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James #14 - chapter 4, verses 1-6
Authentic Faith
The Test of Worldly Desires
James 4:1-6
 
text
 
Here we find another of the tests of authentic faith that James offers to his hearers. This one is the attitude we have toward the world.  James says to be a friend of the world is to be the enemy of God.
 
There is an important distinction that needs to be made, and I want to make sure we see this.  It's not so much that you are God's enemy as it is that God becomes your enemy.  That is a terrifying position to hold, is it not? 
 
Now the key phrase that we need to take note of in this text is found in verse 4 and it is "the friendship of the world."
 
We need to understand that phrase and to what James is referring if we will understand what he’s writing about.  The word “friendship” is a variation of the word “phileo”, one of the three words in the Greek language used for love. 
 
This one means brotherly love.  Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love.  It is very similar in meaning to agape love.  While agape has more of a volitional aspect to it, choosing to love, phileo has more of an emotional drive.  It is the word group phileo that gives us the word "kiss" to demonstrate emotion and affection.
 
So from that we can conclude what James is referencing is an emotional attachment or affection for the world.  And by the strong words that he uses, I think it safe to say he’s talking about a strong affection for the world. It's not casual but it implies a deep and an intimate longing to be involved with the world. He’s addressing someone who has fallen in love with the world and lives for the world and is consumed with the world. 
 
So that immediately rules out the one who has some incidental or even accidental occasion where a believer might be doing something he doesn't want to do or not doing something he does want to do.
 
That happens to all of us and can happen at any time.  What James is referring to is an intentional and deliberate relationship with that which is worldy. 
In fact, this word or some form of it is used about 29 times in the New Testament and it always carries the idea of emotional bonding or affection.
 
Perhaps the best Scriptural example of the word is in
John 15:13 where we read "Greater love has no man than this, than that a man lay down his life for his, and there is our word, philos, his friend."
 
So that’s the “friendship” side of the phrase.  What about the “world” side of it?  What does it mean to have friendship with "the world"?
 
We’ve seen this word already.  It refers to a the man-centered, Satan-directed system of this world which is hostile to God, Christ and the Christian. It's not talking about the physical earth.  There’s really nothing physical about it. 
He’s talking about the spiritual reality of the lostness and the ungodliness of this system in which we live.  It refers to all the values of the world and mores and lifestyle and attitudes of the world, and in particular, how they are opposed to anything Godly.  The goal of the world is always selfish. 
 
And James is very direct in this passage when he says any affection for that system is always in opposition to God.  In fact he says it is enmity with God.  The word enmity means personal hostility or personal hated. It is a very strong word.  Obviously it is closely akin to the word enemy,  In fact, those that are at enmity with God are always the enemies of God. 
 
So who, in particular, is James addressing when he talks about this classification of people who are friends with the world and enemies of God. 
 
Some think he’s talking about Christians.  But that seems to be an impossibility just by the nature of the words that he so carefully chooses to use.  He says anybody who is a friend of the world hares God.  That doesn’t sound like a Christian to me. 
 
So who is it? Scripturally speaking the enemies of God are always unbelievers.   
 
In Acts chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas travel out to the isle of Paphos. There they found a certain sorcerer who is interfering with people coming to the Lord.  Paul calls him an “enemy of all righteousness."
 
So from that text we could gather that the enemy of God is one who is closely and intimately aligned with the devil, with Satan and his enterprises.
In chapter 5 of Romans, Paul says those of us who have been reconciled to God were once His enemies.  In chapter 8, Paul says "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. To be fleshly minded is death, to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the fleshly mind is enmity against God.
 
He goes on to say, “It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, so then they that are in the flesh cannot please God, but you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if the Spirit of God dwells in you."
 
The logic of what Paul is saying then is an enemy is an unbeliever.
 
In 1 Corinthians 15, verse 25, Paul is talking about the future day of resurrection and he talks about the coming day when God will put under the feet of Jesus all His enemies, including death. 
 
In Philippians 3 we find the enemies of the cross of Christ being judged. 
 
