James 3:18 & 4:1-10

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  What [then] causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 3:18; 4:1) The opening statement and the question appear back-to-back in the New Testament Book of James.  James, the brother of Jesus, wrote these words to the people of the early Christian churches.  James’ statement is comforting.  “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).  We like to hear words about peacemakers, peace, and righteousness.  To James’ readers peace was embodied by the word Shalom, which means wholeness and complete in every regard.  We are content when we feel complete and settled.  When we are at peace, we do not tense up nor are we easily startled. When we are at peace, we breath easier because we feel safe.  People who can usher a sense of peace, peacemakers James calls them, are a true blessing to our lives.  But James’ comforting statement about peacemakers, peace, and righteousness is abruptly changed by a harsh sounding question to his readers, “What [then] causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1) James’ question makes clear that James does not consider his readers to be peacemakers.  They are instead peace-breakers.  James’ readers are engaged in fights and quarrels; shouting and screaming at one another.  It seems their behavior is not a just an occasional sort of thing, it is persistent and pervasive.  Fights and quarrels are part of the lives of James’ readers.  James asks his readers, “Why are you behaving this way? What is going on inside of you to choose to behave in such a way as to oppose peacemaking, peace, and righteousness?” James’ questions were an extension of his thoughts we talked about last week.  Namely, that fighting and quarreling come from using the wisdom of the world which is earthly (self-centered).  Such wisdom progresses to being unspiritual (peace-breaking), and it culminates in demonic behavior (it outright opposes God).

James asked, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they [these fights and quarrels] come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet [jealously envy others] but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have [peace] because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask [God for something], you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).  James wasted no words laying into his readers and putting the responsibility for the fighting squarely onto the individual.  James does not allow for lame excuses for the situation.  James does not allow his readers to say, “I am only responding to the way I am treated by others.  I would not have to fight if others would listen to me the first time.  There would not be any quarrels if people just agreed with me.”  James said to each, you are responsible for the fighting and quarrelling because of two reasons.  First, you desire control, authority, and power believing that they are the means to bring you wholeness, joy, and peace.  I remember when I was a kid, we enjoyed playing a game called King of the Hill.  The object was to stand on top of hill or mound of dirt while all the other kids came at you from every side of that hill to wrestle you to the ground and throw you off that hill so they could become king of the hill.  As king, you had to fend off the attacks of others and try to throw them down the hill.  As king of the hill you were considered in control, you had the authority, and you had the power, but you never had any peace.  It was a fun kids’ game.  It is a terrible game for adult Christians to play with one another’s life.  James point was you fight because first you desire to be king of the hill believing that brings you peace and you know that it does not.

Second, you fight and quarrel because you do not ask God.  You do not ask God for what?  James previous said people lacked wisdom from heaven.  James said in Chapter 1, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).  In Chapter 3, James wrote, “17 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” (James 3:17). James point was that his readers are not asking for wisdom from heaven to put an end to the fighting and quarreling. Instead, James’ readers were asking God to intervene on their side in the dispute and give them the victory over their battles with other Christians.  The motives behind their prayers were all wrong.  James said God was not answering such prayers because those prayers were earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.

James’ point on prayer is sobering.  Many people, Christians and non-Christians, can remember and recite Jesus’ words on prayer.  They remember Jesus said, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  Religious practices, even our own worship services, reinforce the idea of all prayers answered as we desire.  Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).  This gives rise to us concluding every prayer with the words, “In Jesus name we pray.”  People pray for all kinds of things that are not of God.  “God, please let me win the lottery.  I promise the money won’t change me and I’ll even give some of the money to the church.  In Jesus precious name I pray.”  We pray with wrong motives because we want to believe Jesus answers all prayers.  But the quote from Jesus was not, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” it was “ If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  To abide in Jesus and his words, means our motives in prayer will be proper because our prayers will be focused on the wisdom of God not on self-centered desires.  James’ point was his readers were not having their prayers answered because Christ was not abiding in them and they were not following Jesus words.  As a result, James’ readers were acting and thinking in an earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic manner and at the same time asking God to bless their mess.  God will not bless a mess.

