James 4: 1-5
Worldliness in the Church
If you have your
Bibles I would invite you to turn with me to James chapter 4. We’ve been
working through this great book for a number of weeks now. We’ve seen how James
deals with the always relevant subject of the Christian’s response to trials in
James chapter 1. We also seen how he defines true religion at the end of James
chapter 1 from verses 19 — 27, and especially in that 3 point summary in James
1:26 and 27, where he reminds us of some of the essential evidences of true
religion, how we show our love tangibly to Christians in need, and how we keep
ourselves unstained from the world and worldliness around us. He begins to work
out those three things in the rest of the book in James chapter 2, as he talks
about the believer in fellowship with other believers and the sin of
partiality. He talks about true faith working itself out in loving obedience
and care for the brethren in James chapter 3, as he focuses especially on the
tongue, and how we use our tongues and our tongues as an evidence of either true
or false Christianity.
I especially would ask you to look at James 3 verse
13 to the end of the chapter, because it is that passage which forms the
immediate context of the passage we are going to study today. The last time we
were together we said that by the time that James gets to 3:13, he’s already
beginning to transition into his next discussion. He’s talked about the
tongue. He’s talked about our tangible care for believers in need. Now he
starts to talk about worldliness. Already in James 3:13-18 that subject is on
his mind. It’s in full force on his mind in James chapter 4. But these verses
provide a transition into that particular passage. And in verses 13-18 he
teaches about true wisdom, and specifically, the difference between true and
false wisdom. And his words are very, very similar to words we might have
heard, say from Job or from Proverbs or from elsewhere in the wisdom teaching of
the Old Testament. Bear that in mind then as we look at James 4 verses 1-5,
which gives us a searching diagnosis of worldliness and its source. Hear God’s
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts
among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You
lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain;
so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do
not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on
your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the
world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the
world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks
to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in
In James 3 verses 13 -18 James made two major
points. First, he asserted that the good life, the truly good life, not the
good life that people offer to you out there, but the good life that God
intends, this good life is the product of true or heavenly wisdom. It’s
heavenly wisdom, it’s true wisdom that produces the good life. And secondly, he
asserted that for heavenly wisdom to grow in us as believers it needs the
environment of a fellowship which is intent upon true peace. So in those
statements James is teaching us, on the one hand, that if we are going to know
true blessedness, true happiness, experience the true satisfaction and fullness
of life which God has intended for us, then we need to have true wisdom,
heavenly wisdom. And on the other hand he is telling us that you really can’t
grow as an individual in heavenly wisdom unless you are planted in the kind of
soil that heavenly wisdom grows in. And the kind of soil that heavenly wisdom
grows in is a fellowship committed to that true wisdom which is living together
in peace and seeking true peace, and so both of those things are necessary in
order to live the good life.
Now in James chapter 4 verses 1 — 5, James goes on to
show us the antithesis of a life lived in accordance with heavenly wisdom. He
shows us, frankly, worldliness, and frighteningly he shows us worldliness in the
church. Here in James 4 verses 1-5, he gives us the symptoms of worldliness in
church, and he gives a diagnosis of worldliness in the church. In verses 6-10
he’ll give us his prescription explaining the solution to this problem, but we
need to stop, pause and pay close attention to what he says in verses 1-5,
because, the church in every generation in which it’s not under persecution or
marginalized in society, but rather living in a prosperous and peaceful society
and relatively prosperous its self, struggles with the sin of worldliness. In
fact, in any church setting where the church is prosperous, very much a part of
the community and society and culture around it, indeed taking a leadership role
in that community, society and culture, its number one challenge is
worldliness. And so James is not speaking to something today that is unrelated
to our daily lives. This is the challenge we face as individuals and as a
congregation everyday of the week everyday of our lives.
I. Selfish desire for personal
pleasure/satisfaction is the source of disharmony in the body and in the
I would like you to see two or three things that James teaches
here. First in verse 1, James gives us two diagnostic questions, and the
answers to those two diagnostic questions gives us the answer to the root of
worldliness and broken fellowship. James asks two questions. What is the
source of quarrels and conflicts among you? And, rhetorically, is not the
source your pleasures that wage ware in your members? And in asking those two
rhetorical questions, James is teaching us that selfish desire for personal
pleasure and satisfaction is the source of disharmony in the body and in
disharmony in the individual. Selfish desire for satisfaction is the source of
disunity and disharmony in the body as well as in the individual.
James begins by asking two diagnostic questions,
which assume a generic struggle with harmony in the Christian community. They
are not the diagnostic questions that we are used to hearing asked here at First
Presbyterian Church. But they are another kind of diagnostic question. They
are a diagnostic question asked to Christians to discern whether they understand
their own hearts and the roots of worldliness. James assumes, even though he
doesn’t know intimate details about all the congregations to which he is
writing, he assumes that the problem of harmony is a standard problem in the
Christian community. When you come into a Christian church and you see
believers estranged from other believers, when you see factions that exist
either in a local congregation or in a denomination you shouldn’t be surprised.
