Wordliness & Godliness
James concludes chapter three with this reality: there are two types of wisdom in the world: True wisdom and false wisdom. False wisdom is from the world, and true wisdom is from God. True wisdom states that God is for God, and that every action that God does, is for his name’s sake. Yes, God loves you, God cares for you, but God loves himself utmost, and that’s good for us!
Secondly, God designed the world to work in a certain way. False wisdom denies this, and promotes human reasoning. Often, not always, but often such reasoning flies in the face of God’s wisdom. We must be careful to submit ourselves to God’s wisdom, to push back against the false wisdom the world trumpets, and not only accept God’s wisdom, but live according to it. You can’t just say you’re God wise, you have to live it. Just as faith without deeds is dead, Godly wisdom without Godly action is dead.
So what we’re up against is the worldly wisdom that says, “I’m right, I’m the focus of my life, I get to decide what is true. I get to focus my life on maintaining my happiness. But such a self centred life leads to bitterness. Why? Because with that attitude, everyone else must serve me. If it is all about me, everyone has to be about me. But when you’re the focus, you’re unhappy. Because everyone else is serving themselves. They let you down, they disappoint you. So you have to go around telling everyone how good you are at everything, and how bad everyone else is at everything.
This bitterness develops into selfish ambition which morphs into jealousy. As you perceive others having what you want, having more than what you have, you get jealous. It attacks you, it hits against your identity. It sows discontent. This leads to disorder and vile practises.
The truth is, all of us, each one of us has a bitter, egotistical, self-centred nature, an evil nature that, if we could get away with it, we would do wicked and perverse things. If we thought there would be no consequences, we would do the darkest things we can think of doing. That’s false wisdom. The focus is your own happiness, and it doesn’t matter who gets in the way, who else gets hurt, nothing matters but the self.
This is so serious, that the result is not simply a life of conflict and strife, but eventually eternal damnation. That’s what the Bible says. Such a life is an affront to God’s holiness that that’s the only justifiable punishment.
We have to have eternity in view. That’s true wisdom. We are eternal beings—any present suffering isn’t worth the effort it takes to talk about, in light of the eternal glory awaiting us. We live for the world to come. We live in humility, “I don’t know how things will go, but God does, and I submit to him. I trust him.
Three things, remember, help us to walk in wisdom: God’s Word, the fellowship of God’s people, and people who are better at following God than you are. If you hang out with people who are so so Christians, if you rarely read God’s Word, if you rarely attend fellowship with other Christians, you’ll stagnate, drift away and get out of touch with true wisdom. The false wisdom of the world will seem more and more reasonable to you. People say, “I don’t need to go to church, I can get more from God by being at the lake, or in nature.” That’s false wisdom. That’s contrary to God’s Word.
Remember this illustration? A pastor visited a member of the church who had stopped attending frequently. It was a cold day, and they were sitting in front of a real, wood burning fire. The pastor didn’t say anything about church attendance, he just grabbed the tongs, lifted a coal out of the heart of the fire and set it on the hearth. Before long, it was cold, black and grey. Then he picked it up again and put it back in the heart of the fire. In next to no time, it was glowing hot and red. The church member turned to the pastor and said, thanks for the lesson, pastor. He faithfully began attending church again.
Now, with all this in mind, look at
The quarrels James is talking about here are those which come from a wrong heart. The conflict isn’t coming from outside, from someone else. It is coming from inside from the passions at war within you. Your fights are not because of your stubborn family member. It isn’t because of your crazy father-in-law, it is something happening inside you.
The quarrels you’re in are because of you. This isn’t from circumstances. It’s a spiritual reality within.
There are two ways we grow; sometimes it’s a combination of both ways. Usually though, growing in one of these two ways.
The first way people grow is by God’s grace, you are aware of God’s grace in your life. People like this see God’s goodness all over the place in their lives. They’re the kind of people who go, “Praise God! I’m healthy today!” They are filled with gladness. Did you know that gladness fuels gratitude, which produces gladness?
People who recognise God’s grace in their lives, realise that they don’t deserve anything. They don’t deserve health, wealth, friends, and family. And when they have such things, they’re just like, “Wow! God is such a loving Father. Wow!”
This produces gratitude in us. More gratitude, more gladness.
The second way people grow is they see all those things as things they deserve. They’re entitled to them. If you have this feeling, this attitude, you don’t grow in gladness and thankfulness, but rather you grow in contempt. When you think that you deserve a good family, a good marriage, good friends, good health, good wealth, you think God should give them to you. And if you don’t have them, then you grow in contempt. You begin with other people, and then you turn that contempt toward God. You don’t rejoice when others are blessed, you resent it; it offends you because you deserve it!
