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Friend of the World - Enemy of God

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Friend of the World, Enemy of God (James 4:1-12)

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote of a man who was dominated by the driving desire for self-gratification. To possess land was his highest pleasure. Someone promised him that he could own all of the land he could walk around between sunrise and sunset on a given day. He began at a leisurely pace. However, driven by his ambition, he began to accelerate. He drove himself, sprinting faster and faster. His body blazed with fever. He stripped off his shirt and abandoned his boots. As the sun set, he flung himself toward his destination. He reached the starting line as the final rays disappeared in the west. Exhausted, he died. The only land he got was a grave, 6 feet by 2 feet.

Tolstoy's unforgettable story underlines the raging power of the drive for self-gratification. Men and women die for their pleasures. James wrote to churches that were being divided by pleasure-seeking members. Ideally, God's wisdom gives peace (3:13-18). Actually, the churches to which James wrote experienced chronic hostility and sharp confrontations (4:1-6). The section 4:1-12 betrays the most passionate and intense feelings of the entire letter. Driven by personal pleasures, church members divided the churches. This portion of James divides into four emphases: (1) The pursuit for self-gratification leads to disaster in the church (4:1-3). (2) Obsession with one's own pleasure betrays worldliness.

Such spiritual adultery places the pleasure-seeker in conflict with God (4:4-6). (3) Such worldliness calls for urgent, radical repentance. James gave ten sharp imperatives—biblical bombshells that demanded repentance (4:7-10). (4) In this whole process, persons must judge themselves, not one another. To judge one's brother usurps God's prerogative (4:11-12).

When Believers Battle (4:1-3)

"What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?" (4:1). Why do believers battle? James's words do not address international wars, although the cause of such wars is the same. James wrote Christian churches that were embattled and strife-torn. The word "wars" indicates chronic, long-lasting hostilities. The term "fightings" refers to sharp outbursts, skirmishes that reveal the long-standing wars. Phillips translated: "But what about the feuds and struggles that exist among you?" Like lava smoldering under the earth for years, some believers burn with belligerence. Like a volcano erupting, such anger surfaces in hot explosions. What causes the slow burn and the white-flash of angry confrontation? James blamed church conflict on "passions that are at war in... [believers'] members." In verse 1, three words in his remarkable statement demand explanations "passions," "war," and "members." Passions translates the word from which the English word hedonism comes. Literally, James charged: Hedonisms are at war in your members. The Greek word usually carries overtones of evil or unworthy enjoyment. Yet James did not refer exclusively to the "playboy philosophy." His word included any kind of self-gratification. The lust for position, power, or prestige dominates some lives that are unmoved by sensual pleasures. The pleasure of "getting it done my way or else" has caused many skirmishes in local churches.

The battleground for the passions of James's readers rested in their "members." Some interpreters have understood this to indicate the various members of the church. Selfish gratification propelled various church members with competing agenda toward inevitable conflicts. Another interpretation is more likely. Usually, in the New Testament, the word members refers to the members of the human body, the person's various parts that give the individual drives, lusts, and compulsions. James probably used the word in that way. He graphically depicted selfish individuals who were walking civil wars. Frustrated desires for every kind of personal pleasure erupted in the church's life. What seemed to be the problem and what actually was the problem in the church were two different things. Every discerning reader knows that many church conflicts about buildings and budgets are not actually about buildings and budgets at all. Often, church disagreements conceal a whole spectrum of personal and vocational frustrations.

Desires for self-gratification are "at war" in every believer. Peter exhorted his readers to "abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul" (1 Pet. 2:11). An occupation army still encamps and campaigns within every believer. Pleasures habitually lay siege to the soul. Each Christian must recognize and respond to pleasures on the continuing march within. The battle will not end until physical death or until Christ's return. Even though over the years strongholds of pleasure will be defeated, newer and more subtle ones will take their place.

Many churches face destruction by factious rivalry. Each person's pleasure is most important to that individual. As a result, the unbelieving world knows many Baptist churches more for heated business sessions than for Christlike concern in the community. Church members can—and do—inflict destruction with words.

