I remember when I was about 27 years old or so, going to France on vacation, alone. I didn’t know the language, didn’t know anyone there, and had no real idea where to go. But being young and foolish, I didn’t see not knowing the language as a big problem. I thought it would be an adventure. It was, I suppose, a great adventure that I still remember. But if I am honest, not knowing the language made the trip a lot more difficult than it should have been. It cost me quite a bit more than it should have as well, as I overpaid for things that I need not have, usually because I didn’t understand what I was paying for or how much I was spending. And I suppose though I thought it a great adventure at the time, looking back on it, I realize now that not knowing the language was a big disadvantage, and kept me from really enjoying all that France had to offer.
I suppose I tell you that as a bad analogy to what James is saying about living life with wisdom from above or having earthly wisdom. You could equate it as knowing the language of heaven as opposed to only knowing the language of earth. Back in the last part of chapter three, James speaks of the necessity of heavenly wisdom and contrasts that with earthly wisdom. James says the natural inclination is to live life according to earthly wisdom. This is the way that Proverbs 14:12 speaks of, saying there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end is the way of death. It’s popular wisdom, the wisdom of the world, the wisdom that is based on man’s intuition, man’s science, man’s knowledge, and man’s purposes.
That kind of earthly wisdom sounds good to us, it seems more logical, more satisfying. But James says in chapter 3 vs 15 “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” The point is, James says, it sounds good, but it ends badly. It ends in disorder, confusion, chaos, destruction. And it results in the condemnation of sin, which has eternal consequences.
On the other hand, James says if you know the wisdom from above, then you will live a life which has a completely different outcome. He says in vs 17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, free of hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Now, as we come to chapter 4, we need to understand that James is continuing this line of reasoning. He’s not suddenly introducing a new thought, but he is elaborating on this line of reasoning, which is the contrast between heavenly and earthly wisdom. In contrast to the heavenly wisdom which produces peace, earthly wisdom is characterized by selfishness and envy and selfish ambition; and as we read earlier, it results in disorder and every evil thing.
And to that eventual outcome of earthly wisdom, James asks the rhetorical question, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” The answer is another question. “Doesn’t it come from the earthly wisdom that you live by? Doesn’t it come from the pleasures that wage war in your body’s parts?”
Of course, the answer is affirmative. When selfishness and envy exist, when living by that motto of get all you can get for yourself is your mantra, then it results in disorder and every evil thing. It results in dissatisfaction, because you can’t satisfy your lusts. Lusts are a raging desire that can never get enough. The more you feed it, the more it wants. It can never be satisfied.
Now when James speaks of lusts, he doesn’t mean just sexual lusts. It’s unbridled desire for pleasure. The word in the Greek for pleasure is hedone. It’s not hard to see that is the root for the word in our language which is hedonism. Hedonism means the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence. It’s a philosophy of life that says that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
There was a rock band back in the late sixties called the Grass Roots, who wrote a song called “Let’s live for today.” It had a catchy melody and terrible lyrics, and an even worse slogan which it espoused to live by. A lot of the lyrics aren’t worth repeating, but the general idea can be understood in one verse which says, “We’ll take the most from living, Have pleasure while we can, Two, three, four, Shah-la, la-la-la-la live for today, Shah-la, la-la-la-la live for today, And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, hey, hey.”
That sort of attitude might sound appealing on the surface, but the result is disorder and every evil thing. It causes strife, conflict, wars. Now when James speaks of wars, he is probably speaking metaphorically. He is talking about a war that goes on in the members of your body, your flesh. There are three arenas in which we battle sin. There is the flesh, the world, and the devil. Three areas in which we battle temptations to sin. And James is going to address all three in this passage. He addresses the battles of the flesh in vs 1 and 2, the world in vs 4 and the devil in vs 7. But perhaps the most difficult battle is the battle in our own flesh.
I suppose that’s because it’s harder to recognize the enemy within. It’s intrinsic to our nature. It’s easy to see it as sin in other people, to see their selfishness, their greed, their envy. But it’s hard to see it in yourself because it feels so natural. It feels good, so it must be good.
So James gives us some examples of how the battle in the flesh looks. Vs 2, “You lust and do not have, [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain, [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend [what you request] on your pleasures.”
