Alignment and James 3:13-4:10

 

imagesI would like to start today by telling you a story of a selfish and wealthy man. One afternoon, this rich man was riding in the back of his limousine and he saw 2 pathetic-looking men by the side of the road, eating grass. He ordered his driver to stop and got out to investigate. He walked up and asked the men: Why are you eating grass? The 1st man replied: we do not have any money for food. Then you must come with me to my house, insisted the rich man. But sir, said the 1st man: I have a wife and three kids here. Bring them along, replied the rich man. The 2nd man then exclaimed: And I have a wife and six kids! Bring them as well, the rich man proclaimed. They all climbed into the car, and once underway, one of the men expressed his gratitude, saying: Sir, you are too kind. Thank you for taking all of us with you. The rich man replied: I am most happy to do it. You will love my place. The grass is almost a foot tall.[1]

This silly story highlights the reality of selfishness. Selfishness is a lack of concern for others, and a being primarily concerned w/ ones self. Like this rich man, we often overlook the needs of others, for OUR wants. We turn a blind eye to the hurt of others, so WE do not have to deal w/ it. We wonder how a given situation or relationship could benefit US, and discount what could be helpful to others. The problem we often face is that we are proud and self-serving.

We are in the season of Lent on the church calendar. This is a season of preparation for the church. We set our minds on the work of JC, leading up to the cross, and His crucifixion. So as we consider His actions, it seems logical to consider OUR actions. So this season, we are asking the question: How shall we live? And to help us do this, we are studying the book of James. And today we are going to look at James 3:13-4:10. So grab a Bible and turn to James 3:13. In James 1 we were called to live an active life of faith, to be doers of Gods word (1:22). Last week we saw that we are called to live congruently w/ our faith, in our actions, in our thoughts, and w/ our words. And in James 3:13-4:10, we will consider our loyalties and discernments. James as a whole calls us to authenticity, to practice what we preach. The letter was written to Jewish believers spread throughout the nations to expose hypocrisy and teach genuine Christian faith. The proof of a genuine faith is a changed life.

 

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So before I get ahead of myself, lets read James 3:13-4:10. As we do so, ask yourself: WHAT IS JAMES REBUKING, AND WHAT IS HE ENCOURAGING?

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Dont 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, dont 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.

WHAT IS JAMES REBUKING, AND WHAT IS HE ENCOURAGING?

As I consider this passage, I see 2 sections. 1st a discussion on our wisdom. And 2nd, a discussion on our loyalty. In many ways, both sections speak to our alignment. Where do we align our thoughts and actions? 1st James speaks about wisdom. James sets it all up in v. 13, saying: If you are wise, prove it by living wisely and humbly. It appears that his audiences may have been struggling w/ a double mindedness, proclaiming their alignment w/ God, His ways and wisdom, but living in a way that did not distinguish themselves from their neighbors. There was jealousy, and selfishness that was rooted in an alignment to things other than God. Folks were not content w/ what they had, so they covered it by most likely slandering others to boost themselves. James cautions his audience not to sin against the truth by misrepresenting themselves and others. This contrasts the humility of v. 13. v. 15 tells us that following the lead of such misrepresentation is not of God, but is unspiritual and demonic. In other words, following the advice of culture that tells you to advance yourself at the cost of others is actually inferior wisdom and corrupted. Where there is jealousy and selfishness, you will find disorder and evil. These are the fruits of the evil one. When you are concerned about self-preservation and neglect compassion for the stranger in your politics and relationships, your alignment is off. So in v. 17 James shows us the alternative. He says, heavenly wisdom is pure, peace loving, gentle, and submissive (or reasonable). It is filled w/ mercy, and equity, and sincerity. These are the fruits of heaven. James says when you plant seeds of peace, you will reap righteousness. You will reap what you sow. And that’s nice, but lets be honest sowing peace, and making movements of compassion, is difficult. Helping those in need can be inconvenient to our plans. Assisting someone of a different cultural or economic culture can be frustrating. Thats why it is called a sacrifice, and that is why it is not done as much as it could be. It is easier to argue about methods or politics. James says in 4:1, that our infighting comes from evil desires. Your internal conflicts are not rooted in heaven, but in self-preservation. He says you desire what you do not have, and so scheme to get it. As one commentator said: unsatisfied envy leads to fighting and quarrelling.[2] I am not getting what I want, so I am going to attack, whether actively or passively, and try to manipulate the situation so I can make it. We are using human wisdom to achieve human results, forgetting that all good things come from God Himself. So James says in vs. 2-3 that we dont have b/c we either don’t ask God, or ask w/ the wrong motives. James is calling us to align ourselves w/ God by living out His wisdom.

