Thursday, January 25, 2024

2024.01.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 4:1–5

Read James 4:1–5

Questions from the Scripture text: What do believers have among themselves (James 4:1)? What question does v1 ask about these wars and fights? From what desires do these wars and fights come? Where do these desires war? What happens when we lose the war (James 4:2)? What happens to this lust? What else comes out of their heart? Resulting in what actions? But why don’t they have—what would have been the right way to obtain? When they do ask, what happens (James 4:3)? Why? What is amiss about their asking? What does James 4:4 suddenly call them? What is another name for putting our pleasures first? And what would this friendship with the world make us? With what does James 4:5 now back up this point? 

Why is strife so bad? James 4:1–5 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these five verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that strife exposes that we have placed desires not only above other people but above God. 

The closing section of chapter 3 strongly emphasized that a teacher in the church should not be a man given to strife: meekness, no bitterness, no envy, no self-seeking, purity, peace, gentleness, willing to yield, full of mercy, and then the double emphasis upon peace in James 3:18. Now, in James 4:1–5, we see why this is so important. Strife belongs to those who have put their own desires not only above other people, but above God Himself. 

Self-seeking against men. The wars and fights are coming among them (James 4:1a), because of desires to indulge themselves (verse 1b). This means that one battle as already been lost: the war within their members. There is a holy war within each believer, as the Spirit leads his new nature to war against the flesh and its remaining desires (cf. Galatians 5:16–18; Romans 8:13; Romans 6:11–14). So when we find in ourselves a quarreling and battling spirit against our brother, and find ourselves in actual quarrels and battles with our brother, we have already lost the first battle: the war within. 

And if we are losing that war within, we can expect things just to get worse if we indulge a hostile spirit toward our brother. In James 4:2, desire is joined by murderousness and covetousness, inwardly and outwardly, and yet the flesh continues to be unsatisfied. O miserable man who puts indulging himself above pleasing God and finding pleasure in God! And he makes others miserable as well. 

Self-seeking against God. But something worse is happening in the heart of the one who wishes to indulge himself—and not only in his heart but in his life. Whatever it is that he is battling others to have: control, credit, esteem, praise, influence, possessions, relationships, enjoyments… he isn’t bringing his desire to the One from Whom all things must come (end of James 4:2). Why not? Quite likely because the thing for which he is asking is something for which he would be rightly embarrassed to ask! Or, as in James 4:3, perhaps he is asking, but he should have been horrified to ask for such a thing or in such a way. 

It is a wicked, horrible thing to treat God as a means to our end. Will we, the creature, come to the Almighty and seek to indulge ourselves? Will we ask Him to accommodate the things that please us, rather than learning to desire things that please Him? Even for many good things, we might ask in this wretchedly wrong way. God give us grace by His Spirit, that not only would we desire good things according to His Word (and a good name, and even much in the way of earthly resources, are often good gifts from Him)… but that we would desire them because He has taught us that they are good. God give us grace to desire them that we might enjoy His goodness in them, and that we might employ them in His service and for His glory! 

Spiritual adultery. Now we are getting to the true vileness of the self-seeking and self-indulgence that is being expressed when believers are quarrelsome and contentious. We were created for the Lord. We were redeemed for the Lord. We were created and redeemed to find Him incomparably pleasant and satisfying, to see and receive all other goods as a part of enjoying Him and His goodness. But when anything in the cosmos (“world,” James 4:4James 4:5) becomes something that we use God to get by “prayer” (if such a prayer can even be called that), or something that we disregard God for altogether, then we are adulterers or adulteresses. 

God has given us the great covenant promise, “I will be your God, and you will be My people. ”He has put this covenant relationship into our mouths in the words of the song of songs, which is about the love of loves, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine, and His banner over me is love.” And now, after He has done that, will we find pleasure instead of Him or even apart from Him? Such love of the cosmos is adulterous and even enmity against God (end of James 4:4). 

The Spirit Who leads us in that battle in our members (James 4:1, cf. Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:16–18) is the Spirit Who pours out in our hearts God’s inexhaustible love to us (cf. Romans 5:5). And, in our hearts, He yearns jealously for the love between us and God (James 4:5). This is the love that is behind God’s demand in the second commandment (cf. Exodus 20:5), requiring that we have Him in His way, and not according to our own imaginings that find pleasure in something that is not actually Him. 

Are you miserable? Against whom are you most in danger of indulging hostility and even expressing it? How are you training your mind and heart to enjoy all good things as gifts from the Lord and employ them all in service to the Lord? 

Sample prayer: Lord, thank You for giving us every good and perfect gift. Forgive us for when we live to indulge ourselves. Forgive us for how this produces strife within Your dear bride, the Church. Forgive us for the adultery of desiring anything apart from You, enjoying anything apart from enjoying You, or doing anything apart from serving You. Grant that Your Spirit, Who pours out Your love into our hearts, would continue yearning jealously for the love between us and Yourself, we ask through Christ, AMEN! 

Suggested songs: ARP73C“Yet Constantly, I Am with You” or TPH73C “In Sweet Communion, LORD, with Thee”

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