Sunday, March 05, 2017
Sermon: James 4: 1-12 Faith in Action - True Humility
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been getting used to the very direct style that James uses in his letter. We’ve seen time and time again that he doesn’t beat around the bush. He just comes out and confronts whatever needs to be confronted. So much so, that today, we’re getting straight into the text. No gentle introduction, no wee illustration to ease you in. No, because James just comes out and says it.
‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?’ Wow. It seems that the church(es) the James is writing to aren’t necessarily nice places to be. There are quarrels and fights going on. Imagine being part of such a church! James confronts it head on. He wants to get underneath the bonnet to see what’s going wrong. He wants to diagnose the symptoms, and provide the cure.
The presenting problem is that they are conflicted Christians. Quarrels and fights. But why? ‘Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?’ There are fights among them because there is war within them. And their passions, their sinful desires, seem to be winning the war, with devastating consequences for the church fellowship: ‘You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.’ Their inner desires, coveting, leads to murder, fighting and quarreling. Now whether this is actual murder or the actions that Jesus described as murder in Matthew 5 - hate in your heart - the end result is the same. It’s what we see in verses 11-12. Speaking evil against one another, and judging one another. Quarrels, conflict, sin.
Their problems are made worse because, even though they might pray about it, they don’t seem to get anywhere. End of verse 2: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.’
I wonder could this describe our prayer life? Either we don’t ask (and therefore don’t receive); or we do ask (but don’t receive) but our prayer is out of selfish motives. What have you been praying for? Has God answered your prayers - if not, why not?
Could it be that we are conflicted Christians - war within, quarrels among us, driven by our selfishness, our passions and desires? Could it be that we’re just like James’ original readers, even though we don’t like to admit it?
James is writing to conflicted Christians, who are also compromised Christians. Having diagnosed the problem, James then spells out exactly why it is a problem. We see this in verses 4-5. Are you ready for more directness from James? ‘You adulterous people! Do you not 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.’
Conflicted Christians are compromised Christians. If we are the bride of Christ, then to run after anything else, any idol - this is to commit spiritual adultery. Rather than being faithful to our God, this sort of conflict is compromise, and is unfaithfulness to God. You see, there are just two options, there’s no middle ground. Friendship with the world (living according to the world’s values and desires) is enmity with God. We’re either friendly with the world and an enemy of God, or we’re friendly with God and an enemy of the world. So which is it going to be?
Is that us, this morning? Whose friend are we? Whose enemy are we? Are we compromised Christians, friends of the world and enemies of God?
God is portrayed in verse 5 as the jealous husband, dismayed at his wife’s adultery and betrayal. He yearns for us to be true to him. So will we do it? Can we do it? Not if our passions are warring within us, leading us to choose the world and reject our God.
That’s the bad news. But sometimes we need the bad news before we really appreciate the good news. Sometimes we need to find ourselves in the lowest place to appreciate what comes next.
It’s not enough to apply a sticky plaster to the surface if the problem is on the inside. In that case, we need the deep surgery, the removal of the cancer, the treatment we can’t do without. And that’s what James does in the rest of the passage. Conflicted, compromised Christians need to confess their need of grace.
The problem may be great, ‘but he gives more grace.’ Your indwelling, deep-rooted, desire-filled sin might seem impossible to defeat, but he gives more grace. Your sins might cry out against you, but he gives more grace. God gives us his undeserved favour, his grace. James quotes a line from Proverbs 3 - ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ To receive this promised grace, we need to be humble, not proud.
And in verses 7-10, James spells out what this will look like in our lives, as we submit to God, and confess our need of grace. And to encourage us, there are great promises in these verses. ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ As we stop being the world’s friend, as we stop taking our lead from the devil, as we resist him, he WILL flee from us.
‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ It’s as if we choose how closely we walk with God - as we draw near to him, he WILL draw near to us. As we increase our dependence on him, as we seek to be close to him, so we find that he is increasingly close to him, present with us. (He always is anyway, we just don’t know it or realise it or appreciate it).
The way we do it, the way we draw near to God is by cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts. Getting rid of our sins, and stopping being double-minded. And this will lead to verse 9, being wretched, mourning and weeping, taking our sin seriously, and mourning over our sin. Not just thinking that it doesn’t really matter, but seriously grieving over our sin.
You see, grace will change us. Grace will make us see our sin differently. No longer is it something that doesn’t matter, no big deal; suddenly (or perhaps gradually) we see our sins as the reason Christ died; we see just how serious our sin was that it lead him to be crucified for them. That’s why the confession is coming after the sermon this morning. So that, in the light of God’s word, we seriously consider our sin, and confess our need of grace.
It’s when we do this that we receive the promise of verse 10. ‘Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.’ When we humble ourselves before the Lord, he WILL exalt us. As we go down before him, he lifts us up.
Conflicted, Compromised Christians need to confess our need of grace. This morning we can do this in two ways. In our confession (and prayer of humble access), and in our coming to God. James calls us to not judge or speak evil of anyone else, not to think, this is a great word for so-and-so, let’s hope they’re listening. No, James calls us to examine our own heart. To confess our own need of grace. And to draw near with faith to receive his grace. Grace offered freely; more abundantly than all our sin; grace enough for you and me. So come humbly, and rejoice in his grace.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 5th March 2017.