So it’s fairly easy to identify the enemies of God.  They are the unbelieving, the saved, the unredeemed who oppose God, who oppose Christ, who oppose the church, who oppose the Apostles, who oppose the preaching of the gospel and they are always associated with the judgment of God.
 
So when we talk about God’s enemies we are talking about unbelievers.  And we won’t take the time to look at it, but there is a beautiful flip-side to that where we see the saved as the friends of God.  
So I think it obvious when James talks about these who are the enemies of God, he must have in mind a false Christian with dead faith who is still in love with the world.
 
We continue to discover these very close parallels between the preaching of Jesus and the writing of James.  This is very similar language to the parable Jesus told of seed falling into the ground and being choked by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches so that the Word became unfruitful. 
 
That’s the person who hears the gospel, has an outward, momentary response, but the love of the world chokes out the saving gospel and the evidence is he's never redeemed because he bears no fruit.
 
And remember, James is talking about the authenticity of our faith.  So it makes perfect sense to approach the text in this way.  He’s talking about friendship with the world and being the enemy of God and whether or not we are really saved. 
 
So let’s begin our study of this passage with that context in mind and think about how dangerous it is to be a friend of the world.  It damages everything about life and that’s what James is going to show us. 
 
Now if we were to define having friendship with the world in one simple word, we could use the word “conflict”.  Have you ever thought about what’s going on in the world in that context?   We see conflict in families, conflict in marriages, conflict in employment, conflict between political parties, conflict between countries. 
In every arena of human existence, there is the possibility and the probability of conflict. 
 
Now James boils it down and makes it very simple to understand by presenting three possible dimensions of conflict.  There is conflict with others, conflict with self and conflict with God and all three of those rise out of loving the world because the primary issue with the world is selfishness.  And when you have a whole earth full of selfish people living for themselves, you have inevitable conflict.
 
So let’s walk together through this text and take the test of Worldy Desires.   James begins with friendship with the world causing
 
1. Conflict With Others
 
Verses 1-2
 
Now apparently there were some folks in the church who weren’t getting along with each other and it must have been public knowledge.  So James asks, assuming his hearers knew what he was talking about, “What causes the conflict between you”?
 
And by the way, he uses the word “wars” with the indication this is a long-standing, ongoing confrontation.  He also uses the word “fights”, which is the word for battles.  So we have conditions of war that are compounded by the individual battles that are going on. 
 
And in verse 2 the violence continues with lust, murder, covet, fight and war.  So this is a hot battle with intense conflict and causing destructiveness in the church.
By the way, these two verses are in stark contrast to the two closing verses of chapter 3 where we found the characteristics of divine wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.  
 
So if that’s what Christian behavior should look like, then why is the church at war and involved in battles?  Where did that come from?  That’s a logical question to ask if on the one hand, here’s what Christianity looks like and the church is not demonstrating it. 
 
The very wars he talks about in verse 1 of chapter 4 are evidence of the presence of worldly wisdom in conflict with divine wisdom. Obviously either somebody isn’t saved, or they sure aren’t acting like it! And the result of earthly wisdom in those who love the world is there is conflict with others. 
 
Secondly, not only does friendship with the world create conflict with everybody around because everybody's got his own personal priorities first, but it also generates
 
2. Conflict Within Self
 
Verses 1-3
 
This is really the primary thrust of the text.  The reason there is so much external conflict among you is because of the internal conflict within you.  He’s answering his own question.  Form where does the conflict come?  They come from within.   And the conflict within is a combination of three things.  
 
 
The first one is
 
  • uncontrolled desire
 
People are driven by their desires for pleasure. And the implication is these desires are always contrary to the will of God. In fact, every time this phrase is used in the New Testament, it is always in a bad sense.
 
It is a bad word.  We tend to treat our desires casually, as if they weren’t that big of a deal.  But the truth is if we don’t control our desires, they will control us.  If you need documentation, take a look at those whose lives are being destroyed through things like drugs and alcohol and sexual sin. 
 
James is simply returning to the though he advanced in chapter 1:14.
 
James 1;14
 
That's the cycle. Temptation activates lust, lust activates sin, sin activates death.  And James is telling us the reason there is so much conflict in the church and with people is because fo the war that is raging inside of you. 
 
