What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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. 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"? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 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. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 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. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?
It is good and pleasant when brothers live together in unity (Psalm 133:1). Then they can read from the same Bible, sing from the same hymn book, be under the same Master, be under one baptism, partaking of one holy food, and that finally are headed to the same kingdom, the same home. Sadly, more often they don’t. Biblical history shows this too clearly, for example;
a. Lot quarrelled with Abraham
b. Absalom created a war with his father David
c. The disciples of Jesus argued over who would be greatest
d. Paul and Barnabas had great contention over John Mark
We know that even churches in the New Testament often had problems. For example, in Corinth, brethren were taking each other to civil law courts and were competing in the public assemblies. In Galatia, brethren were “biting and devouring” one another. Even Philippi, was not spared either because two women, Euodia and Syntyche could not agree with each other. In fact, the purpose of Paul’s letter to Philemon was to restore a broken relationship between a master and his slave.
1. WHAT PREVENTS A GOOD WALK WITH GOD? (vv.1-4)
Pastor James steps back and gives a diagnosis of the condition – What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? He provides three big problems that causes problems amongst believers:
a) Strife (vv.1-2a)
What is worse than a divided church? Is there anything sadder than a church that has strife? Where else would be the people go for peace? Yet, Pastor James of strife in the church composed of brothers and he is saying that the two do not really exist together. So he asked this question. Quarrels and fights are products of strife. Hatred that leads to murder is the fruit of strife.
Here was a divided church, with ‘wars’ and ‘fights’. Hostility characterized by outbursts of anger, hatred, perhaps even malice among them! This in the church of Christ?
But, what was feeding this strife? Evidently, it is selfishness. People gathered together for all the wrong reasons. Each wanted to be first Each sought his own good, instead of the common good of all. A spirit of ‘Diotrephes’ who sought the pre-eminence had arrested them, and they were singing his song. Out of this hatred, they fought and quarreled and eventually, they coveted and murdered. This is how Roger Ellsworth puts it:
How can such a church advance the cause of Christ? It can’t. A church filled with anger and strife refutes its own message. It says to unbelievers, ‘Come to Christ, and he will change your life.’ And the unbelievers all around laugh and say, ‘Why is it that he has not changed you?’
b) Prayerlessness (vv. 2b-3)
Do you see a Christian who does not pray? There is more hope for Balaam than for him! Because then his heart is filled up with covetousness of the wrong things, wanting to gratify ungodly appetites. Instead of seeking the glory of God, many would choose their own selfish gratification. And so Pastor James has a problem with their prayer life or lack of it. He says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (vv.2b-3)
One of the most common questions among Christians is to do with unanswered prayers. Yet, what should concern us more is failure to ask, failure in prayer. Why do you not pray? I know that people are not praying when I look at the few who are actively involved in the prayer meetings in this church. I beg you by the mercies of God to pray. Has the Lord not promised in Luke 11:9-13,
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
However, if you, out of your pride come to church for your private gratification, looking to Christ like the ATM to deal with all your selfish desires and passions, then you will be the most disappointed. But, if on the other hand you come to church to seek first the glory of God, the kingdom of God and it’s righteousness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, panting for the Lord like a deer, then you will not only be filled and edified, but also God will be glorified. And what is better than that?
How much priority do you give to prayer? But what sort of prayers do you offer? Do you offer those prayers that are only meant to make your life more comfortable, and convenient? Do you really show that your greatest concern in prayer is the glory of God and the good of His people? How do you in prayer show that you love God with the whole of your heart, soul, mind and strength and your your neighbours as yourself?
Pastor James is a pretty forthright pastor – notice what he calls his readership - ‘you adulterous people’! Then he does not mince his words, 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.
This is how the Old Testament prophets spoke. This was the constant indictment of the Israelites by God. The nation of Israel was known by God to be both idolatrous and therefore adulterous for departing their God for other gods. James in the same way says that these people, even though brothers, were giving someone or something else the love and devotion that only and only God deserve. Who was the rival lover? It is was the world!
What is the world that he is talking about? He is talking about living as if God does not exist, no regard for God, either for His commands or His promises. The world has it’s own view, the worldview, which has values, desires and ambitions that have no eternal perspective. When a Christian begins to think like the world; to act like all there is here and now; dressing to attract the world; speaking like the one whose heart and mouth have not been regenerated, then he has become worldly. Mr. Worldly wise will be known by his manner of speaking, dressing, desires, and actions. The worldly fruit, just like the fruit of the Spirit is unmistakable.
But can a Christian slip or slide into worldliness ever? Of course! This is the whole point of this diagnosis. James is scolding these brethren of the twelve tribes of the Dispersion (1:1), because they had begun to imbibe the world and were now becoming worldly. This slip is only a temporary one, and not habitual but if it becomes a permanent or even habitual, then the person is deceived in thinking that he is a saint.
2. WHY CHRISTIANS MUST NOT WALK WITHOUT GOD
a) God’s Spirit indwells believers (v.5)
James asks the question, ‘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"?’ and what he is saying is, you seem to be succeeding in befriending the world and creating enmity and hostility with God. But do you notice your audacity/brazenness – Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says… While James is not quoting a specific passage of Scripture, yet the concept of God’s jealousy for His people is all over the pages of Scripture.
