46. Opposing God

Meditations in James: 46 : Opposing God’s will

Jas 4:16,17 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins

What I find one of the most amazing things in life, is that God seems to allow us to go on in the way we live and tolerates our godlessness, often for many years, without apparently doing anything to correct it. The apostle Peter understood this: do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9). For instance I didn’t come to the Lord until I was nearly twenty two, my mother until her late fifties and my father until his early sixties, and a friend of mine until his early sixties.  Examples abound of people who the Lord allowed to go through decades of their lives before He drew them to Himself.  Yet, as I have pondered this I have thought two particular things. First, I suspect that the Lord had been speaking many times but we had just not heard. Second, the Lord knows there will be a time when we will be most open to Him and He may have to wait many years for that. He doesn’t mind waiting because He knows that our time here on earth is but a prelude to eternity with Him. Of course there are many people who seem never to hear and who never respond, yet God doesn’t want that, but will still not force our wills.

Now I say this in the light of where James has brought us to. He has spent the last chapter calling us directly and indirectly into relationship with the Lord, and away from the world. As we questioned before, we’re not sure if he had specific people in mind when he wrote who he knew were like this, or whether he was speaking generally because he knew that we are all prone to this sort of thing. We’ll again assume the latter. He has just written about our tendency to plan life ignoring God, and now he sees people even bragging about what they do. ‘Christmas letters’ come to mind in this respect. An article in the paper commented on the trend of sending out Christmas letters that tell of all the holidays the senders have had that year, making those who can’t afford such things feel bad when they are recipients of such letters. To display such activities of the past year must be a form of boasting, however naïve the senders may be. “Look at what we have done” is clearly the sense of these letters. Such letters must evoke comparisons and even envy. Indeed that has got to be a form of boasting.

However James’ comments have more of an edge to them than merely chiding against pride – although he is not averse to doing that as we’ve seen previously in his comments about favouritism in church. Yes, he says, boasting is evil, pride is evil, doing your own thing is evil, making others feel bad is evil, but there is something more. He speaks of anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it. There is an implication here that there is more to this flitting around, doing what you will, going where you will. There is the implication that Christians – for remember, he is writing to Christians – know within themselves that there is another way they ought to be living, but don’t. Because we have the Holy Spirit living within us, He will be speaking to us to guide us, correct us, and lead us to be doing other things, things that are not just self-centred, things that bless others in the will of God.

Of course these things raise far bigger issues, issues about use of time and money and other people.  We have spoken about it being the well-off members of society who can afford a variety of holidays, afford to spend their surplus money on self. Isn’t it right to take times away to recharge our batteries? Yes, of course it is. That isn’t the point that James is making. His point is the origin of our travels or our activities. Is it the Lord? Do we refer all our activities to the Lord, recreational as well as work, and especially work?

James is right in our face on this issue. Look, he says, if your conscience or the Holy Spirit within you is bugging you about other possibilities, other ways to live your life, other things to do with your life, and you disregard either of them, if you disregard what you know is right, don’t you realise that that is sin.

Can it be that many of us are inadvertently sinning, simply because we carelessly disregard the quiet voice of God speaking to us, seeking to lead us into a less self-centred, more God-centred lifestyle, one that is far more fruitful, that impacts and changes the world instead of allowing the world to change us, as this chapter has been saying?

When it came to Communion, the apostle Paul had to chide the Corinthians: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:27-30). He was chiding them because they were not caring for one another, and the result was that some of them were being taken to heaven prematurely!  If that applied then, how much more in the context of what James has been saying. Put in its simplest form it says that God may often tolerate non-Christians slowness of response, but once we are in the kingdom, we are answerable to the King who will hold us accountable. Food for thought?

