Pastor Michael Spaulding on the excellence of avoidance

James 4 – Things To Avoid – Part 2
by Pastor Mike Spaulding

The proper context to understand any passage of Scripture concerning prayer is that we are to ask God to provide for us what we need for daily living and what we need to represent Him well in our lives and assignments. When we read passages such as Matthew 7:7-11 we have a sure theological foundation and thus will not be easily led astray by our fleshly desires that James says in verse 1 are at war with us.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Matthew 7:7-11

James is not at the top of the list for seeker sensitive pastors or motivational speakers masquerading as pastors. James speaks as plainly as anyone can about our natures that must be continually fed by the word of God and led by the Spirit of God. Christians who exhibit the behaviors James has called out in these first few verse are labeled as adulteresses in verse 4.

What makes them adulteresses? James says in essence that they are unfaithful to God by loving the world. Friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God. This is a reoccurring theme in the Hebrew Scriptures. The picture of God as a husband to His people Israel is found in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea, to name a few.

James’ use of adultery is once again meant in a spiritual sense. The world spoken of here is not the material universe but to the system that governs this world. Of this spiritual system that governs this world HA Ironside says:

It consists of men and women under the domination of Satan, who is both the prince and the god of this world. Whosoever attempts to go on with the world in any measure is guilty of disloyalty to Him whom it has spurned and crucified. And he who determines to be a friend of the world, makes of himself an enemy of God. Many are the warnings of Scripture against this unholy alliance of the children of God with the children of the devil. Through the history of God’s dealings with His people He has always called them to holy separation to Himself. It has ever been the effort of the devil to break down this wall of separation and to lead the two groups to become so intermingled that all vital testimony for God is destroyed. It is impossible to go on in fellowship with the world and yet to walk in fellowship with God. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

With this understanding verse 5 makes sense. God is jealous over His people. Douglas Moo in his remarks on this verse says that: “… flirtation with the world is so serious a matter by bringing to mind the jealousy of the Lord, which demands total, unreserved, unwavering allegiance from the people with whom he has joined himself.”

Some people do not understand the depths of loving the world in the sense James and the apostle John explain it. Here is what John says in his first epistle:

9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:9-11, 15-17

Here is the question that I encourage you to consider an answer to. What are we to say, how are we to respond to those alleged Christians who today say that you are a racist if your skin is white? What should we say in response to those who say that America is inherently and systemically racist?

If the question itself makes you nervous you have been propagandized. Here is my point – any ideology that foments hatred for another person or another people group of a different skin color, is not of God. The ideology of Critical Race Theory is a satanic cancer that many Christians have unwittingly accepted. Fighting real or perceived racism does not start from the basis of an ideology born in the pits of hell.

Remaining silent for fear that someone may label you with a politically incorrect epitaph is cowardice. How do we expect to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ if we cower at hell’s ambassadors and the false accusations they hurl at us? Behaving in this way is akin to spiritual adultery – you love your own reputation more than you do God’s.

We are in the fight of our lives right now in America. Sadly, and to their shame, many high-profile denominations and ministries have sold their birthright and testimony for the Lord for a bowl of porridge. Teaching Christians that they can support things that the Bible speaks against is storing up judgment that the Father will one day deliver upon them.

I am speaking primarily about the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, the now leftist magazine Christianity Today, and others. Liberal denominations long ago left the path of true biblical Christianity so they are not worth even mentioning.

This week I ordered a two-volume set of books titled, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. I was alerted to this work by a friend in Tennessee. I think it is long past time to recover the heritage that the Founder’s bequeathed to us in many cases through their lives and prosperity. I am looking forward to understanding more clearly how I might echo their sentiments.

Moving on then to verse 6 we find one of many promises of God toward us who love Him. His grace enables us to overcome the lure of the world and the temptation to invest our care and concern in it completely, which was the subject of the preceding verses.

God opposes those who love the world. King David knew this truth and thus wrote in Psalm 138:6: “For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.” Proverbs 3:34 reminds us that God “Scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 echoes the truth of God’s abundant grace toward His people.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The key to this abundant grace is walking steadfastly with the Lord each day in humble submission. That is verse 7. Submit therefore is based on the abundant grace available to every believer. This daily need to live in humble submission and obedience to the Father’s will for us is what makes resisting the devil possible.

John wrote of this same truth. Again, from his first epistle we read these words:

3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:3-6

Abiding in Him is submitting to Him day by day. This passage speaks of the way of sanctification. It is not speaking of salvation. You are saved believing in the finished work of Christ on your behalf.

Have you considered brothers and sisters that if we submit to the Lord and receive from Him all things necessary to triumph over the devil that any other foe we might encounter in the flesh is equally able to be resisted?

The Apostle Peter also reminds us that when we submit to God we can resist the devil.

6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 1 Peter 5:6-9

William Cowper, an English poet and hymn writer famously wrote that: “Satan trembles when he sees, the weakest saint upon his knees.” James is informing us that in whatever manner we fall short God supplies His grace. Isn’t that encouraging? We may believe our faith is small. God’s love toward you is not small nor is it unable to strengthen you to face any issue of life.

We see in verses 8-10 James’ attempt to encourage his readers. This makes me smile because many read those words today and recoil. They are so accustomed to cotton-candy sermonettes that they do not know what to do with exhortation to godly living.

