Problems

Problems
October 21, 2018

Problems

Passage: James 4:1-12
Problems! What is the source of our problems? James ascertains that they begin with us. We often prefer to find external factors, things beyond our control, as the origin of our struggles, yet James suggests they are self-inflicted. We get into trouble both in relationships and in a community setting when our will to win is number one. James writes, “You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. It’s not that we don’t pray, it’s just that we pray with ulterior motives. And if our motives are selfish, then the results of our prayers will be negligible, because we are seeking results rather than God. If you think James is meddling, just wait! He accuses his readers of cheating on God. We can’t have it both ways; we can’t follow God and at the same time have an affair with our own carnal desires. We can’t be looking for other lovers and at the same time love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. As Jesus said, we can’t serve two masters.
But there is good news! If we choose to pursue his will, God will not allow us to settle for mediocrity. The Lord cares too deeply for us to permit us to have our own way without offering us a still better way. The Lord is jealous for our devotion, and does not tolerate rivals for our affection. So what’s the difference between friendship with the world and loving God? “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The world operates on un-grace: What have you done for me lately? How will you fulfill your quota? How can you prove that you love me? However, God satisfies his own demand by giving us grace, which is a greater desire for him than for any desire that the world can offer.
Therefore, God gives us an action plan in five verbs in verses 7-8. The first two verbs constitute a call to decision: “Submit to God.” “Resist the devil.” Say yes to God’s word, and say no to satanic suggestion. The next three are a call to self-assessment: “Draw near to God.” “Cleanse your hands.” “Purify your hearts.” This is a surrender—both externally and internally—to God’s Word. Yet none of this occurs, says James, unless we lament, mourn and weep: “Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sadness.” The wise old sage is not saying that we’re supposed to be a killjoy or not to celebrate life; rather, what he is saying is that there are times for self-reflection, and to mourn our transgressions, which is God’s antidote to complacency. For the abundant life is lived at the cross and at the feet of Jesus.

 

PRACTICE:  Assessing Your Values

THOUGHT:  War and Peace - Internal Warfare

Word: James 4:1-12

What causes fights and quarrels among you?

This is an important question, asked at the level of international discord or when neighbors argue.  Today we can observe violence and chaos throughout the world, aggression in the blogosphere, urban gang battles, acrimony in Christian congregations, and bitterness in families.  What causes these things?

We are tempted to believe that a conflict exists because we are defending a noble cause or because ‘the other guy’ is so difficult and uncaring.  James identifies our hearts as the problem.  We have learned from the world to desire a particular pampering or to insist on some selfish outcome.  Pride and worldliness are serious business – spiritual adultery, hostility toward God, the company of the devil.  Humble prayer leads to a change in what we long for and the reception of gifts prepared by God for us.  We may foolishly imagine a world in which we do God’s work for him. We speak against our neighbors and imagine that we occupy the seat of a judge.

James gives the command "Stop judging your brother."  This was an ongoing problem in the church at the time that James wrote this book, and it is still with us today.  Criticism is probably the most widespread sin among Christians.  It is a passion we can indulge without feeling much guilt because we have devised ways to disguise it.  Our criticism can even take the form of an expression of concern or care for others. We can elicit prayer for them and criticize them all in the same breath.  This is a way of venting our critical, judgmental, harsh, carping, loveless spirit.

DEED:  Carefully re-read James 4:1-12, and summarize it in 25 words or less:

And, praise God, there is every reason to hope.  We must be sure of this: repentance is the doorway to restoration.  The Lord gives more grace!  If we draw near to him he will draw near to us.  He will not hesitate.  He has already determined to give more than we deserve and he will give more and more.  “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (v. 10).  He is the good husband who will welcome back his wayward bride.

In Philippians 2 Paul says of Jesus that, though he was in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God something to he forcibly retained, but instead he emptied himself and he took upon himself the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men.  And being found in fashion as a man, Paul says, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death on the cross.  The Lord had to go to that place of death, and that is where we have to go.  We have to be willing to take our most legitimate needs and desires and drives and ambitions and put them to death.

Discussion Questions:

Coveting is tricky business.  Is there some object, or relationship, or status that you want so badly that you don’t care what God thinks?

Can you share this struggle with at least one other person who can pray with you?

We can be so wrapped up promoting ourselves that we don’t pray – you don’t have because you don’t ask.  Can you relate an experience from your life of turning from self effort and asking God to give you what you really need?

Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  God will keep his promises, but the difficult first step desires his help.  Are you more prone to pride (I want to do it myself) or fear (I can’t be sure God is trustworthy)?

MEMORIZE:  James 4:6, in either version:

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.. (NRSV)

You’re cheating on God.  If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.  And do you suppose God doesn’t care?  The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.”  And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find.  It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” (The Message)

A Prayer for this week:

Father, we thank you for these mighty words . We know that they are true.  We thank you that you are a Father who pours out grace to us.  You are the One who gives us the will and the power to submit our wills to you and accept whatever comes from your hand, Thank you, Lord, for that sense of exaltation and quietness of heart which comes from submitting to you, and humbling ourselves under your hand.  We thank you in Christ's name, Amen.

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333 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322
(757) 547-4706
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(757) 549-4303
Great Bridge Presbyterian Church © 2016 - website design by Biz Tools One