"1 What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? 2 You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. Your do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 Unfaithful creatures! 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. 5 Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us"? 6 But he gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you."
James continues his thoughts on the destructive results of our having "bitter
jealousy and selfish ambition"(3:14) in our hearts that he started in the
previous passage. The last passage ended with James' statement, "And the
harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."(3:18).
Right relationship with God, living out of a confidence in His presence and work
in your life, is a life marked by the peace of Christ. We are content, able to
rest in Him in our present circumstances and this peace flows out to our actions
and our relationships with others. God's peace is not merely the absence of conflict,
but is a wholeness and health that is expressed by a sense of contentment that
is not dependent of the situations we are currently facing.
James now turns his thoughts from living in this peace of Christ to the root
of our conflicts with one another. "What causes wars, and what causes
fightings among you?" he asks. James answers his question with a rhetorical
question, "Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?" The
wars or conflicts between us are due to our passions that are at conflict.
James can be referring to have conflicting interests or concerns between us
and others around us. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is due to a
conflicting passion for the same land. But, I think he is also referring to
the conflict within ourselves. We have warring passions within ourselves, don't
we? The desire for security, well-being, wealth, possessions, good relationships,
etc. can all battle within us for supremacy especially if the fear/anxiety
factor is high. Our desire for both intimacy and independence from others can
lead us to send mixed messages because we are mixed ourselves as to what exactly
we want from this or that relationship. The internal conflict heightens our
insecurity and so leads us to take more extreme measures in our relationships
with others. We have conflict within ourselves and we collide with the passions
of others when we interact.
Our passions or desires tempt us to believe we need to possess, obtain, or
control in order to have peace. But these lead instead to destruction and discontent. "You
desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you
fight and wage war." As we have noted before, James is writing to people
who find themselves in a variety of trials due to being forced from their homelands
because of persecution. Obviously, when we are in difficult circumstances,
our desires for peace, well-being, good relationships, success, etc. are not
being met by our immediate circumstances. We desire, covet, or envy and cannot
have or obtain. So our solution is to kill, to destroy, or to fight others.
I think we can expand James' statement about killing beyond actually taking
someone else's life. Our envy of others can lead us to kill our relationship
with them, to gossip about them to others in an effort to "kill" their
reputation, or simply to "kill" our feelings towards them because
we are so unhappy that they have it better than we do. It is impossible to
be peaceful and content when envy and jealousy are at work in us. We may try
to tell ourselves that it is not fair the way our lives are now and we have
a "right" to make getting what we want a priority. But this justification
does not really improve our situation but makes it worse in deeper ways.
This next section is very interesting. James goes on to tell his readers, "You
do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you
ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." The reason they do not have,
James says, is not because they have failed in their efforts to obtain or possess
things on their own, but because they either have not asked or have asked only
to have their passions satisfied. This seems to mean then that first of all
God intends for us to receive what we need by asking Him. He is our Father
and the One from whom "every good endowment and every perfect gift" comes
from (1:17). He can be thoroughly trusted to know what we need, even more than
we know. He is "the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or
shadow due to change." Does He see us in our struggles, does He care?
Yes, James has already assured them that this God "brought us forth by
the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures."(1:18)
The greater glory God has for us is that we receive from His hand His loving,
transforming work in our lives. We cannot easily receive from God what He desires
to give us when we are busy attempting to obtain or fulfill our own passions.
How can we receive His peace, love, and even joy in the midst of our daily
lives when we are focusing on pursuing getting from others what we are convinced
we need to be secure or to escape our troubles?
Secondly, James is telling his readers that God is not to be viewed as merely
a means to their own ends. God will not give to us when we are only going "to
spend it on (our) passions." God's desires for us His children are so
much richer, deeper, greater than what we have in mind in our more immediate
concerns. He intends nothing less than we be "perfect and complete, lacking
in nothing"(1:4) and to "receive the crown of live which God has
promised to those who love him."(1:12) This reminds me of C. S. Lewis's
"If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own
good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit
that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the
Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of rewards
in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong,
but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex
and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants
to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant
by the offer of a holiday at the sea... We are far too easily pleased."
Transposition and Other Addresses, ch. 2
James now sums up the point he has been making in the last three verses. "Unfaithful
creatures! 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." James is not saying here that we should not care for others in
the world or reach out to them, obviously. The friendship of the world that
he speaks of here he has already defined as having passions and desires that
you seek to obtain by manipulative and destructive means motivated out of envy
and jealousy and distrust in God. The world is that realm where we live without
confidence in a heavenly Father and so attempt to gain power, authority, success,
or respect through our own ungoverned abilities used against or in competition
with others. Such persons count only on themselves, believing it is up to them
to get themselves ahead of others. This is why James calls his readers "unfaithful
creatures." They are living as if they have been abandoned by their heavenly
Father, as if He isn't there, isn't good and able to transform them and love
them in the midst of their lives here. This warning is the same as Jesus' words
about the impossibility of serving two masters.(Mt. 6) If we are counting on
ourselves, then we cannot be counting on God and therefore are unable to receive
what He is ready to give us. We misrepresent our generous heavenly Father to
ourselves and others when we let our jealousy and greed get the better of us.
