Last week James showed us that the key to rising above long lasting conflict is to look for the fight behind the fight.
Beneath the surface, underneath the water line of our words and works is our wants, our desires, which guide everything we do.
When our wants are conflicted, our relationships will be conflicted.
That means he conflict in our relationships is a symptom of a deeper problem.
The problem, according to James 4:1 is that our passions are at war within us.
One solution to that problem is to insert the will between our desires and our actions. This can be helpful, but in the long run will only result in more internal conflict. The more I try to push down or deny my desires, the more emotional strain I will experience.
What the gospel offers us is a new heart, with new passions and a new object of desire that is large enough to bring our desires into proper order.
As Christians we don’t always experience the peace of an undivided heart. We continue to experience the warring of our passions and we find ourselves caught in conflict we don’t want to be in.
How do you find inner peace when your passions are at war within you?
Let’s pick back up in James chapter 4, starting in verse 4.
When your passions at war within you, turn to God and you will find grace.
1. Recognize the impulse and the impossibility of dual allegiance.
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”?
Life is war.
You see the words enmity and enemy? These are terms of war. What you have to understand is that the world you were born into is a theatre of war.
The war began when Satan the angel of light rose in rebellion against the creator and became the prince of darkness. The war came to us in the garden when the father of lies began sowing seeds of rebellion in the human heart.
The enemy of God is a thief, John tells us, who comes only to steal, kill and destroy.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
This world is a theatre of war fought over by God and Satan.
Does talk like this make you uncomfortable? A war between Satan and God, waged over the soul of humanity? Does that sound unreal to you?
I was thinking about my family this weekend. In my extended family I count 5 bitter and painful divorces. I have a cousin who lost his life to a drug overdose. I have a cousin who deals with severe trauma as a victim of a break in and sexual assault. Another cousin is serving a life sentence for the murder of his child. An uncle recently discovered that his father was not his father, that his biological father is still alive and that his newfound family wants nothing to do with him. Two of my grandparents lost their lives to the deadly effects of nicotine addiction. My father died in a drunken accident. I’m not sure if anyone in my family is untouched by anxiety, depression or addiction.
Why is that?
The Bible says that we are born into a warzone, that a battle is being waged for each of our souls. The Bible says that we were made for much more than we experience in this world.
I don’t know about you, but from my vantage point, the explanation of the Bible fits the experience of reality far more accurately than any other explanation I have found.
At the turn of the 20th century many people in the Western world believed that we were on the verge of a utopian experience of society. Science had given us unprecedented understanding of and power over the physical world and education was pulling the world up out of the dark ages of religious superstition. With a little more time the world would be a paradise.
Two world wars, driven not by religion, but by a mad obsession for tribal supremacy led many people to rethink their views of good and evil.
The Bible tells us that there is an enemy of God. His realm is what James calls the world.
What is the world?
What is the world? The word James wrote on his parchment was Kosmos.
Literally the word means an orderly and harmonious arrangement.
Three are three general uses of the word kosmos when it is translated world in the NT.
- The physical world. (Acts 17:24 – the God who made the world and everything in it.)
- The people in the physical world. (Matthew 26:13 – the gospel will be preached to the whole world)
- The portion of the world that is under the power of the evil one, opposed to God (more than 30 according to Unger)
Martin Vincent: The sum-total of human life in the ordered world, considered apart from, alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God
A quick overview of the world in the NT:
The world does not recognize God.
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
1 Corinthians 1:21
The world hated Jesus and will hate his people.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
John 15:18 (ESV)
The world is under the power of the evil one.
“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
-1 John 5:19 (ESV)
The world is continually exerting an influence on your soul.
“Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
Romans 12:2 (MSG)
The marks of the world are
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.”
1 John 2:15
The world promises life and fulfilment, but only gives temporary pleasure.
“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
1 John 2:17 (ESV)
The world is under the judgment of God.
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”
John 12:31 (ESV)
William MacDonald described the world as “the system which man has built up for himself in an effort to satisfy the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.”