Once again, James speaks metaphorically – this time of murder. I don’t think he’s really accusing the church members of murdering one another. But he’s speaking metaphorically of being angry and hateful. Though it is certainly true than in some cases lust has led to murder, I think it more likely that he is speaking metaphorically of hatred and anger towards another person. And it comes as a result of unsatisfied lusts for what is not yours. Desire for pleasure that you cannot get causes anger and hatred, which is the source of conflicts and quarrels.
The same idea is expressed in the sin of covetousness. When man gives free reign to his desires, he wants what is not his. That’s the sin of coveting. But though he covets, he still cannot fill his desires, it’s an appetite that cannot be satisfied, and so it leads to more and more envy and strife and conflict.
James says you do not have, because you do not ask God. God gives good gifts to men. He gives us all good things to enjoy and supplies all our needs. But that reluctance to ask God reveals that we don’t want what God has given us, but we want more, and more being that which is outside of the will of God. Our motives reveal we are not content with what God can provide us, but we want what is contrary to the wisdom of God.
So consequently, even if we pray, we don’t get what we want. The failure is not that God does not answer prayers, but that our prayers are not according to the will of God. Our prayer is not that it will further the kingdom of God, or for God’s glory, or to achieve God’s purposes. But our desire is to satisfy our carnal lusts for more pleasure, to try to satisfy the desire for what the world says is good and enjoyable. So actually those prayers are that God would serve our carnal lusts.
So James says when we pray, we ask with the wrong motivation. Our prayer is not in submission to God, but in demanding that He do what we want Him to do, to satisfy our lusts. And God will not answer that prayer.
The lusts for the world is in opposition to the love of God. That is the contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom from above. It’s loving the world rather than loving God. That’s the source of our conflicts and quarrels and wars within ourselves. And James says to have a love for the world is nothing short of adultery.
Vs 4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James is speaking again metaphorically, but this time in the context of our relationship to Christ as we are the bride of Christ. And what he is accusing us of is adultery if our fidelity to Him is broken by our infatuation with the world.
The problem is that as Christians we are saved from the world, delivered from the world, and betrothed to Christ. Paul said in 2Cor. 11:2 “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you [as] a pure virgin.” To look back in fondness at the world, or to desire again the lusts of the world, is the equivalent of a bride going back to an old boyfriend. Even though she may claim he is just a friend, any husband would recognize that is tantamount to adultery. And in like manner, God won’t accept our being enamored by the world without being jealous. He will not tolerate such behavior from His bride.
Now let’s be sure we understand what we mean by the world. We are in the world, but not supposed to be of the world. To be of the world means to be of the world’s wisdom, the world’s value system. It’s the satanically devised world system that the entire human race is caught up in, which is designed to entrap and enslave and destroy. The world then is in opposition to God. And so James says that if you are a friend of the world, then you become an enemy of God.
John told us the same thing over in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues [to live] forever.”
My mother used to quote a line which I still remember. I don’t know who said it, but it’s a good adage to live by. “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” That certainly sums up what John is saying there about the world passing away and also it’s lusts. Only the one who does the will of God will live forever.
So to love the world is to be an enemy of God. And if you are enamored by the world and you begin to lust after the world, then if you are really the bride of Christ then He will be jealous of you and take measures to turn you back to Him. So James says in vs 5, “Or do you think that the Scripture says to no purpose, “He jealously desires the Spirit whom He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore [it] says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
James refers to a general truth of scripture to prove his point. That God is jealous for those who are His, who are born of His Spirit. But if we repent of our infidelity then God will give us an even greater grace. He gives grace to the humble. To humble yourself is to repent. God is opposed to the proud, that is the person who loves the world, who lives by the world’s wisdom, the wisdom that appeals to the human ego. The proud is the person who lives by the world’s wisdom. He isn’t dependent upon God but he is independent, selfish, full of pride in himself. That person is a friend of the world. And he is in opposition to God.
But God gives grace to the humble. To be humble is to acknowledge your dependence upon God. To submit yourself to God. Peter uses the same quotation as James to stress the need for humility, saying in 1Peter 5:5 “… and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT HE GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time.”
Now to that point James speaks of another aspect of this war that we battle against sin, and that is the devil. We battle the temptation to sin in the flesh, in the world, and from the devil. The devil is the architect of the world system. He designed the world system to entrap and entice men into sin, and he uses it to destroy us and bring us into condemnation.
Paul speaks of this world strategy which is of Satan’s design in Eph 2:1-3 saying, “And you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you previously walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all previously lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest.” That’s the condition of those who are trapped in the world system. But as Paul tells us, Satan is the architect of this world system.