James went so far as to say that acting earthly and praying heavenly is a form of adultery because his readers were trying to share in an intimate relationship with the world and with God.  That just cannot be.  James said, “4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, 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 he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (James 4:4-6).  Strong language.  “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” You cannot love God and have the world as a secret lover.  A relationship with God means peace.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the children of God.”  James gave the other side of the same coin, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world [a peace-breaker], becomes an enemy of God.”  The language used by Jesus and James gives the impression that we face the ultimate coin toss.  Heads you’re a child of God.  Tails you’re an enemy of God.  Heads you will.  Tails you lose, and lose, and lose.

But here is the good news. Whether we want to be known as a child of God or an enemy of God is not a game of chance or a coin toss.  James in completing his thought set out a new set of ten commandments to be on the side of God, even if we are presently fighting, quarreling, and otherwise acting in an earthly, unspiritual, and demonic manner as an enemy of God.  James wrote these 10 commands:

  1.  7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. 
  2.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
  3.  8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. 
  4.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and 
  5.  purify your hearts, you double-minded. 
  6. 9 Grieve, 
  7.  mourn and 
  8.  wail. 
  9.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 
  10. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Let’s see what James was talking about here.

James said the first commandment is to submit yourself to God.  Submitting to God is a recurring theme for James.  Submission means to let God be God of your life.  To submit means to accept what God’s word says and to obey it. In James’ language, we end the adulterous relationship with the world.

Second, James said to resist the devil and the devil will flee from you.  This is an important point. If we are submitted to God, then we can guarantee the devil will make his appearance.  We must resist his presence by drawing closer to God, not moving away from God.  When we feel that pull to leave our faith journey by praying less, going to church less, by following worldly thought, that is the precise moment we need to draw nearer to God.  The closer we draw to God the less influence the devil has over us because evil will not come into God’s presence.

This is notion of movement is affirmed in James’ third command to draw nearer to God.  The Apostle John put it this way, “5 This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him [God through Jesus] and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  Draw near to God and the devil leaves.  Draw near to God, and we become purified.  Draw near to God and we stop fighting and quarreling and we have fellowship with one another.

Fourth, we need to cleanse our hands. We need to stop the actions that contaminate our life with sin.

Fifth, we need to purify our hearts. We need to stop taking into our life the things of this world that contaminate our thinking and emotions. We are both blessed and cursed to have access to so much information through newspapers, books, television, and the Internet.  But not all of what we can allow into our life is good.  Some of what we can receive is enriching and a lot of it is destructive, rude, and crude.  We need to purify our hearts and use the wisdom of heaven to bring into our lives what builds us up.

Commandments six through eight call us to grieve, mourn, and weep.  The object of these behaviors is the sin of our lives and making a public decision to turn from these behaviors.  Our grieving, mourning, and weeping expresses that our past life is done and over.  We have entered into a new relationship with God alone.

The ninth commandment is to transform our laughter and joy at sinning and the frailties of others.  The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).  We need to push the world out and let God in.

Finally, James said humble ourselves before God so that God can lift us up.  We need to stop trying to be the king of the hill by force and be a humble servant toward others.  In our servanthood, God will place us high as a righteous person; someone worthy of being called a child of God.

In a few words, James brought his readers from being confronted about the nature of their fighting and quarreling with each other that James equated to murder and adultery to being humble and lifted up by God. He gave ten things to do but at the very center of James’ words was the key.  James said the key is to draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Regardless of the issues and challenges we may face, the imperative action is to draw near to God so that we can be made right.  James’ command spoke of God’s character for God loves when his children return to him. Jesus shared this part of God in a story.  Jesus shared a story of a father who had two sons. The younger son asked for inheritance from his father, who granted his son's request. This son left home with his money and squandered his fortune on sinful living. The son eventually became destitute. As consequence, the son had to return home empty-handed,  He intended to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son's surprise, he was not scorned by his father but instead his father welcomed back his son with celebration and a welcoming party.  The son drew near to the father and the father drew near to the son.  God stands ready for us to draw near to him and in doing so, he will draw near to us. In our drawing toward God, our fighting and quarreling nature will subside, our prayers will be answered because they will be consistent with God’s will, and will we exalted by God. The apostles of the New Testament said, “We proclaim [the gospel message of peace] to you what [because] we have seen and heard [it], [in sharing the message] so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

This week, let us draw near to God and feel Him draw near to us.  In that closeness, let the tension of life give way to the peace from God that surpasses all understanding surround us.  Amen and Amen.