We should not be confused and think that these verses are condemning the physical world as evil. The world as James uses it does not refer to a physical location, it is not the physical dimension.
God created the world and it was good. In the end times God is going to remake the physical world and as I understand it, eternal life will be a physical life involving things like work and music and the arts.
Don’t think of the world in James as whatever is physical.
You can think of the world as a rebel stronghold set up in God’s creation. The motto of the world is Not your will, but mine be done.
WH Griffith Thomas wrote that “worldliness is a spirit, an atmosphere, an influence permeating the whole of life and human society, and it needs to be guarded against constantly and strenuously.”
H.P. Liddon described the world as an egocentric-system that is hostile to God “a mighty flood of thoughts, feelings, principles, prejudices, dislikes, attachments, which have been gathering around human life for ages, filling it, driving it, moulding it, degrading it”
The world is the autonomous free zone of the enemies of God.
The world is found anywhere you find people, institutions and cultural products devoted to the pursuit of total human freedom and self expression.
Examples of the world:
The world is the science department which will not hire faculty who question the dogma of Darwinian naturalism and whose classrooms are devoted to ridding the world of the concept of a creator.
The world is an entertainment industry which turns young girls into sex objects and it is the people who pay monthly subscriptions in order to watch that objectification unfold on screen.
The world is the neighborhood where everyone is in an uphill race to accumulate the newest and fanciest toys and send their kids to the best schools while going out of their way to avoid facing the reality of the neighborhood across the street where children are born into extreme poverty and hardship.
The world is the church where people gather to celebrate their moral superiority and pray to the great cosmic vending machine in the sky for the success of their tribe.
The world can be religious and non-religious.
The world can be conservative and progressive.
The world is the podcast devoted self actualization, the Instagram account devoted to self care and the Twitter account dedicated to political conflict.
The world is every ism which makes one gender, one ethnicity, one nation, one political cause the absolute center of the universe and breeds conflict and division.
The world is at its core an enemy of God. It rejects his existence, his design and his authority.
There is no neutral ground. You can’t hold an allegiance to God and the world.
To be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God.
Friendship is an attachment formed between two entities based on mutual affection, trust and respect
A friend is someone you spend time with, someone who shares common interests.
To be friends is to walk together in the same direction.
“Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?”
– Amos 3:3 (NLT)
Scientists who study human friendship talk about two interesting concepts.
The first is homophily – the tendency for people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves. We are naturally drawn towards people who share our views and our backgrounds. This creates a cyclical effect – I am drawn into friendship through similarities and in the context of friendship I become more similar to my friends.
The second concept is interpersonal synchronization. Scientists have discovered that friends who spend a lot of time together shape each others neural patterns.
A researcher named Thalia Wheatley performed a study in 2018 at Dartmouth college. She studied the brains waves of a group of volunteers who watched video clips together. Those who were friends showed remarkable similarity.
“The brain regions with the most similar activity among friends included subcortical areas such as the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, which are involved in motivation and processing emotions. There was also remarkable similarity in areas involved in deciding what to pay attention to, and regions in the inferior parietal lobe that have been linked to discerning others’ mental states, processing the narrative content of stories, and generally making sense of the world.”
In other words friendship creates a synchronization so powerful that friends take on strikingly similar motivations, process emotions similarly, and make sense of the world in the same way.
You don’t need to be neural scientist to understand this concept.
When I was a kid I listened to Nirvana because my friend Santos listened to Nirvana. In elementary school I picked up a foul mouth and a catalog of dirty jokes because the kids on the playground had potty mouths. In high school I smoked weed because my friend Andy smoked weed. In college I picked up roller blading because my friends Jason and Steve like to play roller hockey. When I became friends with a group of Christians I started reading the Bible and reorienting my life’s plans around helping other people instead of seeking my own dreams.
The problem James is addressing is the tendency of Christians to become friends with the world.
This is impossible.
To be a friend of Hitler in the 1940s is to be an enemy of the Jewish people. To be a friend of Osama Bin Laden in 2001 is to be an enemy of the United States. To be a friend of Tom Brady is to be an enemy . . .
