The James's epistle often gets a raw deal from scholars.
For Luther it was a strawy epistle, James D.G. Dunn once described it as as "the most undistinctively Christian document in the New Testament."
And George Eldon Ladd writes: ‘There is an additional wealth of material in James about practical Christian living, but it hardly demands the attention of the theologian’. As if theology can be divorced from life!
And yet as we have seen there is certainly more than straw here – James is writing to Christians dispersed around the globe in the hope that they will become mature in all that the say and do, and to be single-minded about their faith.
This section is about pride and humility.
A bishop, a vicar and a street person were in a Bristol cathedral.
The bishop approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!" Then the vicar approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!"
The humble street person was moved to imitate the bishop and the vicar, so she approached the altar rail, beat on her chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!"
The vicar turned furiously and hissed into the bishop's ear, "Who the heck does she think she is?"
Humility - it’s so difficult when you are as modest as I am. Have you seen my latest book, 12 humble men and how I trained the other 11? I’ll be signing copies later.
This section follows on from chapter 3 – the need for peace.
The Bible wasn’t written split up into chapters and verses – the system in use today was first devised by an ABp of Canterbury Stephen Langton in 1227 and was popularised in the Wycliffe Bible in the late 1382. For the most part they do a good job in enabling us to navigate through the Bible, but they can sometimes cut across the thrust and arguments of the passages.
This is the case here – verse 1 follows on from the argument developed at the end of chapter 3.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
The key here is peace makers, we are not just peace keepers, as Churchill said "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last." We need peace makers, those who are not afraid to confront and admonish, rather than sweep things under the carpet. The problem of sweeping things under the carpet is that it gets difficult to walk round all the lumps.
To be peace makers we have to confront and deal with fights and quarrels – and this is what James helps us to do.
James 4:1 ¶ What causes fights [wars] and quarrels [battles] among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
James poses yet another rhetorical question.
These two nouns (polemoi and machai) were normally used of national warfare, but they had also become common, forceful expressions for any kind of open antagonism.
He is not thinking of healthy disagreements here.
So, what does cause quarrels and fights? James is wise enough to know that although many arguments are about little things, like who used the last piece of toilet paper and didn’t replace it or who squeezed the wrong end of the toothpaste, these are not the issues – the issues are what lies behind them.
Think about the last few arguments that you had – what were at the root of it?
Arguments come from inside us: desires that battle within us.
One of these desires is the desire to have: materialism. We have believed the world’s lie that more will bring happiness.
James 4:2 You want something [this is not strong enough] but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. [Actually kill and covet] You do not have, because you do not ask God.
The structure of this verse is:
You want and do not have: (so) you murder.
And you covet and cannot obtain: (so) you quarrel and fight.
They were coveting and fighting rather than praying – what is it that keeps us from praying?
James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
We become self-focused rather than other focused. It’s a question of faults and needs.
Too often we focus on our needs and the others faults – really it should be the other way round. Look at our own faults and others needs.
Surprisingly, James seems to be implying that prayers are not always answered! We can pray wrongly.
How were they praying wrongly?
They were asking from the wrong motives: the motives of want and lusts.
What are the right motives? To bring glory to God.
How else can we pray wrongly?
With unforgiveness and resentment
Mt 6:12, 15; Mk 11:25
With unconfessed sin
Ps 6:18; Is 59:2
With unbelief and doubt
James 1:6 Mk 11:23
1 Peter 3: 7
Mt 18:19 need to agree, harmonise – can’t if have wrong attitude to others
With idolatry – putting anything before the Lord, even legitimate things like the family or our children!
Ezek 14:1 The Lord is a jealous God
1 Jn 3: 21f obey and receive, implies that if we disobey we won’t.
So, how should we pray:
To the father
In the name of Jesus
Empowered by the Holy Spirit
With perseverance and patience
In the will of God
In submission to and dependence upon God
And at all times
But that’s another sermon!
James 4:4 ¶ You adulterous people, [fem = adulteresses; church is the bride of Christ; Israel – bride cf Hosea] don’t you know that friendship with the world [kosmos; system of evil controlled by the devil] is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God [the world’s set of values]
These quarrels and fights were coming from moving in the wrong direction. Our direction needs to be towards God and not the world and the devil.
Many Christians when they read about the world in scripture have a negative view; something like this image springs to mind. We try to escape the world and get to heaven.
However, that’s not a biblical view – it is a pagan Greek view.
The issue here is what has been called structure and direction. The world is good, God made it and he loves it; however it is fallen. The issue now is one of direction – which way do we want to live God-ward or other-ward? We are in the world, taking our part in redeeming and restoring it, or of the world, ‘enjoying’ the sinful aspects of it? We have to go against the flow – we have to swim against the stream - and face the consequences.
This video clip illustrates it very well.
James 4:5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? [Difficult verse to translate = “that God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us.”]
This has been described as ‘one of the most problematic verses in the letter’
There is no obvious OT reference; though he may well have in mind the theme or tenure of the Scriptures.
Is the reference here to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit?
Does it mean our nature is to envy?
Or does it mean that God longs for His Spirit to live in us and for us to be controlled by his Spirit? He wants a total allegiance – that the lordship of Jesus is manifested in every area and aspect of our own lives – in all that we say and do.
Controlled and directed by God rather than the world.
God’s grace is the key.
We can’t do it in our own strength, in our own resources, don’t let pride stand in the way.
Pride is thinking we can do it ourselves.
How can we then? Grace!
There is nothing we can do that will make us more acceptable to God – it doesn’t matter how many Bible verses we memorise, how many Alpha course we do, how many hours we spend a week in prayer, how much we fast, how many times we come to church, how many Christian books we read…
It’s all about grace!
James 4:6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes [resists = antitasso] the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
What we need is more grace- we need a revelation of the grace of God.
We need to realise we can’t do it in our own strength.
We can’t even control our own tongues.
It’s not by might …. It’s not by power … but by my Spirit , says the Lord. (Zech)
James goes on to look at the cures for arguments
He gives everal imperatives or commands:
Submit to God and resist the devil
James 4:7 ¶ Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist [anthistemi] the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come to God
James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.
The Devil flees from us and God comes to us.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Hands = what we do, heart our motivation, desires etc, but is also form the heart comes the words that we speak.
Double-minded as in 1:8.
James wants an authentic Christian faith. The Lordship of Christ expressed in all that we do.
James 4:9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humility is the antidote to pride
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
We go down, God lifts us up
James 4:11 ¶ Brothers, do not slander [speak against = katalaleo καταλαλεῖτε] one another. Anyone who speaks against [καταλαλῶν] his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbour?
By slandering, speaking against someone, we set ourselves up as a judge. Here again James emphasises the law and judgement again – some same themes keep coming up.
What is judging? It is setting self up as the standard by which all should be measured. It sets ourselves in the place of God – he is the only judge. By slandering we usurp his place.
I used to know all there was about bringing up children, I could see all the things other parents were doing wrong. That was until I had my own kids! It’s easy to judge when we know nothing, when we don’t have to put it into practice.
We need to evaluate by God’s standards not our own or others. As George Stulac says :‘Talk to each other, not about each other’.
‘Grace-reliance is the most far-reaching, life-changing, radical stance we need to learn’. George M. Stulac James IVP