The Epistle of James: Worldly Indulgence
James 4:1-12; Philippians 4:8
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”
James 4:1-12 NASB1995
Well, dear readers, James was just getting started in the previous chapters. He does not mince words, giving the bitter medicine to his intended audience with pungent language. James was, of course, addressing the conflicts he observed in the early Church. He saw quarrels and in-fighting and worldly pursuits; Paul also observed these states and wrote his epistles around those issues and Jesus Himself addressed seven churches for their weaknesses in Revelation. James reminds me of the lack of bedside manner I noted in the superb orthopedic surgeon who replaced both of my knees with “bionic” ones over ten years ago. This surgeon had three things he loved in life: Extreme mountain biking, listening to jazz music while operating, and having the stamina to replace four knees (or shoulders or hips) successfully in a day of surgeries. He was a top choice as a surgeon, but you knew not to go to him for bedside bromides like a genteel Marcus Welby (a lovable TV doctor from a few decades ago for the younger readers). James, like this surgeon, does not give us cheap comfort; he gives us the nasty tonic and spiritual rehabilitating surgeries we need to prioritize our lives.
James sees pride, envy, worldly pleasures (lusts and gluttony) and selfish ambition for causing all of the conflict he observes. In my last devotional, I had some examples of how some of these attitudes play into corporate irresponsibility and are often highlighted as “good things” in fictional dramas. But these sins have caused much more grief in the world. I don’t pretend to be an expert in any sense of the word on the causes of World War I. Needless to say, you can read that there were simmering geopolitical tensions between various factions in Europe for many years and the act of one assassination of one Archduke was enough to ignite the flames of war that resulted in the loss of over 30 million lives. My photo today shows the aftermath of this “war to end all wars” on a small church in Austria. A debilitated Russia entered immediately into violent socialist revolution towards the end of the conflict and the disenchantments over the treaties ending the war led to the fulfillment of the selfish ambitions of a certain young Austrian painter named Adolf Hitler. Wars have been started for many reasons, big and small, but ambition and the greediness to add to your empire are among the more popular causes. The History Channel website has an interesting Article on wars fought for completely ridiculous reasons.
You can also read a history of the 30 Years War and the violence and Civil War in Great Britain to see how conflicts within the Christian church during and after the Reformation led to significant loss of life; neither side was willing to compromise and this sectarian squabbling is still an issue, but at a “smoldering” level. You can see this in the anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant camps that are set up in social media fanning the flames, with subsets of some established Protestant groups also negatively judging non-denominational faiths (“you’re not confessional”; “you don’t have a liturgy”). And there are many who still champion anti-semitism and despise Israel and Jews, even after the Holocaust. Speaking of Israel, I had to laugh hearing an anecdote (not sure it is true, but it was humorous) about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem from a tour guide we had when we were there a few years ago. The Church is run jointly by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox representatives; they can’t agree on anything (it took them years to finally agree on restoration of various elements of the church), so the Church is opened every day for tourists and pilgrims with a key that is in the hands of an elderly Muslim man who lives nearby.
James goes on to say that we do not receive from God because we ask with the wrong motives. It’s like asking to win the Mega Millions lottery and promising to give most of it to God; He is not going to answer that prayer. We are “adulteresses”, cherishing friendship with the world over our holy marriage with God in our churches. In reading some sermons and commentaries for this passage, I liked what one pastor (Steven Cole) said in a sermon about worldly pleasures as described by James - He always thinks of Las Vegas when he thinks of the many ways people will go out of their way to avoid God and wallow in their sin. “Sin City”, our Sodom and Gomorrah, is celebrated for the worst carnal desires that humans can have, with strip clubs, gambling, excessive drinking and other sybaritic pleasures. The entire concept of this place is to cater to the serious addictions that arise in people who indulge their sins. Even their famous slogan about things “staying in Vegas” ignores the fact that God sees it all.
I confess that we have enjoyed occasional visits to Vegas, mostly to see Cirque du Soleil shows, visit museums (there are good ones) and check out gourmet restaurants; we have tried to avoid the worst things, but you are still stuffing the coffers of the Devil and his earthly henchmen even with more “innocent” pursuits. It must be emphasized that God’s Word does not forbid us to have pleasure. Our pleasures should come through our relationship with our Savior and Creator and not apart from Him. Paul tells us what to focus on in Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Philippians 4:8 NASB1995
God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Speaking of the Devil, James says to resist AND flee from him. We sinners are to clean our hands. We who are double-minded (set on the world and also on heaven) must purify our hearts. We are to be mournful and weep for the state of our souls. By judging others, we are judging God’s law and setting ourselves higher than Him. We should draw near to God and He will draw near to us. Here is what David Guzik says about drawing near to God from his Enduring Word commentary:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you: The call to draw near to God is both an invitation and a promise. It is no good to submit to God’s authority and to resist the devil’s attack and then fail to draw near to God. We have it as a promise: God will draw near to us as we draw near to Him.
What does it mean to draw near to God? Charles Spurgeon considered a few ways:
· It means to draw near in worship, praise, and in prayer.
· It means to draw near by asking counsel of God.
· It means to draw near in enjoying communion with God.
· It means to draw near in the general course and tenor of your life.
In one way, this text illustrates the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. In the old covenant, God told Moses to not come any closer to the burning bush and take off his shoes. Under the new covenant, God says to the sinner: “Draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.” Now the ground between God and the sinner has been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, and we can come close to God on the basis of that blood.
This also shows what God wants to do for the sinner. It doesn’t say, “Draw near to God and He will save you” or “Draw near to God and He will forgive you,” though both of those are true. But what God really wants is to be near man; to have a close relationship and fellowship with the individual.
· Drawing near to God helps us to resist the devil.
· Drawing near to God helps us to become pure.
· Drawing near to God helps us to sorrow for sin.
· Drawing near to God helps us to speak well of other people.
· Drawing near to God helps us to think of eternal things.
It is worth the bitter taste to swallow the strong words of James! Sweetness in the Lord will then be found as we draw near to Him.
My next devotional will examine a short passage at the end of James 4: James 4:13-17 Dependence on God
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer: Dear Lord, please help this sinner to set aside worldly pleasures and pursue the goodness and true pleasures found in a relationship with Jesus. Help me to resist and flee from the Devil, wash my hands from sin and purify my heart by being single-minded, focusing on eternity. Help me to draw near to God so that He may draw near to me. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.