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James 4:1-10: The Gospel for Believers Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 May 2009

James 4:1-10

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Math, like so many other things, is a discipline that constantly builds upon itself.  You start with learning how to add and subtract and build upon this until you can solve complex algebraic equations.  There is so much to learn when it comes to mathematics, but you never get all that far away from simple addition and subtraction.  For example, no matter how smart you are or how hard the problem is, if you lose sight of the fact that 2+2=4, then you will not get very far.  We must have and maintain a correct grasp of the basics or we will not do well in math.

The same is true for the Christian life.  There are complex theological issues that we can discuss and debate.  There are passages that are not all that easy to interpret.  Yet, if we lose sight of the gospel, the basic truth that Jesus came in the flesh, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead three days later, then we will never get very far in our relationship with God.  The gospel must be maintained in all of our beliefs and practices.  We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we should move beyond the gospel to something more profound or practical.  Yet, the more we ‘move beyond’ the gospel, the more we move away from the truth.  No matter what problem we are facing, in one very real sense, the gospel is the answer.  Or I could say it this way: the gospel is the foundational truth for our lives as Christians.  It informs who we are and what we do and how we live.  To lose it would be like a mathematician thinking that 2+2=5.

James wrote his letter to a community of believers who were struggling in certain areas.  He has written to correct their errors in thinking and practice and to call them back to the truth.  In our passage this morning, we see that the truth of the gospel is what stands behind his exhortations.  I want us to walk through these verses and notice the simple truth that holds up all that James is saying.  I want us to see the gospel in James 4:1-10.  It begins with the problem…

The problem: the real problem is our selfish desires (v. 1-3).

Building upon what he has already said about wisdom from above and its connection to our relationships with one another, James continues by asking a rhetorical question.  Look at verse 1a.  The original recipients of this letter were obviously struggling with their relationships with one another.  James has already warned them against anger (1:19ff), showing partiality (2:1ff), dead faith that will not help a brother (2:14ff), and using the tongue to curse others (3:1ff).  Last week we saw his warning against worldly wisdom which is evidenced by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14).  All of these involve relationships and show that the original readers were struggling in this area.  They were quarreling and fighting with each other.

Yet, what is behind this struggle?  Why are they quarreling and fighting so much?  James tells us in verses 1b-3.  Look at those with me.  The source of the problem is their own selfish desires which are at war within you.  They want what they want.  They see what others have and they do what they can to get it.  They fight and quarrel and remain at odds.  They do not pray about it and when they do, it is not granted to them because of their false motives.  James has already called such action earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  Instead of practicing the wisdom that comes from above, they were being deceived by ‘worldly wisdom,’ and only looking out for themselves.  Where do these selfish desires get us?  James goes on to tell us…

The consequences: our selfish desires make us enemies of God (v. 4-5).

James begins verse 4 with a strong statement.  Look at that with me.  In light of what they are doing, he calls them adulterers.  What does he mean by this?  The rest of verse 4 explains.  He is writing to those who at least call themselves believers and James addresses them as ‘brothers’ in several places.  The Old Testament speaks of Israel as the bride of God and Paul applies this analogy to the Church (see Ephesians 5:22ff).  Christ is our husband and we are His Bride.  Yet, the original recipients of James’ letter were committing adultery through their friendship with the world, which was being evidenced by their quarreling and fighting.  Instead of remaining faithful to the Lord and exercising wisdom from above in their relationships, they were giving in to their selfish desires and cheating on Christ.  James starkly lays all of this out.  We cannot be friends with the world and faithful to the Lord.  We cannot be arguing and fighting with each other and be pleasing to the Lord.  These are simply incompatible.

And make no mistake about it, the Lord does not take this lightly.  Look at verse 5.  It is hard to know exactly how to take this verse, but I see it as referencing the Lord’s jealousy over His people’s faithfulness.  Yet, wouldn’t it be wrong to credit the Lord with jealousy.  No, not if the jealousy is for the righteousness and faithfulness of His people.  To continue the marriage analogy, it is like a husband who is jealous for his wife’s monogamy.  We would not fault such jealousy and would in fact see it as right and necessary.  In a real sense, we get this from God’s jealousy over His people.  He wants their faithfulness and commands it for their own good.  Yet still, our selfish desires make war within us.  Where can we turn?  What is our hope?

The solution: God gives grace to the humble (v. 6).