Next he speaks to where out loyalties lie. In 4:4, James calls his audience adulterous to God. He is attempting to correct their alignment. Calling them an adulterous people was a figure of speech designating the unfaithfulness of Gods people in their relationship with Him.[3] When you are friends w/ the world, you are not friends w/ God. The term “world” could mean many things, but the bottom line is where you are aligned. For example, are you taking your lead from news media, which promotes a fear-based worldview? It is important for these news sources to create a sense of urgency and anxiety, so you crave answers, their answers. And when they cut to commercial, you are given various options that will ease your anxiety, whether it is life insurance, investing in gold, or a McRib sandwich. Are you taking your lead from this fear based world perspective, or from a faith-based worldview? In James 4:5, James declares that God desires us to only be committed to Him. God gives us the grace to the humble, in the face of those who are proud and have all the answers to our anxieties. James calls us to humble ourselves before God, and resist the devil. He says in v. 8, draw close to God and He will draw close to you. And calls us not to divide our loyalties. In v. 9, James at 1st glance comes off like a Debbie Downer, instructing us to be sorrowful for our disloyalty, calling us to turn our laughter into tears. What a downer! In context however, we should know that the Bible often associates laughter with a person who has no fear of God.[4] What James is doing is inviting us and his readers to realign ourselves to God, living out Gods wisdom, and, as best we can, placing ourselves under Gods worldview.

James summarizes the entire passage in 4:10 by saying, humble yourself before God and you will be lifted up. And to me that is the good news. The good news is that God honors the humble and honors those who are aligned w/ Him. Even when it is challenging and a sacrifice, God lifts them us, exalting them. God honors those sacrifices, and that selfless humility, and that is good news.

 

Today

But the challenge is that we desire fulfillment. We prioritize self-preservation and fulfillment. We look out for number one, like that guy in the story I shared who brought the hungry men to mow and eat his grass. He thought he was being helpful, but really he proud and self-serving. And often times we are too. And can you blame us? We have been burned when we try to help others. After giving generously to a person or cause, we have found out that our gifts were mismanaged. When we have given our time for something, we have not gotten the acknowledgment we felt we deserved. So why would we align ourselves to a selfless lifestyle? Why would we bother if we are just going to get burned again?

There was a study done in 2013 on selflessness and humility. It was a secular study, but I think you will find parallels w/ what we are talking about. The study from the academic journal, Health Psychology, found that people who volunteer may live longer than those who do not, as long as their reasons for volunteering are to help others rather than themselves. This was the first time research has shown volunteers motives can have a significant impact on life span. Volunteers lived longer than people who did not volunteer if they reported altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main reasons for wanting to volunteer. People who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did not volunteer at all. Researchers looked at data collected on 10K Wisconsin high school students from their graduation in 1957 until the present. In 2004, respondents reported whether they had volunteered within the past 10 years and how regularly. They also reported their reasons for volunteering or not. Some motives were more oriented toward others, and other motives were more self-oriented. Then 4 years later in 2008, researchers then determined how many of the respondents were still alive. Overall, 4.3 percent of 2,384 NON-volunteers were deceased four years later. This was similar to the number of deceased volunteers who reported more self-oriented motives for volunteering. However, only 1.6 percent of those volunteers whose motivations were more focused on others were dead four years later.[5] I find this secular study interesting b/c it seems to parallel much of what we are talking about today.

James is calling his audience to align themselves away from themselves and the wisdom of the world, and to align themselves w/ the wisdom of God, which directs our attention away from ourselves to Him and others. In the purely physical sense, this study shows the benefits of sacrificing for others. This speaks nothing about the how God is honored through these sacrifices.

As we orient our lives around Gods faith-based worldview, rather than a fear-based one, our perspective is always upward, worshipping Him. We draw near to God and are in closer relationship? So naturally as we are close to God, and spend time w/ Him, we begin to reflect His glory. Just like I, after a long day at the coffee shop, come home smelling like coffee, as we spend time w/ God we begin to smell like Him, act like Him, and show Him off. So it seems natural that the good news of this passage would be true – that God honors the humble and those aligned w/ Him. He lifts them up and exalts them. And as we align ourselves w/ God, denying our selfishness, we find fulfillment (3:17). Those who sow peace find righteousness.

So our question for Lent asks: how shall we live? What shall we do? Here we are invited to humble ourselves, to live rooted in Gods wisdom and kingdom. Not to be rooted in the fear-based worldview of media, but to live rooted in Gods wisdom and kingdom. If we are a people of faith, may we live like it, and reflect His glory.

 

Amen.

 

[1] http://www.jokebuddha.com/Selfish#ixzz41rCQVJu8

[2] Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Jas 4:2). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Jas 4:4). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Jas 4:9). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/11/volunteering.aspx

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