And all of us have experienced that was.  We’ve been in the battles.  We know what it is to want to do the right thing and wind up doing the wrong thing.  We know what it means to be tempted and struggle with the temptation.  And those desires for the wrong kind of pleasure wage a raging war against everything that stands in their way.
 
And in verse 2 he says you lust and you have not. In other words, you want it but you can't get it, so what do you do? What's the next two words? You kill. That's what he says. And that's how it ought to be read in terms of punctuation. You lust and have not...period...you kill...period. And you desire to have and cannot obtain...period...you fight and war...period. Yet you have not because you ask not.
 
The "you kill" and the "you fight and war" are the things that man does when his gratification is thwarted. The word “lust” emphasizes the desire itself.  You lust.  It becomes the driving force in life.  That’s why the addict doesn’t stop. 
 
And if push comes to shove, you kill. That's real murder. That's why people kill people because their gratification is thwarted. It could refer to a killing hate. It could refer to thoughts of murder. It could refer to destructive behavior. It could refer to suicide.  But he’s talking about the strength of the uncontrolled desire within us. 
 
Then it moves to an
 
  • unfulfilled desire
 
“you covet”.  This desire will express itself in jealous and envy.  You want what others have and you want it so badly that you will fight for it.  See how all of this contributes to the wars and fights we are involved in? 
 
And thirdly, it's
 
 
 
  • an utterly selfish desire
verse 2
 
You have not because you ask not. What are they really searching for? I told you earlier, they're not searching for God, but they are searching for all the things that God gives, like joy, peace, happiness, meaning, value, hope, fulfillment. Everyone's looking for that, but they don't want God.
 
So they look for it in all the wrong places.  And the devil convinces them all the things that only God can give are available outside of him.  After all, just allok at that fruit!  It’s good for you!  It will make you wise!  You’ll be a god yourself!
 
And James says, “All you’ve got to do is ask God and you can have all those things.  Didn’t he just say, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning.”
 
So all the good things in life are available from God and He’s willing to share them with you!  Back in chapter 1 verse 5 he said if you lack wisdom ask God, He'll give it liberally and hold back nothing. God is the giver of all good gifts if you'd only ask. You have not because you ask not.
 
And then we discover in verse 3 they were asking, but with the wrong motive.  In other words, you want to get what you want for all the wrong reasons.  It’s not about the glory of God or the honor of God, but that you may consume it on your own lusts.
 
 
That’s pretty pathetic isn’t it?  TO get to the point where you are so consumed with lust that you ask, and the word is literally beg, God for things that will then be used to dishonor Him!
 
 So they are really deep in the pit. They don't ask God on His terms for all that He has and when they do ask they ask the God of their own designing to consume it on their own lusts and they receive nothing.  Instead the motivation is personal gratification and pleasure.
 
That's how it is for people who love the world. They exist for pleasure. They exist for the thrill of the moment. And they wind up living a pathetic, self centered life that is constantly in turmoil both within and without. 
 
That's why we have a generation of people who are so angry, so hostile, so bitter, so hateful, so full of revenge. They're in love with the world. And all that is in the world is a whole lot of lust and a whole lot of pride. And it is in conflict with a person and everybody in his environment.
 
But worse than that, and now we come to verses 4 to 6, friendship with the world means
 
3.  Conflict With God
 
Friendship with the world puts you in conflict with God. And this is really frightening. Again, there are three aspects of that. 
 
Number one is
 
 
  • personal hostility from God
 
verse 4
 
Now to be fair to the text, and it will sound sexist, but in the best manuscripts the word  “adulterers” is not there.  His comments are directed to those he identifies as “adulteresses”. 
 
Now keep in mind, James is writing to Jewish readers who are very familiar with that kind of terminology. And he's using it in a metaphorical sense, not a literal sense.  He's not talking about actual women who are actually adulteresses. He is talking about unfaithfulness.
 
And the word "adulteresses" would immediately remind his Jewish readers that Israel was an adulterous wife. They would remember, for example, Hosea 1:2 where Israel is designated as an unfaithful wife of Jehovah God.
 