45. In God’s Will

Meditations in James: 45 : At Peace in God’s Will

Jas 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

In the Advent story, when the angels came to the shepherds, they declared, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14). God’s desire for mankind is peace, yet peace, so often, seems such an elusive thing. Yesterday we considered the tendency of affluent, modern, Western man to travel and to plan. We envisaged the hard working office worker, locked into their daily routine but looking forward to the two or three week’s escape each year to the sun and sea of some far off exotic land. Yet see those same people as they return and so often it takes them three days at least to get over the tiredness of that holiday. Was ‘peace’ a word that described them before, during or after their holiday? Rarely!

We also considered the uncertainty of life, the many negative ‘storms of life’ that can befall us in this Fallen World. We never know what might come. For some people that uncertainty creates fear – and peace and fear never reside together! The lives of so many people are characterized by busyness and uncertainty and with those two things go stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. However, none of these things are the things God has designed for our lives. They are in fact the characteristics and fruits of godless living.

Ah, that is the key!  We just spoke of ‘godless’ living. That is what creates busyness and uncertainty and stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. You can be very active in God’s service but that is a very different thing which may produce tiredness, but there is an accompanying peace and sense of well-being that goes with an awareness of flowing in the will and purpose of God. God has designed us to be at peace and harmony when we are flowing in His will and purposes. When we are not in that place, our life is out of kilter and busyness, uncertainty, stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear are the things we experience. For many, these things are so familiar we assume they are the norm, the way life just is. But that’s not the norm!

The norm is what God has designed for us, to be at peace and harmony in His will as we respond to Him and live out His purposes in our lives. There is a verse we often quote: we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). This describes Christians as people who have been designed by God to do good, and the good we do has been planned by God for us. This is the wonder of the Christian life. It is a life designed by God. We find the apostle Paul using such phrases as,live by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:16) and led by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:18) and keep in step with the Spirit,” (Gal 5:25). These all imply a life that is guided and directed by God’s Holy Spirit which He has put in our lives.

If we can come to a place where we have surrendered our will to God’s sovereign will, it takes all the strain out of life. The apostle Paul, again, shows us this. Consider his attitude to his life in the following: as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (Acts 18:21) and, I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing,” (1 Cor 4:19) and, I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits(1 Cor 16:7). He seemed very relaxed in God’s will. What he was basically saying was, “I hope to be able to do this if that is what God wants, but if He wants something else and it works out differently, no problem!”  The writer to the Hebrews had the same approach: Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…. God permitting, we will do so.” (Heb 6:1-3). However we should note that there were times when the apostle Paul did seem to be quite clear about God’s will: I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Phil 2:24).

They key is being surrendered to God’s will and that is what James is trying to bring us to. He knows the very best place to be is right in the heart of God’s will and that is a place of faith whereby we simply say, “Lord, please lead me and I will go wherever you want and do whatever you want.” and we learn to rest in that, trusting in the guidance we sometimes get, trusting that whether we are conscious of it or not, when our heart is fully inclined to the Lord, He will be leading us.  He never forces us, but when we are surrendered to Him, He gently leads us, sometimes by direct and obvious words of guidance, and sometimes just by the gentle moving of His unseen hand, gently moving us and the circumstances around us.  However, He’ll only do that as He sees we are surrendered to His will, because He won’t force us or steer us into His goodness if He sees a fierce resistance in us.

The Message version of Rom 12:1,2 sums it up well, especially what we’ve been thinking about in respect of taking sides with God against the world: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Isn’t that good!

44. Rash Planning

Meditations in James: 44 : Rash Planning

Jas 4:13,14   Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Modern life is a complete mixture. On the one hand people are as locked into their lives as they have ever been, but on the other hand there are greater opportunities than ever before to travel and do different things. Those on the lower end of the social or financial scale who are reliant upon benefits are perhaps the most ‘fixed’ in terms of what they can do, for their low income prohibits some of the travel opportunities that others have. Above this level there are those in work who are restricted in their lifestyles to turning up for work at the prescribed times and who look forward to weekends and holidays to escape that routine. Yet their income releases them to take opportunities to travel which, centuries ago, very few ever even dreamed of. Within the more affluent part of society are the entrepreneurs who include ‘Internet kings and queens’ as well as ordinary business men. Despite reports of society in ever increasing debt, there are more people venturing out into new enterprises in ways never before thought about. The modern world is indeed a world of seething activity and travel like never before.