He then moves on to pose a challenge. You have been feeding your jealousy in worldliness, but do you understand the jealousy of God for you, having put His own and very Spirit to dwell all believers including myself? Undoubtedly, there is real Jealousy of God for His people which John Blanchard describes as:
i) It is intense jealousy
ii) It is infinite jealousy
iii) It is intimate jealousy
God created mankind with a ‘spirit’ but in this case James is not speaking of human spirit but of God’s own Spirit who ‘indwells’ believers. The Spirit who God has given us, causes even our own spirit to have a reciprocal desire and longing for God. It is unnatural that any human being would not long for God.
b) God’s grace (v.6)
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Thankfully, human rebellion does not stop God from giving His grace. How is this grace given? – But he gives more grace so that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5:20-21).
God gives grace upon grace to us. He gives common grace to all, unbelievers and believers alike. This is the grace that restrains evil in the world so that sinners do not self-destruct in their wickedness. But God gives covenant grace, which brings salvation to all His people. Moreover, God gives continuing grace to His people so that they remain in the love of Christ in salvation to the end, so that by grace we are what we are.
But, how is this grace governed? – Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." God’s resistance to the proud is obvious. Once again Blanchard has suggested four ways that God resists the proud:
i) Refusing to speak
ii) Ridiculing their schemes
iii) Ruining their success
iv) Removing their status
It not just that Lord resists the proud, it also that He rewards the humble with super-abounding grace. Grace will be extended to those who are humble, that is, those who come to the Lord with their poverty, and empty hands to receive from Him. While the proud are God’s enemies, the humble will receive blessings from the Lord.
3. HOW ARE WE TO WALK WITH THE LORD?
a) Submission to God – Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Christians are supposed to be those who are submissive to God in everything. But why are Christians expected to submit to God? Because God is the Sovereign Lord to whom all submission is due. We owe allegiance to earthly kings and rulers, shall we not submit and obey the Lord and so have a close communion with Him? A close walk with the Lord is promised to those who obey the Lord in His word. In fact the way to show humility is to obey the word of the Lord. Moreover, when we understand the love of God to us, and the grace that He has given us, we have no choice but to submit to Him. For who else has blessed us as God? Who has given us His Son and His Spirit? Who has loved us with an everlasting love as to give Himself up for us but our Lord? Who else died our death, if it is not our Saviour, Christ?
Therefore we ought to submit to the Lord in His Word. Let us listen to His teachings to us and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save our souls. Moreover, we are to receive in submission His discipline for He disciplines those who He loves.
b) Resisting the devil - Resist the devil, and he will flee from you
How will we show our submissiveness to God as an indication of our desire to walk with Him? It is that we will resist the devil. What James is saying is that we should take an active defence in resisting both the devils arguments and attractions. We should know the devil for who he is – he is the father of all lies. He is a master of disguises.
But we are not ignorant of his wicked schemes and tactics. Positively we should put on the whole armour of God and take decisive actions and negatively we should reject any of his suggestions.
James goes on to show us the result of resisting the devil when he writes, “and he will flee from you.” When we are vigilant in prayer, in God’s whole armour, we are assured victory in Christ. Satan will be defeated by us just as our Master defeated him in Luke 4:13.
c) Repentance to God (vv.8-10)
This is the passage that shows that James’s primary purpose in this section is to bring us into a closer communion with God. this is why he begins with the general statement – draw near to God. Ultimately, the way to successfully resist the devil is by drawing near to God. Moreover, drawing near to God has the positive effect of God Himself drawing near to us.
But how do we actually draw near to God, but by repentance? We show our desire to walk with the Lord when we denounce any other relationship. Cleanse and purify are OT terms of ritual purity. The people that James was writing to were treating sin so casually as to even laugh at their sins – let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. It is terrible that a sinner can find pleasure in sin. So Thomas Manton, says, “Lord, if ever sin overcomes me, let it be a burden and not a pleasure. It is sad to rejoice to do evil. Pastor James is not just interested in the outward conformity of clean hands, he also wants to see transformed hearts and renewed minds.
In verse 10 he shows us how to cultivate humility. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. The principle of humility clearly shows that the repentance is both a serious and a permanent repentance. Humility before the Lord, means that, it is such humility which is not for human eye, but before God, in order to please Him.
Notice that if God is going to exalt or lift you, then you have to be willing to humble yourself. No one can do the humility for you – you have to do it yourself for it is a simple clear statement – humble yourself. It is the true mark of repentance to God.
d) To stop speaking evil of others (vv.11-12)
Christian walk with God, will be seen by the way you walk with others. This will be seen in seasoned speech. So we are commanded, ‘… brothers do not slander one another’. We need to consider that ill speech against another is wrong because:
a) Because it spoils any partnership and participation in the gospel. Slander makes one cease to be a brother. Or a neighbour, so that the relationships becomes that of a judge or a suspect!
b) Because it destroys the principles of the gospel. Slander judges the law of love as unjust!
c) Because of the of the divine prerogative it usurps
i) God’s authority – There is one Law-giver and Judge. God has not given us His law to give our opinion. He has given it so that we may keep it. The Law-giver is God and when we disdain His law then we disdain Him!
ii) God’s ability – God is the only One able to say and destroy. Eternal destinies of all men are in the hands of God.
d) Because of the presumption it shows. Let it be clear that we lack perfect information and personal integrity before casting any stone on anyone.
In conclusion, we are required to believe and live in the knowledge that we are absolutely incapable of doing any spiritual good to help ourselves, and that we are saved because God had mercy on us and sent his Son to die in our stead and his Holy Spirit to regenerate our dead hearts. We are supposed to love God above everything else. We are supposed to have a corporate desire for the worship of God and the service of God. This will be seen in how we relate with our neighbours and how we deal with sin in our own lives.