The Battles Within Us7th Sunday after Pentecost
When I was asked to lead the service this morning, I was asked to continue with the series in the Book of James. In previous weeks Rev. Mitch has dealt with Chapters 1 -3, so I will try to deal with Chapter 4. I must admit at the outset that until recently I had some difficulty rationalizing what James says in Chapter 2 and what Paul says in Ephesians, Galatians and elsewhere about faith and deeds or works. As we heard Rev. Mitch explain to us a few weeks ago, James claims that “faith without deeds is dead”. However, Paul says in Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:9Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
So, On the face of it, you see the conflict. That bothered me. And apparently I was not alone in this concern. The great reformer Martin Luther, as well as a number of early theologians, also had the same concerns and expressed their doubts about the teachings of James in that it seemed to be in conflict with what Paul was saying. However, my personal concerns have been erased because I believe that a misinterpretation of what James has written, has led to the misunderstanding of what he is actually saying. According to the Scottish theologian, William Barclay, the one thing that James cannot stand is a profession without practice. Words without deeds!
In other words, he is not saying that we need deeds to earn our way to heaven, but the fact that we have been saved by God’s grace, should cause us to do good deeds in response to God’s grace; not to earn salvation, but to respond to his sacrifice on the cross for our sins, that promises us eternal life. Once I recognized what James was saying was not in conflict with Paul’s teaching, the Book of James became to me a valuable New Testament guide on living out our faith. I now understand that the thrust of what James was saying is “Don’t just talk about your faith, Do something with it!
That said, I now want to turn to James Chapter 4. I acknowledge that much of what I say to day was based on a sermon I heard years ago from Charles Price of the Peoples Church in Toronto. James asks: “What causes fights and quarrels among us?” That’s the question being asked all the time, being asked at the United Nations probably every week. It is being asked in our governments, it’s being asked all over the place. “What is it that causes fights and quarrels among you?” And James answers the question. “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” And the world headlines that we see again and again, to some extent, is simply a multiplication of what is going on within us. Now I know that is a generalization but it is a valid generalization. And history tells us it’s true that the big problem we have to face in our life is actually within ourselves.
Now James looks at this in the verses we have read and he identifies three fronts on which we fight or three sources of the trouble that we face within our own hearts, within our own lives. And the three are these: in Verse 1-3: the flesh. Verse 4-6: the world. And then Verses 7-12: the devil. The flesh, the world, the devil are the three areas in which we are fighting, the three fronts on which we fight, and the three sources of the trouble and struggles that exist within us. Let’s look at those three this morning. He talks about each in two ways. He identifies the conflict first of all. And then he identifies the corrective. So there is the conflict on the one hand, a corrective on the other, and he brings them together.
Let’s look then at the first: the conflict with the flesh. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” He says in Verse 1:“Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” He says that your biggest battle is from the corruption of your own inner self. Now James doesn’t use the word “flesh” or “sinful nature.” Paul, for instance, in Galatians 5:17 says, “For the sinful nature.” “The sinful nature” (or the flesh) “desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Earlier in Chapter 1, Verse 14, James talks about the process of temptation that all of us face and he says this: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” He likens this process to a conception of a baby in that he says you are tempted when, by your own evil desire – that is, it starts within you, with your selfishness, with your greed, with your pride, and with your jealousy. And when that evil desire is conceived, it gives birth; it leads to birth to sin. And sin, when it is grown up, leads to death. But it begins within us. Charles Price says: Now we know the devil prowls around like a roaring lion. He does; he’s active. But if the devil died tonight, you and I would still sin tomorrow because the biggest problem we face is the corruption of our own hearts. And essentially sin comes from within us.
We heard Debby read Romans Chapter 7 this morning. Let me read you again part of Romans Chapter 7, which talks about this whole issue of the sinful, fallen nature that we have. Romans 7:15, (Paul is being very honest here): “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” So what Paul is saying is in essence, I know what is right and what is wrong, but even though I know that, and don’t want to do it, I just keep doing what is wrong!- If we are honest with ourselves, don’t we have the same problem? Interestingly in Verse 17, Paul goes on to say: “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” Well that sounds a very convenient excuse, doesn’t it?