We see in these verses several Greek aorist imperatives. This means that the action that the verb is describing is the result of something that happened in the past and it gives rise to the action that you are commanded to take in the present. Aorist imperatives describe immediate and continuing action. Thomas Constable, former professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, offers these helpful insights. Speaking of the Greek grammar in these verses he says:

They sound like military commands and reflect how seriously James viewed double-mindedness. Toward God we must submit in humility. This means making what is of importance to Him important to us, ordering our priorities in harmony with God’s priorities. It means not living to fulfill our personal ambitions but using our lives to fulfill His desires. Submission is not identical to obedience. Submission involves the surrender of the will that results in obedience.

While resisting Satan on the one hand, we must also draw near to God on the other. When we do, He will draw near to us. To draw near to God we must go through a purification process reminiscent of what the priests in Israel underwent. We must wash our hands, symbolic of our outward actions, as well as our divided hearts, symbolic of our inner attitudes and motives. We clean them by confession and repentance. We must remove sin from our hands and duplicity from our hearts. Single-mindedness involves singleness of purpose, namely, living for the glory of God rather than for both God’s glory and our own selfish desires.

James was calling readers who had compromised with the world by following hedonism to get right with God. There is laughter and joy in the pursuit of personal desires, but we must abandon these in the process of repenting. James was not saying Christians must be constantly miserable, mourning, weeping, and gloomy. These are only the evidences of repentance from a formerly sinful attitude and lifestyle.

In concluding this section of direct advice (vv. 7-10), James sounded the same note with which he began: submission to God in humility, putting Him before self. This always results in God lifting one up both immediately and eventually. Since this is the condition in which God can use us, He will proceed to do so for His glory (cf. Matt. 18:4; 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:6).

Verses 11-12 are sometimes misunderstood because people focus on the word judgment. Many Christians like passages like this because it provides them an easy escape from doing the right thing and correcting a brother or sister who is in error.

How many times have you heard someone say, “You are not supposed to judge”? Normally people say something like, “Judge not.”
James uses the word judge in his admonition here but he is talking about having a critical spirit toward other believers. Note again that James says “Do not speak against one another.” Different translations use different words to describe what James has in mind. For example, verses 11-12 in the KJV say: 
11Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

The ESV likewise uses the word evil. The NIV uses the word slander and reads like this:

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

The point James is making is that we are not to speak evil of or slander others because that is evil and it is in the context of this section of James, a manifestation of the same pride he has already said God opposes. Additionally, speaking wrongly about others assumes for ourselves the position of judge over the brethren and that is also an affront to God who alone is the judge.

The question you might have at this point is this: How do we reconcile this statement in James with what we read in other passages of Scripture where we are told to judge? Here is a sampling of other places that tell us we are to judge.

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. John 7:24

Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:1-6

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; Ephesians 5:11

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; Revelation 2:2

Refusing to judge has become an epidemic and it is responsible in large measure to the current estate of the church. The late Charles Krauthammer summarizes where we are today.

“There are moral distinctions to be made; but there seems to be a growing unwillingness – or is it inability – to make them, even the most simple.  No language can be bleached of its moral distinctions, turned neutral, value-free, and non-judgmental.  When that happens, moral discourse becomes difficult, moral distinctions impossible and moral debate incomprehensible.  Abortion is simply “termination of pregnancy”; the moral equivalent of say, removing a tumor.  Homosexuality is merely a “sexual preference.”  If a person’s sexual identity is as much a matter of taste as say, hair color, then why do people still get upset over two men dancing together at Disneyland?  There is a fuss because there is a difference.  One can understand neither with language that refuses to make distinctions.  Economist Thomas Sowell put it this way: the inability to make moral distinctions is the AIDS of the intellectuals: an acquired immune deficiency syndrome.  It certainly is not inborn.  Children can make elementary distinctions between say, threatener and threatened.  Moral blindness of this caliber requires practice.  It has to be learned.”

So what is James’ point? We are not to judge critically, with evil intent, with an arrogant pride because those attitudes destroy the community and the body life and create division and factions. None of these motives please or honor God and the one who demonstrates them is not seeking God but is opposing God. Always remember friends, context is king!

In verse 13-16 James encourages his readers to understand life is fleeting. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Indeed, we are not guaranteed the next heartbeat or the next breath of air. This truth was illustrated in a very sad event that occurred just a couple of days ago here in Lima. A husband and wife, who both loved the Lord and had spent their adult lives serving God, went to sleep, no doubt having thoughts about what they would do the next day. At approximately 1:30 am that night a pickup truck ran a stop sign and barreled into their bedroom and killed them both in their bed.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson famously said, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” The Bible has a lot to say on this subject. Here are a few verses.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13

The point that James is highlighting here is that of self-reliance that knowingly or not leaves God out of the picture. That is why we see him write in verse 15 that instead of self-reliance and arrogance demonstrated through boasting, Christians should always qualify their plans by submitting to the will of God. “If God wills” means if the Lord leads me in that direction. That can only be ascertained through prayer and seeking the mind of the Lord for all things.

James identifies self-reliance as evil in verse 16. That certainly flies in the face of modern thinking doesn’t it? If you name of the name of Christ then doing things apart from the Father’s will for you, which is what “knowing the right thing to do” is in verse 17 James says is sin.

I think we are studying through the book of James at the perfect time. There is a great need for a spiritual awakening in America right now. Part and parcel of the needed awakening is a complete mindset change from what our materialism affords us to do, with what is the Father’s desire for us to do. The fields are whiter than they have ever been. We must be in those fields right now with answers to the questions that despair and fear have raised.

We will continue our study in James next week.
Pastor Mike