There’s an old Newsboys song that has a chorus that goes, “When we get what we don’t deserve, it’s a real good thing. When we don’t get what we deserve, it’s a real good thing.” Do you understand what you really, truly deserve? You deserve to receive what was placed on Jesus’ shoulders on the cross. You deserve eternal punishment. But God doesn’t give you that. Even those people who mock and ignore God don’t even get that yet. There are people who marry, have families, have great jobs, lots of health and wealth, but they hate God or, ignore him altogether. That’s God’s grace to them. That’s God’s simple, common grace poured out on people all over the place. But if you don’t get that, you get entitled. You wish you were blessed in the way others are blessed. Then you get angry at God for not giving you what you deserve, why should those other people get all those good things, but not me?
How many people do you know who grew up in church, who really responded to it, tried to live a good, clean life, but then chucked it all away? Why? Because they didn’t get what they wanted. Maybe it was a certain job, a relationship ended, their health turned poor. And they said, “What? Why is this happening? Well, thanks for nothing, God.” And they just turned their back on him. They didn’t really want Jesus; they wanted what he promised, or what they thought he promised. They thought their good deeds made God owe them something. But God can’t owe us anything, everything there is, is already God’s.
If you feel entitled, eventually, the contempt of not getting what you want, what you deserve, will go against God. That’s why God, the Holy Spirit, inspired James to write the words, “You adulterous people.” What is an adulterer? An adulterer is a promise breaker.
We break promises to God all the time. We sin, we repent, we say, “I’m not going to do that again, even as we’re planning on how we’re going to do it again in a couple of hours. That’s the darkness of our sinful natures! “You adulterous people, don’t you 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.”
A lack of thankfulness and happiness, entitlement and a growing contempt toward others and then toward God turns into, “If God doesn’t give me what I want, what I deserve, I’ll go get it. I won’t wait. I’ll just do. I don’t trust him. I don’t think he’s enough for me. I’ll just go on my own, turn from God and hang out with people who hate him.
For this reason, people end their friendship with God. Now, friendship, as seen in the Bible, is closeness. Jesus had three that were always with him. Then there were the 12, then the 144, then the 500. But he was deepest, most closely connected with the three. You can’t have deep friendships with 500 people.
But the people who have grown in contempt, grown in entitlement, have removed their friendship from God. Instead of being shaped by God, they tell the enemies of God to shape them, correct them, lead them. They value the things of the world more than they value God, and when you know how good God is, that’s a ridiculous mockery of God.
How does God respond to these people? Look at verse 5. He yearns jealously for them! He gives more grace! We don’t understand God’s jealousy because we know jealousy as a result of fear and insecurity. God’s jealousy is based on ‘I made this person, I put my Spirit in him. My glory is at stake here. Their delight is at stake here.” God’s jealousy comes from his love for himself.
Pastor John Piper puts it this way, “God’s jealousy is not the reflex of weakness or fear. Instead God is jealous like a powerful and merciful king who takes a peasant girl from a life of shame, forgives her, marries her, and gives her not the chores of a slave, but the privileges of a wife—a queen. His jealousy does not rise from fear or weakness but from a holy indignation at having his honour and power and mercy scorned by the faithlessness of a fickle spouse.”
The Lord is jealous for the spirit he’s given to all of us. He’s jealous for us to experience true joy, true joy that comes from knowing, loving, following him. How does God respond to our adultery? How does God respond when we say to him, “You’re not good enough for me.” He gives more grace.
says, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” What that means is, the law points out just how sinful we really are. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more! No sin has more power than Christ’s cross.
Think about your life. Honestly examine it. In light of God’s law, you realise that you’re a sinner. There is not one sin that is too big for God to forgive. There’s no string of continual sins that aren’t covered by Christ’s death. Grace abounds more than any sin. More, abounds more. It’s not as though we’re getting through by the skin of our teeth. God’s grace covers and more!
That’s the good news. That’s the gospel. God responds to our adultery by pouring on grace, flooding out our sin, covering it all over, until it is gone. So what do we do with that?
Read verses 7-10
So, when we come to the realisation that we’ve sinned, that we’ve rejected God, committed adultery on him by turning to the world, how do we stop? We submit to God. Let go of your pride, let go of your entitlement, let go of your contempt.
When we do, there’s fear. Like when people come to Christ, they’re afraid of the things they’ll have to give up. But the things they have to give up are precisely the things that give them torment in this life, anxiety, fear and stress.
The problem is that we’ve become so used to them. When we submit, God rules our life, and it becomes the best. Yes, we have to give up things, because good Fathers take things that are bad away from their kids. Bad fathers don’t. Bad fathers give their kids whatever they want.