In Verse 20, “If I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Wonderful excuse, isn’t it? It kind of reminds me of the comedian Flip Wilson who said when he was at the threshold of a doorway to a place he ought not enter: “I said: Get thee behind me Satan! But,the devil got behind me and pushed me right through the door”. In other words, “the devil made me do it”! What does Paul mean? Well what he is saying is this: Let me read you Verse 21: “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” He says, “There is a law of God that I love and I delight and I want to do what it right.” But he says, “There is another law; it’s the law of sin that is at work within me, a bit like the law of gravity that is pulling me down all the time. So much so,” he says, “that I am a prisoner of the law of sin.” And he comes to the conclusion: “What a wretched man I am!” Hence, this is why James says in Chapter 4:1, 2, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. So you quarrel and you fight.”
So this is then his first conflict – it is an internal one. It is the conflict of the flesh and the Spirit within us. Now what is the corrective to that conflict? Well he goes on to say in Verse 2, “You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Very simply, you do not bring God into this dilemma, into this situation. You try to fight this alone and you can’t. That’s why in Romans 7:24, Paul comes to the conclusion: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Not “what will rescue me?” but “who?” It’s a person, and he answers his own question: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And then he says, “Through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” [Romans 8:2] Now, says James, here’s the first problem: you are trying to fight this alone and you cannot do it. But not only that, when you do pray, he says in Verse 3, “When you ask you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
We ask: “ God please help me.” But why? Why do you want Him to help you? Well he says, if you ask with wrong motives, you want life to be a little more comfortable, or convenient, then he says you ask and you do not receive. You see, we can turn to God for purely selfish reasons. We can cry out to God about our struggles but nothing seems to happen because we are driven by wrong motives, says James, because your relationship with Him is all about you, what you can get from Him, what He will do for you. You want the convenience of a clear conscience that doesn’t keep you awake at night. You do not ask so that your life will be godly and fruitful, but that you will be comfortable. And because it is about your desires, even though they may seem noble desires (“I want to be free from this sin, I want to be free from this problem that is constantly bugging me and constantly pulling me down”), because behind it lies the motivation it’s for my convenience, it will actually feed our lusts, rather than remove them. Charles Price says: “You know it is possible to have a conscience of convenience rather than a conscience of conviction.” A conscience of convenience is what we give to dogs when we house train them. We train them to behave by punishing them when they do not obey, and rewarding them with a treat when they obey. And the result of that is that in due course the dog will begin to behave the way you want it to behave. Not because the dog has any moral convictions about the issue. It’s a conscience of convenience. “I don’t want the punishment and I do want the reward.”
Likewise for us, it is possible to have a conscience that is purely of convenience. We can become biblically and Christianly house trained where we do things merely to avoid personal trouble and to gain personal reward. When we pray for God’s help in those situations, God doesn’t come into the equation. It’s not about “what is it You want to accomplish in my life? What is it that enables my life to become a fulfillment of Your purposes, that brings glory to You. Our prayer needs to become one of conviction for the right motives, and ask for our lives to be godly and fruitful, glorifying God.
The second conflict is with the world. Verse 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.” Now I suggest he is not talking about the geographic cosmos here, but he is talking about the principles by which the world around us operates and functions. And the principles of this world, is what James in Chapter 3 calls earthly wisdom, wisdom that I can see, feel, touch, smell etc. And he says earthly wisdom leads to envy, selfish ambition, disorder, boasting and evil practice. And if we live by the principles and values of this world, we will find ourselves in conflict with the principles and values of God. And this amounts, says James, to what he calls spiritual adultery. Verse 4: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “You are like unfaithful wives, having illicit love affairs with the world and breaking your marriage vow to God. Do you not know that being the world’s friend is being God’s enemy?” You know it’s a recurring theme in Scripture that the people of God are married to Him. It is a very beautiful metaphor. In the Old Testament in Isaiah 54:5, Isaiah writes, “For your Maker is your husband – the LORD Almighty is his name.” Jeremiah 3:14: “‘Return, faithless people,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am your husband.’” He says to the people of Israel, “Come home, I am your husband. I love you; I provide for you, I am looking after you.” And in the New Testament, Christ is the bridegroom. 2 Corinthians 11:2 says, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” There are a number of metaphors about what happens when you become a Christian but this is an important one: you become the bride of Christ, you become married to Christ. If we are married to Christ, then to flirt with the world and to live by the standards of the world is to commit adultery, is what James says.
