James 4:1-10 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This morning’s sermon is part two of two on James 4:1-10. The big question from last week’s sermon (part one) was, “What causes conflict in the Church?”. The big questions for this week are, “How do we avoid Church conflict to begin with?” and “What does God mean us to do when it comes?”
So, what do you think, Grace? How do we maintain peace within the Church? And what do we do when conflict arises? More specifically, what should you personally do to help keep conflict out of Grace Church and what is your specific role if you find yourself in the midst of conflict here?
The main point of this sermon is to help you see James’s answer to those questions. And his answer is simple to understand, even if it’s sometimes hard to live out. The primary, God-given solution to conflict in the Church is repentance enabled by the grace of God. James unpacks that in remarkably helpful ways in this passage.
Backing up a bit, before I pray and before we get to all of that, let me give you a very quick review. Last week, in vs. 1-5, from the perspective of James’s readers we saw the problem that some people were facing (not getting what they wanted), the cause of that problem (other members of their churches withholding those things from them), and the solution to the problem (fighting, quarreling, and “murdering” one another).
Importantly, however, we also saw that James thoroughly and emphatically rejected all of that, going so far as to rebuke them sharply for it. More importantly still, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James offered a different take on the problem, its cause, and (as we’ll see today in vs.6-10) its solution. The real problem, James wrote, was a kind of conflict among Christians (his readers) which was contrary to God’s calling on their lives and their very nature as brothers and sisters in Christ. And the real cause of this problem was their own sin.
Again, that’s where we’ve been. And again, today we’re going to consider James’s God-given solution to all of that, beginning with a closer look at the specific cause of the problem, friendship with the world.
Let’s pray, then, that God’s grace would flow freely to us in a conflict-preventing, ending, and healing way.
FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD AS THE CAUSE OF CONFLICT WITHIN THE CHURCH (4-5)
In 4:1, James asked, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” In the same verse, James immediately answered his own question, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” We considered both of those things in detail last week. Before moving on to James’s solution to warring-passions-caused-conflict in the Church, I want to press in just a bit further on the one particular warring-passion that James mentioned in vs.4-5, friendship with the world.
4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
Throughout the OT, God regularly referred to the Israelites as adulterous whenever they went after false gods. In this, God was pointing out both the fact and seriousness of the spiritual infidelity of His people. Instead of remaining faithful to God as the one true God, Abraham’s offspring regularly chased after the pagan gods of their pagan neighbors. That is spiritual adultery and spiritual adultery is the most serious kind of sin.
Exceedingly familiar with this category and its seriousness, James used the same harsh language to accuse his readers of their own brand of spiritual infidelity, “You adulterous people!”. Don’t miss this, Grace, in so doing, James’s point was that their quarreling and fighting flowed ultimately out of a lack of faithfulness to God. Their sins were vertical before they were ever horizontal.
In other words, at its very heart, the final cause of the conflict among James’s readers was not anything between them. It was, rather, something between them and God. Indeed, their conflict was not ultimately caused, as they suspected, by one another. It was caused, James said, ultimately by a lack of faithfulness to God.
But what, specifically, was their adulterous act? Knowing the answer can help us make better sense of and apply James’s solution to their problem. Their adulterousness, their faithlessness, their acts of spiritual infidelity, James wrote, was friendship with the world. That is, the cause of the conflict among them was that they loved the things of the world more than they loved each other, and (adulterously, and worse still) they loved the things of the world more even than God. That is why they were willing to fight one another to get what they wanted.
There are two things for us to see here before we get to James’s solution. First, in simplest terms, friendship with the world means allowing anything outside of God to shape or hold our affections. That is, friendship with the world means establishing our sense of right and wrong, purpose and meaning, and value and worth in anything other than God’s nature and Word. In the end, friendship with the world is a rejection of God as God and as supreme treasure.
And second, friendship with the world is entirely incompatible with friendship with God. That is why James asked, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” And that is why James concluded, “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
That is also why John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
In summary, James’s main points here were that: 1) His readers had forged or maintained some measure of friendship with the world, 2) That this friendship with the world was causing their passions to war within them, 3) That their worldly-friendship-caused warring passions were ultimately to blame for their conflict with one another, and 4) That all of this put them at odds not only with one another, but more significantly with God since it was adulterous. In short, James told them that they needed to choose between continuing on with their friendship with the world or their friendship with God. God’s people cannot have both. They are mutually exclusive.
In the hope and expectation that his readers would decide to turn from their spiritual adultery, from their friendship with the world, and return to faithfulness to God, James concluded this section by shining a bright light on the path of repentance—the path to ending the conflict among themselves and restoring their fellowship with God.
As we turn there now, Grace, we must consider our conflicts, we must consider whether or not they flow mainly out of friendship with the world, and we must recognize that this is incompatible with living in fellowship with God and man. What do you love more than God? Where are you getting your sense of purpose, meaning, truth, justice, or goodness outside of God? Where is your wisdom the product of the wisdom of this age rather that the God of all ages? Where do you desire something created more than the One who created it? Where you find these things, you will eventually have conflict with those who get in the way of you having those things, and ultimately with God Himself for it is spiritual adultery.
