Series > James: The Wisdom of Faith
The Wisdom of Enmity
Ryan TOmpkins // FEBruary 17, 2019
scripture Passage // James 4:1–12 (ESV)
“ 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 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. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
"What causes fights and quarrels among you" is the question that we posed to the kids and it's the question that we might pose to ourselves. It's a question that James is posing to the churches to whom he writes. Now, all along in James as we've been going through it, James has given us plenty of hints that there are a lot of fights and quarrels going on in the churches to whom he writes, but when he begins chapter 4, he takes that issue up directly and tells the churches that it's because their passions have been misplaced, because their passions are invested in the wrong places, and they're loving things more than they're loving God. It's causing frustration to build in the church and ultimately is causing conflict.
James says not only is that a very destructive way to live, but he also shows us a better way to live directing our passions. It's really just two sides or two points today. James spends the first part of this passage talking about wrong passion or misdirected passion. Then he spends the second half talking about right passion. So we're going to ask of both what is it, what's wrong passion, what's right passion, how do we recognize it, and how do we put away one and then take on the other.
So first, let's consider wrong passion. As James asks what causes fights and quarrels among the people. Again, he answers in verse 2, "You desire and do not have so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask." Now, a number of things can be said about ... We need to make a number of observations about verses 1 and 2, but just so we're all thinking on the same page, James is talking about passions that are somewhat sorted. We're not talking about simply loving aspects of this earth or this world. Right? This is God's good creation. There's plenty to be loved here. There's plenty to be celebrated.
James is talking about something more significant. In fact, the word passions there that he uses indicates really loves that have been misplaced, invested in the wrong thing or too much love invested in something that is good but loved too much. Right? We often define sin here as loving the wrong thing or loving a good thing too much. Either way steals the love that you have that should be going to God and directs it in the wrong direction. These are the passions that James is talking about.
He says that these passions result in fights and quarrels and ultimately murder. Now, I imagine that some of you might be sitting here saying "Well I'm not murdering anybody. I'm doing a lot better than the jokers to whom James is writing," but this is almost assuredly an exaggeration to make a point. In the same way that Jesus will say that if you get angry at a person and you call that person a fool or an idiot, you're guilty of murder, James is saying that if you fight and quarrel and become consumed by your passions, your misdirected passions, then you will be guilty of murder.
So it's these passions that when we get consumed with something that we wish we could have but can't really obtain it. For me, this was easily demonstrated growing up. I had a good friend. In fact, I had one particular good friend. His name was Wes. We were really tied at the hip for all of middle school and for high school. Wes was the life of a party. He was hysterical. He was always center stage whenever a group got together, and people just gravitated to him. I was always envious. I always desired to have more of Wes's ability to be popular with a crowd. That's not who I am, and I've never been described as the life of a party. So I would watch Wes and think, "Man, I wish I had more of that."
So over time, that desire would grow. I would covet something that I could not obtain, and there were times where that as the frustration grows, the animosity grows. As the animosity grows, then there's some lashing out. Right? From time to time, we would fight and those fights were certainly generated at various points in time by my desire, my passion to have what I could not possess. This is what James is describing that's going on in the church and causing divisions. Rather than the people being content with who they are and being content with God's love, they are trying to ... They desperately desire to have what they cannot obtain.
So this passion is sorted and James tells us that it's what causes lots of fights and quarrels, fights not only with my friend Wes but certainly you see this happening at times in your marriage. Right? Jennifer and I have fought about everything over the years, right? But one of our more common disagreements is over driving. I do most of the driving in the family, but that doesn't prevent Jennifer from having lots to say about my driving when we're in the car together. I don't usually take kindly to being critiqued. Now, it's fair. I'm not a great driver, but I get tired of hearing an evaluation of my driving when we're on the road.
This would come up earlier in marriage, but there was one trip in particular and it was "You're going too fast. You're breaking too late. You're not paying attention." So on and so forth. "You're following too close." It was going on and on, and finally I just said ... We got into a row and I said "Enough. I don't want to hear it." She got very quiet and on this particular trip -- she loves to bring this story up -- we were driving from New York to Philadelphia. When you drive from New York to Philadelphia, you either have to exit at the north side of Philadelphia or you have to really wait until the south side of Philadelphia. If you miss the first exit, it's about 45 minutes with no traffic and usually there's lots of traffic to get around the bottom of the city and come up the other way. She remained silent while I drove past that first exit to teach me a lesson, and we spent an hour and 20 minutes getting all the way around Philadelphia and back to our house.
But why did that become a fight? Now, was I simply upset with the words Jennifer was saying? No. I have passions to be thought of as competent. I have a desire to think I've got things under control. I've got ... I want to be seen as a good driver, and all of Jennifer's words are chipping away at that as we're driving. So my frustration and animosity grows and ultimately I lash out as a result of that. Why? Because her words were affecting my misplaced passions. Right? Rather than simply saying "You're right on almost every case. I'll slow down or I'll back up," it became an issue because she was directly affecting where I wanted my passions to lie and saying that that's not a healthy place for them to lie by raising those issues.
