Well, good morning, Saylorville. If you brought a copy of Scripture with you this morning, you can find the book of James, James chapter four. Otherwise, the Scripture will come up on the board.
I love that song. We haven’t sung it for a while, and it reminded me of just a week after I became a widower, several years back, about a week or so afterwards, I was in a funk, and my daughter sent me Psalm 18 And verse 28, which says,
Psalm 18:28, “The Lord will lighten your lamp. My God will be the light in your darkness.”
And He was! And He is. He’s that to you. Amen?
So happy New Year, everyone! And we’re going to resume our study of the book of James, this great book in the Bible. And it’s not exactly a sugar-coated New Year’s message. Just telling you right out of the shoot here, okay? So, but let’s go ahead and read it and we’ll put it up there on the board for those of you who don’t have Bibles. Here’s what it says. He asks the question,
James 4:1-6, 1”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions (or pleasures) are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask, and you don’t receive, because you ask wrongly (or as some of your Bibles put it with wrong motives) to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! (I told you, it’s not a touchy feely message, okay?) Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (and then he explains it.) Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us?” 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives (what?) grace to the humble.”
I just finished an authorized biography of Elisabeth Elliot. She’s a hero to Christians and has been over the last 100 years. Back in the 1950s, she became a widow when her husband, along with four of his friends, were speared to death by Auca Indians in the country of Ecuador. And they became overnight heroes and people went into missions like crazy during that time. And Elisabeth Elliot wrote a couple of books (and she became very famous among Christians) “Through Gates of Splendor” and “ Shadow of the Almighty.” Those books changed my life. I’m just telling you that right now. They were that powerful. She would actually remarry and then lose that husband and she would be widowed again. And then she would marry again. And she would learn that between the second and third husbands, even at the age of about 50, (which is getting younger all the time, by the way) she’d learn that when you allow normal desires to become abnormally passionate, you will likely lose in the end.
James, here, is probing into the deepest recesses of our hearts to unpack, if you please, the battles, the wars that we fight. There’s wars all around the world. There’s wars in the Middle East. There’s war in the Ukraine, but there’s no greater war than the one that goes on inside of you. And James is going to hit on that. And did you notice the parallels? In case you didn’t, I’ll put them up there for you again.
James 4:2, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you don’t ask. (And this from the NLT) you ask and do not receive because your motives are all wrong. You want only what will give you pleasure.”
So twice in this passage, James mentions the word “passion,” or some of your Bible’s translate it “pleasure.” It’s only used twice in the passage. It only comes up five times in all of the New Testament. And I’m telling you this because every time it comes up, it’s expressed in the negative. It’s the word that Jesus used when he said, There’s seed that fell onto thorny ground. (Matthew 13:7) Remember that? And then it pops up into a plant and then the thorns choke it out because it’s overcome with the “pleasures of this world.” (Matthew 13:22) Same word here. And it’s the Greek word that we get our English word “hedonism” from. Hedonism is the philosophy that views pleasure as the chief goal of life. And our narcissistic culture is hedonistic, operating on feelings rather than facts. And by the way, if you just made in your mind a beeline to the LGBTQ+ group, stop right now, because this word “passions” is way more than sexual. It’s covering beauty, your desire for beauty. It covers health. It covers prestige, money, power, stuff, more stuff, his stuff, her stuff, and sex in all of its perversions. But it’s all hedonism. Do you understand? It’s ALL hedonism. And if you’re pursuing a life of pleasure, you know how elusive it is, how short lived from real happiness that it is. In fact, somebody said,
“The best cure for hedonism is to practice it.”
It doesn’t bring satisfaction.
Now in James 4:2, it says, you fight and you murder. He’s using hyperbole. This is intended exaggeration to grab our attention. It’s like when Jesus said, if your eye offends you (what?) pluck it out. If your hand offends you (what?) cut it off. We’d have a lot of one-eyed people around here if it was supposed to be taken literally. Right? Jesus says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:24] What was he saying? It’s intended exaggeration, hyperbole, to say, to express that while rich people can be saved, there is incredible inherent power, possessive power, when it comes to money.