Murder in the Aisles? (4:2)

Had things gotten so bad that Christians were killing each other? "You desire and do not have; so you kill" (4:2). These words present one of the difficult challenges to understanding James. Did James address the church or the world in verse 2? Did he mean that Christians literally murdered one another, or did he write figuratively? To understand that James made an observation about life in the world to the churches to which he wrote is best. The Didache, an early church manual, warned Christians about murder: "'Be not angry, for anger leadeth to murder, nor jealous, nor contentious, nor wrathful, for of all these things murders are engendered'" (Didache 3.2.). Even for Christians, conflicting pleasures can lead to violence. When one chooses pleasure instead of God, even murder can result. That James had in mind a particular church situation where Christians literally killed one another is unlikely. However, he did give the strongest possible warning about where conflict leads.

The calm prayer of personal petition presents the only alternative to church wars. "You... do not have, because you do not ask" (4:2). Christians battle with one another for pleasures they do not need. The only way out is for them to return to believing that God gives what the Christians really need. Confident expectation that God alone can meet the needs of any situation creates a calm sense of secure brotherhood, not an atmosphere of heated confrontation..

Right Things; Wrong Motive (4:3)

Self-centered believers pray, but they pray just like they live: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (4:3). Church members may ask for the right things from the wrong motives. Already James had indicated that one may pray with the wrong attitude: doubt (1:6-8). In 4:3, James insisted that one may pray with the wrong objective: self-gratification. Earlier, he gave an example of the right objective for a believer's prayers: wisdom (1:5). God does not answer when one intends to squander the answer on personal lusts, selfish desires, or the mere acquisition of material gain. Such evil motivation in praying results in no action from God.

U. S. News reported the remarkable story of a forty-two-year-old man worth 40 million dollars. He lives in a 3-million-dollar mansion, drives a $90,000 Ferrari, a Jaguar, and a 44-foot speedboat. Seven years ago, he was hanging sheetrock and eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Now, he owns three high-tech component companies. Many readers' reaction would be: Why does God not do that for me? What would you do with it if God did? Today, some varieties of evangelical life in America reveal a shallow health-and-wealth philosophy. Some ministers teach that God wants to give people anything they dare to claim, regardless of motivation. God's eternal Word should correct such a distortion: "And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1 John 5:14).

Adultery Against a Jealous God (4:4-6)

"You adulteresses" (4:4, NASB)! James reached an emotional peak with this outcry. Unfortunately, the Revised Standard Version weakens James's thought by translating the words as "unfaithful creatures." The Greek word that James used clearly refers to adultery. Did James mean that church members regularly broke the Seventh Commandment? Likely, James referred to spiritual adultery.

The concept that God's people commit spiritual adultery through faithlessness to Him resounds in the Old Testament. Jeremiah cried out to Israel: "Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree" (3:13). The prophet compared God's people to an adulteress who gave herself randomly under Palestine's hilltop groves where Baal was worshiped. Hosea compared the adulterous behavior of the prophet's wife to Israel's spiritual adultery against Jehovah. Jesus used this imagery when He called the Jews an "adulterous... generation" (Mark 8:38). In the New Testament, the church becomes the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27). The lax church or the sinning saint commits spiritual adultery against Christ.

The image of adultery against God or Christ preserves a unique truth. When a married person commits adultery, he or she betrays a sweet, intimate, trusting relationship. In the biblical sense, the ultimate way a man or woman "knows" a mate is through sexual intercourse. To "know" someone else in the same way is to commit the ultimate betrayal of loyalty, trust, and intimacy. The adulterer does not break the law as much as he or she breaks the heart. Faithless believers break God's law. But more than that, they break God's heart.

Mutually Exclusive Friends (4:4)

The believer who courts the world's friendship takes a stand as God's enemy. Such spiritual adultery results in enmity against God. In James's sense, "the world" does not mean the world of nature. Nor does "the world" indicate the human beings whom God loves and for whom He gave His son (John 3:16). In James's sense, "the world" indicates the organized life of mankind that denies God's claim. Human institutions, activities, cultures, and pastimes organize themselves without reference to God's will. Today, one might call it "the spirit of the age." It represents the whole mixture of role models, heroes, slogans, obsessions, and fads that make up the contemporary scene minus God's will. It expresses itself in glossy magazine ads, alluring store windows, bumper stickers, tee-shirt inscriptions, and television situation comedies. The world is energized, living, breathing, grasping, and lusting for life—minus God!

Believers must love the world of people. They should love the world of nature. But they must not love the world in the sense of life organized without God. Christians must not court that world's heroes or make that world's goals their goals. They must not wed themselves to an order that has in it the seeds of its own death. The word translated "friendship" in verse 4 (elsewhere translated Jove) indicates affection for something; one form of the root word means a kiss. Believers must not kiss this godless age!