To be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God.
Do you want to be an enemy of God? It is a terrible thing to be an enemy of God.
It’s worse for a Christian to be a friend of the world and thus an enemy of God. That kind of person, James tells us in verse 4, is an adulterous person.
An adulterous person is someone whose heart is spoken for. An adulterous person is someone who breaks the bonds of faithfulness and love in order to enjoy another lover.
In 2014 The Pew Research Center did a major study of moral standards across the world, taking polls in 40 countries. 78% of people responded that adultery is morally unacceptable. It was by far the most universally condemned behavior.
I will never forget the night a neighbor invited my Mother over to introduce her to my Father’s girlfriend. His adultery tore her heart into pieces and destroyed our family.
When the divorce was finalized and my Dad got an hour of custody on the weekends, the first thing he did was bring us to his new house to meet his girlfriend. What is a 12 year old boy supposed to do when introduced to the woman who broke his Mom’s heart and ruined her family?
My Dad thought he could have a family and a lover at the same time. It was impossible.
To be a Christian who enjoys the friendship of the world is to betray the trust of love and faithfulness.
“To be “a friend of the world” is to value the approval of and cherish a relationship with persons and forces which are either indifferent toward or openly hostile to God. The situation is comparable to that of a wife who would cultivate friendship with a man trying to seduce her. Such a wife becomes her husband’s enemy”
– Curtis Vaughan
John Piper in Desiring God – “pictures the church as the wife of God. God has made us for Himself and has given Himself to us for our enjoyment. Therefore, it is adultery when we try to be “friends” with the world. If we seek from the world the pleasures we should seek in God, we are unfaithful to our marriage vows. And, what’s worse, when we go to our heavenly Husband and actually pray for the resources with which to commit adultery with the world, it is a very wicked thing.”
One of the most extraordinary revelations in the Scripture is the fact that the creator of the universe is a personal God who has personally invested himself in relationship with his creation.
You can affect God. Verse 5. God yearns jealously. God wants your heart.
You can’t love God and the world.
“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.”
– 1 John 2:15
How do I know if I am a friend of the world?
Some questions for self-evaluation:
1. What is shaping my view of the world?
Which television shows and movies am I watching?
Which podcasts am I listening to?
Which influencers am I following on social media?
What’s the drum they are beating – is it God’s will be done or my will be done? What effect is that having on me?
2. Where am I finding my belonging?
Which tribe or group is providing my sense of identity? Is it the Crossfit gym or the fitness community? Is it the online community of Moms and all of the trends that are shared?
3. Where do I find entertainment and escape?
Where do I go to relax and be myself? When I have a few moments of spare time, where do I go?
4. Whose respect am I trying to win?
Does this mean we are enemies of the world? Some Christians act that way, don’t they?
In one sense, Christians are the greatest friends of the world, for they desire the good of all men, and seek their salvation. But, in another sense, viewing the world as a great conglomerate of evil, we are no friends of the world. -Spurgeon
Attempting to love God and befriend the world will make you miserable.
If you try to love God and flirt with the world your passions will be at war within you and you will be miserable. God will oppose you.
So what do we do?
2. Remember the super abounding grace of God.
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
He gives more grace. It’s an incredible statement isn’t it?
It reminds me of Romans 5:20:
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
When human sin abounded in the human heart and we crucified the Son of God, the grace of God overflowed through the great heroic heart of Christ whose love came rushing over the souls of the very people who killed him – “Father forgive them.”
How does God respond to his enemies? How does he feel about people who have become friends with the world?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16
That’s what Romans 5:20 is about. That’s the more of grace.
In the Greek the word is superabound. Where sin abounded, grace superabounded. Superabound means more than sufficient.
“Romans 5:20 stands out like a brilliant beacon on a dark and dangerous night. The dark background is sin and its horrible proliferation in the world. But the beacon flashes, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
– James Montgomery Boice
“Where sin overflowed, grace flooded in.”
