• Tony Birkhead

The right TOOLS for the job



Come Near to God and He Will Come Near to You!

INTRODUCTION

We are all in some form or fashion looking to be fulfilled. Some look for that fulfillment in relationships, while others seek it in their jobs, friends or multiple other places. In the next section of James he gives us some insight on why we feel so unfulfilled often and where to find fulfillment beyond the normal.

KEY SCRIPTURE

James 4:1-12

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so 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 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.” 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 and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them 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?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Tell about one of the biggest fights or arguments you were in as a kid. What was the outcome? What caused the fight?

What do you think drives selfishness in us?

Think of all the weaknesses the Devil knows are yours. How has he been successful in exploiting these weaknesses? How has he failed?

What practical things must we do to grow closer to God and imitate Him rather than the world?

Where in your life do find it easy to draw near to God? What areas are more difficult for you to draw near to God?

PRAY TOGETHER

God, please help me this week to draw near to you and allow you to draw near to me. Help me to resist the devil so he’ll run from me. I humble myself before you, trusting in your grace. Amen!

MOVING FORWARD

  • How can your group help each other this week to come near to God?

  • Which relationship in your life could benefit from greater humility?

  • How could actively celebrating people instead of judging them and being jealous of them lead to opportunities for you to share the grace of God with them?

COMMENTARY

James 4:1-12

4:1. Evidently, the peace and peacemakers James wrote about in 3:17-18 were in short supply among these Christians. He pointedly asked: From what source did their wars and the fights arise? The word wars refers to chronic military campaigns, while fights indicates separate battles in those campaigns. In the context of conflict among believers, the words refer to “disputes” and “quarrels;” some were expressions of ongoing hostility while others were temporary flare-ups. We get our word hedonism from the Greek term for “cravings.” It conveys intense desire for what a person does not have. The term “war” has the sense of ongoing military action in which sensuality arrays its forces and moves to the attack in believers’ bodies.

4:2a. These believers kept on desiring and went on failing to get what they desired. The Greek term rendered “desire” means “lust after” or “covet.” It is different from the word for “cravings” in verse 1, but it also has the idea of focused yearning for what a person does not have. James used strong language in an attempt to drive home the seriousness of these Christians’ behavior. When he charged, “you murder,” he probably had in mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-22, where the Lord taught that hatred and contempt are spiritually tantamount to murder. James was not describing petty differences but substantial and chronic conflict among believers. The sense is probably that these Christians wanted what others had, could not get what they wanted, and continued their hostile attempts to obtain their desires. The Tenth Commandment prohibits coveting (see Ex. 20:17), but Christians were shattering it. The word “covet” conveys the sense of jealousy, spite, and envy—a white-hot zeal to have what someone else has. These believers’ attempts to get what they wanted were being frustrated, so they continued to fight and war (see v. 1).

4:2b-3. These believers did not receive because they did not ask in prayer. James did not suggest that God would give them what they coveted and quarreled over. He well may have meant his readers did not receive fulfillment and satisfaction because they had wrong motives and methods. Their greedy infighting left them empty and frustrated. When these Christians petitioned God, they still did not get what they wanted because their desires were wrong, were not in line with God’s will. The word “wrongly” can point to evil motives. Believers selfishly asked God to fulfill their desires for pleasure. “Spend” has the idea of squandering resources, of wasting them or consuming them by extravagance. The phrase “desires for pleasure” translates the Greek word for self-gratification that James used in verse 1 (“cravings”). God’s answer to selfish, self-serving prayers is a resounding “No!”

4:4. Here “adulteresses” has a spiritual reference, describing one who is unfaithful to God. It probably reflects the Old Testament background of Israel’s committing adultery by idolatry. The term “world” indicates the sphere that is separated from God and dominated by evil. “Friendship with the world”—adopting its values and methods—means setting oneself in opposition to God. The word for “hostility” has the idea of separation. Whoever is disposed or willing to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Whoever chooses to live in the sphere ruled by evil thereby makes himself or herself God’s enemy.

