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James

The Jealous God

James  3:13 - 4:12

In the Scripture before us James comes to a hard point. Our lives are a mess, he tells us, because we are going about them the wrong way. As befits wisdom, he does this in a practical way:

Who is Wise?

(James 3:13-18 NIV) Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. {14} But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. {15} Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. {16} For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. {17} But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. {18} Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Wisdom itself gets a "bad press" these days. There are two reasons for this:

·         Wisdom is associated with old age - and old age is bad today. We honor youth, not age (we are very unusual among societies for that).

·         We are also in an age where we believe we invent the truth - and it has been invented recently. Therefore, wisdom, being ancient, is false. It belongs to the "flat earth" era.

But do recall that the book of Proverbs was written specifically for young people. Wisdom is not some deep philosophical concept, pondered upon by sages in ivory towers. Wisdom is God's instruction for the practical art of living with other human beings. When you tell someone, "Get a clue," you are telling them to acquire wisdom.

Wisdom has results

If you think wisdom is impractical, consider its results. After all, that's how we judge whether a thing is practical or not.

·         Purity. At first this seems impractical in our day - after all, we believe that a truly well rounded man is one who has "done it all." But consider this: who would you rather deal with? A man whose experience is that he has cheated on his wife, pulled off many a shady deal and has an ego to match - or the man who is faithful, honest in his dealings and treats you like an equal? Purity is intensely practical. It's just that we value it more in others than in ourselves.

·         Peace loving. The original word carries the meaning of one who desires the right relationships. This is a man who wants everyone to get what is genuinely due them. It is one who sets things right, who sets them in order. We have an Aunt Marie like that - a woman who came into a house of turmoil, one week before our wedding, and made peace. A in-law who is always welcome in our home!

·         Considerate. The word in the original is almost untranslatable; it goes beyond what is required to that which is courteous and gracious. Not "what must I do for others" but "what can I do for others" is the key to this.

·         Submissive. This word can mean either "ready to obey" or "ready to be taught." The combination is one our Lord greatly blesses.

·         Full of mercy. Robert E. Lee was greatly distressed to hear of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He later said that he surrendered as much to the mercy of Lincoln as he did to the armies of Grant. At the time he remarked, "Next to the defeat of the Confederacy, the greatest blow to the South was the death of Lincoln." Lincoln was a man who understood and used mercy. Pity we find natural enough; pity is for those who earn it by their circumstances. Mercy is for those who do not - as God showed mercy upon us, the sinners, at the Cross.

·         Impartial. The word actually means "undivided." It is someone who sticks to his principles. Again, we value this much more in others than in ourselves.

·         Sincere. That is to say, without hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a deadly disease in the church; the condemnations of the Pharisees should be warning enough.

The source of this wisdom is God - but you do have to ask. Worldly wisdom - the kind we call "sharp" or "clever" - produces a different result. Test yourself with these:

·         Envy. The intense desire to see to it that others do not have what you do not have - the sin of the "have-nots" against the "haves."

·         Selfish ambition. The way the envious justify their envy is by pointing to the selfish ambition of the rich: they don't care who gets in their way. "I'm going to get what I want!"

The sadness of both of these is that they claim what rightly belongs to God. Do you envy? Then you are saying to God that you want the past changed - so that others do not have. Are you selfish? Then you are placing a claim upon the future. The past and the future both belong to God; only in the present do you touch eternity.

What Causes War?

(James 4:1-12 NIV) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. {3} When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. {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." {7} Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. {8} Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. {9} Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. {10} Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. {11} Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. {12} 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?

Desire

Desire, the cause of our troubles, looks forward to God's future and says, "do it my way."

·         Do it my way in the matters of the world - "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz."

·         Do it my way in matters of the flesh - the trophy wife.

·         Do it my way in my pride, that I might sneer at my enemies.

Our mistakes

In our desire we make mistakes in dealing with God. The first mistake is that we simply don't ask him for what we want! Why?

·         We might just want to "let sleeping worms lie." After all, if we went to God with a request for a trophy wife (to replace the one we already have) we would be in big trouble.

·         More often, we simply don't believe that he can deliver what we ask for. We lack faith because of the life we live.

It may also be that we ask - but with the wrong motives. James mentions the idea that we ask so that we'd get money to spend on our pleasures. We might also ask for vengeance (which belongs to God, not to us). There is a worse case: we may ask in pride, as if God owes it to us.

Slander

This comes back to our treatment of others. James mentions slander here - a problem then as now. He points out our basic failing: we are not asking God - we are telling him. If our motives are wrong in prayer, how much more so when we slander our brothers and sisters (roast preacher, anyone?) For in such slander, we sin in two ways:

·         We are guilty of presumption - we say to God that we know better than He does what that person deserves.

·         We forget who is God. To his own master a servant stands or falls; we put ourselves in the place of God as judge.

The Jealous God

You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect,” is present; not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

That was the way C. S. Lewis put it. We serve a jealous God - and indeed jealousy is a sign of love. In any love relationship, if you have true love, your lover accepts you and rejects all others. It is the same with God. You must love God - or the world. To try to love "both" is hypocrisy.

Love of the World

What are the fruits of this "love of the world?" How can I tell whether or not I have it, and (more important) whether or not I want it?

·         Conflict with others. Isn't this the sign of the self-willed? Have you ever been in an situation on the job where it was impossible to get two people together because no one room was big enough for those two egos? Or the conflict that comes from two (or more) who want the same physical object - or same person?

·         Powerlessness in prayer. If you love the world, you're on your own. Are you prepared for it?

·         Ultimately, punishment. Did you think that God would allow this to go on forever?

How to "Pick God"

Ok, the theory sounds good - how do we implement? How do we say to ourselves, the others around us and most importantly God, "I have chosen the way of God rather than the way of the world?"

·         Resistance to Satan. Saying "yes" to God obviously implies saying "no" to Satan. The good news is that when we make that choice, Satan is confronted not with our power but with God's power - and flees.

·         Submission to God. The secret lies in accepting God's power - and denying the use of your own. We must humble ourselves before God, for only then will he lift us up.

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