James, Paul, Peter, Jesus, the Old Testament Prophets all expected that to be a
standing challenge for the believing community. But though it is a standing
challenge we are not to be complacent about it. James even calls that situation
of disharmony, disunity, war. That’s the metaphor he will use. That’s how
seriously he takes disharmony in the body of Christ and disunity in the
fellowship of believers.
And in the second question that he asks in verse 1.
He puts his finger on the real problem. Where does this kind of spiritual
disunity come from? It comes, James says, from our personal desire, our desire
for personal fulfillment and satisfaction. Is not the source your pleasures?
Furthermore, James sees this quest for satisfaction of our desires in military
terms. He sees it as an invasion. Not just an invasion of a part of ourselves,
but of all of ourselves. Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your
members? In other words, James says this is war. When your personal desires
for fulfillment and satisfaction take precedent over your loyalty to God and
love for the brethren, it is war. And it is vital for you to understand that
James is not just talking about some sort of base, carnal, sexual desire here.
He is talking about the desire for personal fulfillment in any and every form.
James is talking about the way we devote time and energy and money and interest
and enthusiasm in any and every way seeking self-satisfaction. And James sees
that as the root of disharmony in the Christian life and in Christian
fellowship. And my friends, we live in a world that is bombarding us with the
opposite message of James. The world that we live in is saying, the root of the
good life, the root of happiness is in seeking yourself, understanding yourself,
affirming yourself, pampering yourself, actualizing yourself over and over and
over again. The world says to us, if you want to live the good life, you’ve got
to look out for number one.
One such voice saying this to millions and millions
week by week is Dr. Phil. Dr. Phillip McGraw, for those of you who are cursed
enough to have to look at day time television, have been treated to Dr. Phil, no
doubt on Good Morning America, or Oprah, or Larry King. Dr. Phil says that all
of our problems need to be worked from the inside out. The way he says to
become the person you were always meant to be, is to listen to your inward
voice, to connect with your authentic self, the real you. It is about
self-acceptance. It is about self-awareness. You have to get intimately in
touch with you. It is about self-affirmation, or believing your personal truth
that is what you have come to believe about you. The fix I am talking about,
says Dr. Phil, always deals with you being true to yourself from the inside
out. This approach to life works, says Dr. Phil, because you have within
yourself all the resources you need for every situation in life. All of us, he
says, you included, have within us everything we will ever need to be do and
have anything and everything we will ever want and need. That is a staggering
claim. And it is directly and contradictorily to the point and in fact
illustrative of the point that James is making here. James is saying that when
the quest for personal satisfaction displaces the priority of God and his people
disharmony results in the body.
What about the disharmony in your marriage? I don’t
want in any way to down play the complex and varied components of marital
disharmony, but could it be the disharmony that you’re experiencing today flows
from a deep seated self centeredness in a relationship which requires self
denial, in a relationship which requires understanding another first, rather
than being understood? Could a deep-seated selfishness be at the root of
disharmony in that relationship? How about in the church? Is your estrangement
from other Christians, even in this room, related to a deep-seated selfishness?
Do you care more about your reputation, your feelings, your needs, your hurts,
your wounds then you do about your brothers and sisters in Christ? These kinds
of manifestations of a deep-seated selfishness are, in fact, evidences of
worldliness, James says.
You see, seeking satisfaction and pleasure isn’t just
about base or carnal desires, it can be anything and everything in life. And
when that quest for personal satisfaction displaces the priority of God in our
lives, we are already down the road of worldliness.
And I want to say that even American Christians have
fallen prey to a blended version of spirituality. The Shorter Catechism
says that the chief purpose of life is to glorify God. American Christians
really don’t believe that. American Christians believe that God is the best way
to get the good life, rather than the chief goal of the good life. He’s the
best means to getting my ends, rather than, my purpose is His glory as my end
and goal. To put it another way, John Piper says, “Christ does not exist in
order to make much of us, we exist in order to make much of Him.” And if we
think that God and Christ exist in order to make much of us, in order to fulfill
all of the immediate desires that we have, then we have already fallen prey to
the worldliness about which James is speaking.
Selfish desire for personal pleasure and satisfaction
is at the source of disharmony in the body and in the individual. These two
diagnostic questions are designed to draw that reality out and make us to see
what it is, to see our own hearts.
II. Broken outward relationships
provide the evidence of an inner problem.
Secondly, if you look at verses 2 and 3, James goes on to say
that the good life cannot be had without true wisdom and true fellowship, and
selfishness destroys them both. In verses 2 and 3, he teaches us that broken
outward relationships provide the evidence of an inward problem. How do you
know if you have an inward problem of worldliness? He says, well let me show
you one example look at your broken outward relationships. In verse 2, he gives
two examples, you lust and do not have so you commit murder.
