Scripture Reading: James 4 - 5 …
Living in this world has never been easy for those who are disciples of Jesus, and it's not getting any easier. Those who know Jesus Christ carry a burden for those around us who live without God and without hope in the world. We grieve over those who "play church," who believe that religious activity equals true discipleship. False teachers cause frustration as they lead millions astray, offering the things of this world rather than eternal life in God's presence. God's call to persevere, to endure, to “keep on keeping on,” is one we need to hear often.
And in the midst of this reality, we look at ourselves and realize that we, too, are deeply affected by the sin that often clings to us. James writes about some of these sins, and in Chapter 4 speaks very directly to those who would follow Christ. He warns of the "desires that battle within you …" (4:1). You and I know these battles all too well. James says that quarrels and fights occur because we don't get what we want and because we don't ASK for what we NEED!! Those who believe in Jesus are called to love GOD with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. When we don't do that, we become vulnerable to the lusts of the flesh and the pull of the world.
James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (4:2-3). Sound familiar? He calls those who do such things, "adulterous people" … We are "married" to Christ, united to Him by faith, so when we pursue other "lovers," we are committing spiritual adultery!! " … friendship with the world is hatred toward God … Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (4:4) and grieves the very Spirit of God who lives within us.
HUMILITY should be the constant state and attitude of our hearts and minds. Some mistake this for timidity, but God calls us to be humble and bold at the same time, knowing that our strength is not in ourselves but in HIM and that when we humble ourselves before Him, confessing our weakness and our need of His strength, THEN we find that we have what we have asked of Him and He will help us to be obedient and faithful to Him. "Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you" (4:7-8). By drawing near to God daily, moment-by-moment, you will find wisdom and strength you couldn't have imagined possessing. He is all He says He will be!!
James goes on to remind his readers that they must be careful not to slander and to sit in judgment on others, remembering that all of us are accountable to God. Jesus calls us to "confront" our brothers and sisters who have sinned against us in gentleness and humility (Matthew 18) and to encourage one another. Slander and back-biting have no place among God's people – EVER! And as we live in this world for the Lord, we need to be careful not to become proud, as though God were OUR servant, rather than the other way around. When making plans we need to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that" (4:15). Boasting about what WE are going to accomplish is foolishness at best, and sinful pride at worst!!
These are practical truths that you need to apply to your life. To those who are rich, James has another warning: don't use your wealth to gain power and to oppress others. There are plenty of examples of that in our world today. Wealth is given by God to HELP others, to share with those in need, never to build an empire for yourself. God is concerned about the spiritual welfare of those who are rich and of those who are in poverty. THINGS are not always a blessing, if hoarded to one's own destruction. They become idols and cause great spiritual harm.
To persevere we need to be PATIENT! "Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near" (5:8). Now we could possibly say that James was wrong … if this weren't the inspired Word of God!! But in God's sight Jesus' return was “near” almost 2,000 years ago. The period of time between Jesus' first coming and His second is like a few days to God, and when you and I put our lives in perspective, the brief time we are on this earth makes the end of this age near for us as well. James is saying, "You don't have a lot of time here; use it wisely!" And whom does he use as an example? JOB! "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (5:11).
In all that James has been saying, you need to remember that you live in the presence of God NOW, as you look forward to eternity! So as you live in the world while you wait for Jesus' return, PRAY! Pray for yourself and pray for one another. When things are going well, "sing songs of praise!" (5:13). And when you have troubles, when you are "sick" (this word more accurately points to emotional "sickness" or weakness, such as doubting or being anxious or depressed), call upon the elders of the church to pray with you, to encourage you, to lift you up, to share God's Word with you. If you are living in a way that is displeasing to the Lord, listen to their counsel and as they pray for you, you will be "healed," set free to worship and praise the Lord ... for "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (5:16).
As we live together as God's people, chosen and called to be His witnesses, we need to watch out for each other and care for each other. If you see someone wandering, go after them and work to be God's instrument to bring them back into the safety of the community of faith, for "whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins" (5:20). THIS is how you live in this world as you wait for the return of Jesus Christ!
"Almighty God, my Father in heaven, Your Word guides me into the truth that I need to stand firm against the lies the world tells me. Your grace and love are my delight and I rest beneath the shadow of Your wings. Give me wisdom to ask for those things that will help me to glorify You and strength to choose the right way, trusting in You to uphold me, to heal me and to persevere. For Your glory, in Jesus' name, Amen"