Combatting Worldliness - James 4:1-10
Over the course of the last several weeks Rick and I have done half a dozen weddings. In each case it was a unique and moving time when two people declared their love, commitment and devotion to each other. Each was cause for celebration.
Imagine one of those weddings was yours. As vows are recited tears are shed. The promise to “give myself to you and you alone for the rest of our lives” is one spoken with the utmost sincerity. Life is good.
Now suppose over the course of the next months your spouse, while professing undying love, is unfaithful to you regularly and indiscriminately. Each time he or she comes home your mate declares their love once again. When you confront them with the disparity of their words and actions, they reply, “I don’t love any of them like I love you.” What do you do?
One of three things may happen. First, you say O.K. and live your life sharing your spouse with others even as you comfort yourself with the fact that they will always come home to you. This response indicates you have a problem. Second, you might pack up your things or those of your spouse and declare that since your definition of commitment and theirs are irreconcilable, the marriage is ended. Third, you might tell your spouse that he/she needs to make a choice: they must choose between you and all the others.
This is the context for understanding our text this morning.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? 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 the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
The Peril of Worldliness
In this text James charges the people with spiritual adultery. This is a familiar image in the prophets. Israel is frequently charged with being “unfaithful” or as those who are adulterous in their “marriage” to God. These people made a covenant (vow) that they would be His people and He would be their God. In this sense they were married. When Israel worshipped and served other gods they were being unfaithful to their vows.
When you and I turn to Jesus Christ and declare Him to be our Savior and Lord, we are in a sense entering into a marriage-like commitment. We declare that we are going to trust Christ alone for salvation and new life. James says when we then run after the way of the world we are committing spiritual adultery; we are being unfaithful to Him. And even though we return to the altar of God (or to church) each week to speak the “right words” (or sing moving choruses), God is not fooled. He is the offended partner and he tells us to make a choice.
What does it mean to be “friends with the world”? James is not saying we must not enjoy this world in which we live. He is not saying that we shouldn’t marvel at nature, enjoy food, or cherish our friends and family. This friendship with the world has to do with our values, passions and the way we view of life. Worldliness is when we are driven by the things of the world rather than the things of God. Let me try to “flesh this out” a little for you.
It is finding your deepest satisfaction in things that perish while giving little attention to that which lasts for eternity.
It is to want something in the world so badly that we are willing to do whatever it takes (i.e. sin) to get what we want. (This applies to churches who so desperately want a crowd that they are willing to water down the gospel and cater to the world to get that crowd).
It is to be religious on Sunday morning while giving no thought to the Lord in your daily practices. Though such people feel religious they are deceiving themselves.
It is to evaluate truth and error by the prevailing opinions of men rather than the unchanging Word of God. Just this week I heard a singer say he appreciated his southern Baptist roots but now had evolved to make up his own principles of life! In other words, he had replaced God’s truth with his own ideas. God calls such a person a fool.
It is leading the church by a market-driven mentality rather than a commitment to Scripture.
It is being more fervent in our devotion to a sport, television program, person, or hobby than we are to the Lord.
It is allowing our appearance, our conversation, and our values be determined by the world and not the Scriptures.
The list could go on and on but hopefully you get the idea. James says that those who live this way are enemies of God. Why?
The term “upgrade” is part of our vernacular. We use the term a great deal in technology. We upgrade our systems and our software by buying that which is better, more efficient and more capable than what we have. Living according to the standards of the world is not an upgrade, it is a down-grade. Think how silly it would be to go out and buy a computer that is older, slower, and able to do less than what you have right now. It would be foolish because it would make life harder rather than easier.
When we become friends with the world we are making life harder because we are down-grading. Friendship with the world makes us enemies of God because,
It is an assault to the Supremacy and Excellence of God when we choose anything over Him. It means we are making something else god in our lives.
It ridicules his sufficiency when we turn to the way of the world over His way. We are saying is God is not able to give us what we really need. Think about how you would feel if every time your spouse needed to buy groceries they went to the neighbor to ask for money. It would be humiliating.