THE CURE FOR CONFLICT WITHIN THE CHURCH (6-10)
With all of that, with a sermon and a half focusing on the problems of James’s readers, what is the solution to all of this? How do we escape the snare of friendship with the world? And how do we prevent, end, and heal from conflict that results from it? Once again, James’s answer to all of that is grace-enabled repentance in a particular shape. Let me say that again, if you want to prevent this type of conflict in your life, end it, and heal from it, the path James gives, is repentance (not in some other person, but in you) enabled (not by your own strength or will, but) by God’s grace. We’ll look first at the grace of God and then at the path by which He has chosen to bring it to us.
The Grace of God (6)
First and foremost, it is the grace of God that prevents, ends, and repairs the damage caused by conflict within the church. That’s the point of v.6.
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Don’t miss or minimize this, Grace Church. God’s grace is our only and certain hope for our every conflict.
God’s grace is our only hope in that conflict-help doesn’t ultimately come from more knowledge, or power, or discipline, or anything else in us. When it comes to preventing and overcoming conflict within the Church, and when it comes to healing and finding restoration from its effects, our hope is not in our cunning, or scheming, or good intentions, or forgiving spirits. Hope and help in conflict come only from the unmerited kindness of God.
Further, God’s grace is our certain help in conflict in that it is entirely sufficient for every conflict, no matter how long-standing, deep, painful, confusing, wide-spread, or consuming it is. God’s grace is sufficient for this. The conflict may be significant, “but he gives more grace”.
Therefore, what James is about to command is not a formula to be followed or the combination to a safe. It is a description of one specific way God has chosen to distribute His grace to His hurting people.
Practically, then, consider the Christian-conflict in your life and allow your hope to be renewed by the promise that God “gives more grace.” If you’ve come to believe there is no hope or that the conflict is beyond help, believe James when he says, “But he gives more grace.” Allow your despair to dissolve in the good news that God has promised to give “more grace” than whatever strength our conflict has.
Therefore, where conflict has you weary and frustrated and discouraged, fall to your knees in prayer. Cry out to God for mercy and grace in the knowledge that He will give it. In fact, James tells not only that He will do so, but he also tells us precisely how He will do so. Let’s lean way in to these last few verses, then.
The Grace of God through a Particular Conduit (6-10)
Probably the best way to understand what we’re about to hear is to picture a well of God’s grace on one side, you (steeped in conflict and longing for that grace) on the other side, and the need for some type of pipe in between to carry the grace from God to you. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, of course, is the reason for the well of grace and God’s promise to bring it to you, but James taught that God determined to bring the cross-won grace to you through a particular means. James 4:6-10 describes that means as a sort of six-piece pipe. By God’s design, all six pieces are necessary to carry the grace of God to you in your need.
This isn’t unusual. God has chosen to use words as conduits for His saving grace, and so we preach the gospel. He has chosen to use certain ordinances to bring persevering grace, and so we baptize and take the Lord’s Supper. And He has chosen to use certain things as a conduit for conflict mitigation, management, and mending, and so we make use of them whenever we need that particular grace. Again, then, let’s look briefly at each right now, praying earnestly that God would be pleased to work each of them in us, even as we work at each of them ourselves.
- Humbling ourselves (6, 10). Are you in any type of conflict with another Christian? The first step in receiving God’s grace for it is to humble yourself. We see that in both v.6 and 10.
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” … 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Pride is to place yourself above; above people and even above God. Humility is to place yourself below; people and God. It is a particular kind of pride that rejects God and befriends the world. And that kind of pride causes conflict. Likewise, it is a particular kind of humility that acknowledges God as God. And that kind of humility prevents, ends, and heals conflict.
Consider that carefully, Grace. If you want God’s grace to flow and conflict to end, you have to stop believing you know more than God. You have to stop believing that the other person is the main problem. You have to stop trusting in yourself to fix things. You have to stop exalting yourself above God and others. And instead, you have to humble yourself below God and others.
Pride causes conflict. Humility ends it. Forsaking pride and embracing humility will work. It will end conflict. James does not offer this as a suggestion, but as a promise. If you humble yourself before the Lord, He will exalt you above the petty desires that cause horizontal conflict. When you humble yourself, the conflict-causing hold that friendship with the world has will break and you will be free to love and serve and lay your life down for others rather than fight them for what you shouldn’t want in the first place and they can’t really give anyway.
- Submitting ourselves to God (7a). The second aspect of God’s conflict-ending grace conduit is to submit ourselves to Him. This is a natural outworking of the first aspect—humbling ourselves. From our proper, lowly position, having relinquished our sense of being king of our own lives, it is the most natural thing in the world to submit ourselves to God; that is, to His authority over us, His commands and promises to us, and plans and priorities for us.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God.
When we want what God wants, in the ways God calls us to want them, and not the things of this world, conflict dies, for its source entirely dries up. Where might conflict among God’s people come from if we all let go of the hold this world has on us? When we’ll gladly turn the other cheek, give our tunic also, and willingly be defrauded of anything on earth (all things God commands), what’s there to fight about? Submitting ourselves to God is the second part of the pipe that allows God’s grace to flow to us in conflict.
