Things to Avoid – Part 1, James
Sunday Sermon by Pastor Michael Spaulding
Chapter 4 of James should be required reading for anyone who aspires to offer counsel to other people related to issues of life. There was a time in American Christianity when Christians sought advice and godly wisdom from their pastor. That day is over.
The reason people do not seek the counsel of their pastor in many cases today is because many pastors refuse to counsel, admit they are not capable of counseling, and refer those who ask to the “professional” counselor, or provide nonsensical and unbiblical counsel. What I have learned over the years is that the one who is willing to offer counsel to anyone in need of spiritual guidance and assistance in overcoming issues that assail them, must use the Bible as their manual.
In our day of higher education some people might sneer at such an idea. Many people believe that only those individuals trained in universities, and educated in the thoughts of Freud, Jung, Skinner, or Maslow, can possible understand the inner workings of the mind. I remind all those who believe that, that there is One who made mankind and the mind, and He alone knows the true inner workings of an individual.
I am not saying there are not instances of organic complications, health issues that result from a person’s body not functioning as it was designed. There certainly are many who suffer from chemical imbalances, issues of the mind that create imaginary realities. Stress and trauma related complications are very real. So, I’m not trying to downplay a proper place for clinical counsel.
Of course, God has revealed to us all that is necessary for us to know about the faith and what it means to live in faith and by faith. I do not want to oversimplify this but, many of the besetting problems a person faces is due to some type of sin, some kind of sustained behavior by the individual that must be addressed and corrected.
There are many spiritual principles that are only apprehended through time and trial. The process of sanctification teaches us many life lessons, not the least of which is learning from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Failure to learn from our past mistakes means we are doomed to repeat them.
Most of the issues of life are common to all of us. The apostle Paul wrote this to the believers residing in Corinth: “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Again, this does not mean and I am not saying that there are not issues of the mind and body that do not require medical treatment. There are many issues that go beyond mere biblical counsel. Chemical or hormonal imbalances, unrealistic perceptions or beliefs, and the influence of demons are real and prevalent. Those situations require focused and specific interventions.
I also want to point out that temptation and trials are two different things. They can be one and the same but they do not have to be. The words Paul wrote to the Corinthians that I just stated does not mean that severe trials and testing’s that might break you will never happen. You may experience a time in your life that the burden you carry is not bearable and you will cry out to the Lord. Those times of breaking can be used by the Lord to cause you to turn to Him.
James 4 deals with issues common to all people. Some struggle with certain things more than others but generally, we all struggle from time to time with much of what James discusses in this chapter. As a reminder, James is not an evangelistic book. He does not go into the Gospel of salvation. James’ focus is on how we are to live after we are saved. As such, this book is a book of instruction related to the process of sanctification.
What we see immediately in Chapter 4 is not really a new thought or line of reasoning but a continuation of what James discussed in Chapter 3:13-18.
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, and demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, free of hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:13 begins with a question and James does the same thing in 4:1. It is easy to see the continuity in his thinking. Wisdom is not demonstrated by the things that follow in Chapter 4.
Notice in 4:1 that James mentions quarrels and conflicts. He tells us that the source of those things is each individual who engages in those behaviors. The KJV uses the word wars for quarrels and fighting for conflicts. This makes the necessary distinction more apparent. Wars or quarrels involve more than two individuals. It could involve several people and is better understood as “church fights.”
Christians are notorious for fighting amongst themselves. I spoke of factions and cliques in Chapter 3. That is what James has in mind here. Conflicts or fightings are much smaller in scale but nevertheless unproductive and antithetical to the peace James says should be our collective orientation in 3:18, not to mention the righteousness that all true Christians have from Christ and the display of it we are called to manifest.
James identifies the source of these behaviors as “your pleasures.” That phrase “your pleasures” carries the meaning of what suits you, or what you feel is best for you. Another way to explain this word and James’ intention is to say the source of wars and fighting is the combatant’s selfish desires or simply selfishness. In modern jargon we would say that someone who behaves this way thinks “the universe revolves around them.”
James’ use of the word “members” is reminiscent of Paul’s writings. In the book of Romans Paul wrote about the war that rages inside each believer between the flesh and the spirit.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person, 23 but I see a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin, the law which is in my body’s parts. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25
So, the immediate context of what James says here relates to the struggle we all face with controlling our own natures and our proclivity toward satisfying self. But by way of application we can also expand the meaning of members to include on principle all believers in a local fellowship and the relationships that can be harmed by quarrels and conflicts.
We have word pictures for behavior often exhibited by some when conflict occurs and people do not get their way. We say things like “Well, they didn’t get their way so they picked up their toys and went home.” Doesn’t that make us think of people who behave unreasonably? James says when Christians act that way it is destructive to the entire body. In military terms that is called collateral damage.
In verse 2 James digs a little deeper and calls out the lust that can reside in the human heart and mind. Here he is not speaking about lust in a sexual sense. The idea here is that our coveting, our lust for something, some material thing or some desired outcome to a situation drives us to commit murder. We must understand this in the sense that Jesus explained it in the Sermon on the Mount. There in Matthew 5:21-22 we read this:
21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court;
The spiritual meaning of murder in James is supported by Jesus’ explanation of our attitude of anger toward a brother that is out of bounds for Christians. Jesus made the same application about adultery, in that the mind’s attitude was equally as culpable as the act committed in the flesh.
Instead of falling prey to this manner of evil toward other believers we must see the prosperity of others as God’s blessings and therefore rejoice with them. This verse gives us a perfect example of the ways of the world versus God’s ways.
The world’s way especially as it is espoused by the Political Leftists among us is that people who do not have what others have are victims. People who do not have what others have do not have those things because they are victims of an oppressive system that has deliberately discriminated against them. This victimhood ideology is utilized by Leftists and when I say Leftists please understand that I am talking about God-haters; victimhood is utilized to manipulate people’s emotions and to distort their thinking.
An increasing number of Americans have become convinced that they are entitled to a life of ease. Many Americans believe that they deserve all sorts of things they cannot acquire by their labor, and this inability to acquire those things is a sure sign that they are being discriminated against. This is completely upside down from reality and it is contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures here in James and elsewhere.
Reading the remainder of James 4:2 we find envy mentioned as a motivating factor for fights and quarrels. We read here that envy or jealousy does not lead to obtaining that thing that is coveted. People never think of that do they? Your envy of someone else is doing nothing positive for you; there are only negative results for the one caught in the deceptive web of irrational and unbiblical thinking.
Then we find a comment that is certainly on my list of top ten misquoted texts. “You do not have because you do not ask.” I cannot tell you how many times over the years I have heard someone say that “All we have to do is ask God and He will grant us our request, because the Bible says you do not have because you do not ask.”
What is implied here is that the request itself is all that matters; the heart condition of the one making a request is irrelevant, and the motivation behind asking God for something is irrelevant. Some people actually believe if you ask God for anything He is obligated to give you what you ask for.
There is a Greek word that defines that thinking. That word is bologna. Sometimes the best thing you can tell people when they make statements that are not biblical is to keep reading. That is certainly the case here. Take note of what James says in verse 3.
Is James talking about two different groups of people? He said in verse 2 you don’t ask and now in verse 3 he says you ask with the wrong motives. The same idea is seen in Luke 15:11-14, Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.
11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.
The idea being expressed by James is that when God’s people ask Him to provide something they are asking within the context or with the motive of honoring God’s name, fulfilling God’s will, or advancing the work God has given the requester to do. That is certainly seen in Jesus’ teaching of the disciples concerning prayer in Matthew 6:5-13, a passage some refer to as The Disciples Prayer.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
We will continue our study in James next week.
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