It is a rebellion against His authority when we ignore His command to pursue the ways of the world. We are saying the wisdom of the world is superior to God.
It undermines His Lordship when we “cheat on Him” by pursuing that which draws us away from Him.
We need to hear this. We are constantly trying to have it both ways. We love the gadgets, the activity, the recognition and acceptance of the world. We want to fit in, get along, and be in the mainstream. We want to live like others. This attraction quickly turns to an adulterous relationship. We become controlled by the world rather than the Lord. James uses strong words: such actions make us enemies of God!
The Love/Jealousy of God
Verse 5 is a very difficult verse in James: “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” It is difficult for several reasons. First, James seems to be quoting Scripture. The problem is there is no verse in the Bible that says these words. Second, it is uncertain whether to read the word “spirit” as referring to our human spirit or the Holy Spirit. The result of these difficulties is a host of different translations. Even in the NIV there is a footnote that gives two other alternate translations. As you check the various translations of the Bible you will see a vast difference of opinion in how the verse should be translated.
The context leads me to believe the text is reminding us that God’s Spirit is a jealous Spirit. In the Ten Commandments we are told that God is a jealous God.
We think of jealousy as a bad thing. In reality jealousy is a natural companion to love. When my wife is getting a lot of attention from other men I am jealous because I love her and don’t want anyone coming between us. That is not a bad thing unless it becomes obsessive. God is jealous for us in the same way. He loves us with such a passion that He cannot bear to have our hearts turned away by other things. When we turn away from Him He resents the intrusion into our relationship with Him. God wants us to be devoted to Him because He is devoted to us. He wants us to be loyal to Him because He is loyal to us.
The Grace of God
The problem, I hope is self-evident. God calls us to live passionately for Him. He calls us to resist conformity with the world. He wants us to be true to our declaration and trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord. God wants these things from us (and is entitled to them) and we often fail. We get ensnared in pursuits and desires that do not honor Him. We find our values getting twisted . . . even to the point of being unable to distinguish between God’s will and the way of the world.
Notice the next words. James says, “he gives more grace”. This is not a grace that saves us. It is literally a “greater grace”. Even though, in response to our infidelity, God could toss us aside and not be at all unjust . . . He does not do that. He continues to reach out to us. He continues to pursue us through the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. He continues to invite us to follow Him more fully.
Pastor Kent Hughes writes of this great grace,
If to your alarm you find that you are repeatedly succumbing to a burning pursuit of hedonism, God will give you more grace if you ask. If you are a victim of an imploding self-centeredness which repeatedly sucks you into its nothingness, and you want deliverance, there is grace for the asking.
Perhaps you are so stubborn that you have never lost an argument. Perhaps you are such a knothead that you never listen to anyone. Now you find that your most intimate relationships are impaired, so that your spouse and friends find your presence a burden, but you want to change. God will give you more grace. If you have fed on cherished hatreds, but now see that the feast has really been the Devil’s feast and the main course your soul, and you want deliverance, he will give you more grace.
Perhaps your life has insurmountable obstacles. Perhaps a terminal disease. There is more grace. Or a loved one’s death. There is more grace. Or a shattering divorce. There is more grace. Or the bitter ashes of failure. There is more grace.
The point is this: no matter how much you and I have failed, all is not lost. God’s arms are still open. No matter how much we have wandered from Him and insulted Him with our lack of devotion, He continues to invite us to grow in Him.
The question is: how will you respond to this magnificent grace? Let’s go back to the adulterous relationship in marriage. If after all the hurt you inflicted your spouse extends undeserved grace and is willing to continue to work on the relationship you could see that as license to continue living an immoral life (and eventually end up on the curb). However the better response would be to become more devoted to this person who has shown you such great love.
It is the same with the Lord. Will you presume upon that grace and continue in your sinful ways or will you leave your foolish ways and run to His arms?
Next week we will look more specifically at the advice James gives for living a godly life. This morning, let me give you a couple of simple tips.
