Can you remember a time, or times, when your parents were really upset about something you did or said? Can you remember words being said to you in anger? Words like: “How could you do such a thing?”; “What’s the matter with you?”; “You know better than that!”; “Now listen to me!”; “I want you to say you’re sorry!”; “Don’t you ever do that again!”. Do those words bring back memories? Didn’t those words make you hang your head in shame? Didn’t you want to go to your room or find a corner somewhere and cry? The fact that you remember those words is evidence that they made a lasting impression on you, and that’s what they were intended to do. We often call that “scolding”. If you can’t ever remember hearing those words, or words similar to that, you must have been a much more well-behaved child than myself!
Why am I bringing those words back to your minds? Because the apostle James, the writer of this letter, has some “scolding” to do! You are going to find some similar questions and statements in this passage of Scripture because he is very angry. And this won’t be the last time he does some scolding to the churches addressed in this letter, and for good reasons! When I was a kid we used to say that a person was “on the warpath” when they were really angry about something, and were venting their anger at others.
I encourage you to read James chapter 4 several times slowly. Read it as if you were the apostle James, and you were scolding the churches for their sinful behavior. Then read it slowly again, as if you were a member of one of the churches, and you just received a copy of this letter from James. You might even want to read it outloud, as if you were the parent, scolding your children! Put some feeling and emotion into it! If you have children, don’t say it within ear-shot of them. They might think you’re talking to them!
You’re probably familiar with this verse of Scripture: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). And how bad and unpleasant it is when they don’t! Wouldn’t’ you agree?
Remember that this letter was written by James to groups of Christians who were scattered throughout the surrounding nations because of the persecution. He knows that this letter will be read aloud at the church gathering. Then it will be copied and sent to other scattered groups of believers, where it will also be read aloud. The Spirit of God is not only telling James what to say, but also how to say it. So James isn’t just writing a letter. He’s preaching a sermon! You may want to take notes as James continues to reprove and correct.
I. CONFLICTS WITH OTHERS: THEIR SOURCE AND REMEDY (verses 1-3)
James begins by asking a question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (NIV) He wants his readers to think about it for a second. Then he answers his question with a rhetorical question: “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”(NIV) James is saying, “doesn’t that make sense?”, or “wouldn’t you agree”? He wants them to think it over and be honest with themselves. He wants them to be true to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, in Matthew 5, that sin begins in the heart, and He exhorted people to love one another, be reconciled to one another, and serve one another unselfishly. The recipients of this letter know these things! That’s why James is reminding them so strongly!
James is saying, in verse one, “the desires that battle within you”. That’s where it starts, isn’t it? Our selfish desires are battling inside us, seeking a way to express themselves outwardly to the world around us. If those desires aren’t met the way we want them to be met, others are going to hear about it and suffer for it! James uses words of warfare here; words like: “quarrel”, “fight”, “kill”, “battle”. But in the context of his letter, it’s obvious that James isn’t talking about punching and stabbing people, or putting them to death. He’s talking about the way we use our words to destroy people’s reputations or get even with them. If you don’t believe that words can kill, you’ve probably never been in a heated argument that has lasted for hours, and has had lasting results for days, weeks, months, and even years.
Here in the United States we have a sharp increase in such activity every four years. It’s called an “election year”! And we’re in one right now! Turn on the news on your TV or radio and you’ll see and hear what I mean! This activity also goes on in workplaces, schools, public places, and homes where people are trying to promote the “candidate of their choice”. Sorry, my purpose is not to “get political”, but to give a “down to earth” illustration that we can relate to.
James now gives the solution to this belligerant activity. At the end of verse 2, he says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (NIV) But don’t stop there! The rest of the solution is found in 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.”(NIV)
Irving Jensen, in his “Self-Study Guide on James”, asks us to think about the logic of James’ words in 4:1-3:
a. What you really need, you may have.
b. You may have what you need by asking for it aright (or rightly).
c. Wars and fightings, waged in order to get, are therefore unnecessary.
The Epistle of James is closely related to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him: “Teach us to pray”, He gave them principles of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. It is often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. I often wondered why Jesus didn’t include prayer for others when He gave these instructions. Now I realize that this focus on others was there all along. Jesus begins by saying, ” Our Father”. I’m not an “only child”, and neither are you! Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are all members of God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. When we approach “our” Father, let’s be reminded of “the rest of the family”, and include them in our prayers.