And what is the corrective to this flirting with the world? Well, if this is a marriage, there is no alternative but to the ongoing development of a love relationship with Him. Marriage is based on mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual love. Those are the three ingredients that makes a marriage work. And we are to live in that relationship of respect, trust and love. Remember, we don’t initiate this; we are responders to love. John wrote in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” Our love is reciprocated to the measure to which we know that He loves us. And if we know that He loves us, if we have a consciousness of being loved by God, our response is to love Him back. And it’s His grace that is the source of that love. Grace, by definition, is God giving to us. And we can receive this only in humility. So as He initiates His love, we respond to His love. As we respond to His love, He gives us more. As He gives us more, we experience it more fully. And the antidote to worldliness, to spiritual adultery with the world, is being in love with God. And that is both receiving it and responding to it.
And then the third thing in Verses 7 to 10. The third area of conflict is the devil. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Charles Price says The devil is a created being, a literal being. Many folks find it hard to believe in a literal, personal devil, Satan, but Scripture leaves us in no doubt that it intends us to understand there is a living, thinking, acting being who we call Satan, described as the devil. And it is he that lies behind all this corruption, of course. Right from the very beginning in the fall in the Garden of Eden, he lay behind it. He was initially the most prominent of all God’s angelic creation, created before the world. And as the most prominent of God’s created angels, he was the model of perfection. He was full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. That’s the description in Ezekiel 38. But he became proud and he said, “I will ascend to the heaven. I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will make myself like the Most High God. (That’s in Isaiah Chapter 14 [Vs.13,14].) And he led a rebellion against God and was cast down to the earth with one third of the angels joining him in his rebellion. And he has been the enemy of God ever since, and the enemy of God’s creation and the enemy of human beings, and his dirty fingerprints are all over the evil atrocities that are going on in our world. Because of a lack of time, I will only deal with the correctives to that area of conflict. And you find them in Verse 7 to 10. And I am going to just point out six things very quickly. “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” That is daily, deliberately, bring your life under the lordship of Christ; you submit yourself. That’s not for a moment; that is a day by day attitude and disposition of life.
The second thing “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He is not an irresistible enemy. Resist him. See him as the enemy that he is. Give him no foothold. The problem is when we give him a foothold, we give him a grip in our lives. If you entertain notions of lust, greed or anger, if you play around with these things, you have given him a grip. And when he has got a hold of you, he will begin to steer you and drive you until we become driven by anger or lust or greed.
Third thing is in Verse 8, the next verse, so submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” That’s a very important invitation here. If you are feeling God isn’t near, dare to come close, dare to be honest. Dare to open your heart to Him. Come close to God and He will come close to you. The fourth thing: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” In other words, if you engaged in some sin, clean it up. “Wash your hands” applies to outward things, outward engagement, outward sins, sins that we practice. And he says clean it up! And then he says, purify your heart. That’s to do with the inward. You can clean up the mess but if you don’t find a purifying of the heart, then the mess will still come back because the source is your heart. This is inward. This is a much bigger struggle. This is on your knees before God stuff. Purify your heart.
And then the fifth one is in Verse 9. He says, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Now he is talking here about inward sin with which we battle. He is talking here about worldliness by which we become unfaithful to God. He is talking about resisting the devil within our hearts. And he says of course there is a time for joy, of course there is a time for gladness. But there is also a time for mourning and grieving and wailing.
The sixth thing is in Verse 10, the last one. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” When you humble yourself before the Lord, He will do the lifting. Humility before God and dependence on God is the antidote to fulfilling the desires of the flesh that we love, to worldliness. It’s the antidote to satanic attack to humble ourselves.May these teachings from James govern the way we live our lives, today, this week, and for the years to come. Amen.