If James’ words in today’s verses had application two thousand years ago when he wrote them, they must be even more applicable today in the light of all we have just said.  Think about what James has just been saying. Sorry, but it is important to keep going back over it to take in the overall sense of what he is wanting to convey. Perhaps, to summarise all we have been considering in chapter four, we might say that James’ primary concern is that we maintain or restore our relationship with the Lord – which has very practical outworkings for everyday life – and don’t get enticed away into the ways of the world by Satan’s subtle activities behind the scenes.  So how does this apply to what we have just been considering?

In this modern world, perhaps unlike any previous time, one of the biggest temptations is to think we have become masters of our own destiny. Assuming we are not part of the lower income bracket, locked into a very limited lifestyle, the modern Westerner has the ability to plan and go places and do things and reach out in business like no previous generation. The feel that this creates is one of ‘being in control’ of being able to do whatever we want. If we want we can save and then travel to the opposite side of the world. Now there is nothing wrong in any of this – as long as it is godly. To reverse that, it is all very well as long as it is not godless.  How easy is it to get caught up with all the possibilities of travel or business and really give God very little thought! “I mean, really, who needs God?” is Satan’s subtle insinuation. His original suggestion to Adam and Eve was,you will be like God (Gen 3:5). His modern insinuation is “You are gods.” Yes, you can do whatever you like – within the parameters of your holiday allowance. You can do whatever you like – within the parameters of your credit allowance. The world is your oyster, go where you will, do what you will. It’s a subtle call.

James’ words in these verses come like a slap in the face or a bucket of cold water being thrown over us. He’s a real killjoy – but he speaks the truth, which we tend to forget. Look at what he says. you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Of course I know what will happen tomorrow, we insist in our foolish short-sightedness. To consider these things is not being pessimistic, it is being real and being real helps us come back to the Lord and to strengthen our relationship with Him.

We really don’t know what tomorrow will hold. We think we do but consider the following possibilities which we hope won’t happen: you develop a serious illness, strange symptoms reveal a hidden serious bodily malfunction;  thieves break in and ransack your house; your house catches fire; you have a car crash; you are made redundant, your partner suffers a serious accident, your children get into serious difficulties; your shares plummet; your house floods; a tornado strikes;  an earth tremour undermines your foundations; you die prematurely.  These are all things that are common in this Fallen World. You believe they will never happen to you, but says James in his own inimitable way, they might!

What is the point dwelling on these sort of morbid things? If we dare face reality and don’t flee into a world of denial, we realise the truth – that we NEED the Lord. That awareness, which Satan tries to get us to forget, which is especially easy to do in the world in which so many of us  live, is critical. The book of Job is the Bible’s wake up call to being prepared for the unexpected. It challenges us to have a good and right relationship with the Lord.  Jesus’ parable of the two house builders in Matthew 7, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, gives us a stark reminder that ‘storms of life’ come unexpectedly and unless we are rooted in a strong relationship with the Lord, we can find ourselves totally undermined when such things come upon us.

These are not negative words from James; they are simply a reminder of the fragility of life that should drive us ever closer into the arms of the Lord. May it be so!

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12    Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 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?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says,Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12     Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 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?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says, Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

42. Approaching God

Meditations in James: 42 : Approaching God Wisely

Jas 4:8-10    Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Some Christian leader once said that if they really wanted their church to take in something important, they would need to communicate it six times to their people. It seems it is a bit like that with James. He is so intent on focusing his scattered people on God that he comes again and again in different ways, saying the same thing. There was an Argentinean pastor who used to say that he would preach the same message to his church every Sunday for a year until they understood it and did it. James would have appreciated him. Let’s follow our usual pattern and see what these verses say and then see them in the overall context.