The Lord Jesus also said “give us this day our daily bread”, not “give me this day my every desire“. Bible scholar, William Barclay, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, had these words to say about this verse; “The problem of the world is not that there is not enough to go around; there is enough and to spare. The problem is not the supply of life’s essentials; it is the distribution of them. This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers. It is a prayer which we can help God to answer by giving to others who are less fortunate than ourselves. This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share our daily bread with others.”
This may seem like a side-track, but I think you’re beginning to see how this information relates to what James has to say in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 4. On this subject of prayer, there is much to be learned from little children because their prayers are often so honest and free from hypocrisy. The following is one example. A little boy had the habit of sucking his thumb and was told he must stop. One evening in his bedtime prayer he was heard to say, “O God, help me to stop sucking my thumb.” After a pause, he continued, “Never mind, God, because I don’t want to stop sucking my thumb!” How’s that for being honest to God in prayer? How often have we prayed to God for something, but we didn’t really want God to answer our prayer, at least not the way we prayed it. That can be especially true when we are praying outloud in the presence of others. God is not going to answer our prayers if we don’t mean them, or if we are trying to impress others by our prayers.
Little children can also have a very simple and keen sense of logic when dealing with problems. A farmer whose barns were full of grain which he was holding for a rise in prices, was accustomed to pray for the poor and needy, and constantly repeated his petition, “Oh God, remember the poor and needy and supply their wants and needs.” But he never offered them any help himself. He expected God to do it all. One day, after hearing his father pray, his little son said to him, “Daddy, may I have half of your corn in the barns?” Astonished, the father replied, “Why my son, what would YOU do with all that corn?” The boy replied, “I would answer your prayers!” (Our Daily Bread 12/20/1958)
II. AT WAR AGAINST GOD (verses 4-6)
Here comes the scolding again in verse 4! “Adultresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God!” That’s the literal translation! If somebody called you an adultress, wouldn’t you feel like smacking that person for saying it? James is writing to men and women, so why does he use the feminine form of the word? His readers know the reason! This isn’t the first time this word has been used, and several Hebrew words and phrases came to their minds immediately. Most of the readers or hearers of this letter were Jews that had become Christians. They were educated in the Law of Moses and the Prophets ever since childhood, and the words of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea came to mind (specifically, Isaiah 54, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 16, and Hosea 2). In Isaiah 54:5-7, Isaiah says to the nation of Israel: “Your maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name . . . “. In Ezekiel 16 God says to Jerusalem: “You adulterous wife . . . you prostitute!”
In spite of these prophesies, God’s people continued to worship and serve other gods. Finally, in Hosea, God gives them a visual aid! He tells Hosea, in chapter 1, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children by her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So you can see why the Hebrew Christians addressed in James’ letter knew exactly what James meant when he said, “You adultresses!” Not only that, but the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5, and the apostle John in Revelation 19 and 21, declare that the Church is the bride of Christ. Therefore, to pursue the world’s sinful pleasures is to commit adultery against our Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ
Let me write the rest of verse four again in “scolding-mode”: “You know that friendship with the world means enmity against God, don’t you?” James is saying: “You know better than that!”
I asked myself this question, and you should ask yourself the same question also: “What does it mean to be a ‘friend of the world’?” When we determine the answer to that question, there is a second question you and I need to ask ourselves: “Am I a friend of the world”?
In attempting to answer the first question, the word translated “friendship”, in verse 4, is the Greek word “philos”. The word acturally means “love”. It is the love you would have for a close friend, someone you enjoy being around, and with whom you share much in common. The word translated “world” is the Greek word “kosmos”. We often use that word to speak of the universe. However, James uses “kosmos” to refer to the human world system that is self-seeking and in rebellion against God. And who is the “lord” of this world? It is Satan, the devil! And his goal and efforts are directed toward getting people to exalt themselves and become jealous of others (John 8:44; II Corinthians 4:4). Bingo! Now we see all the elements involved in these conflicts! James is going to address that in verse 7. So to be a friend of the world, the “kosmos”, is also to be a friend of Satan, helping him to accomplish his objectives in your life and in the world!
More will be coming soon! Are you becoming convicted by God’s Word? I am! James gives some remedies to this situation. They are just a few verses away!
This “work in progress” is progressing slowly but surely! I’m showing you each step of the construction process in the hope that it might encourage you to work on your own right along with me. I’m noticing that this sermon is really getting long, and I’m only on verse 4! So I’m going to start a James 4:1-10 (Continued) sermon, and I’ll see you there next time. Same sermon, different page!
The foundation for this passage of Scripture has been laid and some of the structure has been built. Keep your hard hats on because there could be some more dust falling from above! More reproof and correction are still on the way!