James 4:1-17 – Who Is Your Best Friend?
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 27, 2013 AM
How many close trusted friends do you have, not family, who stick with you “through thick and thin”? A number of years ago, an interim pastor read the opening verse of Philemon where Paul wrote “our dear friend.” He stopped reading and inquired: “If I asked you how many true friends you have—friends you can count on—what, would you say?” He paused for a few seconds and then shared how many intimate friends he had. Slowly, he held up two fingers. He had two friends to whom he could go at any time and share anything with the assurance of total acceptance and support!
Folks want friends and would gladly welcome even more friends in their lives. This is also true of God. God desires everyone to be His friend. The first step is to become one of His children. Some folks are unwilling to make this commitment. Some do not care about being known as God’s friend, and do little to confirm they are! They never nurture their relationship. They assume their salvation is enough to ensure a close, intimate relationship with Him. Let’s discover why James teaches our friendship with God is important and how he helps us to consider who our best friend truly is.
James addressed a serious situation among the believers he was writing. Conflict was severe and ongoing. He denounced Christians’ worldly behavior, noting it indicated they were friends with the world rather than with God. If we want to be God’s friend…
I. We are to reject worldly behavior! (4:1-5)
1. Evidently, the peace and peacemakers James wrote about were in short supply among these Christians. James asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” The word fights refers to chronic military campaigns, while quarrels indicates separate battles in those campaigns. In the context of conflict among believers, some were expressions of ongoing hostility while others were temporary flare-ups. James answered his first question with a second question that calls for a “yes” answer: “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” Desires refer to lustful passions that could be sensual or could be desire for money or power. We get our word hedonism from the Greek term. It conveys intense desire for what a person does not have. These believers kept on desiring and went on failing to get what they desired! James charged, “You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” James was not describing petty differences but substantial and chronic conflict among believers. The sense is probably that these Christians wanted what others had, could not get what they wanted, and deliberately broke the Tenth Commandment! James retorts, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” And “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” When these Christians petitioned God, they still did not get what they wanted because their desires were not in line with God’s will. God’s answer to selfish, self-serving prayers is a resounding “No!” They were adulterous people who were more at ease with the world! Didn’t they “know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” In fact, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!” We might paraphrase verse 5 as, “Do you suppose the Scripture does not mean what it states?” God’s Spirit begins to reside in believers at conversion, and His Spirit continues to yearn jealously for our loyalty. With love, He intensely pursues us! “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” Thus, the Spirit seeks to guide us in realizing that if we want to be God’s friend, we are to reject worldly behavior!
EXAMPLE: Feudin’, Fussin’ and a-Fightin is a musical comedy which starred Donald O’Conner. One of songs went, “Feudin’ and fightin’ and a-fussin,’ That’s all that’s goin’ on with us’n. We are such neighborly people peaceful and sweet, all except when we happen to meet.” Sounds like some Christians I know! Being God’s friends involves rejecting worldly behavior and eliminating attitudes that lead to trouble between others and us and between the Lord and us. Ongoing rivalry and conflict among Christians destroys fellowship and diminishes—if not negates—our witness for Christ! If we want to be God’s friend, we are to reject worldly behavior!
James stressed the availability of God’s grace to correct believers’ conflict with one another. On the basis of that grace, he called on them to submit and draw near to God through repentance and humility. If we desire to be God’s friend…
II. We should draw near to God! (4:6-10)
1. We do not have to continue in a state of bitter, selfish conflict. In contrast to destructive infighting, greater grace is available to overcome hostility and restore relationships. James writes that, “But he gives us more grace.” Grace is the necessary power to end chronic conflict with others, renew loyalty to Christ, and relate in love. James quoted Proverbs 3:34 to remind us of the peril of pride and the need for humility: “That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” God is always in opposition to the haughty and arrogant, but He continually extends His favor to His people. James contends we are to, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” Because of God’s presence and power with them, the Devil would flee from them. Evil would be vanquished from the battlefield. In rapid-fire succession, James gave three additional imperatives. By deliberate choice, Christians are to submit, resist, and come near! He urged believers to draw near to God for the purpose of offering Him reverence and worship. To do so would strengthen or repair their personal relationship with Him. But would believers do this? James described his readers as sinners and double-minded, as such we need to wash and purify ourselves! The use of these terms was meant to shock them into awareness. James stressed the sincere repentance believers should demonstrate because of their sins. They should be so upset that they are moved to lament with tears. Their frivolous laughter should become lamenting; and their shallow, worldly joy should be changed to dejection. Only deep, genuine repentance would lead to the forgiveness they needed to remedy their situation! James repeated himself, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” He called on them to confess to God their sins, weaknesses, and inadequacies. They were to admit their need for His grace and be open to receive it. As a result, God would raise them up! If we desire to be God’s friend, we should draw near to God!