He starts with a call to Come near to God”. Now what does that mean, because God is everywhere, so in one sense He is everywhere and always near us? Well, when we speak about the presence of the Lord we speak about His general presence which is with us everywhere, and we also speak of His ‘manifest presence’, His presence that becomes real as He manifests or makes known His presence in a very real way. The call toCome near is a call to set your heart and mind on God, probably ‘seeking Him’ in prayer. David told Solomon, If you seek him, he will be found by you.” (1 Chron 28:9). God makes His presence known to those who seek Him with all their heart (Deut 4:29). This is a call to stir the heart to seek after God.

He then calls his readers to Wash your hands and to purify your hearts which is the language used of the priests in the Old Testament as they approached God in the Tabernacle or the Temple. It was a call to ensure purity before God. But James addresses specific people: you sinners and you double-minded. Now whether he knows of specific people who fit this category, or whether he is reminding us of our tendency, is unclear. We will assume the latter because this side of heaven we are (redeemed) sinners and we do have a tendency to be double-minded.  This is James humbling us. In a previous meditation series on “Why the Cross” we spent the first twelve meditations focusing on our sin, because unless we recognize our state we cannot see the full wonder of our salvation or, as in this present context, we cannot realize the attitude we need to approach God. James is well and truly putting us in our place. Why? Possibly because, like today, there is often a tendency to approach God casually, like a buddy. He is Almighty God who is Holy!

So if we do treat God like that, James gives us our marching orders. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord.” This really all says the same thing: change your attitude! Grieve and mourn and wail?  Realise your wrong attitude and come in repentance with a penitent heart. Humble yourself, put yourself down, realize His greatness and your smallness, His Holiness and your lack of holiness. Get a right perspective and then come to God in the right way. These are strong words.

To see why they are strong we need to remind ourselves of the context, of what has gone before. We’ve noted that James is writing to the church living in the midst of the world where faith is so easily dissipated. In the materialistic world in which we live today, these appeals of James are of particular significance. Have we taken note of the things in the recent meditations, the call to side with God against the world, the acknowledgement that God is jealous for a relationship with us, the recognition that it is to the humble that he gives grace, so we need to submit ourselves to Him, resisting the enemy’s strategies to draw us away. Where we have done any of the things James is warning about, then today’s verses apply to us.

1. If we have allowed our thinking and our attitudes to blend in with the world’s ungodliness and unrighteousness, we need to take action.

2. If we have ignored God’s overtures to draw us to Himself, we need to take action.

3. If we have allowed pride to rise up in us, we need to take action.

4. If we have allowed the enemy to entice us away from God, we need to take action.

Please be careful, these are all very real dangers, which is why we have marked them out like this above.  They are each common dangers when we live in the world and things we need to be aware of. If we can be honest with ourselves and recognize that some or all of these things apply to us, then we need to seek the Lord whole-heartedly in repentance and humility. It means we have drifted and we need to take the Biblical steps to return to the place where God wants us.

41. Spiritual Warfare

Meditations in James: 41 : Strategy for Spiritual Warfare

Jas 4:7    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

It has been said that Christians, in respect of Satan, tend to veer towards one or other extremes of belief. The one extreme is to see demons in every situation, and the other extreme is to ignore Satan and even deny his existence. Jesus put it in perspective in the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ when he instructed us to pray, deliver us from the evil one (Mt 6:13), but that came late in the prayer and was only one small part of it. A balanced perspective is to acknowledge the existence of Satan but to keep him in his right place. Let’s examine this verse as it stands.

Submit yourselves to God. Isn’t this the primary call of the whole content of the Bible?  Isn’t this the call to a right perspective, which sees and recognises God as The Lord, the One who is over and above everything?  If, as we read the Bible, we start to catch a picture of who God is, then our only response is to bow before Him and submit to Him. Paul declared that God’s ultimate purpose was that, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil 2:10,11). Awareness of greatness, ultimate greatness, causes a response of submission and worship. That is our starting place.

