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Home Sermons ‘Real Faith and our struggle to be wise’ James 3:13-4:12 - Text & Audio

‘Real Faith and our struggle to be wise’ James 3:13-4:12 - Text & Audio

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‘Real Faith and our struggle to be wise’        James 3:13 - 4:12               

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David Calderwood

Audio Link 

Every single day hundreds around our world are killed in war. War is always horribly destructive, even so-called just wars. But the most vicious wars are civil wars, when citizens of the same country turn on each other.

 

 

This terrible image is the focus forthe next area of struggle for Christians as James asks why we so quickly resort to civil war given we are all citizens of God’s Kingdom of peace? 

 

 

But let me re-cap James’ main theme – challenging Christians to struggle for consistency between who I am in Christ and how I live; urging Christians to have an operational Christian worldview, evident in every aspect of life, not just a theoretical worldview that starts and ends with the right words.

 

 

And James is a realist. It is a real struggle!1:1-18 it’s a real struggle not to be double-minded; 1:19-2:12 it’s a real struggle to avoid self-deception; 2:13-16 it’s a real struggle to avoid living half-truth; 3:1-18 it’s a real struggle to have a godly pattern of speech.

 

 

But James is equally clear that we may be confident in our struggle because it is the Christian’s struggle – not a struggle to become a Christian and not a struggle to prove to myself or others or God that I am a Christian.

 

 

I can throw myself into the struggle with confidence that as I am new in Christ;confidentthat I have God’s life-giving Spirit within me, renovating me from the inside out and causing my heart to overflow in new, Christ-like patterns of behaviour.

 

 

Now for the issue at hand in 3:13-4:12 andthe confronting focus question (1a) - Why are our relationships with other believers so fragile?

 

 

The question is even more confronting when we see the link to wisdom in the previous paragraph, 3:13-18. Fights and quarrels break out because of the problem of our hearts,

 

 

Christians should be characterised by godly wisdom, described in verses 17-18. Godly wisdom begins in the heart, an attitude of undivided loyalty towards God, which gives rise to practical characteristics beginning with peace-loving and end with peace-making.

 

 

So the shameful inconsistency of civil war in our relationships is even more confronting. Given our relationships ought to God’s character, why are they so often defined by open warfare?

 

 

Why is the GECN church family, actually one in Christ, so prone to outbreaks of conflict between individuals, which quickly escalate towards full civil war as we seek to recruit others to our cause?

Why is it that regularly and easily we go to war with our spouses, or with our children bringing out the big guns to maim and wound. And children you do this with your parents engaging in no-prisoners-taken ruthless acts of war. And the result is always carnage.

 

 

From question, James moves to precise diagnosis (1b-2)! The problem, verse 1, is “your desires that battle within you”. 

 

 

Once again it is the battle that I, and every Christian experiences on the inside, in my innermost being. It is the struggle between my old sinful nature and my new nature, created by God’s Spirit taking up residence within me at conversion.

 

 

A military illustration might help clarify this. In 1940 the Island of Guernsey, a British territory off the coast of Normandy, occupied by the Germans. In 1945 it was re-captured and once again made a British territory, but lingering evidence of the German occupation was everywhere.

 

 

In the same way, I was made to display God’s character and glory. But I was overwhelmed by the forces of sin and became an occupied territory,until Jesus invaded me, made me his possession once again, and garrisoned my heart with the Holy Spirit. But the evidence of occupation, my old sinful nature, is to be seen in my ongoing struggle to be who I am – God’s redeemed person.

 

 

So, this is a personal issue – your desires and my desires. Our first response in times of conflict is to point at the failings, actions and sin of others, and we ignore or are unaware of the sin in our own hearts which will have contributed to the problem.

 

 

And it is a persistent and intense issue. Two related words are used – ‘desire’ could also be ‘lust’, something a person sets their heart on and determines they must have.

 

 

The second word is ‘want’ which is translated as bitter envy in 3:14. It is the kind of jealousy arising from deep self-centredness determined to push your own agenda regardless of the cost and of who may get hurt in the process.

 

 

It may start with a single thought, a hurt – perceived or real, or an action which is interpreted badly. This is fed and nurtured until it becomes a raging passion that dominates the thinking and quickly moves to an outbreak of open warfare.

 

 

This is serious stuff. Giving way to powerful self-centred desires when they rise up within usis to default to our old pre-Christian way of behaving. It will also put us in conflict with the desires of others and so we will fight until only one is left standing. We will take down anybody that gets in the way and will do anything to get what we believe we deserve or are owed.

 

 

So, how are we to manage ‘our condition’? James’ answer is simple – get serious and be wise

 

Look at verse 6. Our confidence to move forward successfully in this struggle of the heart isknowing we have the direct assistance of the one who specialises on matters of the heart.

 

 

Our confidence is that God will do what he does well – renewing us on the inside in our attitudes and desires, thus enabling us to do what he asks us to do, struggle to live well and live wisely, getting serious about developing relationships that produce a harvest of righteousness.

 

 

Let me expand this idea under three headings. Begin the struggle by being brutally honest about your desires. (2b-3)

 

 

This issue was seriously affecting their spiritual state as seen in their prayer life. The first sentence could mean that they had become so obsessed on getting what they had set their heart on that they had simply taken matters into their own hands rather than trusting their situation to the Lord in prayer and awaiting his leading, or possibly learning to live without that desire being realised.

 

 

But most likely James is simply pointing out that they didn’t pray about their desires because they were too embarrassed to pray in such a self-centred way, knowing their desires were shamefully inconsistent with what they should be asking for as a Christian, and knowing that God would know their real motives even if they did pray.