And so I want you to notice James 4:4, because this is where we get into James’ main concern. He talks about friendship with the world. You see that there? The word “world,” (I love this word) it’s the word “cosmos” in the Greek. We get our English word “cosmetic” from this word. And you know what cosmetics are. Right ladies? And I’ll just stop there. Except to say, we know what cosmetics do. They cover up the blemish. They don’t take it away. And that’s what the world does. It’ll cover up your issues. It’ll cover up your problems. It’ll cover up your sins. It can’t take them away. That’s why he says,
James 4:4, ”…friendship with the world, (the kosmos) is enmity with God.”
You make yourself an enemy of God. So the world, the kosmos, whenever the Bible uses the word “world” in this kind, it’s not talking about the sphere. It’s not talking about terra firma. It’s talking about a system, a satanic system. And Satan, by the way, is dropped in there in James 4:7. We didn’t quite get there, but he’s the one over that system, he’s the one manipulating that system, and a lot of you are buying into it. He says friendship with the world… the word “friendship” is the Greek word, it’s a word for “love” actually. It’s not the word “agape.” That’s unconditional love. When I have agape love, I’m loving you. I don’t have to have you love me back. “God so love the (what?) the world.” [John 3:16] So that’s agape love. That’s not the word here. It’s the word “philia.” It’s the word which means friendship. It means reciprocal love.
It’s the kind– it’s necessary. I love you because you love me. You love me because I love you. We need that kind of love. Amen? If you don’t have reciprocal love in a marriage, you’re toast. After all, what’s a friend that doesn’t reciprocate? If philia expects love in return, and if you don’t, you’re not a friend. And herein lies the problem. If you love the world… (this is what James is saying) If you love the world, you’re loving something that can’t love you back. And that’s why, again, he’s not just randomly throwing this hyperbole around. That’s why he says in that verse, “You adulterous people!” And that’s a strong word. And it’s a word that, sadly, a number of you can relate to. Where friendship was someone outside of your marriage, caused the demise of your marriage. And I’m not saying this to rub anything in. I want to… I’m trying to illustrate something here because you recall… (those of you who became victim to your love of your life leaving for another lover) you recall how torn up you were, that the one who formerly loved you would give their love to another. And I say this to you because you, like few others, can relate to Jesus Christ. When His Bride, the Church, leaves Him for other lovers. You see, no one ever really falls out of love. You just fall in love with something else or someone else. And here’s the problem. The world under the control of Satan never reciprocates in kind. It does give back, but not the way it’s expected.
I was thinking about this, and as I was thinking about this, I remembered an old friend telling me this story. She got engaged to this guy, and his brother looked a whole lot like him. And so one night she walked into the house where the family was, and there was her fiancé sleeping on the couch. She snuggled up right next to him, and then gave him a great big old sloppy kiss only to have him turn, and to her horror, it was his brother! Just imagine… No, don’t imagine!
This is James’s point. Some of you are in bed with the devil and you don’t even know it. And when James calls them adulterous, he’s not saying that they are literally sleeping around, but he’s saying you might as well be. And some of you are in bed right now with a system controlled by the devil. Remember, if you’ve been with us in our study of James, the audience that James is writing to are their Christians, but they’re Jewish Christians. They are Jews who have believed on Jesus as their Messiah, and they knew the stories of the Old Testament. They remember the story when Assyria, the great kingdom of Assyria, assimilated the northern 10 tribes. (Remember that?) And what they did was Assyria came in and took over the 10 tribes of Israel, and then inculcated them into their culture. And here’s the result. Look at this in second Kings.
2 Kings 17:33, “So they feared the Lord, (That’s a good thing. Isn’t it?) but they also served their own gods,” (Have you ever read that?) “after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.”