Just like the original recipients of this letter, we are a desperate people.  We are married to a Husband we do not deserve and have cheated on Him with our selfish desires.  We did not earn His favor in the first place and now we have spit in His face by giving in to our passions and warring with one another.  Surely we can only expect disgrace and judgment.  Yet, what does James say?  Look at verse 6.  God meets our desperate need with grace.  The same grace that got us into the marriage is the grace that will keep us in it.  As Newton wrote: “Tis grace hath bro’t me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.”  

Yet, how can James be so sure that God will grant grace to the humble?  Because this is exactly what the gospel teaches.  Jesus did not come to die for the righteous but for sinners (see Luke 5:32).  Jesus took on flesh and died on the cross for the sins of His people.  God raised Him on the third day to show that He accepted the sacrifice of His Son.  Such grace is the very heart of the gospel.  James does not call his readers to new truth or new ideas.  No, he reminds them of the basics: God gives grace to the humble.  He is a grace-giver.  The One who should have left us long ago, the One who has every right to give us over to our selfish desires, the One who deserves complete faithfulness, He is the One who covers our adultery with the blood of His own Son.  He gives us grace.  And how should we respond to such grace?  James tells us…

The response: we must humble ourselves before the Lord (v. 7-10).

If God gives grace to the humble, then it is not hard to understand how we should respond to Him.  James makes this explicit in verses 7-10.  Look at those with me.  He begins by calling us to simply submit in verse 7 and concludes with a similar exhortation in verse 10.  We are to humble ourselves before the God who gives grace to the humble.  Yet, is the humility that James is calling for here simply passive?  Do we just sit around and try not to get out of line?  No, humility involves action at times.  What specific actions does James include?  Let me outline them for us in three groups.

First, James tells us to resist the Devil and draw near to God.  Look at verses 7b-8a.  With both of these commands we are given a clear promise.  When we resist the Devil, James tells us that he will flee from you.  Likewise, when we draw near to God, James tells us that he will draw near to you.  I see these two as going together in many ways.  In our resisting of the Devil and saying no to temptation, we are obeying God and drawing near to Him.  Make no mistake, we need to do both, but they go together.  I guess what I am saying is that there is no neutral ground in our lives.  We are either moving toward the Enemy and away from the Lord or drawing near to God and resisting the Devil.  The more we draw near to God through prayer and study of His Word and all the spiritual disciplines, the more we have strength to resist the Devil when we are tempted.  So humble yourself this morning by drawing near to God and resisting the Devil through the strength which the Lord supplies.

Second, James tells us to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts.  Look at verse 8b.  The believers that James is writing to have obviously been struggling in their following after the Lord.  Through anger, partiality, inaction, and abusive words, their relationships have sunken to fighting and quarrelling.  Their jealousy and selfish ambition has gotten the better of them.  So James tells them to humble themselves by admitting their sin.  It is a clear call to repentance.  Repent of your anger and your partiality.  Repent of your inaction and your cursing of your brother.  Repent of your jealousy and your selfish ambition.  As we have seen throughout the letter, he calls them to turn from their double-mindedness.  The language points back to the rituals surrounding the worship at the Temple and picks up on the words of the psalmist who tells us that only the one with clean hands and pure hearts can ascend the hill of the Lord (see Psalm 24).  So humble yourselves before the Lord this morning by repenting of your sin and crying out for clean hands and a pure heart.

Third, James tells us to be wretched, mourn, and weep.  Look at verse 9.  In light of what he has just said, he is calling his readers to soberness concerning their sin.  We cannot be truly humble before the Lord until we feel the weight of our sin and just how unworthy we are.  We have a tendency to ignore these truths and fill our lives with laughter and joy.  But such laughter and such joy is not that which comes from the Lord.  No, the joy of the Lord begins with humility over our fallen state.  Jesus taught this when He said: Blessed are those who mourn…(Matthew 5:4).  Humble yourself before the Lord this morning by being sober about your sin.

James closes with another positive note.  If we humble ourselves before the Lord, then we can hope in the fact that He will show us grace and He will exalt us.  Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted.  No matter where you are or what you are facing, let the good news minister to you this morning.  James encourages his brothers to hope in the basic message of the gospel and he calls for us to do the same.  Thus, humble yourself before the Lord and be confident in the fact that He will show you grace and lift you up.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 17 May 2009 )

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