Now, this is what's going on in the church and causing all kinds of struggle and strife. James will even go on in verse 3 to say, "You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions." In other words, James is saying, "Listen. You've got these passions that are misplaced, and you're fighting each other because you just keep desiring, coveting what you cannot obtain. You do ask for such things, but you're asking with completely wrong motives." In other words, you're just asking for what your passions desire.
I thought, "Goodness. Boy, that sounds like prayer today." You ever listen to people pray? "Fix this. Heal that. Do this for me. Put ... Give me a right job, good family. Make my kids great. Prevent any suffering and danger." On and on and on. It's all about our self, our desire, our passion very often. It's funny. When you look at the prayers in the New Testament of which there aren't a great many, but when you look at them, none of them are anything like that. You might think of the Prayer of Jesus when he realizes that he's going to the cross and says "Father, if possible, take this cup from me, but not my will be done. Yours be done." How often do we pray that? Not my will be done, but your will be done. I would bet you that we spend 90% of our time praying for our will to be done rather than the Father's to be done.
Or the church in Acts in chapter 4, persecution is started, the church is getting beat up, Peter's thrown in jail, and they pray. What do they pray? They thank God for the opportunity to suffer and they pray for the boldness to stand up under it. They don't ask for it to be alleviated. They don't ask for the suffering and persecution to go away. They simply ask ... They presume that God's will is being done and ask for the faithfulness to honor God in the midst of that situation. Those are prayers in which our passions ... You see the difference when we pray and it's only a laundry list of what we want. Our passions are directed toward ourself, but when we pray and ask that God's will be done and that we remain faithful in the midst of what we encounter, our passions are being directed toward God. This is what James is taking up with the group.
Now, in verse 4, James gets even more serious about this issue. He says, "We've been talking about you coveting and not being able to obtain and these passions corrupting you to a certain extent." But now in verse 4, what does he say? "You adulterous people." In other words, he says, "If you keep spending your love on things other than God, realize that you're an adulterous people." Now, boys and girls, you hear the word adultery sometimes and adultery is when you have a husband and a wife and one of them share kisses with someone else. That shouldn't happen in the context of marriage, but sometimes it does and it's an important word because it's the word more used than any other word to describe sin in the bible.
What God is saying, what James is saying is that, when we love something other than God, we're flirting. We're sharing kisses with something that we shouldn't share it with because the best of our love and the first of our love should always be directed toward God. That's why James can call them an adulterous people. James uses such strong language here. If you look with me after "You adulterous people" in verse 4, "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." Goodness.
Now, remember. We're not saying that you can't love things in this world. It's God's good creation. We're talking about loving something that isn't good or healthy or loving a good thing too much that you desire it more than you desire being faithful with God. When you go down that road not only is James saying you're an adulterer, but he's saying you actually make yourself an enemy of God. You choose to create enmity between yourself and God as a result of exercising these passions in the wrong direction. You begin assorted friendship with things that are outside of the friendship that you should be having with God. So the point I'm trying to make is realize what's at stake. If you decide to go down a road in which you pursue your passions in a way that draws you away from God, you're sacrificing friendship with God in order to have the thing that you desire. Is that thing really worth sacrificing friendship with God?
James gives us a picture of how this is playing out in the church if you look down in verses 11 and 12. "Do not speak evil against..." Of course they're speaking evil against one another. "The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks evil against the law and judges the law, but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge." In other words, what James is saying is people that are longing to have something, their passions, desire something that someone else has and to cut them down, they're starting to use the law of God to critique them.
So if you remember the children's lesson, if I'm very jealous of Mr. Camp's fitness and I decide that I'm going to start using the law to point out "Mr. Camp, you really are not living out the Sermon on the Mount," I'm starting to critique him and cut him down using Scripture to do it in order that I might be built up and feel better about my frustration because I can't obtain what he has. It's a terrible use of Scripture and one that James says absolutely backfires on the individual who tries to employ such means, that they actually will be judged by the very law that they try to act as a judge over.
So if we just pause for a minute and talk about wrong passion, what an ugly picture. Right? We're talking about passions, this desire to have something that I can't obtain and it builds up animosity and, as a result of that animosity and frustration, I lash out. It's going to cause fights and quarrels. It's really a problem when it causes fights and quarrels in the church. Not only does it cause fights and quarrels, but as a result of everything that's going on, I'm an adulterer because I'm loving something more than God. As a result of that, I'm now an enemy of God. I've created enmity between Himself and myself and have chosen to go down that road. Who wants to live like that? We choose that road all the time, but when James lays it out like that, what a miserable road. There's got to be a better way to live.
Of course, James offers that to us as he talks about what right passion looks like. We see that in verses 6 and 7. Just when you thought all hope was lost, James writes, "But He gives more grace. Therefore," it said, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." James is inviting the people to whom he writes to repent. Friends, it is never ever ever ever too late to repent. Many of us have besetting sins to which we return to over and over again. Every time you return to it is the best time to repent again. God gives grace. His grace is abundant and He opposes the proud, those who won't repent or those who think that they can handle it themselves, but those who humble themselves before Him He extends grace to.