So notice … you had them fearing God and they’re serving their… how does that even happen? Well, it’s happening right now in some of your lives. This system has swallowed you up.
Just the other day I had a dream. I’m not going to charismatic on you here, okay? But I really did. It was a vivid dream. One of those dreams that woke me up. And it was a dream and, as dreams go, it was really weirded out. And I’m not going to give you all the weird stuff, but it was a very, very powerful dream. It connected directly because I’ve been thinking, meditating, on these first six verses. It was all about this message. And it was deeply moving to me, especially when I saw in my dream what God does to adulterers. You want to know what God does to adulterers? (Laughter) Thanks for taking the power out of that line. (Laughter) Let me try that again. You know what God does to adulterers? He pursues them. That’s what He does. He pursues them.
Remember the prophet Hosea? He marries an adulteress. He marries a prostitute. You can read about it in the Old Testament. And God tells him, she not only goes after other lovers, she has children by those other lovers. [Hosea 1] Remember that? And God tells him in the next chapter, (Hosea 3] ‘Go after her. Buy her back,’ and he does.
Listen, you who have joined yourself to the world, you’re living in spiritual adultery, Hear this. God still loves you. He still loves you. Stop resisting him and come back to him. But don’t presume upon the goodness and the grace of God.
Proverbs 29:1, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”
Have you ever read that? So if you continue to resist the love of God beckoning you to come back, it will not go well for you. Verse five says this.
James 4:5, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
That is a really difficult passage to interpret in the original and variously translated in our English Bibles. But the idea here is that God longs… (listen to this) God longs for our spirits to be in subject to His spirit. And this is why He says in the very next verse, it makes sense, he says,
James 4:6, “…But he gives more grace. Therefore it says “God opposes the proud, but gives (what?) grace to the humble.”
Listen. Humility is always the avenue of grace. It just is. Humility is the avenue of grace just as pride is the avenue for conflict. That’s why it tells us… before I get there, verse 7… I’m going to read it to you,
James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
The word “resist” there is a military term. And this is a fight you’re never going to win if you’re fighting with God. So we’re talking about war, the war within. There are actually several wars. There is an internal war. There’s an external war. There’s an infernal war. And there’s an eternal war, and they’re all here in the text. Let’s just unpack them quickly.
First, the internal. This is the war within. This is the war that calls every one of us to check our motives. Very few things you and I can do that are more important in our walk with God than to keep our motives in check. The war within demands you and me to say, ‘Why?’ Ask the why question. Why am I holding a grudge? Why am I not seeking restoration from my friend? Why do I want what she has? Why am I pursuing this job? Why am I making this purchase? Why isn’t God answering my prayers? The war within demands that we check our motives.
I shared this a few years ago, but I’m going to put a little different twist on it right now, this illustration. A few years ago, I was in a coffee shop, which… where I hang out, and this wealthy businessman in the area, not from our church, but a wealthy businessman in the area who claimed to be a Christian started talking to me. And he heard that we were planting a church (one of our several churches we planted around the greater Metro) and he goes, “Well, I got land there.” I said, “You have land where we’re planting?” “Yeah.” I said, “What are you saying, dude? Are you saying you’d be willing to give us some of that land?” “Nemmers, that’s what I do! I do that for Christians!” I said, “Awesome!” Well, if anybody knows me, it’s like, I can’t wait to go tell the perspective church plant that this guy is gonna cough up some land for us! That’s so awesome! We’re so excited! And then within a few weeks, he completely renigged his offer. He took it back. And if I told you that I was bitter toward him as a result of that, I’d be telling you the truth. I struggled with this man, that he would make such a promise and then pull back on it. So you can imagine what I was thinking one day as I was pulling out of that very same coffee shop, and there was a big, brand new SUV in front of me waiting to get out onto the street, and, all of a sudden, it started backing up toward me. I couldn’t shove it in reverse fast enough and… Bang! She hit me. The airbag didn’t go off, but she did damage my bumper. What happened was her husband was pulling into the parking lot as she was going out. So she instinctively just backed up the SUV. That’s why she hit me. She was mortified! She was sorry, She as she was saying so, her husband gets out of the car… and it’s the guy! And I’m thinking I got him now. I mean I got a damaged car here dude… Cracked bumper! He pulls a wad of money out of his pocket and says, “Hey, will this take care of it?” I’m thinking, ‘I don’t think so.’ He goes, “I got a guy who can fix it.” [I said] “I got guys who can fix it too.” I didn’t say it quite like that, but that was what was happening in my heart, so anyway, I left with the idea, I’m going to, I’m really gonna get them on this ’cause it clearly damaged my bumper. I’m getting… and no more than I started to dwell on this, and I was completely convicted of my attitude and of my motive, my motive to strike back, my motive to get back. And I was so convicted, I confessed it as a sin. I took his $100 bill that he’d put it back in an envelope and I gave it back to him. Now, I still had a damaged bumper, but I also had something that I didn’t have previously. I had a clear conscience. So no amount of money can pay off a guilty conscience, by the way. None. You can imagine a couple of weeks later, I was feeling pretty good about this. I came back to church after one day, I pulled in right over here on the north side and I backed in. I never back in! This day I backed in to the parking spot and went back in, sat down in my office. About 15 minutes later, one of the office ladies pokes her head in and goes, “Pastor, I hate to tell you this, but a local school bus just went by and hit your car.” (audience laughing) I said, “You’re kidding me, right?” “No, I’m not kidding you.” And I went outside and this is what I discovered. (audience laughing) He took off my damaged bumper, and the city of Des Moines was happy to pay for it! (audience laughing) Listen, all I know is the war within is a war with your motives, and you gotta win that war!
So there’s this internal war that is internal, the war within, then the external war. That’s the war without. The very first verse talks about fighting. This word, “fight,” is a very strong word in the original. It speaks of violence. It’s like real warfare. And again, he’s using hyperbole here. James is stressing the devastating effects of an unrestrained attitude and what it can produce. It goes from smoldering to fire. And remember, James says the fights among us are the results of passions out of control within us. And those passions are almost always driven by pride. Solomon said,
Proverbs 13:10 (NLT), ”Pride leads to conflicts.”
Have you ever read that? That’s why we gotta win this internal battle. That’s where it all begins. That’s the only way we’re going to win the external ones, because what comes in is going to… (what?) It’s going to get out.
Thirdly, there’s an infernal war. That’s the war of beneath. We’ve already talked about this a little bit. Remember in the last chapter it says, there’s two kinds of wisdom. There’s wisdom that comes from above from God, and there’s wisdom that comes up from beneath. James is attacking the idea of don’t submit to that kind of wisdom. That’s wisdom from… it is wisdom, but it’s wisdom from hell. That’s why he says in verse seven, (we put it up here for you) he says,
James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil… (That’s that military term and he’ll book) he’ll flee…” (He’ll leave.)
And what is this war? What is this war coming from beneath? It is Satan, listen to this carefully, it is Satan taking that which God intended for good, for love, for light, for joy, and yes, for pleasure. God isn’t a prude. He doesn’t want you to be unhappy in this world. He wants you to enjoy life. But Satan takes those natural things that God has created within marriage, outside of marriage, all of your life, and he corrupts them into that which is ugly and bent like a caricature.
In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis envisions (and you should read this book if you’ve not read it) he envisions two demons communicating with one another. One’s like a senior demon, like a big shot demon, and the other one’s sort of an imp. He’s kind of an apprentice demon. The senior demon’s name is Screwtape. The other one’s name is Wormwood. Listen to the conversation here. This is the senior demon talking to the junior demon.