EXAMPLE: When our attitudes in prayer and worship are proper, God makes His presence known to us. In approaching God, however, we have to deal with sins in our lives through repentance and God’s forgiveness. We need to get rid of our selfish motives, as well, and sincerely desire to know and do God’s will. For many of us, submission has a negative tone. It has overtones of weakness. Submission to God, however, frees us to become what He can make of us by His power, love, and grace. If we are His friends, we obey Him and draw near to Him in reverence and worship. In addition, we eliminate attitudes and actions related to pride. If we desire to be God’s friend, we should draw near to God!
Believers were criticizing and judging one another. James rebuked them for assuming God’s right of judging people. If we desire to be God’s friend…
III. We need to recognize God is Judge! (4:11-12)
1. A key element in believers’ humbling themselves before God is to stop slandering one another. James’ words indicate these Christians were engaging in criticism and needed to stop the practice. James declared that a believer who uses malicious, insulting language against another Christian or who issues withering sentences of condemnation against a believing brother or sister does the same against God’s law; particularly, the command to love your neighbor as oneself. God’s law was designed to evaluate people; any person who criticizes or judges others has taken over the law’s function. Actually, that individual presumes to take on God’s role, but only God is qualified to judge people. In doing so, the individual accuses the law and God of not doing an adequate job! That person assumes a stance of superiority to the law instead of living as the law teaches. James reminds us that, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James reminded believers that only one lawgiver and judge exists. The literal translation of the Greek text is emphatic! “One is lawgiver and judge.” James emphasized that God is the only lawgiver, judge, and all-powerful. He can save or destroy. God has the ability to preserve life or to end it. In light of His sovereignty and mercy, which of us could presume to take His role and judge a neighbor? No Christian is qualified to do so. If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to recognize God is Judge!
EXAMPLE: When conversations turn to criticisms of people not present, how do you usually respond? What if the conversation concerns your pastor? God alone sets guidelines for living. His directives seek to protect people from evil and to free them to develop characters of high ethical and moral qualities. He alone is qualified to judge, because only He has the complete knowledge of people. James may have had in mind Jesus’ warning against judging others: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV) Being God’s friends involves recognizing He alone is Judge and eliminating all judgmental criticism of others. If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to recognize God is Judge!
James warned people who made business plans without considering God’s will. He emphasized the arrogance of such planning. If we desire to be God’s friend…
IV. We need to seek God’s will! (4:13-17)
1. James turned to a familiar life-situation to stress believers’ need to make God’s will their first priority. James described a meeting in which hard-working small businessmen—probably believers—proposed a business plan: “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” As was typical of Jewish traders of that time, these men would travel to a city and promote their business. They had everything neatly worked out. Yet, James reminds them, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?” He reminds us that we have no guarantees about the future! Each day would bring its challenges and surprises. In fact, they had no assurances concerning their lives. Tomorrow might dawn for us, and it might not! James compared people’s lives to a bit of “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes!” The Psalmist would write, “For my days vanish like smoke!” (Psalm 102:3 NIV) Both writers stressed life’s frailty and brevity. James made his point clear. The traders had not included God in their plans. They felt self-sufficient and secure. Life’s uncertainty should have led to dependence on God. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Note that James stressed seeking God’s will in business, not merely in religious matters. The implication is that everyone is to seek God’s will in all segments of life. James knew that “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” He condemned the merchants’ presumption and self-reliance. Their bragging about plans and perceived profits expresses arrogance. Such boasting in one’s intelligence and skills not only is empty; it also is evil because it excludes God and exalts their own human ability. James succinctly writes, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins!” God’s will is that believers demonstrate their faith by living good lives for Him! To understand this truth and to fail to act on it is sin! Failure to act misses the mark God has set for His people. If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to seek God’s will!
EXAMPLE: If we are not careful, we can live as though relationship with God does not matter. We can depend on our abilities to chart our futures and thus be guilty of the sins of presumption and arrogance. Being God’s friends involves seeking His will before we make decisions or plans and eliminating attitudes and actions related to arrogance.
If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to:
1. Reject worldly behavior.
2. Draw near to God.
3. Recognize God alone is Judge.
4. Seek God’s will.
This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.