By the way, that term is never used to speak of Gentiles.  Only Israel had a covenant relationship to God. And only Jews could violate that covenant. 
Gentiles could be referred to as fornicators, but no adulteresses.  And because James is writing to Jews, this term is very vivid and very understandable.
 
Now a simple definition of adultery is sexual sin by a married person. It is used of one who is unfaithful to a marriage partner. And that is precisely what James is saying.  He's saying to Jews, “You have been unfaithful to the covenant that your people had with God.” 
 
At its core, it is apostasy.  That had been near God and then turned against God. And apparently James has in mind professing Christians, people who attach themselves, at least outwardly, to God and His church. 
 
And they apparently maintain some interest, some verbal commitment to God and Christ and yet they hold a deep affection for the world.  They are attached to Christianity, at least in name, but their heart is out there in the world somewhere and as a result, they give nothing to God and give themselves to the world and thus are adulteresses. That's what he has in mind.
 
And I’ll tell you something.  When it comes to adultery, there is no middle ground.  One is either a faithful lover of God or an adulteress.  Either you are  the faithful friend of God or His bitter enemy.  What did Jesus say?  "He that is not with Me is against Me."
 
So what does this verse say? The first element of conflict with God is a personal hostility from God.
 
There's a second thing. And that is this conflict with God demonstrates a
 
  • disregard for Scripture
 
verse 5
 
This is a very difficult verse to understand and there are a couple of primary things that contribute to that difficulty.  And before I get into the specifics, I want you to know there is some room for disagreement.
 
You certainly won’t find me being dogmatic about this verse and what I’ll share.  There are so many options and none of them can be conclusively affirmed by the biblical data.  So what I'm going to do is offer you what I believe and understand at this point.  And who knows?  I might just be right! 
 
I'm not going to be dogmatic, but once I tell it to you I'm just going to go on and preach it as if it were the truth because it's as good an answer as any.  But I will say I think this verse is almost impossible to understand or even know the right word order so you can make sense of it. 
 
First of all, notice the word “spirit”.  Please indicate by a show of hands if that word is capitalized in your bible.  Now raise your hand if it isn’t. 
 
Here we discover one of the problems of translating this verse.  There is no agreement on whether this verse is referencing the Holy Spirit or a human spirit.  And whether or not the word is capitalized changes the entire meaning of the verse.  
 
And it doesn’t help to go back to the original language and look at the word because they didn’t capitalize anything and there are five different definitions or applications of the same word, depending on the usage.
 
The “spirit”, “pneuma” in the original, can refence anything from the Holy Spirit of God to a gentle breeze that blows.    
 
 
 
Now, as far as understanding the verse, I think it ought to be a small "s" and it is referencing the spirit within us that he has been addressing.  It is this spirit of loving the world and being the enemy of God that is at issue. 
 
The next thing to consider is the reference to Scripture.  And he says “Scripture says” and goes on to talk about how this spirit within us “yearns jealously”. 
 
Now the problem with that is Scripture doesn’t say that.  That quote isn't found anywhere in the Bible.  So James says, “Do you think the Scripture says in vain. . .”, then quotes something that isn't scripture. There is no such scripture anywhere in the Bible, not even in the Hebrew or in the Septuagint Greek version do we find anything like that
 
So how do we explain that?  I think, rather than giving us a specific quote, he is offering us a general statement about Scriptural teaching.  There could be a lot of scriptures that could contribute to this idea.  We could begin in Genesis and work our way through the Bible and find that idead time and time again. 
 
And James, knowing his hearers are familiar with the Old Testament, just generalizes and says, “Scripture says”.
 
Now the real essence of the verse is what they were doing with this Scriptural teaching.  And it seems to me he is saying, “You who are friends of the world, are you under the impression that what Scripture says about this spirit within you that causes you to lust and be envious doesn’t matter? 
 
Do you think Scripture doesn’t matter?  Are you foolish enough to defy that scriptural diagnosis and go on with your lusting and worldliness and still think you're a Christian?
 