- Resist the devil (7b). The third piece of the conflict-ending grace-conduit of God is resisting the devil. James wrote,
7 Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
The devil loves anything that distracts God’s people from God and His plans. He loves anything that fosters pride and resistance to God. His tactics are many, including creating sparks of Church conflict and fanning the flame when it ignites. We see in Job, in Jesus’ temptation, and in the several NT descriptions of the devil, how he works and how he creates conflict (mainly through lies and flattery). James calls his readers to acknowledge the devil’s lies and flattery for what they truly are—hollow and deadly promises—and reject them entirely.
This will work, Grace Church. God’s grace will flow to us when we resist the devil. He will flee from us, James promises. We often think and act as if the devil doesn’t exist at all or as if he’s almost as powerful as God. But both of those things are wrong. He is real and he is active, but he is also wounded and ultimately defeated. I love how one commentator put it, “The Lord Jesus defeated him at His temptation and at the cross and left him vulnerable. He cannot hold a sinner against that sinner’s will. He cant even lead a believer into sin without that believer’s will” (MacArthur, James, 205).
When you feel the devil’s pull toward friendship with the world (the devil’s domain), in any form, remind yourself of two things. First, that the devil’s best promises are at best half truths and always end in destruction. And second, that God’s promises are sure and always end in pleasures forevermore.
Do you want the conflict in your life with your brothers and sisters in Christ to end? Humble yourself, submit yourself to God, and resist the devil.
- Draw near to God (8a). Forth, draw near to God. When you humble yourself, submitting yourself to God flows naturally from that. When you submit yourself to God, you are by definition resisting the devil. And when you do these things together, where will you turn to fill what your pride and plans and the devil offered but couldn’t deliver (joy and peace and security and blessing and significance)? James said that you ought to do so in the one place they can be truly found, in God.
What’s more, just as with his command to flee the devil, James did not offer this as a possibility to try, but as a promise of certain grace. When we draw near, He will come to us and this will prevent, end, and heal conflict.
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
More than simply a means to end conflict, however, drawing in near to God in intimate fellowship is the beginning of the gospel, the very purpose for which we were made, and the reward of all who are in Jesus. It is a means of God’s conflict-grace, but even more, it is the meaning of life. Draw near to God, Grace.
- Repent (8b). The fifth part of James’s prescribed conflict-ending grace is to repent.
8 Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
This would have been familiar language to James’s primarily Jewish audience. Washing and purification were directly tied to proper worship of God in the OT. Much more than a sacrificial ritual, however, James called on his readers to turn from their sin both externally (cleanse your hands) and internally (purify your hearts). In other words, James was charging his humble, submissive, devil-resistant, God-fellowshipping readers to stop their fighting and to do so by forsaking the heart issues that caused it in the first place.
Among God’s people, dirty hands belong to those who are committing acts of sin (sinners) and wayward hearts belong to those who are flirting with the world (double-minded). Both cause conflict and both need to be rejected for God’s grace to flow and conflict to die.
- Lament (9). Finally, genuine lamentation must mark those who long for conflict to end and God’s grace to flow. The kind of conflict James described among his readers was, as we saw, exceedingly dishonoring to God, inconsistent with their natures, and massively destructive to their community. This was sin of the most grievous kind.
When God grants true repentance, He does so by opening our eyes to the true, vile, horrific, despicable nature of our sin. And when He does that, we are embarrassed, ashamed, and convicted. And where those things are present, there is lamentation.
9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
You’ve felt the seemingly inadequate healing power of a trickle of remorse from someone, haven’t you? They sinned against you in a significant way, but they respond with a basic acknowledgement of their wrong-doing, but without anything approaching grief. It is good to forgive, but that isn’t very healing. On the other hand, the more they lament the true wickedness of their sin and the pain it caused us, the more we’re able to forgive and embrace. That’s what James was calling for here.
His readers were not there yet, which is why he commanded these things, but when they finally got there, there would be true grief and lamentation over their wickedness, a swift rejection of it, an overwhelming gratitude that would replace it as they remembered the gospel, and then the grace of God would flow freely, flooding them with a new, sanctified set of desires for themselves and the rest of their brothers and sisters in Christ. And in all of that, their conflict would end and their healing would begin.
Conflict among us comes when we forge a friendship with the world and forsake friendship with God. That causes us to want things we shouldn’t want, in ways we shouldn’t want them, and from places that can’t give them. Blinded to these things, we go after the things of earth and fight with anyone who gets in our way.
For this adulterous conflict among us to end, God’s grace is what we need most. That grace was purchased on the cross and comes to us through particular means. Specifically, James wrote, it comes to us when we humble ourselves, submit to God, resist the devil, draw near to God in fellowship, repent, and lament over our sins.
May these things mark us at all times, Grace, in order that conflict would always be held at bay. For when whenever we are characterized by them, conflict will never be able to gain a foothold. And may we be swift to return to them whenever conflict arises from our neglect.
This is a precious gift of God through Jesus. May we receive it with all the gratitude and obedience it deserves, and may God heal us as we do.