Sermon for Sunday September 23rd, 2018, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

 

The Lessons: Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13 – 4:8; Mark 9:30-37

The Text: James 4:1-8

The Topic: Submit to God and draw near to Him, but resist the devil

INTRODUCTION

An elderly couple lived together in a nursing home. Though they had been married for sixty years, their relationship was strained with constant arguments, disagreements, and shouting contests. The fights didn’t stop even in the nursing home; the couple argued and squabbled from the time they got up in the morning until they fell in bed at night.

The nursing home supervisor eventually threatened to throw them out if they didn’t change their ways. Even then the couple couldn’t agree on what to do.

Finally, the wife said to her husband, “I’ll tell you what, Joe; let’s pray that one of us dies. After the funeral is over, I’ll go live with my sister.”

— John Beukema,
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania [1]

THE SOURCE OF CONFLICT WITHIN THE CHURCH

Conflict within ourselves leads to conflict with others, is the diagnosis St. James makes in the opening verse of our Second Lesson, or Epistle, today. He was addressing church conflicts in the early church. The sinful lusts and desires within Christians (James 4:1) often cause the conflicts they have with one another. The quarrels and conflicts among Christians can lead to all kinds of sins, the extreme of which is murder. St. James is probably not addressing Christians who were actually murdering one another, but he uses the term figuratively, as a warning to them about the extremes to which their unchecked desires might lead.

Instead of fighting to obtain what they want, they should realize why they do not have it. The reason they do not have what they want, St. James concludes, is that they do not ask God for it, or that if they do ask God for it, their motives are wrong in asking for it, for they want only to indulge their pleasures.

FRIENDSHIP OF THE WORLD IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH FRIENDSHIP OF GOD

This leads up to St. James’s charge that his readers, by engaging in these quarrels and conflicts, are adulterous people, since they are being unfaithful to God in desiring things to spend on their pleasures. This is spiritual adultery, or idolatry. Quite clearly, he then points out that the friendship of the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). This reminds us of the following passage from the First Epistle of St. John:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

(1 John 2:15-17, KJV)

Both St. James and St. John use the term “the world” to refer to the unredeemed, carnal age, with all its ideologies, lusts, and enticements, a world order that rebels against the Christian faith, and the word of God. For both writers, it comes down to a choice of either the world with its value systems or God and his word. Too many Christians are trying to be friends of the world and of God at the same time. The human spirit God has made to dwell in each of us desires enviously (James 4:5). This means we all have an innate sinful tendency to long for things which conflict with God’s will. However, God gives greater grace, as Proverbs 3:34, quoted by St. James, testifies: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6b, KJV).

IMPERATIVES FOR CHRISTIANS IN VIEW OF THE TEMPTATIONS TO COMPROMISE WITH THE WORLD AND ITS VALUES

Since God gives greater grace than the power that the devil and his demons have to tempt us, what must we do? The Lord gives us very direct commands here in St. James’s Epistle:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

(James 4:7-8, KJV)

The first priority in resolving these conflicts within ourselves that cause tensions and conflicts with others is to submit ourselves to God. What does this entail? We must order our whole life according to God’s word, and not our own agenda. We have to turn away from all wrong thinking, wrong words and wrong actions, conforming to God’s word and ways. The opening verses of today’s Psalm, Psalm 1, confirm the blessedness of the one who turns from sin and does God’s will:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

(Psalm 1:1-2, KJV)

St. Paul reminds us of this in different terms:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (KJV)

Once we have submitted our lives to God, we must resist the devil (James 4:7). When we do this, we shall find that he will flee from us. St. Peter warns that the devil is our adversary and prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), but we must resist him in the steadfastness of our faith (1 Peter 5:9). But what does it mean to resist Satan? It means first to resist all his temptations to conform to the present world order. But at times, we may simply need to tell the devil to leave us alone and depart from us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, we must draw near to God, and we shall find that he draws near to us (James 4:8). Sinners and the double-minded, whose loyalty to God is divided, must cleanse their hands and purify their hearts.

CONCLUSION

The encroachment of a pagan world on the lives of Christians has no easy response. We must fight it, remaining steadfast in our Christian faith, submitting ourselves to God, cleansing ourselves of divided loyalties, resisting the devil, and drawing close to God.



[1] p. 258, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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