“Where sin measurably increased, grace immeasurably increased.”
“”Where sin reached a high-water mark, grace completely flooded the world.”
– Donald Barnhouse
Martin Lloyd-Jones: “The idea is that of an overflowing, as if a mighty flood were let loose, sweeping everything before it. Indeed, we might well use the term ‘engulfed’; such an abundance, such a superabundance that it drowns and engulfs everything.
“God does not say of a monstrous sinner, “Oh, that man is so bad that I must scrape the bottom of the barrel of grace for him!” Nor does He say of another, “There is an average man, doing average things in an average way, so I need only an average amount of grace to deal with him.” He does not say of a third man, “There is a highly moral man, well thought of by all his fellows; just a scoop full of grace will meet his need.” The degree of sinfulness does not enter into God’s dealing with men. The question of sin was settled forever when the Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross of Calvary. Now, because of that righteous act, God can reach any man in any degree of sin, and save him. The grace that goes forth to all sinners, whether first-class, second-class or third-class, is the limitless, measureless, infinite grace of God. It knows no change of source or purpose. It would be impossible for God to exert more pressure and bestow more grace, because grace is already the supreme, infinite flow of perfect love. It would likewise be impossible for God to do less for a sinner, for no brakes can check the work of God. At the cross He forever destroyed all that sin is and all that sin can do.”
What do I do with grace? Does that mean I can go on and live my life and do whatever I want?
3. Resist the devil, rinse away your sins and return to God.
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.
There are 11 actions given to us in this passage.
1. Grace teaches us to resist the devil.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
He prowls around looking for someone to devour. He wants to steal, kill and destroy.
Here’s what you need to understand. Listen carefully to this: you are under the power of the evil one to the extent you want to be.
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight:
On earth is not his equal…
Scowl fierce as he will;
He can harm us none,
For he is judged—undone;
One little word o’erthrows him.
– Martin Luther
The devil has no power of the believer but what we give him. Recognize his presence. Recognize his stamp on the world. Reject the world as the devil’s realm. Verbalize this – I resist you devil.
2. Grace teaches us to practically remove our sins.
Cleanse your hands. I think this refers to removing the physical form of sin. Uninstall the app. Pour out the alcohol. Delete the post. Unfollow the account. Throw out the book.
Purify your hearts. I think this refers to consciously repenting from the sin in our hearts. It involves a verbal rejection of the world, “God I have befriended the world, I reject that friendship and I choose you.”
3. Grace teaches us to return to God.
Listen to Charles Spurgeon on submitting to God:
All resistance against God is, from the necessity of the case, be futile. Common sense teaches that rebellion against Omnipotence is both insanity and blasphemy. The Lord’s purpose must stand and His pleasure must be done! His power will assuredly crush all opposition and it is idle to raise it. Why, then, should a man contend against his Master? Wisdom as well as righteousness call upon him to submit to God.
To submit to God is to find rest! The rule of God is so beneficial that He ought readily to be obeyed. He never commands us to do that which, in the long run, can be injurious to us, nor does He forbid us anything which can be to our real advantage. Our God is so kind, so wise, so full of loving forethought, that it is always be to our best interest to follow His lead. Even if we could be left to choose our own way and were under no bonds of duty, it would be wise and prudent to choose the way of the Lord, for it is the path of pleasantness and safety.
There are 11 commands in this passage and there are 3 promises:
1. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
2. Humble yourself and God will exalt you.
3. Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.
Sometimes we struggle with language like we see in James 4. Weep, mourn, wretched – those aren’t pleasant words.
Think back to a time when someone hurt you deeply. What did you want from them? A laugh and a shallow apology? No. You wanted them to suffer with you. You wanted to see sorrow. You wanted them to feel wretched for what they did.
Is it a surprise that God is no different?
Does that mean that the Christian life is a life of sorrow and mourning?
Not at all. Godly sorrow is always temporary:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
2 Corinthians 10:7
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Is your heart drawing near the world? Are your passions conflicted? Repent, draw near to God and he will drawn near to you.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown