They met, fell in love, and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of their lives together. Such a beautiful wedding. Every word, every song, every aspect of the wedding ceremony pointed to the covenant love of God that had knit their hearts together as one. Friends and family surrounded them at the reception. Tears of joy glistened from the faces of those who had come to celebrate their big day. They disappeared into the back of a limousine headed for their honeymoon as rice, streamers, and the sounds of jubilation filled the air.
The honeymoon ended. Life started. They were adults now. They had responsibilities, but when they weren’t working they enjoyed the freedom of spending time together, really getting to know one another. Life just couldn’t be any better! They bought a new home. They learned they would be welcoming their first child in a matter of months. A room littered with boxes they’d not yet unpacked was suddenly transformed into a nursery. Their excitement was through the roof as each night they gazed upon her growing and then moving tummy like it was the holy grail. The day came when they brought their tiny gift home from the hospital. They showed him around his new room and cried tears of joy that first night. He held her tight and whispered into her ear, “Cinderella and Prince Charming ain’t got nothing on us!”
Time rocked along and one evening while they were eating dinner she said, “I’ve been thinking.” “About what?” he asked. “About how good my life is right now. I love you with all of my heart. What I’m about to say may sound kind of strange, but hear me out. I ran into my old boyfriend a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been texting and talking and I’ve decided I’m going to start seeing him again. I’m not leaving you. I would never do that. I’ve just decided I want to see him as well.” “You’re what?!” he said as he looked up from his plate. She blurted out, “I want you to know how much I love you, I really do. It’s just that I want to see him too.”
Could there be even one person here this morning who thinks the decision she made is acceptable? I didn’t think so. There’s not one of us who thinks he should even consider her idea, right? What is she thinking? What is she doing? This is not going to turn out well for her, or for anyone else involved. All of us here this morning would surely agree that she has lost her mind, yet…yet James tells us there are many of us seated in this sanctuary this morning who are living out this absurdity in our relationship with God. James writes,
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. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:4-6 NIVO)
Throughout James’ letter he has called those to whom he wrote, “brothers” or “my dear brothers,” but now, they must have sat back in their seats when they heard, “You adulterous people…” Literally, in the Greek, James calls them “adulteresses.” James isn’t accusing anyone of having a physical affair, but he is certain they are having a spiritual affair, they’re being unfaithful to God. The word, “adulterous,” is a key for us which causes us to remember the long history of God’s Old Testament prophets. Throughout the Hebrew Bible God portrayed Himself as the Husband of His Chosen People Israel. He loved His people, chose His people, and would always remain faithful to His people. God didn’t choose Israel because they were better than any other people on the planet. He didn’t set His covenant love upon them and pledge His faithfulness to them because they first loved Him. Deuteronomy 7:7-9 tells us,
7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 7:7-9 NIVO)
Oh, what love! What faithfulness! How could anyone feel more loved, more desired, than to have the God of glory choose them from the sea of humanity?! The only proper response to this kind of love would have to be love, faithful love, yet God’s people strayed. God’s people strayed, and when they strayed, when they became unfaithful to Him, when they went off and joined themselves to other gods, God would raise up prophets to announce their unfaithfulness, their spiritual adultery. God raised up the prophet Jeremiah and he announced, in Jeremiah 3:20-21.
20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD. 21 A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the LORD their God. (Jeremiah 3:20-21 NIVO)
One of the most vivid of God’s indictments against His “bride” is found in Ezekiel 16. I wish we had time to read the entire chapter, but it’s just too long to read in the short amount of time we have together. Let me give you the Cliff Notes synopsis. In the opening verses of the chapter God reminds His people of how He found them. Read with me from verses 4-6.
4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. 6 “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:4-6 NIVO)
They had been discarded, left for dead. No one cared for them. No one loved them. No one desired them. Yet, God chose them, set His love upon them, and made them His bride. In verses 4-14, God recounts His tender love and constant provision provided for His bride. Then, in verse 15, we read,
15 “‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.” (Ezekiel 16:15 NIVO)
God’s love was not enough. How can God’s love not be enough? God’s love was not enough so Israel went out looking for love in all the wrong places. She turned to and was taken advantage of by seductive lovers who wanted nothing more than to take advantage of her and enslave her. When she was broken and ashamed, God was still there with His arms open wide, pleading for her to come home.
