Changing the Direction of Your Life
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” vs. 8
One of the things I love about our church is the openness and mutual love and concern we have for one another. It’s not that way in all churches and that’s a shame. In fact, I think disagreements, arguments, and church splits are occurring at an alarming rate and that really is puts the church in a bad light in the view of our communities. They see the church as a place of contention rather than an accepting and loving community. I did a little research. Can you name the top 5 issues of conflict in the church? I got this list from Thomas S. Rainer website which is dedicated to growing healthy churches. This report was put out in July 2014.
- Worship style
- Decision making – who makes the decisions
- Length of worship service
- How to deal with clergy and moral failure
- Worship service time change
Other notable things that are struggles in the church: volume, pastor’s salary, how big the church should be, attire, role of the Pastor’s wife and/or children.
It’s sad that these things occur but the reality is that they do and it affects the role of the believer. Some become disillusioned with their faith or even just disillusioned with the church and it has resulted in many who choose not to go to church. As we continue with our study of the book of James, he addresses this issue in chapter 4 verses 1-10. If you are able, please stand as this passage of God’s Word.
Read Passage – James 4:1-10
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Problems in the Church
James doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to this subject. He hits it right on. He wants our faith to be reflected in how we live. Here is the bottom line, if we want the world to change and to see Christ, it has to start with the church and what that means is that it has to start with each of us, individually. So he asks a question in verse 1a:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” vs.1a
The early church was used to fighting. They were constantly at odds with the Romans and unfortunately that attitude had spilled over into the church. They were so used to being in conflict that it carried over into he church to the point it was affecting their worship. Conflict can get so bad that it could bring the church to a standstill and cause it to become ineffective. James doesn’t list a specific incident of what was going on but he does tell us the problems they were dealing with:
-Selfishness “You desire but do not have…” vs. 2
First, selfishness. He says in verse 2: (read). Selfishness is wanting everything the way you want it. It’s not concerned with others or the whole but only about yourself. In fact, the very definition of selfishness is excessively concerned about only yourself.
-Cravings “You covet but you cannot get what you want…” vs. 2b
The second problem they had was that they coveted, he says in verse 2b: (read). Covet, that deep desire to want what others have and keep it all for yourself. You want it so bad you crave it and are not satisfied until you have it.
-Impure Motives “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with
wrong motives” vs. 3
And, the third problem, they had impure motives, verse 3: (read). Now get this, the impure motives were directed at God. Oh they asked, but they were in a sense deceiving God only to get things for themselves.
Ex. The way that the world sees the church as only out for money.
Does this sound like the kind of church you want to belong to? Probably not.
Looking Like the World
You might be wondering why James makes this jump from chapter 3 about the use of our words to this issue within the church. It’s pretty simple, we use our words to fight and quarrel and to put down others while at the same time build ourselves up. I asked a question: Is this the kind of church you want to belong to? The obvious answer is “no.” The reason behind the question is when we act this way, when we take on these traits of fighting, quarreling and only wanting our way, we are looking like the world.
Ex. Current elections happening on national and local levels are full of fighting, back biting, name calling, and candidates telling us their way is the best way. I’ve heard many people say they don’t know who to vote for or possibly not even wanting to vote. We should vote.
But we don’t want people to look at the church and not see that it’s different than the world. If it is not, they won’t see the love, peace, and hope that God offers. There is actually a tragic consequences to living this way; it comes in verse 5:
“Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” vs. 5
This is hard to fathom but the reality is that when we are acting in these manners and the church is selfish, coveting, and living in impure motives, we are not that bride of Christ and the beauty and love of God, no we are in danger of being the enemy of God. Wow, what a drastic shift.
Changing the Direction of Your Life
So the challenge from James here is to change the direction of your life. To look and act differently than the world and to be so in love with God that the world would want to be in the church. Now I love this next verse, it has such a great message for us, verse 6:
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” vs. 6
You should circle “But he gives us more grace.” What an amazing thought. Despite ourselves, our selfish desires, despite our divisive ways, God operates on grace. Grace: the unmerited assistance and forgiveness of God. This changes the direction of our life. God’s grace causes you to want to live differently. James tells us what that look like in three different ways.