We act as if He is not at all what He has revealed Himself to be.
James follows this with a rhetorical question. "Or do you suppose it
is in vain that the scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit which
he made to dwell in us'?" Do you think, he asks, that it is just idle
talk when the Scripture says that God yearns jealously over us? In other words,
God is not neutral about us and what we do. God created us, with our best in
mind, and He is passionate about seeing that His good will is done. He hates
our destructive tendencies because He loves us, wholly and completely. He hates
to see the twisting and destruction of His good creation and one part or person
turning against another. He will not stand idly by, content for us to do "whatever" with
our lives when He knows that He has so much better in mind for us. He is for
giving us life and will oppose our attempts to pursue what in the end only
brings death to us and our relationships. God is jealous over us, ready to
protect us and resist those forces that would come between us and Him.
But he gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but
gives grace to the humble.'" As John tells us in the first chapter of
his gospel, "And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace." (Jn.
1:16) Here James tells us that God's response to our wandering back to the
ways of the world is to give us more grace. His grace shows up in two ways.
To the proud, God's grace is experienced as opposition, and to the humble,
as more grace to receive from the hand of God. As I said in the last paragraph,
God will oppose our efforts to live in any way that is not out of trust and
confidence in Him. God will resist our resistance. He loves us too much not
Therefore, since God will push against us when we live out of distrust of Him,
we are called to submit ourselves again to God. Gary likes to use the picture
of sailing to talk about God's will. When are living in His peace, when we pursue
living out of a counting on Him to be our heavenly Father, then this is like
sailing with the wind. The wind may be blowing very hard but as we are going
with it, we hardly feel it. When we resist His peace and presence, it is like
sailing into the wind. Now the strong wind blows in our face and our progress
is slow and laborious. Turn from your envy and jealousy and the "need" to
have your own way and throw yourself again onto your heavenly Father, knowing
that He cares for you--even more than you care for yourself!
Counting on God again involves turning aside from your sinful distrust and
drawing close to God. James tells his readers to "resist the devil and
he will flee from you." This is a wonderful statement. When we are struggling
with anxiety, fear, or guilt about our lives we listen easily to the devil's
voice about ourselves and our situations. But James is saying this is not a
hopeless circumstance at all. If we resist the devil, he will flee. We do not
need to listen to his accusations and lies endlessly. And, as we turn from
the devil we can draw near to God. He is always ready to draw near to us and
will not leave us alone. We can know His presence and His comfort. We can receive
again His grace. We can count on Him to never be far away, but always at hand,
ready to draw close to us when we turn to Him.
James continues to deal with submitting to God in the next few sentences. "Cleanse
your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be
wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your
joy to dejection." God wants to enable us to see the truth not only of
Him and the wonderful life He offers us but also the truth of sin and its destructive,
twisting consequences. Sin leads to nothing good. There is not another, equally
good life out there for us to have apart from God. God is life, all life, good,
abundant, full life. When we attempt to get our own way, there is always a
destructive cost. We have hurt others and ourselves in our attempts to control
and possess. Repentance is agreeing with God about the grievous nature of our
sin and its consequences. We need to see the folly and impossibility of continuing
to purposely live in two minds. We cannot receive from God when we are out
to take care of ourselves on our own. We are very reluctant in general to consider
the nastier motivations and actions in our lives. But James is encouraging
his readers to do this very thing. Not in order to beat themselves up with
it, but to gain a true perspective of the emptiness of a life without our Father
in heaven. There is a good Godly grief that can lead us to thanksgiving and
praise for what God is doing to make us His children who are complete and lack
nothing in Him.
Instead of exalting ourselves, maneuvering and positioning ourselves to look
better before others, James encourages us finally to humble ourselves before
God. And the most amazing and awesome result will come of this--"and he
will exalt you." God desires not to keep us from exaltation, but to be
the one who exalts us! And isn't it more glorious, more wondrous to be exalted
by God Himself than to have to spend my time and effort trying to exalt myself?
or trying to somehow get others to do it to me? How much more secure, satisfying,
peaceful, and life giving to receive from God all He desires to give us, ultimately
to receive His very self, than to try and give myself out of my meager resources
life and peace and security!
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