Over the years I have been blessed to see (and discern) just about everything going on within churches. I have joyfully seen some great times of fellowship and unity; times where the Holy Spirit is building a group of believers who are sincerely seeking to be disciples of Yeshua. But sadly, I have also seen fellowships where jealously and anger rule within the congregation, and arrogance and pride consume the leaders.
For some reason, the leaders have forgotten that they are placed there to be servants of Christ, not the Master of Christ. They complain of “sheep stealing,” and “church tramps.” Look, you do not own the people, so they can’t be stolen. If you lord over the people you are supposed to be encouraging and supporting, they should leave! I’ll tell you what, some of things going on in our churches is such a shame and disappointment.
But James seemed to understood what was going on:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Aren’t they caused by the selfish desires that fight to control you? You want what you don’t have, so you commit murder. You’re determined to have things, but you can’t get what you want. You quarrel and fight. You don’t have the things you want, because you don’t pray for them. When you pray for things, you don’t get them because you want them for the wrong reason—for your own pleasure” (James 4:1-3)
Oh man! Do you see what James is getting at? Some fellowships have people who are jealous and covet what some of the other members have and their desires go unfulfilled; so, they become murderers. No, James wasn’t saying their churches had the equivalent of Mafia squads battling it out. But he was saying that when we hate someone or something, as far as our heart is concerned, it is murder.
Those folks are burning with envy and anger and are not able to find the gratification, the contentment and the happiness, that they are seeking. So, they fight with other members (or fight with themselves and their inner desires). Where I have most commonly seen this is when someone believes that they were called and gifted as a “teacher” or a “pastor,” and feel that they should be a leader, but are never given that responsibility.
I have seen this many times, and it will often disrupt the unity within the church. Either some will say, “Oh yes, brother. You should be leading us.” But others will say, “Well, maybe, but you need to grow some.” Take a look in the Book of Acts and you will see a point when Barnabas and Saul were called out to ministry:
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me. I want them to do the work for which I called them'” (Acts 13:2)
Can I be honest with you? If you were called to ministry, to pastor or to lead, have you spent any time “fasting and worshiping“? Has the Holy Spirit called you out? Hmm. If you read the history of this event, Saul (later to call himself “Paul,” because he was ministering to Gentiles) and Barnabas had been serving and were content with that. But then, the Holy Spirit called them to fulfill the ministry He was preparing them for.
But here’s the thing. As James pointed out, “You do not have, [Why?] because you do not ask.” Now that could mean many things. Certainly, if what you need or desire is healing, you need to ask for it. If you have a particular financial need, you need to ask for it. However, what it also means is that if you feel He is directing you to some form of leadership or ministry, you better be asking Him about it! You had better be seeking His guidance and wisdom as to whether you are indeed called to that ministry! But I will guarantee that it won’t be until you have willingly submitted to some authority over you!
Folks, I don’t mean to shock you or anything, but it isn’t a pink tea party we’ve been invited to. We are called to a spiritual conflict, and the stakes are very high. And, I may as well tell you now, the Marquis de Queensbury rules don’t apply. This is bare knuckles spiritual combat, and we better be prepared for it!
I often want to remind some of the prideful and arrogant preachers out there of the most sobering words Jesus spoke:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants.
Oh! So just because you say, “Lord, Lord!” does not guarantee that you will enter the Kingdom of God! I hope that sobers you up some! You might go to church, even be pretty good in interpreting the Scriptures, but they may only prove that you are a good reader! Just because you seem to be proficient in teaching the Word of God, doesn’t mean the the Word of God has consumed you! I can prove that! Jesus continued to say:
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’ (Matthew 7:21-23
Then James exclaimed:
You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that love for this evil world is hatred toward God? Whoever wants to be a friend of this world is an enemy of God. Do you think this passage means nothing? It says, “The Spirit that lives in us wants us to be his own” (James 4:4)
I love the way the Living Bible renders that:
“You are like an unfaithful wife who follows adulteress relationships her husband’s enemies. [Wow! Pretty graphic analogy, isn’t it?] Don’t you realize that making friends with God’s enemies — the evil pleasures of this world — makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy the evil pleasure of the unsaved world, you cannot also be a friend of God”
Hey! Does your golf game interfere with your commitment to your relationship with the Lord? Am I saying that golf is sinful? Absolutely not. But as a disciple of our Lord, our priorities are vastly different from our love of rest and recreation. If your Lord has called you to a particular fellowship, then you need to make them your priority.