There are three parts to submitting:
1. Resist the Devil. says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, that you can stand up under it.” I have an enemy, Satan, I have a nature within me that hates God and hates my neighbour. Satan and my natural tendencies are powerful pulls. God says submit to me. I don’t have to sin. I will stumble, but I don’t have to. If I resist temptation, God will provide a way out, because he’s faithful, he’s always more powerful than Satan is.
2. We pursue God. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. We draw near by reading God’s word. We don’t read God’s Word so that we can answer Bible Trivia games. We read God’s Word so that we can know God better! God’s Word teaches us that God loves us, that he gives an abundance of grace that more than covers every sin. If we were to think of it in economic terms, if each sin cost a dollar to erase, God’s grace pays out a million dollars for every sin. It is abundant grace, overflowing grace, over the top grace. It reveals that God is for you. That he ignites passion for him in you. He transforms you from being his enemy to being his friend. By walking in community, by being in fellowship with other Christians. Why do we come to church, why do we do lunches after church? So we can get deeper as a community. So we can develop more than just Facebook friends. So that when troubles hit, you don’t just chuck it all in, but you turn to friends, church friends who pray with you, and for you who carry you through. By people who are deeply connected to God, more deeply than you are. Hang out with such people, learn from them.
3. Third, James is serious about sin, “wash your hands and purify your hearts you double minded.” Be serious about the sin that’s obvious to see, and the sin that reveals the darkness in your heart. Watch not only your actions, but your desires also. What are you saying to yourself in your mind? If you are aware of what your mind thinks, you’ll know if you’re close to godliness or far from it. The mind is also full of sinful things, watch it!
Read verses 9-10
Our default position is that we want peace and joy, a state of contented happiness. What James is talking about here is a true honesty about our own sinfulness. It means praying, “Lord, I don’t really get your holiness, and my sinfulness. I don’t really understand just how bad everything is. Reveal it to me.” And after he shines the light into your heart, and you see just how bad things are, he lifts you up and encourages you.
Remember the mob of people who dragged an adulterous woman to Jesus? Her sin is obvious, she was caught in the act, so there she is, she’s naked in front of everyone. They say to Jesus, “The law says we should stone her. We should kill her by throwing rocks at her. What do you say? Jesus said, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The Bible says, each person there dropped their stones and walked away. Then Jesus picks up her face, turns her face toward him, and says, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I, now go and sin no more.”
We need to get to the point the woman was at. All totally, brutally honest about ourselves, our sin, naked before God. Then God reaches down, lifts up our faces, turns our faces toward his face and gives us grace, gives us forgiveness, gives us peace.
Read Verses 11-12
God’s word says, if you have received and experienced grace, if you have honestly dealt with your sin, if you have been lifted up by God, who pours out even more grace, you will become not pointers out of the sins of your brothers, but rather, champions for their strength. You will rejoice in the grace God has given to others.
So, you don’t become someone who tears down. You build up. Be honest, are you more likely to see the failings in others? Or are you more likely to see the strengths? Can you point out where others have got it wrong, or how God is at work in those around you?
I’m not talking about seeing where people are living in ways that are out of step with God’s laws. I’m talking about putting someone else down in order to feel better about yourself. This is a test of whether or not you’ve truly experienced grace. It is possible to know about grace but not to have experienced it. If you haven’t experienced grace, you will focus on pointing out, either passive aggressively or aggressively, that others have fallen short.
James is saying that quarrels and fights will stop, when we walk in true wisdom and truly have experienced God’s grace. Yes, we’ll still have quarrels, because we’re all sinful. But if we’ve experienced grace, we’ll be quick to own our wrongdoing. We’ll be quick to seek forgiveness. We’ll be quick to absorb stuff, because, well if it’s all about me, then I can’t just take it. I can’t forgive, I’m right, they’re wrong. But with experienced grace, I can absorb some of the sin committed against me.
How cool would it be if everyone here became focussed on how God is growing others? All our talking would be about that. Facebook posts would go like, “I’ve seen God at work in your life, and wow, I’m challenged and blessed and encouraged!” I praise God for his work in you!
So, where do we need to apologise? Where do we need to confess? Where do we need to own up to our sin? Where have we not built up, but rather torn down? Where have we been jealous of others? Those are not the marks of people who know God’s grace. Who are you to judge your neighbour; you have your own stuff to deal with. Let’s pray:
Father in heaven, may your Word encourage us. May our fellowship enrich and encourage. Where there are continued conflicts and quarrels as a result of friendship with the world, from hearts that are jealous and selfish, driven by an internal adultery against you, please lead us to seek out forgiveness and peace. Help us to rest our hearts in you, in your name we pray, Amen.