Read James 4:1-12

According to God, more murders take place in churches than in secular society. The strife, discord and feuds that take place in churches today originate from our own selfish desires, that are constantly fighting within us. We desire what others have - perhaps good things that we think will benefit us - for purely selfish reasons. This gives rise to jealousy and covetousness and, eventually, to hate, which is "murder" in God’s eyes. (1 John 3:15)

We burn with envy and anger but get no gratification, contentment or satisfaction for the happiness we are seeking. So we fight and wage war on each other. (James 4:1-2 Amplified Bible). We may be very good at acting, superficially, in a kind, way but when others are blessed by God with something that we need or want, our hearts are wrong. When God seems to answer their prayers more quickly than He does ours, we rise up and the last thing we consider is that we may have asked wrongly or might have wrong motives. (James 4:3)

All these reactions serve to show us that our former, human natures are very much alive. We have still not completely "died" to ourselves and started living totally for Christ. (Galatians 2:20) We want to continue enjoying any benefits that the world throws our way, whilst also having the security of belonging to the kingdom of God. James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls this behaviour "adultery". It is the equivalent of being committed to one person but playing around with someone else. It does not help our commitment to Jesus and certainly doesn't bring us satisfaction, because neither relationship is a whole-hearted one. Worse still, God's word declares that the sort of person who is committing this adultery is an "enemy of God". (James 4:4)

Adultery rarely starts with the act of adultery from the very beginning. It begins with a thought, which is followed by much thinking and planning, leading to deception - of ourselves and others - long before the act of adultery becomes a reality. Thinking and planning for "adultery with the world" steals time that we could have used to put more love, communication and joy into our growing relationship with the living God. (Matthew 6:33) If we think about this, we can see why the Holy Spirit likens love of "the world" to adultery! Love of "the world" (secular society) can be very strong, because it involves all our senses and physical activity. But our love of God takes place primarily in our inner spirits, where it is sealed by His Spirit. Often our feelings so dominate our reactions that it is so much easier to respond to the demands of the secular world than to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Facing a choice

James offers the solution to this problem: "God gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6) All we need is His amazing grace to enable us to flee from the temptation of the secular world. As with adultery, we have to turn our backs completely on the sudden attraction of another person and concentrate on our chosen partner. We must throw off the "comfort blanket" of our old way of life and be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Then we can be changed, more and more, to be like Jesus. (Romans 12:2)

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility [like the garb of a servant, so that its covering cannot possibly be stripped from you, with freedom from pride and arrogance] toward one another. For God sets Himself against the proud [the insolent, the overbearing, the disdainful, the presumptuous, the boastful] and He opposes, frustrates and defeats them, but gives grace [favour, blessing] to the humble”. (1 Peter 5:5 Amplified Bible)

As our spirits become ever more devoted to Jesus and set apart for Him, we shall have increasing peace from the growing influence of the Holy Spirit and the "things of the flesh" (our old way of life) will lose their attraction. "Little children you are of God [you belong to Him] and have already defeated and overcome them [the agents of the "antichrist"] because He who lives in you is greater [mightier] than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4 Amplified Bible)

Jesus longs for us to be really passionate for Him. (James 4:5) As we depend on the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of humility then, more and more, the Holy Spirit will be available to us and we shall receive grace to help us in our time of need. (James 4:6) God is not putting impossible demands on us because: "He gives us all we need for life and godliness." In order to walk this exciting and fulfilling life of love and humility (instead of strife and selfish ambition) we become totally "sold out" to Jesus and, by His grace, we have His mind and His heart. (Philippians 2:5)

Confession time

If we recognise that we ourselves have been responsible for causing strife - either at home or in the community - and that we are still in love with the secular world (materialism, ungodly standards and so on), we need to look at James 4:8-10: "Come close to God and He will come close to you." We need to acknowledge that we are sinners and "wash our hands". We need to confess that we have been disloyal, wavering individuals with divided interests and purify our hearts of our spiritual adultery. We need to draw near to God with deep penitence - even grief and tears (over our disloyalty). Our laughter should be turned to mourning and our mirth to dejection and heartfelt shame. As we humble ourselves (feeling very insignificant) in the presence of the Lord, He will exalt us, lifting us up and giving our lives true significance.

This is a short summary of what we need to do:

  1. Acknowledge that all possessions and gifts and talents come from Him and give each one, individually, back to Him.
  2. Give up our previous way of thinking about these things and try to see them in future from God's perspective.
  3. Ask God to fill us with His pure, holy, love for all these things that He has given you.
  4. Consider our priorities: are there any changes that we need to make or any activities that we need to lay down?
  5. Give thanks to God for His complete cleansing, for the presence of His Holy Spirit and a new direction for living an unadulterated, single-minded life.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

God always answers our prayers, but does not always answer them the way we want Him to. This is for our own good, because He knows exactly why we have asked, what our motives are and what we are going to do after He has answered our prayer. (James 4:3) If we ask to be a "successful bible study leader" so that people will think of us as "super-spiritual", God is unlikely to answer our prayer as we expect, because He knows that we are asking with the wrong motive. But He may answer our prayer by putting into our bible study group someone who has a lot of problems, or frequently asks difficult questions, requiring us to call on God more than ever for His wisdom. However He answers our prayer, it is unlikely to put us in the situation of getting puffed up with pride!

Everything we do and everything we ask for should point people to looking at Jesus. We need to pray for "the mind of Christ" and then we shall know how to pray in various situations. If in doubt, we should "pray in the Spirit" because He is guaranteed to help us pray according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-28; Ephesians 6:18) Don't forget that God wants our best more than we do and He is no spoilsport. Jesus came especially so that we might have and enjoy life - and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows). (John 10:10)

Grace - God’s Rest At Christ’s Expense

"For it is by free grace [God’s unmerited favour] that you are saved [delivered from judgement and made partakers of Christ’s salvation] through your faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving] but it is the gift of God. Not because of works [not the fulfilment of the law’s demands] lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified Bible)

It is a mistake to think that there is no law in the New Testament and that grace is an easy-going, do-as-you-please concept. Having been justified freely by His grace, our motive as believers for keeping the law of Christ is love and gratitude. (1 John 4:19) If we apply this amazing grace to our own lives, it also challenges us to check out how we look at others. All the attitudes that we considered at the beginning of this study - the things that lead to discord, feuds and even murder - can be looked at with the eyes of grace. When we remember how much we have been forgiven, then it is easier for us to forgive other people’s shortcomings and mistakes.

When King David committed adultery and murder as a result of sexual lust, he was challenged by a man of God called Nathan. Through God’s grace, David admitted his wrongdoing. He repented and, although he suffered the consequences of his sin, he picked up his life again and moved on to do amazing things for God. (Read Psalm 51, which is the prayer of sorrow that David wrote after this incident.)

"Do all things without grumbling and faultfinding and complaining against God and questioning and doubting among yourselves." (Philippians 2:14)

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