One of the most beautiful promises in the Scripture is this notion that, if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you. God doesn't owe that to you. He doesn't have to draw near to you, but the living God extends this invitation that's "If you'd humble yourself and repent, if you'd draw near to me, then in response I will draw near to you." James says what's involved in this basically is submission, submitting to God as God. Well what does that entail? James says there's two aspects of proper submission to God. The first aspect comes in verse 7. "Submit yourselves therefore to God," and here's the first aspect. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Resist the devil and he will flee from you. So if I'm going to be serious about submitting to God, the first thing that I need to do is be serious about resisting the devil.
Now, the devil loves to devour you. The devil loves nothing more than to see you undone, would delight for your passions to be put in the wrong place. Right? He's prowling for you, but God does not allow his power to go unchecked. He says "If you resist him, then he will be required ultimately to flee from you." So that tells me that "Okay. If going to be serious about submitting to God, that means I'm going to take sin serious or resisting temptation seriously and that's going to require work." I've got to put myself in a place where I'm reminding myself to be wary, to be conscious, that the devil is actually going to be tempting me and I have to work at avoiding that temptation and resisting when it does and understanding that, if I resist, ultimately he will flee.
Paul says something very similar in 1 Corinthians 10 that no temptation has overcome you except which is common demand. Right? God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability. Now, I don't know about you, but over the years there are a number of times where I've said to myself "You know this temptation is just too great. God doesn't seem to be showing up. I don't see any way of escape, and I'm really tired. So I'm just going to give into this temptation." Even in saying something like that, what am I doing? I'm placing the blame upon God, not taking responsibility for the sin that I'm engaged in. Right? The only problem with that is that it's not a biblical statement at all. It's a made-up notion to make myself feel better. The biblical notion is that no, there's no temptation that actually is irresistible. God is not going to allow a temptation to come upon you which is completely irresistible and if you do resist, the devil will flee from you.
So if I'm going to be serious about submitting to God, I need to be serious about resisting that temptation. Now, that's just the first part of submission. The second part of submission comes in verse 8. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." So the first part of submission is resisting the devil. The second part is drawing near to God, and we have that beautiful promise that He will draw near to you in response.
What James does from there is he goes on and uses language that makes it pretty obvious that the churches to whom he's writing, they're not taking their sins seriously. They don't think it's a big deal because notice what he's telling them is true of them. Right? "Cleanse your hands. Your hands are dirty. You're sinners. Purify your hearts. You're actually double-minded people." If you took your sins seriously, this is what it would look like in verse 9. "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Your laughter should be mourning and your joy gloom." Well that tells me if I'm submitting to God, I have to take my sin a lot more seriously.
We have this notion that Americans are addicted to happiness to begin with. Right? Anything to avoid any kind of suffering and pain and to enjoy pleasure and to keep ourselves thinking about anything serious, but there's also that notion ... It kind of takes a form in the American church in which we think "Oh, I believe in Jesus so it's just joy, joy, joy." Not so. To submit to God truly and properly is to take sin seriously. When we take sin seriously, what does that look like? It looks like weeping and mourning and laughter and joy being turned to a certain gloom, a certain real presence of remorse, of putting on a proverbial sack cloth and ashes like in the Old Testament communicating that you're really sorry for sin and really desire to repent from that sin in order to draw near to God.
This is what submission to God looks like, and when we do this, our passions become rightly ordered. If I'm busy resisting the devil and I'm busy focusing my passion upon God by drawing near to Him and enjoying His presence as He draws near to me, then you know what? I'm really not that concerned that Mr. Camp is more fit than I am, I'm not that concerned that Mr. Huntley has a better head of hair than I am, and I'm not that concerned that Mr. Fuqua has musical gifts that I don't. In fact, I can celebrate all those things because I'm not sitting her coveting what I can't obtain. Instead, I'm characterized by those two forms of submission to God of resisting the kind of temptation and drawing near to God and enjoying His presence.
What is the benefit of that? Well it is great in every way. You can all probably think of a Christian that you respect, someone who's very serious about their faith and their discipleship, and I will almost guarantee you that that individual enjoys and exhibits a peace and a contentment and a lack of anxiety that transcends all of their circumstances. Why? Because they've trained themselves to live a life that is in submission to God, and as a result, verse 10. "Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you." Again, what a remarkable statement. Why would God bother with any of us but in His love. Those who humble themselves before Him, those who submit, He will exalt. What passion could you pursue, what thing that you covet if you obtained it would even possibly compare in the wildest imagination to being exalted by the living God? Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.
Father, your grace at times is overwhelming. We thank you this morning that you are a God who invites us to draw near and not only invites us to draw near but in our drawing near, you draw near to us. That is the most precious gift that could be given. So we ask this morning as we draw near to you at your table that you would indeed draw near to us, that you would encourage us and nourish us, that you would help us to walk forth from this table having received the gift of your body and blood in such a way that we would be eager to submit to you, to practice resisting the devil and to practice drawing near. We ask for your grace in this. In Christ's name, amen.