Last week we saw that there are two kinds of wisdom. All good people are called on to help out the less fortunate whether that means financially, physically, or in any other number of ways. The difference in wisdom is that worldly wisdom says that as long as you are doing good, you may as well get credit for it. This comes in the form of praise, good publicity, and generally having people think that you are a good person because you help others out.
On the other hand, godly wisdom starts with reverence for God. This means that all that is done is not done for recognition but is done out of a love for God. James states that this is to be done with humility. He carries the idea of humility on into chapter 4.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
We looked at this verse in connection with prayer earlier in the year. This isn’t magic nor telling us that if we really believe that our wish will come true. Instead, we need to realize how this ties in with our desires and humility.
Why do we want most of the things that we want? It’s because other people have them or because we’re told that we can’t have them. I think about one of my pet peeves in regard to this, smoking. Basically every adult understands that this is a stupid idea. Most of the people who smoke realize that it has terrible consequences for their health. But adults aren’t the ones who start smoking. I don’t know of a single person who was legally able to buy cigarettes who started smoking at that time. They all started as teenagers as an act of rebellion. Smoking isn’t allowed so they choose to rebel.
It is one of the most basic tenets of our sinful nature – we want what we can’t have. Think back to Eve in the garden. The serpent tempted her with the idea that God was holding out on her. If she wasn’t allowed to eat the fruit, it must have been because God was keeping something from her. It never occurred to her that God was protecting her.
So, how does this connect with humility and prayer? A humble person is one who is looking to do God’s will. This means that whatever they ask from God will be focused on doing His will. A person who is focused on doing God’s will is going to ask with different motives than a person who is looking out for themselves or trying to keep up with everyone else.
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. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
James sounds an awful lot like Jesus when he strongly condemns friendship with the world. People were praying and asking God for things so that they could be like everyone else. Now, I honestly don’t know what form this took in the era of the New Testament because it’s hard to imagine someone praying for a new cart because their neighbor just got a bigger and better one. What I do know is that there are very easy parallels to society today.
The world here is the sinful world. It is all of the people who do not love and worship the Lord. Friendship with the world means wanting to be like them and accepting what they do. There’s a lot of ways to take this. In its purest form, I would say that we should not be participating in sinful practices like the rest of the world does. As a kid your mother probably said something to you along the lines of “Well if so and so jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” This is one of the ideas that is wrapped up in friendship of the world. Just because the rest of the world accepts it does not make it right. We go by God’s standards, not the world’s.
Friendship with the world also can relate to our possessions. It’s one of the reasons that our country is in the financial mess that we’re in. People wanted things that they couldn’t afford because other people had them – and most of them couldn’t afford them either. I have an aunt and uncle who bought their 10 or 12 year daughter a $3000 bedroom suite because somehow they got the idea that it was proper for a little girl to have such furniture. And a few years later when they wanted to add a room onto their house that they couldn’t afford, my grandmother actually prayed that they wouldn’t get the loan because she knew that they couldn’t afford it. Fortunately they didn’t get the loan. Friendship with the world means that you are very concerned about what the world thinks about you and James says that isn’t right.
Friendship with the world can mean not only participating in sinful activities but accepting them. Here is where things get a bit difficult and I honestly can’t say where we need to draw the line. There are times that it is just as wrong to turn a blind eye to sin as it is to participate in that sin. For instance, just about every denomination that I know of does not support abortion. To my knowledge, it is about as universally condemned by churches that have an official position as any issue. But, does this mean that we accept it if we’re not at rallies carrying signs and picketing abortion clinics? If we’re not doing everything that we can to stop it, does it mean that we tacitly accept it? I don’t think that’s the case but some may disagree with me.
As for my personal opinion, I believe that we have a right and even duty to stand up for what we believe in. We should call sin sin and not be ashamed to do so. But we should also realize that we are only responsible for our own actions and that we can’t legislate morality. I hate some of the things that go on in our country and I am entirely certain that God does too. But I can’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians. Lawsuits may change the laws of the land but it’s never going to change hearts. Just because something is legal or illegal doesn’t change the morality of it. Non-Christians are going to act like non-Christians. This is probably a shock to some people. If we don’t something that is going on, what we need to do is change people, not change laws. That’s what friendship with God is about. Ok, end mini-sermon.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James is not implying that a humble person is one who is always mourning and gloomy. This deals directly with humbling oneself. This is talking about recognizing the fact that we are sinners. When we acknowledge that we are sinners, it’s not a time for rejoicing. But notice how the paragraph ends – and He will lift you up.
God will bring about rejoicing. We go to God in humility because we know that we aren’t worthy of His love. But we go away rejoicing because He does love us and He has forgiven our sins. Those who approach God in humility will leave with their heads lifted high. Those who approach God with pride will leave Him humbled.
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
This is another passage that is taken out of context or rather our understanding of judgment places it out of context. The idea here is not that we do not have the right to uphold God’s laws. If God has said that something is sinful, we have every right to call it sinful. And God will judge these actions as sinful regardless whether they are judged on earth or not.
The problem is that we have a way of adding to God’s laws. Usually this is with only the best of intentions but the end result isn’t good. I went to a school that didn’t allow dancing. This isn’t a problem for me because I don’t care for it and have no sense of rhythm. The question though, is why was such a rule ever made? It’s not in the Bible. The intention was that there are many dances that are inappropriate and can spur on temptation. Frankly, I’m not sure if watching Elvis shake his hips caused any lustful thoughts in women or not but I can definitely see how a lot of dancing is inappropriate today.
The point of the rule was to prevent sin. But what happened was that suddenly people were judged not by God’s law but by a standard that man had made. There is nothing wrong with dancing in general but there are plenty of dances that can become sinful. We don’t have the right to make up new laws and judge people based upon them. We are only called to uphold God’s laws. That means instead of just banning dancing we have to carefully explain why certain dance moves are not acceptable and make it clear that they can lead to sin.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Boasting is the opposite of humility. Humility means that God is in control of our life. Boasting means that we believe that we are in control of it. It’s probably pretty common for someone to survey all that they have and think “Look at what I’ve done. See what I’ve accomplished.” But the truth is that what has been accomplished is only done with the grace of God and the gifts that God has given that person.
It’s ok to make plans. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty wise to make plans. There is certainly a place for faith in everyone’s life but God also gave us wisdom that He expects us to employ. This means that God should be in our plans.
I have to say that much of my life hasn’t turned out as I planned. Fortunately for me, I’m not the kind of guy who has to stick to a plan and I’m fine with going in whatever direction God leads. And my plans weren’t against God’s, it was more like I didn’t know where God was directing me so I didn’t make very good plans. I didn’t plan on being a pastor – I started college as a physics major. I didn’t plan on being a pastor even in Bible college. I was content to direct Christian education or be an associate pastor. I really didn’t want to be the guy in charge of everything, I just wanted to help out. I didn’t plan on moving to VA. And I didn’t plan on only being there three years. But God had other plans.
James reminds us that just because we make plans doesn’t mean that they are going to come to fruition. Often God has other plans. People don’t plan to get sick. People don’t plan for disasters to happen. People don’t build houses with wheelchair ramps because their mother might get sick and have to move in with them. We don’t plan for these type of things. And that’s the point.
We need to remain humble in our walk with God because things happen that we don’t plan on. And only when we rely on God can we get through these things with our sanity intact. We don’t make plans like the rest of the world does. Because we are friends with God we make plans knowing that when they change, He’s going to see us through them.