Over the last several weeks we’ve been adding a new verse to our roster to memorize: James 4:4-10. It’s a fairly well known passage and I’ve heard it quoted many times, but usually just bits and pieces at a time. In the process of committing it to memory, as with many other verses, we’ve found a different take on it than at our first reading. Let’s have a gander at it…
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. 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”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
So, looking at an overview of the book of James before we attempted to understand this passage further, we found that James’ book is meant to be a test for true love for Christ. James wrote it for the Jewish converts who were scattered after the stoning of Stephen. If you want to know what a Christian should look like and must be like in order to bear the name, read James's letter.
He gives the tests of impartial love, dependence, loyalty, works, patience in trials, prayerfulness, and more. By the time James gets toward the end of his letter in chapter 4, he’s concerned that some of the readers, (including us) may have failed these tests and so the natural thing was to have “an altar call” or an opportunity to rectify the situation. Let’s take it bit by bit and see where we end up.
He starts off gently, in the way that every pastor or evangelist is taught to do altar calls in seminary:
“You adulterous people!”
Wait…you mean your pastor doesn’t do altar calls in this way?
Well, this is obviously not talking to people who have broken the seventh commandment. In the Old Testament God speaking through the prophets often referred to Israel as adulterous in their spiritual lives. They were Jews in name and lineage, but in action their hearts were far from God.
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Again, let me play Captain Obvious and point out that “friendship with the world” has nothing to do with your unreligious coworkers with whom you hang out occasionally. Jesus was assuredly “a friend of sinners,” but He was not a friend of the world. God so loved the world that He gave His Son, but don’t doubt, God will ultimately destroy the worldly structures that defy Him. The world system is what John is referring to in 1 John 2:15-16,
“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. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
So John’s question, and James’s question is, “Where is your heart?” Jesus pulls it down to my level even more when He says in Matthew 6
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and…”
Money, right? We all know Jesus says you cannot serve God and money, which is an example that tends to get me uncomfortable every time. But it doesn’t end with money. The point is we can’t divide our affection, our service, or our hearts, between God and anything. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whether I do something for Martha or for myself or for my family or for the people at my concerts, my ultimate goal must be to please God.
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’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
James’ Scripture quotation here is pulling together several OT passages. Basically, God is the creator and He has the right to the creation — you and me. Romans 9 talks about the clay complaining to the potter, meaning that every person belongs to God and is subject to God, whether that is acknowledged or not. I am obliged to obey with willingness and thankfulness the One who is responsible for my very existence and Who extends mercy to creatures such as I. Humility is not so much a virtue in this light, as it is simply facing facts.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Submit to God. Resist the devil. Draw near to God. Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Be wretched. Mourn. Weep. Humble yourselves. These are the answers to the question “What do I do now? How do I work out my salvation given what you’ve just told me, James?”
First step? Submit to God. In submitting to God, I turn from sin. In submitting to God, I denounce the enemy of God. I change sides, I defect to another master, I begin to fight under a different flag. This is no partial commitment. I am either for Him or against Him. There is no neutral ground. Submitting to God and resisting the devil are really two sides of the same coin.
As I submit to God, I draw near to God with the grace He gives, and He draws near to me with open arms as my loving Father. As He draws near to me and I see the light of His purity on my life, I cleanse my hands from sin by the power of the Spirit, and choose a new way of life.
The last part of verse 8 was really interesting as we studied it. Purify your hearts, you double minded. This isn't the remedy that I would prescribe for double mindedness. Off the top of my head, a visit with a psychologist would be more in order. But as we looked into it, we found James was going back to his initial point, both in his entire letter and in this chapter, about being adulterous in heart. In our study, we found that double mindedness is what we might call being half hearted. When I’m half hearted, instead of saying ‘whether therefore I eat or drink or whatever I do, I want everything I do to please God,’ I’m saying ‘this part of my life is intended to please God. But this part over here belongs to me.’ I'm not submitting myself entirely to God. So as I cleanse my hands from sin, I purify my heart from motivations other than “I belong to God. I love God. I want to please God.”
And now we get to the “be wretched, mourn, and weep” bit. We often hear in churches the phrase, “There’s nothing wrong with having a good time in church.” Less often heard is “There’s nothing wrong with being afflicted, mourning, weeping, and gloomy in church.” It is true that there’s nothing wrong with laughter and joy. The problem is when I’m laughing and being joyful at the wrong time — like in the middle of a funeral. Or… during a mugging. When Martha fell into a well last week. At the proctologist’s office. I could go on. Obviously, there’s a time for laughter and a time for mourning. Often for me the time for mourning closely follows the time of laughing at the wrong time.
So James is saying that if these things are true of us, if we find ourselves half hearted toward God, then we shouldn’t be having a good time now. To be brutally honest, my gut reaction when I look at this final verse is to say “ooooookay… but isn’t mourning and gloom overkill? It was just a little bit of half heartedness after all…”. Then I sit back and think about what James just said. That friendship, any amount, with the world’s lusts, desires, and pride, is hostility toward God. Wow. My gut reaction that makes little of hostility toward God indicts me at this point. All I have left is to go to my Father humbly and say “Father, I have sinned. My heart has been divided between You and other things. Purify my heart, and help me to seek to please You in all things.”
How do you measure up to James’ altar call? I’ve already asked myself that question while working through this devotional and my answer is to repent afresh, realign my priorities...again, and once more focus my sights on my Lord.
Until next time,
Miles & Mar