Nothing betrays people's affection for the world like the way they spend their money. The average American gives less than one dollar per year to foreign missions. Who could conclude anything other than a love for this world, not a love for God's kingdom?

Divine Jealousy (4:5)

Jealousy is not always bad. Gordon Clanton, a sociologist who long has studied the subject, explained: "'Jealousy is protection for love, a reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship.'" Indeed, jealousy can be ugly when it is born of insecurity or possessiveness. On the other hand, jealousy can be a healthy response when a legitimate love relationship is threatened. Something is wrong when a husband or wife watches a mate be captured by another person without jealousy. Likewise, something would be wrong with God's love if He watched the world seduce His people without divine jealousy.

"Or do you suppose it is in vain that the Scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us'" (4:5)? No specific Old Testament Scripture makes the exact statement James quoted. He seems to have summarized a great deal of Old Testament thought about Jehovah as a jealous God. The Third Person of the. Triune God indwells every believer. He does not intend to share living quarters with competing affections. He feels divine jealousy when believers give their affection to the world.

Greater Divine Grace (4:6)

A person might be tempted to despair. The pull of the world exerts itself ceaselessly and in increasingly subtle ways. Who is equal to James's demand? The believer is not left alone: God "gives more grace" (4:6). The believer's ability to overcome the world roots itself exclusively in God's grace. How does one appropriate that enabling grace to subdue worldliness? A person does so only by prostrating life before God in dependent humility. "'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble'" (4:6; Prov. 3:34).

James's language indicates that God always places Himself in full divine battle array against every form of human pride. He intends to confront and defeat human pride in every form it takes. World-loving humanity experiences nothing but God's constant, loving counterattack. He will not let persons be satisfied with anything short of Himself. His stubborn love confronts people's pride.

The Bible contains striking stories of God's ability to reduce proud people to humble believers. Nebuchadnezzar presents the most arresting example of God's opposition to human pride. The Babylonian emperor crowed from the balcony of his palace: "'Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?'" (Dan. 4:30). These words no sooner leaped from his lips than God sent him to the pasture to live and eat like an ox! Literally, he moved from the palace to the pasture. Today, psychologists call this malady lycanthropy, the belief that one is an animal. Nebuchadnezzar's specific form of sickness was boanthropy, the belief one is an ox. He remained in that condition until he "'learned that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will'" (Dan. 4:32). God knows how to humble the highest person. No individual will live and die in arrogance before God. The God who moved an emperor from the throne of the world's seventh wonder to the back forty of Babylon can deal with anyone's pride just as decisively today.

Eight Steps Toward Christian Repentance (4:7-9)

Back-sliding believers can come back to a renewed relationship with God. He offers a heavenly homecoming to every sinning saint who returns. W. T. Conner insisted that the deepest repentance of the Christian life comes after conversion. Like peeling away layers of onion skin, the sensitive believer finds more and more for which to repent. As believers go farther out to the world in witnessing, they also explore deeper layers of repentance.

James gave eight clearly stated steps to repentance. He stated these steps by ten imperative verbs that leave no doubt about the nature of returning to God:

1. Submission—"Submit yourselves therefore to God" (4:7). This command covers all of the steps like an umbrella. It enfolds the following nine commandments which unfold this imperative.

The tense of the verb indicates a decisive, urgent, clearly focused act. The word submit simply means to place or arrange one thing under another, to subject or subordinate one person to another. In verse 7, it indicates the voluntary willingness to align oneself under the authority of another. God sets Himself against the proud; therefore, set yourself under God.

The world-famous founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth, stated that many others were more intelligent than he, better preachers than he, more qualified than he. His secret: "'God has had all there was of me.'" More than anything else, God needs people who will submit themselves to Him. Education, qualifications, or high position without submission mean nothing to God. Is every arena of your life arranged under God's will: home, business, social life, monetary policy, physical discipline, and personal influence? The first step to Christian repentance is examining and submitting life to God.

2. Resistance—"Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (4:7). Earlier, James stressed personal responsibility in temptation (1:13). In 4:7, he clearly indicated supernatural activity in temptation. Boldly, abruptly, and decisively the Christian should oppose Satan. In exactly the same way God opposes pride in full battle array, the believer must oppose Satan. Elsewhere the believer is told to "withstand" Satan (Eph. 6:13) and "resist him" (1 Pet. 5:9).