The first thing that we can do is submit to God. He says in verse 7a:
“Submit yourselves, then, to God.” vs. 7a
Many people don’t like the word submit. It carries a lot of negative connotations. The word for submit carries with it the full range intended by the term repentance. In fact, it actually has two aspects to it, to turn away, and then to humble yourself. So from what James mentioned earlier, we turn away from selfishness, coveting, and impure motives and then choose to humble ourselves by putting ourselves under God’s authority. I’ll be honest, this doesn’t come naturally to us. Submitting to god means we trust his plan, we choose to follow his word even though we might want something different, and we trust that his way is always the best way for us.
Ex. Jesus, his willingness to only do what the Father tells him to do and to be obedient, even to the point of death.
The thing about this is that it’s not a one time decision. You have to make this decision everyday. Jesus did and he tells us the same in Luke 9:23:
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Circle the word daily. I can tell you that you can make this decision one day and struggle with it again the next. But let me remind you what James tells us about this: But he gives us more grace. Grace says I can fail everyday and still be forgiven and loved and start all over.
The second thing we need to actively do is resist and he is specific in what we resist, the devil. Verse 7b:
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” vs. 7b
Notice he says that when we resist he will flee. This is not a maybe. He will flee. But I know I struggle with this because he doesn’t flee as quickly as I would like. And because he flees, doesn’t mean he won’t try and come back. Here is a great example of fleeing.
Ex. “Like many sheep ranchers in the West, Lexy Fowler has tried just about everything to stop crafty coyotes from killing her sheep. She has used odor sprays, electric fences, and ‘scare-coyotes.’ She has slept with her lambs during the summer and has placed battery-operated radios near them. She has corralled them at night, herded them at day. But the southern Montana rancher has lost scores of lambs—fifty last year alone.
“Then she discovered the llama—the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama. ’Llamas don’t appear to be afraid of anything,’ she said. ‘When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won’t have anything to do with that. Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take that opportunity away.’”
Barry McGee, Denver Post
Think about this as you consider resisting the devil; you don’t have to do it on your own. Not only do you not need to but in many ways you can’t on your own. But listen tot the promise of God that comes from 2 Peter 2:9:
“…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” 2 Peter 2:9a
Isn’t this awesome news? YEA! Here is the challenge in our attempts to resist: identify the areas you are trying to do it on your own. It’s in those areas that you will get attacked again and again and again. (Encourage people to write them down, find accountability partners, be open and honest with who you are not only to God but to yourself.)
- Come Near
And finally, the third thing you can choose to do is to come near to God, verse 8:
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” vs. 8
We must look at our lives and ask ourselves if we are living in a way that we willing put ourselves in a position to experience God in a more intimate way every day.
Ex. Think back to when you were dating or interested in someone. For me, I remember being interested in Claudia and I would purposely go places or hang out in places where I could see her and interact with her.
We have to be willing to put ourselves in places that we see, experience, and are interacting with God. Many times we live our lives and hope God shows up somewhere. No, we have to be proactive in including God in our lives.
Ex. Think about what you can do to draw near to God. It might be putting more Christian music in your life, or more Scripture, or prayer, etc. But realize it might not happen if you leave it to chance. Don’t over complicate it but make it a purposeful part of you day.
David says in Psalm 72:28:
“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Psalm 73:28
Don’t just include God, make him the place you run to, your refuge, your home base, and your strength. Make him your default (the place you turn to first).
Give God Room to Work
So James ends by encouraging us in the last verse of this passage, verse 10:
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” vs. 10
He says humble yourself. He ends by showing the stark contrast of those who are selfish, who covet, and who live with impure motives; the contrast is humility. The ways that bring problems are reckless and self seeking. Humility is having the control to realize that you can’t do it yourself but that God can. Notice the last phrase: “He will lift you up.” The bottom line is you don’t have to build yourself up, God will lift you up. That’s why God sent his Son, so you don’t have to be in a struggle of trying to prove yourself and earn his love. We willing accept the gift God gave us in his son and that changes who we are. We are no longer selfish, greedy and egocentric. This is who we are:
-Co-heirs with Christ
-A child of their King
-The bride of God
-Loved, cared for, and valued
Not because we demand it or earned it, but because of god’s great grace, we are lifted up and valued by God.