But now James tells us how to deal with Satan directly. First of all, he says submit to God. Don’t be proud. Don’t fall for the lie of Satan that you need to be independent. That you can take care of yourself. Don’t fall for that lie, that is pride. And pride is the devil’s original sin, and one that he knows all too well how to trick us into.
So James says in vs 7, avoid pride, and rather submit to God. “Submit therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse [your] hands, you sinners; and purify [your] hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into gloom.”
To submit to God means that we recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ and we submit to His rule and reign in our lives. Pride and independence will prevent submission. Most people that are not saved, and not saved because of pride. They refuse to submit to Jesus as Lord. And they don’t accept the fact that they are in need of a Savior. I read of a notorious serial killer in the news yesterday who was claiming that he really wasn’t a bad guy. That may be an extreme example, but most people don’t think that they are really a bad person, and so they don’t really need a Savior.
But we not only need a Savior, we need to submit to God. To honor Him as our Creator, our Maker, to whom we owe the service of our life. That idea of serving the Lord is one that is sadly missing in most salvation explanations today. Modern Christianity teaches that God serves us. Not that we are to serve God. But that’s the lie of the devil to turn the truth around like that. We need to submit to the Lord, and do His will, and do what He commands us to do. That’s what it means to confess Jesus as Lord.
James says concerning the devil, to resist the devil and he will flee from you. How do you resist? I suggest to resist is to resist the lie, the resist the temptation to take pride in your accomplishments, in what you’ve achieved, in who you are. Pride is the devil’s weapon. If he can get us to listen to pride, then he will accomplish all kinds of evil in us through it. Resist pride and you will resist the devil. And when he has gotten no where with that temptation, he will flee from you. Why? Because you rely on the Lord as your strength. You rely on the Lord as your captain. You are dependent upon the strength of God’s might. And the devil is no match for the Lord. He flees before the Lord. So when we rely upon the Lord and not on our own strength or goodness or knowledge or whatever, then the devil will flee from us.
The other way we resist the devil is to draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Do you remember the old cars that used to have bench seats in them? Back in those days before bucket seats girls used to snuggle up to the boyfriends and they would be so close together that from behind all you could see was two heads looking like they were on one body. It’s amazing there weren’t more wrecks. But you let the two lovebirds get married, and little by little you would start to see more space between the couple. You could almost tell how long someone was married by how close they sat together. After a few years, the woman was all the way on the far side of the seat, with her hand on the handle, like she was ready to leap out of the car.
Well, James is saying here that’s the problem with our marriage with the Lord. Our love for God grows cold and our infatuation with the world gets hotter. The solution is to draw near to God. Let me be real practical on that subject. You want to draw near to God? Then make a commitment to be in church every time the door’s open, whether you think you need it or not, whether you think what the pastor has to say is worth it or not, whether you feel like it or not. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Read your Bible every morning. Spend quality time in prayer every day with the Lord. That’s living in dependence upon God. Avoiding those things is living in pride.
And then practice repentance. That’s what James means when he says, “Be miserable, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into gloom.” James isn’t being a kill joy here. He’s not saying you can’t have fun in life, you can’t laugh. But he is stressing the importance of repentance in a right relationship with the Lord. Acknowledging our sin is key to having a close relationship with the Lord. The devil will tell you when you sin that you’ve really done it now. God can’t forgive you again. God doesn’t love you now, you’ve done this so many times before. Satan will try to keep you in your sin, and to wallow in your sin. He will say, what’s the point of repentance? But James says, no, don’t listen to the devil. Resist the lies of the devil. Repent, and God will give you a greater grace. And the devil will flee from you.
Repentance is simply acknowledging your sin, turning from your sin, and realizing that God can deliver you from it. It’s agreeing with God about your condition. Pride is agreeing with Satan that you’re really not that bad of a person.
So the way to resist the devil is to humble yourself before God, to repent, and to draw near to Him. Rather than listen to the wisdom of the world and try to exalt yourself, to glorify yourself and feed your ego, James says “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” That’s the counter intuitiveness of the wisdom from above. That the way to exaltation is not through selfish ambition, not through envy, not through selfishly taking whatever you think will make you happy, but in humbling yourself before the Lord. And when we are humble before God, then He will lift us up. He will exalt us. And that position is one that we will have for eternity.
Peter says in “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober [spirit,] be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in [your] faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen [and] establish you. To Him [be] dominion forever and ever. Amen.”