v.1 and then “quarrels and fights” in v. 2. There was conflict among the Christians. They were having quarrels with one another, and those quarrels were indicative of a longer-term general sense of conflict. Translated literally the words would be “battles” and “wars”. There were those uncomfortable one-off quarrels or “battles” between Christians … but there was also an ongoing general atmosphere of conflict (“war” if you like). How sad. James had offered teaching in James 1 about how persevering under trial will lead to spiritual maturity. It seems that perhaps he included that teaching right at the start of the letter precisely because the pressure cooker of persecution, rather than uniting these Christians, had contributed to conflict. They were not acting maturely … not even close!
- Killing: Now I don’t think there were Christians who were literally killing one another. I think James would have made more of it if that were the case. I think he is speaking metaphorically about the extremes to which the Christians were going, driven by their desires (which we’ll come to). They were destroying their relationships with one another. They were clearly destroying one another’s reputations – we see this in the way James speaks about slander in the final verses of our passage. (Read v.11-12) These believers were “cutting each other down”! They were clearly rejecting the Royal Law of Love! They were casting judgmental condemnation on one another by slandering one another – that is, pronouncing negative and even character assassinating things about each other. They were “killing” by their words.
- Powerless prayer: James says that these believers were not people of prayer. And what is more, on the odd occasion that these Christians did bother to pray, their prayers were remaining unanswered. They were prayerless and powerless.
Is this the kind of community that Jesus died to create? Heavens, NO!
- Jesus said, “By this will all people know that you are my disciples – if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
- Jesus prayed: “My prayer … for those who will believe in Me … is that they will be one, Father, just as You are in Me, and I am in You. may they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
Wow. James’ Christian community was in big, big trouble. They were miles away from what they were called to be.
Now, I am very happy to say that in my experience CMC is not like this. Sure like any community of human beings there will be individuals who will disagree from time to time … you’ll also never keep everyone happy all the time. BUT … as a general rule I think people here find a way to disagree with respect. Fights, quarrels, battles, wars and killing are not words that come to mind when I think of CMC.
So is this relevant to us? Absolutely. These troubles of James’ people are just one form of symptom of the root problem. And it is when we come to the REASON for the ROT that we will realise how all of us are in grave danger as human beings. What James described is a severe case of this ROT … at a community level … but the ROT is present in every human life and it carries the potential to destroy if we are not on our guard. So what exactly is the reason for this rot?
THE REASON (v.1, 4-6)
It is at this point that I want to remind you of last week’s passage.
Do you remember that in James 3:13-18 the issue was godly wisdom v worldly wisdom? Do you remember that Godly wisdom leads to peace and righteousness? What does worldly wisdom lead to according to James? Disorder and every evil practice? Does that sound familiar?
Yes! This community was experiencing the outcome of living in worldly wisdom rather than godly wisdom. That’s the connection to last week’s passage. This is not James randomly taking a new direction. He is diagnosing his community as being one in which ROT has set in … and that ROT is the inevitable outcome of living by worldly wisdom.
And what was the root of worldly wisdom? That’s right, James 3:14 says it is bitter envy and selfish ambition!
We saw that when a person’s driving motivation is to please God, this results in godly wisdom which in turn results in peace and righteousness … BUT when a person’s driving motivation is to please themselves and promote themselves, this results in worldly wisdom … which in turn results in disorder and every evil practice.
So it’s no surprise then when James diagnoses the REASONS FOR THE ROT in chapter 4 as this:
- Selfish desiring and coveting (v.1-2). You are being controlled by your sensual desires. You want what you want, no matter what! You’re willing to pay any price and sacrifice any virtue to get what you desire.
- Friendship with the world; i.e. you are worldly in your motivation. You are loving the world and the things of the world … this material world and it’s material pleasures and properties. (v.4) In a sense he is saying that you have far overvalued the world.
- Hatred of God: At the same time, James says, you have turned your back on your love for God. You have chosen to love the world and the things of the world more than God. He says, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (v.4) James is using the same figure of speech that Jesus used when He said that whoever is not for us is against us … and that no-one can serve two Masters … money and God … he will love the one and hate the other. The more they had fallen in love with worldly things the more they had fallen out of love with God. In fact I would go so far as to say that James means that they had enthroned worldly property and pleasure in their hearts and they have dethroned Christ!
