This week we are up to James chapter 4. So far, we have had five messages in our series from James. And again, today is very practical. James points out some things that will help us to keep on track on our journey with God and he gives us some things to help us keep our focus right.
The title of my message today is “Keeping the focus right for today and the future”. I want to look at four things that jumped out at me as I read the text.
1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.
3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.
4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?
6 But He gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”
7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.
11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.
12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”
14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.
15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”
16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.
17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
Today I have four main points I want to bring out. They flow from the main chapter headings in the text.
1. The two causes of troubles and strife
In this first section, it talks about trouble and strife and the two reasons for it.
Verses 1-2 says, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”
The first reason it gives for trouble and strife is the evil desires that are at war within us. We all know and have experienced this battle that goes on within us at times. We desire wholeheartedly to follow God, but the world at times is so alluring. It calls out to us and tries to shift our focus from God to the things of this world and wanting what others have.
The Apostle Paul understood this battle. In Romans 7:15 he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”
Paul knew the battle that often rages within us. The desire to follow God and do His will in the face of a world that calls out to us to go follow the crowd. This is why Paul told us to live by the Spirit in Romans 8. Jesus also said to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). It is a daily choice in the face of the world.
The second reason is found in Verse 4. It says, “You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.”
This is pretty heavy, calling followers of God adulterers and enemies of God. James is reminding us here how important it is to be faithful to God in all we do.
As I was thinking about this I was reminded of the struggles the believers had in the Old Testament. They constantly had a battle against the world and the other nations. They would turn away from God and follow the false gods of the nations around them. In His relentless pursuit of them, God would send prophets to call them back. He even went so far as to tell Hosea to marry a prostitute to show them how unfaithful they were. Even though she was married to Hosea, she would stray. So, from this, we can see why James would use words like adulterers and enemies of God when He talked about His people. Like it is for us today, the key is God kept on pursuing them.
So, the first section paints an honest picture. It tells us that trouble and strife come because the evil desires that are at war within us and because we are too friendly with the world. However, the next section James gives us some help.
2. Drawing close to God
The next section in James is verses 7-10. In some Bible translations, it has a heading titled, “Drawing close to God”. In verse 7 we get some clues about what to do.
Verse 7 says, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”. This verse shows us that humility and resisting the devil are keys of drawing close to God.
What does humbling yourself before God look like? For me it is about knowing my place before God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, I am not. He is all knowing and all powerful, I am not. He knows the beginning from the end, I do not. Nothing in all creation compares to Him. He holds eternity in His hands. He alone is worthy of praise, honour and glory. When I come to God in humble surrender and know my place before Him, resisting the devil is easy. When my attention and focus is on God and His Kingdom, the things of this world lose their allure.
Verse 8 goes on to say, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world”.
We see in verse 8 that living right by rejecting the worlds ways are also important. We need to stop doing the things we know are wrong and seek God’s ways. We need to purify our hearts and not be divided in our loyalties.
In Matthew 6:19-24 Matthew tells us we can’t serve two masters in the context of God, money and our treasures in heaven. It says we will love one and despise the other.
Verse 9 of today’s text tells us that for some genuine repentance is needed. “Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy”.
If we want to draw close to God we must come to Him in humility, be genuinely repentant and stop living by the worlds ways. We must also not be divided in our loyalties and we must choose God and His ways only.
3. A warning about judging each other
The third main section is this chapter is verses 11-12. The title is a “Warning against judging each other”.
Verse 11 of this short section says, “Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you”.
Judging and criticising each other is not what God wants for us. Our job is to mind our own business, be obedient and do the work God has called us to do. We should also build each other up and encourage each other.
When I judge others, I am not only going against what God says, but I am doing it my limited vantage point. Rarely do I know what is fully going on in others’ lives. Only God knows that.
Jesus touched on judging others in Matthew 7:1-5. Verse 1-2 says, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged”.
Jesus went on to say in Matthew 7 that we often have a plank in our own eye and we judge the speck in others. Jesus reminds us that we often miss our own faults and easily see the “faults” in others.
James 4:12 of the passage today puts it plainly. “God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So, what right do you have to judge your neighbour?”
All of us will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. He is the only one who is qualified to judge.
4. Boasting about future success
The next point comes from verses 13-17. In the NLT it is titled, “Warning about self-confidence”. In the NIV it is “Boasting about tomorrow”.
Verses 13 and 14 say, “Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone”.
These verses are a sober reminder that while we may make plans, ultimately our lives are in God’s hands. He alone decides when we are born and He alone decides when we die.
As I was preparing this week I was reminded of Luke 12:16-21. It is commonly titled, “The parable of the rich fool”. In it a rich business man makes plans to build bigger barns to store his wealth so he can sit back and relax. The story changes when God tells him his life will be over that day.
These passages are not telling us to have no plans or make no goals at all. What they are telling us is that it is pointless to make plans and goals that do not included God. As Proverbs reminds us, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
As the Creator and Sustainer of life, God needs to be woven into all of our plans. In fact, He needs to be the One doing the weaving! When we allow God to weave our plans, they take on an eternal perspective. They are not just for the here and now.
So today let us remember that we are created by God, for God. Let us remember to seek God for His plans for our lives and allow Him to give us a vision that is for the here and now that is birthed in eternity.
Today we have looked at another practical message from James. It was straight forward and to the point in a way that James in known for. Just to refresh the four main points.
- Trouble and strife come from the evil desire that war within us and being too friendly with the world.
- We overcome the world by drawing close to God and putting Him in His right place.
- James reminds us how important it is to not judge each other – that is God’s job.
- We should not boast about the future because our future is held in God’s hands.
If we do these four things it will help us to keep our focus right for now and the future!