God went to such great lengths to teach Israel, His chosen bride, about His faithful love and the devilish ways of those who promised her things only so they could use and abuse her. He raised up another prophet named Hosea. God told Hosea to marry Gomer, a harlot. They had children together, but Gomer was not satisfied with her husband so she left him in search of love in the arms of other men. Eventually Gomer either became the legal property of another man or she became a temple prostitute because we read that Hosea had to pay fifteen shekels for her. God told Hosea to go find her, to take her back as his beloved wife, and we can read about it in Hosea 3:1-3.
1 The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” (Hosea 3:1-3 NIVO)
It’s a heartbreaking story. It’s the story of the undying love of God for His unfaithful people. “Hosea, I know what she has done, but go and ‘love her as the LORD loves the Israelites.’” God gave His people, His bride, a vivid, visual picture through the relationship of Hosea and Gomer of their own unfaithfulness and His undying love. Oh, what love the Father has for you my friend! What love He has for me! He is jealous for our love, our undivided love, because He knows what spiritual adultery will do to us.
What is it that sparked this outburst from James? Why would he now write in all caps, in bold ink, “You adulterous people!” to those who he has been calling “brothers,” and “my dear brothers?” He has been building his case throughout his letter. They were living according to earthly wisdom and not heavenly wisdom. They were not living like the people of God, they were living like the people of the world. There were “fights and quarrels” among them that were sparked by the ungodly, unchristlike desires within them. They were praising God and cursing their brothers and sisters. They were giving preferential treatment to the rich over the poor. They were not peacemakers who were sowing in peace and reaping a harvest of righteousness, they were self-absorbed, self-centered, and seeking for themselves above all else. James presented his evidence, made his case, and then announced,
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. (James 4:4 NIVO)
What does James mean when he says, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Does he mean that we have to withdraw from the world and everything in it? That can’t be the case because Jesus said we are the “light of the world” in Matthew 5:14. Just two verses later, in Matthew 5:16, Jesus told His followers to “…let your shine before men so they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” How can they see if we are all cloistered together behind stained glass or withdrawn from society in some Christian commune? We are to be in this world, but not of this world. We were not called to Christ, reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then sent back out into this world so that we might fit in. Paul puts it this way,
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIVO)
In J.B. Phillips translation of this verse, he writes, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” God has His ways and the world has its ways. Our lives are to be constantly shaped and molded by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We must constantly resist, and I mean constantly resist allowing the world to lure us into adapting, conforming, to its ways. We must resist thinking like those who have bought into the world’s ways. You may wonder what I’m talking about. You’re unaware that there are two ways of thinking? Let me describe for you what I’m talking about. The world defines happiness, success, and what is meaningful in life in one way; God defines them in another. The world places value on people according to what one has or does or looks like. God values all people, all people, because He has made them in His image. The world says that each person must determine what they want in life and go get it, only you can make it happen. For God’s people, our lives, our goals, our ambitions, our purpose is formed and shaped by what God says, not by what we think. The way of the world is to place “self” above all others. Just last week we read Jesus’ mission statement. Jesus said,
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIVO)
The world looks out for #1, but God’s people are called to serve. We serve God. Whatever we do we do for His honor and glory. We also serve God by serving those He places in our path throughout life. We are the people of God, not the people of this world. J.I. Packer describes “being of the world” like this:
Being of the world means being controlled by what preoccupies the world, the quest for pleasure, profit, and position…Those who love the world serve and worship themselves every moment: it is their full-time job….Worldliness means yielding to the spirit that animates fallen mankind, the spirit of self-seeking and self-indulgence without regard for God. (J. I. Packer)
The Apostle John had begun following Jesus as a young man. He was the last of Jesus’ disciples to die. Through those many years of serving the Lord John had seen it all, he had heard it all, and he had learned firsthand the truth of Jesus’ teaching and the emptiness of the promises of the world. As an old man with great experience he sat down and wrote,