First, make sure of your salvation. It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that because we attend church, serve on some committees and spout certain words that we are true followers of Christ. That is a mistake. A true follower is one who has put their confidence and hope for this life and the next on Jesus. The true believer trusts Christ for forgiveness and eternal life (they trust Him as Savior) and they also trust Him to lead, direct, and provide for them in this life (they follow Him as Lord). The true believer follows Christ as Savior AND as Lord. Examine your own heart. Have you truly put your trust in Him or are you only toying with faith?
Second, remember what is at stake. Just as a couple needs to think about what they have to lose by tossing their marriage aside, so we must consider what we have to lose in running after the things of the world.
1. We will lose our joy in the Lord as we wander after the trifles the world has to offer
2. We will lose the sense of peace and strength that comes from walking with Him as we allow the world to gain a stranglehold on our lives
3. We will lose our reward for faithful service
4. We will stop reflecting the nature of Christ in our lives.
William Gurnall writes powerfully,
Do you think it eases the pain of the damned to count up the pleasures, profits, and carnal entertainment they got for their money on earth when they must pay for them through eternity with unspeakable torments? Surely it only deepens their agony to realize how cheaply they sold their souls and lost heaven – all because they decided the burden of practical holiness was a price to high to pay!
Very few people ever consider what is happening in eternity. They see sinners die every day in the middle of sin but do not think any more about them burning and roaring in hell than fish in the river wonder what happens to their fellows who are snatched by the dangling bait. Even though the captives are cast alive into the frying pan or boiling pot, their silly companions are ready to nibble at the very same hook.
There are eternal consequences for chasing the world rather than trusting the King. It is time to renew our sense of wonder at the greatness of God! He has snatched us from death and brought us to life. He is our Creator, Redeemer, Ruler, Judge, Comforter, Strength, Companion, and closest friend. We should follow Him enthusiastically.
Third, stop making excuses and repent. Our text reminds us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. Instead of justifying our acts (out of pride), we must come to the Lord and humbly admit our spiritual infidelity. This is what is needed desperately in our country. Our greatest need is not a government bailout, a rising stock-market, a secure border, a particular candidate, or an end to military conflict. Our greatest need is for honest repentance for our disregard of God!
We must acknowledge our wayward behavior and seek God’s forgiveness and restoration. This is not a trite “I’m sorry”. We must search our hearts and confess the wicked ways and foolish desires that have separated us from God.
Fourth, we need to take a different course. William Law wrote, “Now if you will stop here and ask yourself why you are not as committed as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.”
A Christian should be in the world and yet not of the world. We tend to think this impossible. We must live in the world. We must go out into the world with the gospel message. However, as we do so we must continually evaluate our attitudes, attachments, passions, and methods. We must be done with lesser things! We must ask a simple question: “Will this bring glory and honor to the King”. Our goal is to live for Christ in this barren land.
The story is told of Handley Page, a pioneer in aviation, who once landed in an isolated area during his travels. Unknown to him, a rat got aboard the plane there. On the next leg of the flight, Page heard the sickening sound of gnawing. Suspecting it was a rodent, his heart began to pound as he visualized the serious damage that could be done to the fragile mechanisms that controlled his plane and the difficulty of repairs because of the lack of skilled labor and materials in the area.
What could he do? He remembered hearing that a rat cannot survive at high altitudes, so he pulled back on the stick. The airplane climbed higher and higher until Page found it difficult to breathe. He listened intently and finally sighed with relief. The gnawing had stopped. When he arrived at his destination, he found the rat lying dead behind the cockpit!
We get in trouble when we live too low on a spiritual level. Our challenge is to keep moving away from the world to a higher level where the things of this world cannot flourish or survive because they will be overtaken by that which is better by far.
We cannot keep straddling the fence. Imagine standing in the water with one foot in each boat. As the waves come upon us the boats will start to separate. If we do not choose one over the other we will end up in the water. Society is becoming increasingly polarized. It is time to decide where you will stand. You need to make that choice carefully and wisely because your relationship with God in this life and your eternal destiny both hang in the balance.