Satan takes dead aim at every believer. Four confrontations with Satan in the Old Testament show the range of his targets. He targeted Eve's mind (Gen. 3:1-7), Job's body (Job 2), David's will (1 Chron. 21), and the high priest Joshua's conscience (Zech. 3). With God's inspired Word, imparted grace, indwelling Spirit, and interceding Son, the believer actively must resist Satan.

Denial discourages the devil! When Jesus resisted him, "the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him" (Matt. 4:11). Not only did Satan flee, but God gave special grace to the One who resisted. Jesus could have used His divine power to thwart Satan. Instead, He chose to use the weapon available to every child of God: the divine Word. Jesus provided the example of reading and memorizing the Word. He did not have a concordance in the wilderness!

C. S. Lewis delighted the ages with his Screwtape Letters. In that book, the brilliant British Christian created the correspondence between an apprentice devil assigned to a new, young Christian and the apprentice's experienced devil-uncle. Lewis wrote the book to spite the devil. He quoted as a motivation the words from Sir Thomas More: "The devil... the prowde spirite... cannot endure to be mocked." When one resists and mocks the devil, he flees. Try it!

3 Return—"Draw near to God and he will draw near to you" (4:8). This categorical promise stresses the mutual, reciprocal nature of a person's approach to God and God's approach to that person. When one takes a step toward God, God already has taken a step toward that individual. The psalmist emphasized the same truth: "The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth" (Ps. 145:18), God always responds like the father of the prodigal: "While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). Many sinning saints refuse to let God act in His goodness. They say to themselves: I've gone too far this time; He never could forgive what I have done. Such hopeless despair never comes from God. Rather, it results from Satan's accusing activity. God's Word calls Satan "the accuser of our brethren... who accuses them day and night before our God" (Rev. 12:10).

Warren Wiersbe made a clear, critical distinction between God's activity and Satan's: "When the Spirit of God convicts you, he uses the word of God in love and seeks to bring you back into fellowship with your Father. When Satan accuses you, he uses your own sins in a hateful way, and he seeks to make you feel helpless and hopeless."

Resist Satan and draw near to God. Both are effective, and both are necessary.

4. Cleanse—"Cleanse your hands, you sinners" (4:8). Outwardly, repentance involves spiritual cleansing of the instruments of sin, which are designated as the "hands." The hands stand for the person's entire outward life. James addressed those who habitually missed the mark. Often, their hands participated in aimless sinning. Such outward sin must experience a catharsis, to use James's word, a thorough cleansing in the blood of Christ.

The Old Testament priests had to wash their hands in a bronze laver filled with water, "lest they die" (Ex. 30:20). This was elementary education for God's family. As the material water removed physical filth from their hands, they became aware that spiritual filth also had to be removed. The Jews had a custom of praying with uplifted hands (Pss. 28:2; 134:2). The hands that a person folds in prayer or lifts up to God must be clean hands.

5. Purify—"Purify your hearts, you men of double mind" (4:8). Mere outward cleansing never suffices. Inward purity alone pleases God. In verse 8, James picked up his favorite expression for the divided Christian, double-minded. Earlier, James warned that the wavering, divided believer cannot experience victory in answered prayer (1:6-8). He demanded that the double-minded saint repent. In order to purify, one must unify. Soren Kierkegaard entitled his famous book Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. He could have taken his title from James. The psalmist suggested outward and inward cleansing:

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart (Ps. 24:3-4a).

Neither clean hands nor a pure heart occurs alone, for clean hands receive their life's blood from a pure heart.

6. Feel—"Be wretched" (4:9). None of James's advice sounds as strange to the contemporary, compromising Christian as this. James demanded that Christians feel their sorrow deeply when they realize their spiritual condition. James called for an experience of grief when the worldly Christians recognized how far away they had gone. Persons have to acknowledge who they are before they can disown who they are. Paul had to acknowledge that he was a "wretched man" before he could shout with joy, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24-25).

Wretchedness is not a room where God wants one to live. It is a door through which one must pass on the way to renewed fellowship. God wants believers to feel miserable guilt only as long as it takes them to repent. James spoke with startling intensity in order to shake worldly believers.

