Struggle of sleep… Daylight Saving / Every night. While the struggle of sleeping may seem small, it has significant impact physically, emotionally, relationally, and even spiritually.
Today’s passage examines why people struggle.
- Growing up in home where parents were mocked bc of false rumors about his older brother.
- Growing up in home where at a younger age his father passed away.
- Growing up with older brother Jesus who made trouble against the elites of the day, who mistreated, mocked, and eventually murdered older brother.
- Yet, James saw how Jesus handled conflict being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (1:19); with purity, peace, gentleness, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartiality, and sincerity (3:17).
- Serving in Jerusalem Church who handled conflicts of disobedience (Acts 5), doctrine (Ac 15), relational divisiveness (Ac 15; Gal 2:11).
- James’s own death ended due to conflict over his faith in Christ. James’s life was surrounded by conflict from childhood to adulthood. He understood how to handle troubles and trials, and gives us wisdom to apply.
EXAMINE James 3:13 – 4:12 Why do I struggle?
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
1 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.
We often struggle because of mismanaged desires (3:13 – 4:3)
James has these pointed questions – worth a study on its own; it’s what we’ve tried to do in this series addressing a question each week. This passage starts off with: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Essentially, James is calling out those who claim to be spiritually mature, but their actions are infantile and irrational. Again, this is another example where our works reflect our words (2:14-26).
In this text, James lists several internal desires that cause strife and struggles.
- Bitter jealousy: Like the contrast of bitter or fresh water is a jealous or contented soul. Jealousy robs a person of joy because they are overly focused on what others have while overlooking the goodness and blessings around them.
- Selfish ambition & boasting: Ambition is not wrong and is often missing among Christians, but when a person treats people differently (less than) because they cannot advance their purpose or projects, then pride is a warning. Viewing people as what they can do for you rather than how to care for them is selfish. This self-centered view is classically portrayed in politics and business, but is also unfortunately prevalent in churches. How many people come to church thinking: Who am I going to encourage today? VS What will I get out of today?
- This is one of the challenges with virtual church. When the entirety of your church involvement is watching a video, then you’re missing what it means to be a member. All Christians and church members are called to a series of “one another” commands. If we’re not doing these then it’s easy to sit back and grow toward selfish thinking.
- Be false to the truth: Relates to exaggerations about the wrongfulness of others and neglecting any personal flaws or failures.
- Passions/Desires at war within: Selfish passions and desires cause quarrels and fights. Sometimes we say or do things that we don’t even know why, but we know its wrong and still do it (cf. Rom 7). Our sinful nature creeps behind every conversation and circumstance to attack our obedience to God and get us off alignment of God’s will.
So, when it comes to facing struggles, many times (not always), we can be our worst enemy. Many are not at peace within themselves, and therefore they are in frequent opposition with others. Internal discontent leads to disorder of life and division in relationships. James says the eventual result is every vile practice. It is easy to drift out of relationship with God and fellowship with God’s people based on following the wisdom of the world.
James describes the world’s wisdom with three characteristics:
- Earthly: It does not come from God in Heaven. It’s like Gen 3 where humanity thinks they know better than God and what will make them happy. Earthly wisdom promises to please but fails to fulfill (always leads to death; Prov 14:12).
- Unspiritual: The natural life apart from God’s Spirit is based on fear, shame, and guilt.
- Demonic: Worldly wisdom is seductive and filled with strategy to sound like truth. It convinces you that we cannot prove God exists, the Bible was created and filled with errors, and that Christianity is anti-intellectual and “on the wrong side of history,” and that following Jesus robs you for experiencing happiness and pleasures.
Do not be deceived by worldly wisdom. Friendship with the world is dangerous. The world will not stand by you when you are hurting. If you question or don’t fall in line with the world’s demands, they will not care if you get run over in their marches and rebellion. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. There is no middle ground.
In all, if we do not discipline our internal desires, then we are like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (1:7). Here are some practical steps to discipline your desires.
- Be authentic. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles, confess your sin, and admit your weaknesses. Perfectionism is a prison. We will never be perfect. God wants us to remain available and teachable for growth. The desires James lists are marks of those who are unavailable and unaccountable. So, spiritual maturity – and steps to lessen many of the conflicts/struggles in our life starts with humility.
- Bandage wounds don’t badger them. Some people get a scrape and they cannot stop picking at it. Instead of the wound scabbing and scarring, it continues to fester and bleed. Many of these desires/emotions James lists are things that fester in our life because we don’t allow God to heal us. There’s a saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” If we continuously poke and provoke wounds – in ourselves or in others, then we’ll always struggle and never heal. We bandage our wounds by reminding ourselves God’s forgiveness is full and final.
- Romans 8:1, 12-17 “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as children, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
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.”
We struggle because of miscalculated devotion (4:4-6).