Resist the devil. There is first an implicit recognition of Satan’s existence here. He’s given no great fanfare; we’re just told to resist him. There is also an implicit recognition that he requires resisting, which means he comes to us to do wrong. Now that wrong, the Bible tells us elsewhere, may be to tempt us into doing wrong, or it may be to sow doubts in us, or deceive us with lies, or even to come against us with physical hindrances. So, says James, don’t let him tempt you to do wrong, don’t let him sow doubts in you or deceive you to believe lies, and don’t let him bring illness or infirmity upon you. We have repeated that list of things that he does to ensure you take note of his strategies which we are told to resist. Why are we to resist them? Because God is jealous for us and is zealous to help us overcome anything which would draw us away from Him.

And he will flee from you.” Have you seen the certainty of that? He will flee! It’s not he might flee, but he will flee.  Now in saying that, we have to point out the order of things here to ensure that. There is no question of you going against Satan on your own, because on your own you are not big enough or strong enough to deal with him. No, the order is submit yourself to God then resist the devil. You need to go to God and re-establish contact with Him, to put yourself in His hands, and to know His grace and strength before you stand against Satan. It is God’s presence and God’s grace that will enable to you resist him. It is when he sees God’s presence in you that he will flee for he knows there is no point coming against you now.

But there is one little important word that we have left out so far: then.  Did you see it?  Submit yourselves, then, to God. This means that this verse is a direct follow on to what has gone before. The full meaning of it, the full significance of it, can only be seen when we see what has gone before.  Remember what we have recently considered in this chapter. A call to take sides, to side with God against the ‘world’, because God is jealous for us, and is zealous for a relationship with us, and so He looks for us to crucify pride and come in humility to Him to receive His grace. How do we do all this? Submit yourselves, then, to God. This verse sums up all that has gone before it. We come to God, we side with Him, we reject the ‘world’, and we kill off pride and come humbly to God in submission, for he is our Lord. As we’ve said numerous times, it is the natural response to all this, and as we do it, we resist Satan and his works, for he only seeks to bring things that will pull us down, that will pull us away from God.

God’s objective is to bring us into relationship with Him, and when that happens and we ‘see’ Him, then our natural response is going to be to submit to Him. Part of submitting is to be open to the Lord for whatever He wants. A beautiful expression of this was seen in the case of Isaiah. He recorded, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” (Isa 6:1). He had an awesome sense of the Lord’s presence and holiness and was ministered to by the heavenly creatures (v.5-7), but then, I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8). He didn’t need to think about the response; it was automatic. In the presence of the Almighty, Holy God, there was only one response possible: I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (v.8) In God’s presence there can only be that one response that basically says, “Lord, whatever you want I will do it.” That is submitting to God. In doing that we reject all the ways of the ‘world’ and we reject Satan’s overtures. In doing this we put ourselves in the most secure place possible – right in the centre of the Lord’s will.  May it be so for each of us!

40. Pride & Humility

Meditations in James: 40 : Pride & Humility

Jas 4:6     But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

The danger or difficulty of meditating on just one verse, especially when we don’t have a Bible open in front of us,  is that we don’t see the context and the context is so often all-important. Yes, we can get a general meaning from thinking about the verse on its own, but it is much more useful to study it in context so that we see why the writer was saying it and what it relates to that has gone before.

So let’s take the verse as if it were on its own and then later let’s put it in context to illustrate what we’ve just said above. First, he gives us more grace. God is in the business of giving us grace, and grace in this sort of context simply means the divine ability that he imparts to us to enable us to cope. Many of us struggle with this. We just can’t believe that God is standing in the wings, so to speak, just waiting to provide us with all that we need to cope with life today – wisdom, strength, health etc. That is grace, His divine ability imparted to us, but we have to receive it, and more often than not, we have to first ask for it.