- Spiritual Adultery: On top of it all he says that they are therefore “spiritual adulterers” (v.4). They had pledged themselves to Christ and entered a covenant relationship with Him as their King and God, their Saviour and Lord … They were Christ’s Bride and He the Groom … but now there was a different king in their hearts … their own desire!
So, in a nutshell … what was the REASON for the ROT?
Christ had been dethroned and SELF had been re-enthroned. They had exchanged the love of Christ for the love of the world.
So now I have to be faithful to my role as a preacher and ask us to measure for ourselves. That was them. What about ME? What about US? Our community may measure up reasonably well against the description of the ROT. But how about each of us individually? We can only answer for ourselves:
How do we measure up when it comes to the REASONS for that ROT … the ruling passion of one’s life? This is the DIAGNOSTIC QUESTION:
Do I love and desire Christ and the things of God MORE than I desire the world and the things of the world?
This is the heart of the matter. Failing this test would not mean that I have lost my salvation … but it would mean that I am in grave danger … that I am sliding downhill away from Christ and instead of growing into spiritual maturity … I am dying spiritually! And so if there is even a hint in our lives that we are leaning towards loving “self” more than God … or the things of this world more than God … or sensual pleasure more than God … we will need to pay incredibly close attention to what James says next about the REMEDY.
The REMEDY (v.7-10)
1.The Holy Spirit:
Verse 5-6 actually gives us our first hints of the remedy. It has the good news … the mind-blowing news in fact. The Holy Spirit who lives in you is zealous to fan into flame your love for God.
God loves you and me enough to die for us … and when we pledged ourselves to be His people through faith in Jesus Christ He “poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.” (Rom. 5:5) John says that God has “lavished His love upon us” (1 John 3:1) so that we can be called children of God.
Now James adds that the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us not only ministers God’s love for us to us … but He is also within us to stir up the passion of our love for God. He is intense in His desire to see us loving the Lord.
That’s why James says that He will give grace to the humble.
The remedy begins with us humbling ourselves and acknowledging that we are falling short. And when we do that, the Holy Spirit immediately goes to work to reignite and increase our passion for Jesus.
If we refuse to admit that we have a spiritual problem and are “double-hearted”, we are being proud and the Holy Spirit will battle within us against that pride.
But the moment we humble ourselves in honesty He will give us grace!
So what are we to do then in order to humble ourselves like this? James has a great answer for us:
3.Seek God in repentance of mind, heart and body!
Verses 8-9 are intense. James says: “Come near to God” … and that’s a wonderful instruction because it comes with the promise: “And He will come near to you.” But the seeking is hard work. It is a matter of:
Heart: He says we will need to purify our hearts! Does that ring a bell? Turn to God in love … dethrone your love for the things of the world. Ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse those other loves out of your heart … but also make that determination for yourself to love God with ALL of your heart! Practically what do you do? Well, Revelation 2:4-5 says that when we have lost our first love we should “repent and do the things we did at first”. If, in the flush of your first love for the Lord, you used to wake up at 4am to spend time with Him, do it again! If you used to listen to loud worship music in your car, do it again! If you used to read chapters of the Bible every day, do it again! Do everything you can to rekindle a pure, passionate love for God in your heart!
Body: Then James says we will need to “wash our hands”. This is about physical behaviour. If your love for the world has begun to take hold and there are physical things you are doing that are not God’s will for you … STOP … REPENT … and TURN BACK. Ask God’s forgiveness and do not go back to doing them! Simple as that. Throw that bottle down the drain. Delete that contact from your phone. Gently but decisively break off that relationship. Wash your heart and wash your hands.
Mind: Decide to pursue God! Make a decision in your mind that from now on you will pursue God with all your heart and reject sin with all your heart! (v.7) James says it like this: “Submit to God and resist the devil.” Make a decision to say NO to the temptation of the evil one to put yourself and your desires first … and re-surrender your life to Christ and His Lordship! In James’ words: “Purify your hearts you who are double-minded.” In other words … be single-minded … have ONE over-riding motivation in your mind … PLEASING GOD!
And when we do this … James’ promise is certain: God gives grace to the humble.
The CALL of God today is this: Humble yourselves before the Lord and HE WILL LIFT YOU UP!