7. Respond—"Mourn and weep" (4:9). The inner sense of wretchedness usually displays itself in an outer, emotional response. "Mourn and weep" reflects a deep grief that cannot be concealed in its intensity. Some people who should cry, do not. Confronted with the wretchedness of sin, they refuse to respond with any emotion. Surely, James did not refer to a phony show or superficial display of emotion. However, believers who are faced with the fact of sin should respond with the deepest feeling.

8. Reverse—"Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection" (4:9). Penitent believers display a marked contrast from their previous behavior. Loud, raucous, pleasure-loving laughter turns to quiet, sober introspection. The word translated "laughter" in the Old Testament referred to a feast of fools who had declared their independence from God. The joy repentance forsakes is the joy of a profane life that has no tension with the world. When the enormity of sin crashes into a life, a reversal from the superficial gaiety and noisy levity of contemporary life takes place. The downcast, heavy heart of the penitent publican illustrates the contrast (Luke 18:13).

Certainly James did not mean that laughter is sinful. He did not mean that repentant believers never should laugh again. James would agree with the psalmist who wrote that after God's people repented, "Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Ps. 126:2).

The steps to repentance conclude just as they began, with a call to humility: "Humble yourselves before the the Lord and he will exalt you" (4:10). Even in the most extreme cases, humble repentance can change lives.

Judging the Judges (4:11-12)

Is not judging and criticizing others always easier than to judge oneself and to repent? Evidently the unrepentant, worldly Christians whom James addressed found far more to criticize in their brothers than in themselves.

James addressed his words to the "brethren." Within the Christian community, some believers habitually disparaged other believers. "Speak evil" reflects the backbiting, faultfinding, harsh criticism that too often has characterized Christian people. Reading the newspaper, the contemporary world sometimes must think of Christians: Behold, how they hate one another! Peter taught Christians that when the truth about a brother is harmful, one should cover it in love rather than repeat it in criticism (1 Pet. 4:8).

James gave two compelling reasons to refrain from harshness toward other believers. First, to disparage a brother disparages God's law. The Royal Law insists that believers love one another (2:8). To slander a brother attacks the King of laws. Such harsh criticism gives a declaration of independence from God's reign and rule. Harsh critics commit mutiny in God's kingdom. They revolt against God's sovereignty. They declare: God's law is good for others, but it is unnecessary and invalid for us. They shatter God's law as surely as Moses broke the tablets at Sinai. Few believers understand the radical seriousness of judging and disparaging brothers and sisters.

What is more, to slander a brother usurps God's place. God is the only Lawgiver and Judge. He alone has the right to enforce His edicts with life or death (4:12). The arrogant, critical Christian tells God: "Move over. Your throne has room for me, too!" This attitude means that harshly disparaging a brother is tantamount to blaspheming God.

Consider people's powerlessness and puniness compared with God: "Who are you that you judge your neighbor?" (v. 12). How can finite, sinful individuals dare to judge someone who is like themselves? If you sense such an attitude in yourself, bow before God in the eight steps of repentance.

Lessons for Life from James 4:1-12

Each reader should assess his or her role in the inevitable friction and conflict in church life.—Do I always initiate and contribute to the strife? Do I ever seek to make peace? How often does the criticism at church reflect unresolved conflict in my life that simply explodes in the church?

How do my values, heroes, and life-style differ from my neighbors who do not claim Christ?—Do I have a different attitude toward the world than my non-Christian co-workers?

Growing Christians continually repent.—Is your attitude one of self-examination and deliberate repentance? Or, is your life filled with loud, noisy activity that masks your need for quiet, spiritual reflection?

Personal Learning Activities

1. According to James, the "passions that are at war" in Christians' members cause ________ and ___________ (Choose the correct answers from the list).

□  (1) Diseases

□  (2) Crimes

□  (3) Wars

□  (4) Immorality

□  (5) Dishonesty

□  (6) Fightings

2. To stress his readers unfaithfulness to God, James used the image or metaphor of (select the proper response from the list):

□  (1) Rebellion.

□  (2) Adultery.

□  (3) Revolt.

□  (4) Indifference.

3. According to Dr. Gregory, in 4:7-9 James gave eight steps toward _______________ (Choose the proper answer from the list).

□  (1) Success

□  (2) Happiness

□  (3) Maturity

□  (4) Repentance

4. What two reasons did James give for Christians to refrain from harshness toward other believers?


1. (3),(6); 2. (2); 3. (4); 4. To disparage a brother disparages God's law; to slander a brother usurps God's place.

James: Faith Works!.

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