Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A Friend of God or the World?

September 23, 2012

James 3:13-4:10

 Which is it you desire:  God’s will, or your own will?  When you pray, do you say, “Thy will be done” or “My will be done?”  Does your heart belong to God or the world?  

 These really aren’t very fair questions, because the truth of the matter is that it’s not so simple to say, “I belong to God,” or “I belong to the world.”  None of us can really answer one way or the other.  We’re all a mixed bag.  We all have a mix of godly desires and worldly desires in us.  Sometimes we want God’s will and sometimes we want our own.  

 That was the case among the audience to whom James was writing this epistle.  We talked about this a few weeks ago, but just to refresh on the subject:  James was writing in the middle of the first century, probably about 46 AD.  He was writing from Jerusalem to the church of Judea, and to a church that was almost exclusively Jewish, either by birth or by conversion, before becoming Christians.  

 James was also writing in the midst of a time of revolutionary fervor.  Judea was a Roman province, and many Jews considered that to be completely unacceptable.  Violence was more and more common.  There was a group called the Zealots, who mixed religion and revolution and who advocated the violent overthrow of Rome and of the wealthy and powerful Jews who were seen as collaborators with Rome.  The movement appealed to the poor especially, who were easily persuaded that they could have an earthly paradise if only they killed the Romans and the wealthy Jews and took what they wanted for themselves.  

 This kind of thinking is often a temptation in societies where few have much and many have little.  And in the name of “justice” and the redistribution of wealth, personal ambitions are satisfied by violence.  It takes place in our world today.  Within the last generation, Zimbabwe and Venezuela and other places have seen the wealthy few overthrown by violence in the name of “justice.”  

 This philosophy was a temptation for the early Christian church as well.  James wrote, “If you are wise…”  Wisdom in a biblical sense of the word is always practical.  It’s always a matter of how we live.  It’s never just an intellectual exercise.  The wisdom we live by determines our actions.  If we live by worldly wisdom, we’ll follow the ways of the world.

 But if we live by godly wisdom, it will yield a life of steady goodness.  That word steady is important.  It’s easy to have “flashes of brilliance.”  It’s easy to do the right thing on occasion.  The challenge is:  Can we be consistent in our life?  And if you can pair your steady goodness with genuine humility, well then, you are on your way to being like Christ.  

 But bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are always there.  The 10th Commandment says, “You must not envy.”  It’s the only one of the 10 Commandments that has an “internal component” to it.  It’s not just about behavior; it’s about your heart attitude.  And I would argue that the 10th Commandment is the issue behind the ones that come before it.  Why do we have murder, adultery, theft, and lying in the world?  Because we envy.  

 James 1:15 says, “Evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death.”  This is the way of things.  Sin begins within us.  Once it has power inside of us, it leads to outward actions.  And when sin reaches its full power, the result is death.  If not literally death, then figuratively and spiritually death.  We may not “murder” a person physically, but we may hate them in our hearts and assassinate their character.  And of course, the end result of sin is our own death, spiritually before God.

 These things are not of God.  They are earthly, unspiritual, motivated by Satan.  And where bitter jealousy and selfish ambition exist unchecked, there is always chaos and every kind of evil.  

 But there is a wisdom that comes from God.  It is first of all pure.  To have a pure heart means that we do not have that mix of godly and worldly desires in us.  To have a pure heart means that we “will one thing.”  

 Godly wisdom is peace-loving.  We can’t love God if we don’t also love peace.  And peace means more than just the absence of conflict.  Peace means right relationships, between human beings and God and amongst human beings.  Does it mean that we can never support any kind of force?  I don’t know that it means we can never support it, but we can never love it.  Force may be necessary in a sinful world, but it should always be the last resort.  And we must resent its use, even if it’s necessary.  

 Godly wisdom is gentle and willing to yield to others.  It is considerate of others, placing the other before oneself.   Godly wisdom is full of mercy.  It is quick to forgive and slow to anger.  It is full of good deeds and shows no partiality, something we talked

about a few weeks ago.  It is sincere, and it desires make peace, to bring about right relationships.  We are not just to love peace; we are to work for peace.

 That is godly wisdom.  Meanwhile, what is the result of worldly wisdom?  Fighting, quarrels, scheming, and murder.  All of these are the result of envy, which is the way of the world.

 I think this is a harsh word from God for us.  After all, what is American society all about, if not envy?  All around us, we are bombarded with messages that encourage us to envy others, to want what we don’t have.  How long before we start killing for our desires?  Or do we already?  

 James says, “You don’t have because you don’t ask God for it, and if you do ask, you don’t receive, because you ask with selfish motives.”  

 God is in the business of supplying our needs, not our wants.  But we live in a society where we hardly ever truly have needs.  How often do we truly need food, shelter, clothing, clean water?  Very seldom.  So instead we turn our wants into needs.  

 What is our attitude toward physical possessions?  Do we receive gratefully from God as he supplies, or do we grasp desperately like the world?  

 Verse 4:  You adulterers!  That’s a harsh word.  But appropriate.  For all of us.  James is talking about spiritual adultery.  The Old Testament used that picture frequently.  To desire something other than God in the place of God is spiritual adultery.  And every person is guilty of it to one degree or another.  

 To be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God.  Now we have to understand that word “world.”  It has two definitions in the Bible.  The first is the obvious one:  The world is planet Earth, and everything in it.  And God loves the world.  

 But the second definition is that “the world” is a mindset, a way of thinking that has no place for God.  It is living life like there is no God.  Now intellectual atheism is relatively rare.  There aren’t a whole lot of people who believe there is no God.  But there are a lot of people living like there is no God.  Living as if there’s nothing more than this world and what it offers.  1st John 2:16 says, “The world offers nothing but the lust for pleasures and pride in our possessions.”  That sounds an awful lot like what’s going on in American society.  And Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.”  You cannot serve both God and the world.

 Verse 5 is a difficult verse.  I think the best translation is something like “God is jealous for our spirits,” which is something we see other places in Scripture.  Jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing.  God is jealous for our devotion, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because our devotion rightly belongs to God.  It’s not wrong to be jealous for what is rightly yours.  God is jealous for our devotion.  He is not happy for us to be divided in our loyalty between him and the world.

 He gives us strength to oppose the world if we ask for it.  But in order to ask for it, we must be humble.  And if we’re going to be humble, it must begin with repentance.  Humility is essentially us acknowledging that we do not have the answers.  Humility is turning to God, not ourselves.  

 So humble yourself before God, repent your double-mindedness and grieve over the wrong you’ve done.  This is the beginning of gaining godly wisdom.

 There are two paths we can walk in life.  We can walk in the way of the world or in the way of God.  The way of the world will not satisfy us.  No matter how much we possess, how much power we have, how much pleasure we can find; it will not satisfy us.  But we’re lying if we say it is not a temptation for us.  It is.  And there is always going to be a war within us for our devotion.  

 Just because we’ve “been converted” doesn’t mean the war is over.  It’s still there.  It’s not over until we are glorified by Christ in heaven or in the new creation.  Until then, it’s still going on.

 We are transformed into the image of Christ not in one sudden moment, but rather one small step at a time.  The image of Christ is formed daily in us, often by a thousand painful struggles.  It is never easy to let go of the world.  

 But if we are humble, if we seek God’s grace, we can walk that path.   

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