“Never forget,” he says, “that when you are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are in a sense on the enemy’s ground (the enemy being God.) I know we have won many a soul through pleasure, all the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures. All of our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our enemy has produced at times or in ways or in degrees which He has forbidden. Hence, we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural.” (And here’s how he concludes his message.) “An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” It still is.
This is what our infernal enemy, Satan, tries to do, creating an ever-increasing craving for ever diminishing pleasures. By the way, did you notice all three enemies that we have, that we face, are in this passage: the world, the flesh and the devil. They’re all there.
(One more and we’re done.) Eternal… the eternal battle. It’s the war that never ends. It’s where some of you are at right now. This is a fight. You’ll never win in a war that will never end if you don’t have a relationship with the living God. Remember James 4:4 says, ”You make yourself a (what of God?”) an enemy of God.” That’s a strong word, wouldn’t you agree?
Several years ago, I had a Bible study with a man we’ll call him Brent, because that was actually his name. And for several weeks we were having Bible studies about coming to know God. And I’d come home every night and I’d say, “Honey, he’s just not getting it!” He’s a really nice guy, super nice guy! Good citizen, sort of religious, super nice, but the gospel, Jesus’s death and resurrection, his need to repent and believe… and it just wasn’t clicking! I was supposed to meet with them this day and I just wasn’t feeling good. I wasn’t super sick, but I wasn’t feeling good. I thought it was a good excuse for not getting with him because we’ve gone for weeks on end. So I just called him. I thought, Well, I’ll give him a perfunctory call, you know. ‘Hey, not feeling real good. We’ll get together next week. And I thought I’d ask if you have any questions.’ He never had questions! I’m on the phone. “I just wondered if you have any questions.” He went, “Hey, thanks for asking because I got a question.” I went, “Huh?” He says, “Hey, I just read in Romans 5…” which is a corollary to this, “and it says that if you don’t know God, you’re an enemy of God.” I’m going, “Ooh. So, Brent… what’d you get out of that?” He goes, “I think I’m an enemy.” I said, “What are you going to do about that, Brent?” I go over to his home. He got on his knees, repented of his sin, and placed his faith in the one who died for him and rose again! And today, he ended up marrying this girl that was in our church. They have a beautiful family, serving the Lord, and it didn’t happen until he saw his position before God. Until Brent saw God as his enemy, he could never become his friend… and neither can you.
Some of you are convinced that you’re enemies with someone or something else, when in reality, who you’re really fighting with is God, and that’s a fight you’re never going to win. The very God who has provided the means for peace…
Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have (what?) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;”
If you’ve never been justified by faith, not by religion, not by baptism, not by all kinds of sacraments in this… It’s trusting Jesus alone that gives us peace. Amen? And here’s the Good News. Your Enemy wants to be your Friend.
Acts 16:31 “…Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be (friended) saved…”
We’re gonna go from here to the Lord’s table all around are stations you can go to. There’ll be some information as to who gets to take it, not we’re not gonna, we don’t police this thing. But in order to take the Lord’s table, you should know the Lord. You should have a personal relationship with Him. These are powerful symbols, the perfect life in the sacrificial death of Jesus. But what I wanna challenge you to do if you’re a real born again Christian is, when you take those elements and go back to your seat, I want you to think on your motives. What are the things that drive you? What are the things that press you? Why are you pursuing this? Why are you doing that? What is motivating you to do what you do in this world? And submit that to God. He may want you to continue to pursue it. But you might discover in the moment that there’s something bizarre about it. There’s something bent. There’s something ugly about that that you need to repent of and may God help you to do so. And if you don’t know Jesus, that’s where it starts. Place your faith in the One who died and rose again for you.
May we pray together?
Our Father in Heaven, we love you and bless your name. Thank you for this great passage of Scripture, a hard one to begin the year on. But we don’t run away from truth, so there it is. Help us, Lord, to befriend You, to befriend your Son, the Lord Jesus, and forgive us for loving lovers who really can’t love us back, the world. Help us to examine our motives in this moment as we celebrate your table. And we will give you the glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.