4:5. Precisely what Scripture James had in mind here is difficult to determine. One suggestion is that he had in mind a verse such as Genesis 6:3, Exodus 20:5, or Exodus 34:14; but he restated it in his words. The phrase “without reason” means “to no purpose.” We might paraphrase the question: “Do you suppose the Scripture does not mean what it states?” God’s Spirit begins to reside in believers at conversion, and His Spirit continues to yearn jealously for their loyalty. With love He intensely pursues their loyalty. The Spirit works in accordance with God the Father’s insistence on having no rivals in their hearts. Thus the Spirit seeks to guide us toward being God’s friends and away from being friends of the world.

4:6. We do not have to continue in a state of bitter, selfish conflict. In contrast to destructive infighting, greater grace is available to overcome hostility and restore relationships. The term “grace” has the sense of God’s free gift and here refers to the necessary power to end chronic conflict with others, renew loyalty to Christ, and relate in love. James quoted Proverbs 3:34 to remind us of the peril of pride and the need for humility: God goes on setting Himself in opposition to the haughty and arrogant, but He continually extends His favor to people who are conscious of their need for His resources.

4:7. Ten urgent imperatives appear in verses 7-10. This extensive call for immediate, remedial action shows the seriousness of the situation being addressed. The first command is “submit to God. “By deliberate choice, these Christians were to align themselves under God’s leadership and be obedient to His directives. In their renewed obedience to God, they were to set themselves in opposition to the Devil. Because of God’s presence and power with them, the Devil would flee from them. Evil would be vanquished from the battlefield.

4:8. In rapid-fire succession James gave three additional imperatives. He urged believers to “draw near to God” for the purpose of offering Him reverence and worship. To do so would strengthen or repair their personal relationship with Him.

4:9. James piled up terms to stress the sincere repentance believers should demonstrate because of their sins. They should be so distressed that they are moved to lament with tears. Their frivolous “laughter” should become lamenting; and their shallow, worldly “joy” should be changed to dejection. Only deep, genuine repentance would lead to the forgiveness they needed to remedy their situation.

4:10. James repeated the emphasis he had made in verses 6-7. He called on these readers to confess to God their sins, weaknesses, and inadequacies. They were to admit their need for His grace and be open to receive it. As a result of this change in attitude, God would lift conflict and divided loyalty from them. He would enhance their relationship with Him, and they would have moral and spiritual power necessary for Christian living. God’s exaltation would be the polar opposite of the worldly prestige, honor, and recognition for which they fought one another.

4:11. Warnings in verses 11–12 grow out of the rebuke of pride and the call for humility in verses 7–10. Verse 11 prohibits slander and insulting language. Pride and the lack of humility are the chief causes of slanderous, insulting language. Slander is critical speech intended to inflame others against the person being criticized. It involves talking against people, perhaps attacking them behind their backs. In this instance Christians were slandering Christians. Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ. For Christians to malign other believers is a living contradiction of the close family ties which should bind them together.

A slanderous Christian must face two charges. First, one who practices slander speaks against the law. The law that a critical Christian misrepresents is the law of love (see Lev. 19:18). Christians are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. The slanderous Christian fails to do this.

Second, one who practices slander judges the law. With a fault-finding attitude I set myself up as a judge. I neglect God’s law, thus declaring that it is a bad law and worthy of being removed. God calls Christians to keep the law, not to sit in judgment on it. When we slander our neighbors, we show our opposition to the law of love and imply that we are exempt from observing it.

4:12. God is the only Lawgiver and Judge, the one able both to save and destroy. Only God has the ability to enforce his laws and carry out his purposes. He allows no human being to share his role. A slanderous Christian attempts to play the role of God. God has no pleasure in those who practice slander.

Christians can easily come to the conclusion that we are free to show critical attitudes toward those who do wrong. The Bible warns us to leave this judgment with God. Only God has the competence to find and punish those who break his laws. Our calling is to respond in supportive love rather than biting criticism.

#James #fulfillment

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