Oh, if you aren’t sure whether you were called there? Then why did you join them? Is it because you didn’t follow James’ advice? You need to spend more time asking Him where he wants you. This seems to be why James asks, “Do you think this passage means nothing? It says, “The Spirit that lives in us wants us to be his own!” (James 4:5). Ooh! Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t write it.
But God shows us even more grace [Remember, I have said before, thin of “grace,” as “God’s ability to do, what you cannot do!]. Scripture says,
“God opposes arrogant people, but he is kind to humble people.”
So place yourselves under God’s authority. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come close to God, and he will come close to you. Clean up your lives, you sinners, and clear your minds, you doubters. Be miserable, mourn, and cry. Turn your laughter into mourning and your joy into gloom. Humble yourselves in the Lord’s presence. Then he will give you a high position (James 4:7-10)
I was discussing this with my pastor, and asked for his thoughts:
One hardly knows where to start. I love James’s letter: it’s so real. but in this modern PC world which we inhabit, authenticity has disappeared in favor of a veneer of niceness that is manipulative and false. If I didn’t believe in Jesus, I wouldn’t believe in Jesus! Perhaps I had better clarify – if it wasn’t for the revelation I had of Jesus Christ some 30 years ago, I wouldn’t believe in Him now if all I had to go on was the ‘witness’ of the church! I say that because the corporate witness isn’t doing our Savior justice. Instead as the writer of the letter to the Hebrew church says: ‘It’s as if we’re nailing Christ to the cross all over again” – and very repeatedly.
There really is nothing worse than blatant hypocrisy and the church gets the gold medal every time. So folks who don’t like authenticity, but instead prefer to wrap up what may be unpalatable within a veneer of PC niceness say: ‘you shouldn’t knock the church’ and ‘you should defend it’. Really? Read the written narrative, and have an ear to listen to what is being written – James, John, Peter and Paul didn’t employ ‘veneer‘ within their letters, if the church was out of line, it was pointed out and written about. We should all be in the business of ‘defending‘ the church by calling attention to behavior within it that denies its Savior.
Folks don’t believe because the witness is too often faulty. Hot button issues, the veneer of piety, the pastoral one-up-man-ship, the judgment and condemnation of behavior that one is also committing in secret. Jesus said that He is building His Church, and that the gates of hell will not stand against it: we need to make sure we lay down our foolish notions and pride and make sure we are allowing Jesus to use us to build His church: not our (man’s) version of it!
In this message, I primarily used God’s Word Translation, but I also like how J.B. Phillips translated verses 7-10:
Be humble then before God. but resist the devil and you’ll find he’ll run away from you (James 4:7_
Are you willing to submit to God? Then you must submit to those who have authority over you. I know, I know. That isn’t any easy task, but that is your part of being “humble before God,” and “resisting the devil.” Huh? That’s right, as you submit to the authority the Lord has placed over you, you are indeed resisting the devil and his attitude of rebellion and arrogance!
Come close to God and he will come close to you. Realise that you have sinned and get your hands clean again. Realise that you have been disloyal and get your hearts made true once more (James 4:8)
Oh! You didn’t realize that your jealously, anger, pride and arrogance were sin? Well, now you do, so James is telling you to come closer to your Father, your God, when you step toward Him, He will coming running to you! (Think of the Prodigal’s dad).
As you come close to God you should be deeply sorry, you should be grieved, you should even be in tears. Your laughter will have to become mourning, your high spirits will have to become heartfelt dejection. You will have to feel very small in the sight of God before he will set you on your feet once more (James 4:9-10)
That is the perfect description of repentance! You come “close to God . . . fell deeply sorry . . . be grieved . . . be even in tears!” That’s when you will receive comfort and healing!
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