 

 

It’s the same idea as already mentioned in 3:14 - Selfish ambitionhas the idea of a person or group of people or faction who will stop at nothing to advance their cause.And it always comes with its ugly twin of envy or jealousy, being willing to take down anybody that threatens to stop your ambition. When a Christian gives in to these urges they, thereby deny the truth of the gospel.

 

 

Friends, this is a great check for us – If you feel awkward in expressing your desire to God, then you should suspect a serious problem in your own heart before you consider others.

 

 

Imagine praying– Lord that person has really hurt me and I have hatched a plan to get revenge on them and take them down. Lord make my plan effective inflicting maximum embarrassment and pain on them while showing to everybody else that I am not to be messed with or treated lightly.

 

 

Perhaps we could package the same prayer to make it sound honourable – Lord you know that person has really hurt me and I need to get closure on the matter. Help me to achieve that. It sounds good, but may harbour all the same poison as before.

 

 

Then struggle consciouslyto stay on a war-footing. (4-10) James continues the language of enmity, envy, and war, but changes the focus again to the heart and relationship with God.

 

 

In other words James pushes us to see that before any conflict arises in our relationships with other believers we have already gone to war with the God who has so graciously saved us.

In the language of 3:13-18 the outbreak of war among Christians is simply the result of a prior choice to abandon godly wisdom for worldly wisdom.

 

 

It’s the deliberate choice to use attitudes and actions which put us totally at odds with God’s character and desire for us, thereby making mockery of the gospel and the prince of peace.

 

 

Verse 5, has several possible interpretations, all of which fit the context, but I am opting to read it as making the point that God is a fiercely jealous lover who really cares about this unwise choice when we make it, and that God’s Spirit within longs to see us consciously choose wisdom or righteousness and obedience.

 

 

Therefore friends, we must consciously stay on a war –footing. We must constantly be aware of and engaged in the internal battle to choose loyalty to God and to live wisely as his people. It will not happen automatically, it is a daily, fierce struggle.

 

 

But, verse 6, it is a struggle that displays wisdom: knowing that God longs for us to reflect his character far more than we do; knowing God that God alone can empower us to be what he wants us to be; knowing that he will give us all the resources of grace, the help we need to prevail - moment by moment, relationship by relationship, provocation by provocation, hurt by hurt.

 

 

And all this is fleshed out practically in verses 7-10. And herein is the secret of becoming peace-lovers and peace-makers in relationships.

 

 

Wisdom starts in the heart as we move consciously and purposefully towards God.

Wisdom resists Satan’s lie that his ways will more effectively deliver on your desires

Wisdom is being honest about yourself, your sin and pleading your desperate need of God’s changing power in your life.

Wisdom is being confident in the outcome of all this - that God will come near and lift you up from the stinking, shameful inconsistency of civil war with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and work in and through you a harvest of righteousness.

 

 

None of this lessens the intensity of the struggle, but it sure gives encouragement to press ahead.

 

 

Finally he urges us to struggle alongside our brethren, not against them. (11-12)

 

 

The idea of slander is to speak about another in a disparaging way with the intent of putting them down or destroying their character or reputation in the minds of others.

 

 

James’ point is that to choose to bad-mouth, take down, sledge, or assassinate a brother or sister behind their back both spoils the partnership and unity we are meant to struggle to preserve and develop, AND it makes a mockery of God’s gospel rule to love one another, which is to speak and act towards one another in a way that honours them and promotes their welfare. 

There is a community or church family aspect to our struggle to be wise in our relationships. Put bluntly we areon the same side, in the same trench fighting shoulder to shoulder for the name of the Lord. So how shamefully inconsistent is it to turn on the person next to us and bayonet them.

 

 

It is important to recognise the words said might actually be true, but in certain circumstances the intent still makes it slander. If I say X, Y, and Z about a brother, I might also say there is nothing personal in what I am saying, but if there is a hidden intent to wound, weaken or wrongly expose the failings or sin of another brother then it is slander.

 

 

It is also important to recognise that this does not mean we can never raise concerns with another believer or about another believer. It does not mean we are prohibited from pointing out error or sin or failures in a fellow believer.

 

 

We are to be peace-lovers and peace-makers, but this peace is not to be pursued at any price – We cannot buy peace at the expense of tolerating sin and evil; We cannot say we have pursued peace if we are remain quiet when we should be speaking into the life of another and challenging their actions in terms of consistency with who they claim to be.

 

 

Other Scriptures say we have an obligation to care for our brethren in this difficult way, but we must speak first with the other person before we get others involved and we must never say to others what we are not willing to say to the person directly, and we must always speak the truth in love, desiringas best we are able to help the brother or sister, not destroy them. 

 

 

Friends, God has put us in this church family called GECN meaning us to strengthen and encourage one another not attack and destroy each other. It’s that simple, and anything other than that is simply not right and should not be accepted.

 

 

So, some final questions to take away and ponder:

 

Are you passionately seeking God’s grace to change you from the inside out, knowing only he can do that particular work and knowing that is the starting point for good relationships?

 

 

Or have you abandoned God’s wisdom in favour of serving up your own brand of justice on those you believe have hurt you, failed you, slighted you, and generally deserve their come-uppance?

 

 

If you asked them, would your brothers and sisters generally speaking say of you that you are a peace-lover or that you are prickly, touchy, difficult to get along with, in a simmering state of war, quick to turn on your brothers and sisters if they get something wrong or don’t go where you want them to go?

 

 

Friends we need to struggle hard, with God’s grace to address such sinful inconsistencies among us.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 06:24  

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