The Focused Life! – James 4:1-5
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 13, 2014
It amazes me how unfocused many in the world are today. They expect and sometimes even demand that others do all the work for them so that they can “focus” on whatever strikes their fancy for the moment. It has infected Christianity to some extent as well. There are those who simply cannot focus on how they are supposed to live for the Lord and expect a quick sermon, a Bible app, or the latest Christian book to solve their particular spiritual problem. James faced something similar in his day and he was trying to get the attention of those he was writing to. He had just told them that “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” His readers were having difficulties in being peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and having the good fruit of the gospel! In fact, we discover they had a problem in being completely self-serving. When the believer’s life is not focused where it should be, on the Lord Jesus Christ, it usually is focused somewhere else – usually on ourselves! And, this is where they were, so much so that they were now fussing with one another about it. He told them, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” They were not displaying lives immersed in the gospel, they were not displaying lives of righteousness, but instead they were feuding, fussing, and fighting with one another and within themselves!
James writes, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (James 4:1 NIV)”
The focused life focuses on the Lord and not oneself! James literally accuses them of being at war and coming to blows! Not just with one another, but with their inner thoughts and desires! The word for “quarrels” is where we get our word for machete! They violently wanted what they knew they could not have! These folks had desires or “lusts” that had become the main focus of their lives! So much so that it may have been affecting their friendships and their church! They wanted things their way or no way! They plotted and schemed like army generals on how they could get what they wanted from each other! (Wow!) I have always been mystified how some folks will spend a whole lot of time scheming how to cheat the government, their places of work, or one another rather than spending the same amount of time and effort actually working for what they get in life! Sadly, believers can be guilty of the same kind of blurred vision. They can expect others to do the task they are called to do! It is becoming increasingly rare to see individual Christians witness, disciple new believers, or sacrifice their time talent or treasure for the kingdom! Fewer than 3% of church goers, which includes those who think they are members but never have actually joined the church, tithe. You know, give ten percent of their gross income. Less than 1% have ever actually shared the good news with another person or discipled someone else in Biblical basics. Is it any wonder America is not being converted to the gospel message? We focus our lives on the wrong things.
James bluntly writes, “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3 NIV)”
There are those who declare that they pray or have asked God for direction, but what they really mean is that they thought about it a lot, perhaps even said, “Oh my God, why not me?” but they truly have not sought God’s advice. Here, we discover that the folks James was addressing wanted to go to battle with themselves and one another for what they lusted after! And isn’t this what causes many of the problems we have in our world today? We think we deserve something someone else has, whether riches, goods, oil, or whatever and then get mad when we don’t get it! We often do not receive what we desire “because [we] ask with wrong motives, that [we] may spend what [we] get on [our own] pleasures!” This is contrary to what God is all about. When in fact we are to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)! We learn that Jesus said this because he knew that “the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:32 NIV)” Jesus knew that when we seek after what the world lusts for it can lead to alienation of our affection for the Lord. When we have more in common with those who are in the world than we do with fellow believers, something is drastically wrong.
In fact, James retorts, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NIV)”
James calls it for what it is, adultery! We forget in our greedy little lives that anything that pulls us away from God is committing adultery! We are not just his children we are also his bride, his church. We are commanded to be a part of a local church fellowship so that we can use the gifts he has freely given us to serve him and share the good news of Jesus! When we allow family, friends, things of the world or our simple selfishness to continually or consistently interfere with his kingdom work, we are committing adultery! This is why Jesus would bluntly teach, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62 NIV)” Peter would write, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21 NIV)” And he would go on to equate it with a dog returning to eat its own vomit or a washed pig going back to the mud! Our lives in Christ are not about us! This is why Paul would remind us, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1 NIV)” In fact, he teaches us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)” Sacrifices do not demand from God. Sacrifices do not lust after what they cannot have. Sacrifices are sacrifices! Living sacrifices are not to crawl off the altar of their God but to give themselves away for his kingdom purposes! When we seek first our kingdom and our pleasures for our selfish selves, we become enemies of God! We are living contrary to God’s kingdom purposes because “friendship with the world is hatred toward God”!
James knew we often forget what our lives are to be about. We lose our focus. This is why he asks his readers, “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? (James 4:5 NIV)”
One commentary relates that “This is one of the most difficult verses to translate in the entire letter.” However, what I believe James is relating is the fact that when God enters into our lives, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, that he does so because he desires to do so! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)” Paul would remind us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)” We often forget that we were bought with a price and that we are no longer our own. This is why Paul would also write, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. (1 Corinthians 2:11-13 NIV)” In fact, we are to be holy. And holiness is more than doing good things or being a good person or living once in a while with some kind of morals. Holiness is taking on the nature and characteristics of Christ! God is jealous of that which he came to die for! After all he gave his very best that we might be saved! It shows and proves his intense love for us! Why is it then that we so often take God’s love so lightly? A focused life understands what God did and just how much he cares and loves us!
A parent that truly loves their child always hurts when they hurt, even if they are the ones who have to momentarily discipline them! As a parent and grandfather I know this to be true. One day a father had to discipline his little daughter for running out in the street without looking both ways for cars. She had been told numerous times to “look both ways” but she wasn’t thinking and darted out into the street just as a car was coming. Fortunately the car was not going very fast, saw her, and stopped. The father’s heart skipped a beat. He ran to her and took her back to the curb where he began to sternly speak with her about her actions of not looking both ways. Didn’t he always remind her? Isn’t she always supposed to look both ways? Couldn’t her one careless act have caused her harm or even death? He told her that he would have to punish her for not listening, and gave her a swat on the bottom. She teared up but stopped when she saw her father weeping as well. She reached out her little hand and touched his wet cheek, “Don’t worry Daddy, it doesn’t hurt that much, and, I will get over it,” she quietly whispered to him. Doesn’t God continually remind us? Doesn’t our rebellious nature constantly cause us harm and death? The wages of sin is death. Aren’t we supposed to listen to his voice and follow him instead of the world? Why are we surprised when we are punished for our disobedience by our heavenly father who loves us?
James was frustrated with those he was pastoring. They were focused on the wrong things in life, wanting more and greedily lusting after what each other had. They actually thought they could use their prayers to God as a means to further their own fortune in life. He had to warn them that they were totally focused on the wrong things. Now let me ask you, what is the focus of your life?
This article is copyrighted © 2014 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.