Related Scriptures: Ex. 30.17-21, Lev. 19.16-18, Deut. 30.19, Joshua 24.14-15, Ps 24.4, 73.13, Prov. 3.34, Mt. 23.12, 6.24, Lk. 18.14, 1 Peter 5.5-9
There are obvious actions of faith: evangelism and social justice. But putting faith in action also requires us to harness our tongue with godly conversations. Not only harnessing our conversations but transforming our attitudes about how we live our daily lives. We can no longer do what we want to do. Instead we are to relinquish our preferences for God’s will.
The section begins with two distinct words about conflict: one meaning war and one meaning battle, quarrel, strife. Our flesh is geared toward waging war, serving as a soldier. Again, James is clearly differentiating the godly life from the ungodly behavior. And, there continues to be a tension and conflict between the two worldviews (4.1). James points out that the source of conflict between the brethren stems from the natural cravings that war within our own lives (4.1). We possess lusts and pleasures that are bad for us and that negatively impact our friendship with our neighbor and especially our relationship with God. We are at war because of our passions – especially when it comes to making and spending money.
There is a longing for something that we cannot possess or that we want and do not have (4.2). There is jealousy for something you can’t get your hands on so you struggle to possess it (4.2). We lack the power to be successful. You fight over what is not yours to have. At the heart of the matter are impure motives and ill intentions (4.3). Greek linguists Rienecker and Rogers suggest that at the heart of this passage that believers are praying for the means to secure their own pleasure and enjoyment and to satisfy the lust within the fallen nature.
James very clearly explains that friendship with the world puts enmity between us and God (4.4). James calls those who act this way adulterous. He points out that our relationship with God is like a marriage that we must keep pure. Any seeking after worldly pleasures creates unfaithfulness between us and God himself. The word for friendship with the world implies loving and being loved by the world. Choosing frienship with the world that means we have put the world in some way in charge over us, and we have in some way put God under our feet. The question we have to ask ourselves: can we be friends with the world and friends with God?
Yet, God longs for our humility in faithfulness (4.5). When we think about enmity between God and his people, the first text that points to this tension in our relationship came in the garden of Eden. The first temptation and sin came because we gave into our appetite to take what was restricted. Enmity comes when we impose our will to take whether it is imposed by God or it belongs to another.
James inspires us to ponder the meaning of God’s Word: Does God not mean what he says, particularly in Scripture? Has the Word of God been written in vain? Why would God greatly desire to place his Spirit within us to dwell if not to replace the enmity between us? God gives abundant grace, favor, gratitude to us. God resists the proud – those who mock him, but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3.34). God resists a haughty spirit which is one who is arrogant, thinks more highly of oneself than they ought.
Our resolve needs to be submitting to God and resisting evil (4.7). In this passage James calls our attention to submission to God as his subject. God desires for each one of us to align our authority under his authority alone. There is an urgent feel to the text as the verb commands a quick response. There’s no doubt in the text. The writer is offering us an axiom: line up under God then take a stand against the devil, then evil will flee from you.
James continues with another axiom: draw near to God, cleanse and purify yourself from evil, and stop being double-minded. We are to come near to God and wash our hands of sinfulness (4.8). We are to purify our hearts when we wrestle between worldviews with impure motives, crying out to God in repentance (4.8). The text guides us to three separate actions: to suffer distress, to mourn, and to cry out loud. This grieving is not violent acts toward our self or others but an outward sign of the inward heartache that we have injured our relationship with God. James aims for the heart of the believer with this final axiom: repent to God by being miserable and feeling miserable with both inward heartache and outward tears in grief mourning that we have actually sinned against God. Ultimately, we are to suffer holy grief of inward and outward mourning that expresses itself in weeping when we stand at odds with God (4.9).
When we put our faith in action, being distressed over our sin is part of that response. We read in chapter one that there is a difference in the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God. We have heard that we are to think, talk, and walk the message of the Good News from where we sit outward into the world. We have heard that we are to watch how we speak, pay close attention to our behaviors, and choose whom we will serve whether it be the world around us and God Himself.
In chapter two we discovered two different worldviews that lead us two different directions. We have heard about how we are to show up and pay attention to the needs of the poor by reaching out to those who have less than us and bringing the Good News of the Gospel to those who have not heard it. In chapter three we stood together in the valley of decision between the blessings and the curses. We are to tame our tongue to conform with the Word of God. Now in chapter four James urges us to humble ourselves so that our inward and outward behavior comes under the authority of Almighty God.
We must humble ourselves before our God (4.10). We must stop saying evil things about one another (4.11). We must be careful not to criticize or insult one another or judge your brothers and sisters (4.12).
When we plan our own life without consulting God, then we are sinning. James warns each of us to honor God in how we choose to live our everyday life including our buying, selling, and making a profit (4.13). We really do not know what tomorrow will bring as life really is short (4.14-15). When we plan our lives, we are boasting and bragging about our own achievements (4.16). The hardest thing for you and I to hear in this text that it really is a sin when we know what is right, but we disregard doing it (4.17). I know when I was a kid I would tell my parents, “Well, everyone else is doing it. Why can’t I?” The tricky place for us to be is caught in-between with our self. Choosing can be a hard place to stand!
The choices you and I are given are very clearly in Scripture, but often times we opt out for grace. We desire to lean on grace rather than the courage of God’s Spirit within us. We should pray, “God give me more valor – courage and bravery – to say no to the things that tempt me to be double-minded.” The opposite to conflict is humility – meekness, lowly disposition, modest, and submissive. Humility leads us to relinquishing our rights to exercise our preferences. What we want becomes secondary to what others need.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5.21
Sin surely affects our relationship with God more than we understand. Why else would James write such a letter to the people called the church? At the root of our relational problems is conflict. But where does conflict come from? James offers us insights that we cannot avoid. It is our craving for pleasure, our self-indulgence, and our impure motives that lead us down the wrong pathway.
We in the church know a lot about Jesus and some of us put his teachings into practice in our everyday lives. Jesus said that people who practice his teachings are practicing holy wisdom. He said they are like a man who built his house on a rock. The storm comes, the rain falls, the wind blows, but their house stands firm because it is built upon the rock. Some of us who know a lot about Jesus and his teachings, fail to put his teachings into practice in our everyday lives. Jesus said those of us who fail to practice his teachings are foolish – like a foolish man who builds his house on sand. When the storm comes, the rain falls, and the wind blows, those who built their lives on unholy decision-making will loose their house. Their Spiritual home falls flat. Hear Jesus words from Matthew, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock … But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who builds his house on sand” (Mt. 7.24, 26).
The decision we have to make today is between practicing our faith in humility or suffering from too much pride that we fail to build our everyday lives around God’s holy wisdom. So when conflict comes, and it will, our choice is to take the high road. You’ve heard that old saying. Taking the high road means doing the right thing even when it’s not easy or you’re on the loosing team. In short taking the high road means living righteously. If someone has wronged you, taking the low road means seeking revenge or making someone pay for their actions that you didn’t agree with. Taking the high road means to forgive, ignore them, and not letting someone’s actions worry you.
Today we can choose to take the high road. Often its church, family and friends that cause us the most pain because they are the closest relationships. It’s easy to overlook the behaviors and words of someone we don’t know, but it’s hard when it’s someone you love and trust. May you have the courage today to take the high road to moral excellence in all you do!