Secondly, you are envious and cannot obtain so you
fight in quarrel. Our outward actions which harm believers, friends in Christ
,and our outward disunity both betray our inner selfishness. Covetousness and
envy are essentially selfish. They represent a self-focused, self-centered
existence, and the good life cannot be had by essential selfishness. Why?
Because true wisdom, James has already told you in James 3:13-18, true wisdom,
heavenly wisdom comes from above. And what is the first principle of true
wisdom? The fear of the lord. But the first principle of selfishness is the
fear of me, the awe of me, the respect of me, the concern for me. True wisdom
is totally opposite from selfishness. True wisdom cannot be had in a selfish
heart, and covetousness and envy and all of the outward actions which they
result show an essentially selfish heart. And so those broken outward
relationships which result from this kind of worldliness show the inner problem.
But he doesn’t stop, for in the second half of verses
2 and verse 3 he gives two other examples: Prayerlessness and unanswered pray.
He says, look, do you pray? And he suggests that many of you aren’t praying.
The fact that you are not praying is in fact an indication that you don’t look
to God for satisfaction. That’s not the place you go, you look somewhere else
for satisfaction. You look to how you can get it for yourself. You look for it
to some other source. But you don’t look to God for the answers to the real,
basic, deepest, most profound and legitimate needs and satisfactions of life.
You don’t look to God. You have not, because you do not ask. So he points to
prayerlessness as an example of a heart problem.
But there are plenty of people who pray to God for
Cadillacs. “Lord give me a Cadillac,” or fill in the blank whatever else it may
be. And he goes on to say, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with
the wrong motives.” In other words, you ask God, looking to Him to give you the
wrong satisfaction. You see God as a means to your ends, instead of the end
itself. You look to God as the One to give you your desires, however warped
they may be, instead of the one who is the desire of your heart.
And so James says that our actions, our factions, and
our motives show us a lot about our heart and our heart problems. What do your
relationships say about your heart? What does your marriage relationship say to
you? What do your friendships say to you? Young people, do you care more about
being accepted by your friends than having God as your priority? What do the
boyfriends and the girlfriends that you choose say about you? Do you care more
about the acceptance of a male and a female friend, a boy friend, a girl friend,
than you do about being faithful and loyal to God? Young married couples, you
hit the hard places in marriage. You’re unhappy, you have a spouse who is
inattentive, who has disappointed you deeply, and it’s not what you were
expecting. Do you care more about God, or do you care more about your own
happiness? “I’m just not happy, I’m just not going to stay in this
relationship.” Do you care more about loyalty to God? Do you care more about
pleasing Him? O, do you care more about satisfaction to yourself? The rest of
us, what are the things that really satisfy you? Where are the places that you
are going to fill the void in you? Is it toys, homes, popularity, cars, power,
ambition what is it? Where are we going and what does it say about our
priorities? Broken outward relationships wrong priorities in relationships
provide the evidence of an inner problem, James says.
III. Friendship with the world
(worldliness) means forfeiture of fellowship with God (peace).
And then he says this in verses 4 and 5, friendship with the
world means forfeiture of fellowship with God. You can have it one way or the
other, but you can’t have it both. God will brook no rival in our hearts. In
verse 4, James says that worldliness is really spiritual adultery, if you try
to be married to Christ and then be joined to another at the same time.
Worldliness is spiritual adultery, and the good life and true wisdom cannot be
experienced by those who are worldly and selfish.
Verse 5 gives us a summation of the teaching of
Scripture, from the beginning to the end. God’s Spirit indwells us and wants
total occupation. He doesn’t want some of you; He wants all of you. I don’t
mean that collectively; I mean that individually. He doesn’t want some of you
individually; He wants all of you individually. His Spirit will brook no
rival. This is seen from the very beginning of God’s salvation, back in Genesis
3:15 when God pronounces His curse against Satin, and then brings His judgment
to Eve. He blesses her in the midst of the warning judgments by saying, “I will
put enmity between you and the serpent, between your seed and his seed.” In
other words, I will put enmity between you and the enemy of your soul.
And so God has established an enmity against the
world and against worldliness in His peoples’ hearts. And He will brook no
rival because He wants all of you, individually. He wants the totality of your
love and loyalty and service. And James simply states categorically that
friendship with the world is hostility to God, and that if we want to make
ourselves to be friends of the world, then we will be enemies of God. It’s one
way or the other. And my friends, living in a culture which is prosperous, in
which we play a significant role, can work on our hearts over time to make us
desire the wrong source of satisfaction. It’s the great, great challenge that
we face here. Who do you love? What do you love? Where is your satisfaction?
What’s the chief purpose of your life? The honest answers the quiet answers in
your own home and your own heart to those questions will tell you much about
what you need.
If the answer is not God through Jesus Christ, to the
question of, “Whom do you love? What do you want? What’s your great
satisfaction?” then the only hope is not to look within, because the answers
are not found within; they’re found without, they’re found with God in Christ.
May God grant us all to look to Him, to walk with Him. Let’s pray.
O Lord grant us a closer walk with You that we might
not love the world and the things thereof, in Jesus name, Amen.
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