The idea here is that Scripture teaches that the spirit within man is evil and Scripture doesn't say that for nothing. And the warning is to not disregard the Word of God.   To do so brings one in conflict with God.   
 
One final thin and this is being a friend of the world and the enemy of God results in 
 
  • the forfeiture of forgiveness
 
verse 6
 
In spite of this spirit within us, in spite of the heart of man, God gives more grace.  So to whom does He give this grace?  James lets the Old Testament answer that question and quotes from Proverbs 3:34. 
 
God resists the proud. If you're consumed with your lusts, if you're consumed with your pride, if you're going around parading that you're a true believer but you are in love with the world, you're never going to experience grace. He does give grace but He gives grace only to the humble. The Lord fights the proud. They are His enemies.
 
The word for pride here is quite an interesting thing. It is the word “above” coupled with the word “to show off”. It's somebody who presents himself as being above everyone else. 
The lovers of the world, the enemies of God are those who parade around like they are better than everybody else.   And because of that, they cut themselves off from the grace of God. 
 
They love the world.  They refuse to accept what Scripture says about them and even though grace is available, their pride they will not repent.
 
SO notice what happens. 
 
Verse 6
 
God resists the proud. That word is a military that depicts a full army ready for battle and it carries the idea of God setting His troops to do battle against the proud.
 
But He gives grace, and what a wonderful way to finish, to the humble. What kind of grace?  Any kind you need!  Saving grace, forgiving grace.  . God is gracious to the humble.
 
So, James says here's the test. Do you love the world? If you love the world, you're in conflict with others, you're in conflict with yourself and worse than that, you're in conflict with God. He is your enemy.
 
You have disregarded His scriptural diagnosis of your condition and arrogantly go on seeking to fulfill your lusts and you forfeit grace because grace comes only to the humble.
 
 
 
 
I want to close with something I came across that was written by a man named F.F. Trench.
 
 "I've seen a poor blind worm on the top of a slender pole stretching every ring of its fragile form and groping all around in vacant space tingling with impatience to climb higher but doomed to stop at the top of the pole. It was a caterpillar whom a rough wind had shaken from the green tree where it was quietly feeding, and when it found itself on the hard ground it wandered about in dry places seeking rest and finding none till it reached the bottom of this wall, the foot of this pole and then it climbed. But, you see, it has made nothing of it. The green painted pole has a very different thing...is a very different thing from the leafy tree it used to live in. Poor creature. It's hungry and the reason why it runs along and stretches upward so anxiously is if happily it might find the juicy foliage it once fed on. It will never find it there. Up among the branches of the tree of life man once had his home, his resting place. And there he fed sweetly. But a rough storm of temptation shook him down, the fall of man, and now he runs about among the dry places seeking rest and finding none. And you will sometimes find him, poor groveling worm, poor fallen man, trying to better himself by climbing up some painted pole and once he gains its top you will see him exploring blindly around in emptiness, feeling for some higher object on which to rest, some green thing for his hungry soul to feed on, pivoting and balancing himself and stretching outward and stretching upward. But the tree of life is not there until it comes to live on God Himself, the hungry soul of man will never be satisfied."
 
There is grace. There is forgiveness. And there is an absence of conflict with God and an absence of conflict with self and an absence of conflict with others. But it's all wrapped up in a relationship to God that is defined as loving friendship which means we are the enemy of the world.
 
So James says, “Do the the inventory.  Are you in love with the world? In conflict with everybody? With yourself and with God?
 
If you are, he says, do this
 
verses 7-10
 
You know what that is? That's an invitation to salvation. That's an invitation to come away from the green pole to the tree of life. That's an invitation to stop being a friend of the world and become a friend of God. That's an invitation to stop being an enemy of God and become the enemy of the world.
 
Ask yourself the question...do I love the world? Is that where my affections are? If that's true, I'm the enemy of God. And the life of conflict will end in a tragic judgment that lasts forever. On the contrary, there is grace if you come to Christ.
 
Let's bow in prayer.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Comments

04-13-2018
Leslie
Almost word for word from a sermon by John MacArthur on the same passage
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