James addresses further struggles for those who sin against God. Sin is not theoretical but relational; it’s against someone, namely God. Therefore, sin is an attack to our relationship with God. The Bible describes sin in relational terms when it calls it spiritual adultery (sometimes even more graphic language; (Isaiah 1:2, ff; Jer 31:21; Ez 16:28,ff; 23:45; Hosea 3:1; 4:6, ff). Likewise, James continues with a relational analogy of friendship with the world being enmity with God.
James calls our attention to a biblical theme of God’s jealousy for us (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Zech 8:2). God’s jealousy is not sinful, because the rightful motivation if His own glory. God wants our attention and our affection. When we give our devotion to one who is not worthy, then we have cheated on God. This can be true in marriage, friendships, careers, sports, hobbies, priorities, politics, and even good hopes for the world around us. Some questions to assess if God is jealous in areas of our life:
- What makes you happy? How do you identify self to strangers? Identity is shaped around good things that can sometimes become god-substitutes for us.
- Where are you making the biggest sacrifices of time, money, passion, hope? How is God involved in these?
- Are we fearing ___ more than standing before God?
- Do we see people who think/talk/vote differently than you as objects to ridicule or redeem?
- When life gets tough, where do you run for comfort? TV, Food, alcohol, pills, pornography?
- What do you most complain about and get frustrated/angry? This reveals a value, and if not righteous, then is a heart idol. Further, how you complain/vent reveals faith/doubt in God’s sovereignty.
Our unfaithfulness is a tear and rip of the fabric of God’s covering over us. Thankfully, God is a master and merciful seamster to sew together our relationship with His scarlet thread. “But God gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6) This verse is repeated verbatim 3x with at least 22+ indirect statements about God opposing pride and extending favor toward humility.
- If we’ve miscalculated our devotion, there’s only one true solution – the road of repentance. We must transition first things into first priorities, and let other passions bow before the throne.
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.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
We struggle because of misapplied resistance (4:7-12).
James calls us to submit. Submission implies putting yourself under authority. Unfortunately, many of us have a negative perspective about submission.
Illus: One picture of submission is of a wild stallion that wants its independence. It does not want to be ridden or told what to do. Now, it doesn’t mind if the owner feeds it or keeps a trough full of water. It doesn’t mind having a place to go into out of the cold and rain. It just doesn’t want to be under anyone. But, as we all know, the process of breaking a wild stallion involves getting on its back and riding it. The stallion will buck and try to throw the rider off, but it is their job to outlast the opposition.
How will you know when the horse has been broken?
It will not be because the horse has lost its strength or endurance. The stallion does not lose its God-given uniqueness and identity as a horse. Instead, the horse is now under submission to its owner and has multiplied its abilities and opportunities.
Many Christians want the blessings and gifts from God, but we resist coming underneath His authority.
James describes submission with several commands attached to a wonderful promise:
- Resist the devil and he will flee from you. This promise is good news. Whatever power the enemy has, there is a greater power that belongs to the Christian. So, if we submit to God and resist the devil, we can have victory. Our problem is we reverse the order – we resist God and submit to the flesh, the world, and the devil.
- Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. The idea of coming to God is intimacy and nearness. How do we draw near to an invisible God? God’s visible representations are His word and His people. Start there.
- Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. The imagery is of both external actions (hands) and internal attitudes (heart); see also Ps 24:3-4. Many people struggle because they are living in sin. God’s blessings will only channel through clean vessels. – Also, realize we can only clean after we come to God; gospel first.
- Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. This language was used by the prophets, calling people to heartfelt sorrow of sin and sincerity of worship (Isa. 15:2; Jer. 4:13; Hos. 10:5; Joel 1:9–10; Mic. 2:4). We all have seen the difference between someone who is sorry they got caught and those who are genuinely grieved over the hurt and pain from their sin. James, like the prophets before, is saying, “Mourn now and receive forgiveness, or mourn later without mercy” (cf. Lk 6:25).
- Do not speak evil against one another. Too often Christians are resisting God’s means to save and sanctify us by silencing those who care about us. If someone seeks to hold us accountable, we speak ill of them and cut them out of our life. In all, we are to speak about others as those who are made in God’s image and with love. Christians, we have to understand the enemy is not each other. It is said that Christianity is the only army that shoots at its own soldiers.
- One summary application for us as a church is to be vigilant about unity.
- Identify family and identify the enemy. If you can’t start there, you’re gonna struggle.
- Increase communication with family. Have a “high 5” each month of members you’ve called.
- Work on your sin more than you work on the sins of others.
James talks about two types of struggles/conflicts: 1) Worldly conflict based on selfishness and sin. 2) Godly conflict based on spiritual growth and maturity. Notice there’s not a 3rd option: Zero Conflict. Conflict is a necessary component of life. If you try to avoid conflict, you are only delaying consequences and multiplying problems. In all, we need the reminder there is one who faced conflict on our behalf, that we can have peace. Jesus is our Peacemaker.