But then the verse continues, That is why Scripture says…. It is referring back to the Old Testament, to Proverbs 3:34. We need to realize that the New Testament is built upon the Old. Jesus quoted from virtually all of the books of the Old Testament, and the epistle writers do the same. God’s will was declared in the Old and fulfilled or applied in the New.

The verse continues: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is the Old Testament quote, the teaching that came through Solomon.  Those who are proud rise up and reject or ignore God and basically seek to oppose Him, so He opposes them, for He is God and He is exercising His will for the good of mankind. When we oppose Him we oppose this activity of His. As soon as God sees us coming to the end of ourselves, giving up all of our own self-endeavours, and turning to Him, He is instantly there as a loving Father, ready to pour out all of His wonderful goodness, the resources we need for life, His grace. Yes, when we are humble and acknowledge our need, He is there for us, but He can’t provide for us until we turn to Him and become desirous of His help. That’s what Solomon was saying, and is now quoted in this verse.

Now let’s see what has gone before so we can put it in context to see the wider picture. Having spoken about the tongue in the middle of chapter 3 and then gone on at the end of it to talk about the life style that is a reflection of the wisdom received from God, James has gone on to face us up with what goes on inside us and while doing that we realized that without God we were a mess. The key or turning point is when we come to the end of ourselves and we seek God. Before we do that we have wrong attitudes and motivations which are those of ‘the world’, godless humanity, but God is jealous for us and yearns to draw us more and more into a deeper relationship with Him.  However for that to happen we have to crucify our pride and come acknowledging our state and our need. When we come like that God’s grace is freely available to us. While we are holding on to those old worldly attitudes where self is paramount, we are likely to be in opposition to God (which is a frightening thought when you realize how great and powerful He is!) and we are doomed to failure.  It’s all about what we let Him do on the inside of us, as He brings His wisdom to bear on our lives and we are allowed to see ourselves as we really are, with all those self-centred desires in conflict.

This is what this is all about; facing up to ourselves so that we can come in humility to God, acknowledging our need of His help, and then receiving His grace which transforms our life. What is His grace but His own presence, His own Holy Spirit, dwelling within us.  It is He Himself empowering us, but as we’ve commented so many times in the past, He will not force Himself upon us, and so He waits until He sees we have a genuine, penitent attitude, which really does see that He alone is our answer. When we come to this place He releases His power in us – and that is the grace we need to cope. It is that which changes us, which transforms us, and gives us the ability to live the lives He’s designed for us.

Do you see now the importance of the ‘But’ at the beginning of the verse? He’s spoken about His Spirit, who He has given us, as yearning for us or being jealous for us when He sees we have a tendency to drift away, and so now he reminds us that God’s grace is there to stop us drifting and to help us back into a good place. That’s what the ‘But’ is about. It’s about the provision He has made to draw us back when we are drifting. Isn’t that wonderful!  He sees us drifting but He doesn’t scold or chastise us, because He is yearning to just get us back. It’s like when a teenage child runs away. What they have done is foolish, but you are more concerned to have them back than to remonstrate with them! And this is true of God as well. He is there, zealous to bring you back, and for you to be able to do that, you need His grace – and here it is!  Receive it today if you have been drifting. It’s there for the asking.

39. God’s Jealousy

Meditations in James: 39 : God’s Jealousy

Jas 4:5    Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

Our verse today has a footnote that gives as alternative renderings of it: “Or that God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in  us; or that the Spirit he caused to live in us longs  jealously. My attention was first drawn to this verse many years ago when I was a young Christian and was involved in helping someone who was a brand new Christian but who regularly took drugs. On this occasion I had picked up this person from a pub where I knew they would be, and they were stoned out of their mind with drugs. (Put aside all of your “Christians shouldn’t….” attitudes; this is just how it was with this person!) With difficulty I got them out of the pub into my car and took them back to my flat where I just dumped them in a chair. They were completely unconscious. Not knowing quite what to do about this, I was talking about loud to them, even though they were unconscious, and without thinking picked up my Bible and started flipping through it until I came to this verse which seemed to stand out, read it an commented, “Wow, do you realise God is jealous for you?” Standing about six feet away from them it looked like an invisible hand had slapped their face, they instantly came to and said, “Oh, what happened?” and were stone cold sober. That’s how it happened; think about it what you will, but it drew my attention to this verse which, at that time, I had never seen before. Why might God have acted dramatically like that?

Now James doesn’t tell us what Scripture he has in mind but we know the Ten Commandments start with, You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God(Ex 20:3-5). Mostly when we come across jealousy, it is a wrong thing that causes upset, but where there is a legitimate relationship and that is being threatened it is legitimate to feel ‘jealous’ for the other person in your relationship.  One definition is my dictionary for jealousy is ‘brooking no unfaithfulness’.  That’s how it is with God and His people. God is jealous for us; He wants nothing to come between Him and us.  That’s why the first two Commandments are as they are, because He knew that idols could become false substitutes for Him.  A Biblical dictionary suggests that the root of jealousy is “to be zealous for”.  If God is jealous it is that He is zealous for the relationship that He works to achieve with us.

So what is the context with James’ writing, what is he really saying? In the preceding verse he said,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.” which we looked at yesterday.  It is a direct challenge to take sides and to side with God against the world.  If God sees us drifting away from Him towards the world and world attitudes and actions, He is jealous for us, He is zealous to draw us back; He wants to challenge any potential unfaithfulness.

Remember the starting point of this letter, where James indicates that he is writing to the scattered church, the church that is living all over the place, away from it’s original strong starting place, Jerusalem, living away from such secondary strong places of the church, such as Antioch, and living in outlying places where there are no great support structures, and it is just a small number of Christians in any particular locality.  It is in those situations that the pressures of living in the world press in, where the temptation is to take the easy path and blend in with all those around you.  These words in James that we are currently considering have a very real urgency behind them.

In the day in which we live there is an equal urgency.  In Britain we now have a culture that accepts ‘flexible working’ which simply means that people work night shifts or irregular patterns of work, and for some, often on a Sunday. The difficulties that work against gathering with the church on a Sunday have multiplied and I frequently come across situations where, say in a marriage, one member of the couple has to work on a Sunday, and so the other doesn’t feel motivated to get along to the church gathering.  That means that if spiritual life is not to be dissipated, then the couple need to find alternative times to meet with other Christians, to fellowship and be encouraged and built up.  These are very real challenges in the beginning of the twenty-first century with the evolving culture that works against traditional church structures.

The heart behind all of this is a pastoral cry that is concerned for the Christians who could be getting weaned away from the Lord, by the ways of the world. There are increasing numbers of Christians who work increasingly long and stressful hours and who, at the end of the day, are so tired that they succumb to the temptation that says, “I’m too tired. I can’t be bothered to go to church (to the Bible Study or to the Prayer Meeting, or whatever).  These aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they are resource places where the Christian can be revitalised, encouraged and built up. If we go, tired as we may be, to a meeting with other Christians, in the anticipation that we will meet with God, then I firmly believe we will return home later in a far better state, physically, mentally and spiritually, because when we meet God in others, we are blessed and He imparts life. That is what is behind all that James is saying here. Is God having to feel jealous over you?

38. Enemies of God

Meditations in James: 38 : Enemies of God?

Jas 4:4     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.

Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing  because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.

The tone of James’ letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him.  The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world.  Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world’ it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.

Probably the classic passage about ‘the world’ comes in 1 John 2: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world’s ‘life approach’ is defined.  First, cravings of sinful man.  It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see’ something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does, pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.

How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless.  Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God  – and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world’ is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God.  No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.

Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)  Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord.  There was a clear choice you did one or the other.  The choice is exactly the same today.  You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord.  The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God.  Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.

A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things:From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn’t cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!