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 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. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIVO)
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Have you ever noticed how the “things” that are rooted in “self,” or worldly thinking, lose their shine over time? The new and exciting quickly becomes old and dull and something or someone else catches our eye. We are like hamsters on a wheel chasing the things of this world, but once we get them their satisfaction is fleeting, it lasts only for the moment. Richard Sibbes, the puritan preacher who ministered during the 17th century in England, wrote, “All earthly things are as salt water, that increases the appetite, but satisfies not.” And isn’t it still true today? But, for those who delight themselves in the Lord, those who set their hearts on knowing, loving, and serving God, there is increasing joy and satisfaction that flows from that one relationship. Around 1000 B.C. David wrote,
11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11 NIVO)
“You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” And isn’t it still true today? With such joy, such love available to you and me by longing for and abiding in the Father, why would we ever seek fulfillment and satisfaction in any other? Why? I think one of the reasons why is because we do not fully understand what is available to us if we would just wholeheartedly give ourselves to the worship and service of the Father. We toy around with the idea. We’ll attend worship now and then, when we don’t have anything else to do, but to daily and throughout the day fix our thoughts on His mercy, His grace, His goodness, and guidance…Well, I’m too busy for that. I don’t want to go overboard on this religion thing. As a result our affections become misplaced, misdirected, and our desires lead us away from the loving arms of the Father and we head out on our search for something more. Even with this reality, like Hosea yearning for Gomer while she was trying to find satisfaction in the arms of those who only wanted to use her for their own benefit, God yearns for you and me to turn around. James writes, in James 4:5,
5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? (James 4:5 NIVO)
Bible translators say this is one of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible. There are many questions, but for the sake of time let me get to the bottom line: The Holy Spirit of God, which came to take up residence in the heart of every person who has surrendered their heart to Jesus, yearns for our undivided love, is jealous for us with a holy jealousy. Kent Hughes writes,
…even when we sin by seeking our pleasures in friendship with the world, we are greatly loved, for jealousy is an essential element of true love. We are brides of Christ, and the Holy Spirit does not want us to go somewhere else to “have our needs met.” This jealous Spirit is inside us. When we sin, He is pained! Furthermore, His jealousy is passionate, for the idea in the Greek (epipotheo) is that He longs or yearns for us with an intense jealousy. To realize that the awesomely holy God who transcends the universe and is wholly other and self-contained is at the same time personally and passionately and lovingly jealous for our affection—this realization ought to stop any of our “affairs” with the world and cause us to prostrate our souls adoringly before him. How we are loved! And how we ought to love! (Hughes, Kent. James. pg. 157)
Oh, how we are loved! O how we stray! We who are followers of Jesus, who profess a love for Jesus, are so easily led astray. We so easily forget the Father’s love and go on our search for whatever it is we are looking for, whatever it is we think we lack, or whoever it is we think can fill the empty places of our lives. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 NIVO)
How strange is our God! How absolutely mind-boggling are His ways. We have gone astray. We have turned to our own way. We have forsaken God. Rather than God unloading on us for our unfaithfulness, He offered His Son, Jesus, as payment for our sins. Oh how He must love us! No wonder James says that His Spirit yearns or envies intensely for you and me.
Someone is here this morning and you’ve blown it. You know you’ve blown it. Others know you’ve blown it. The voice in your head is telling you it’s hopeless. How could you even think about asking God for forgiveness? Oh my friend, James isn’t finished! He has prescribed the problem, but get ready because here comes the remedy. Take a look at James 4:6 with me.
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 NIVO)
He. Gives. Us. More. Grace. Great is our sin, but greater still is His grace. Jesus told His disciples about a shepherd who had 99 sheep safe under the shepherd’s care, but there was one sheep that was lost. It was roaming the hillside vulnerable and all alone. The shepherd left the 99 and went out looking for the one lost sheep. Let’s let Jesus tell the rest of the story.
5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:5-7 NIVO)
He. Gives. Us. More. Grace. Are you the sinner who knows you’ve blown it? Then you need to know the abundance of His grace. What incredible comfort we can know from this verse! His grace to those who humble themselves before Him, who come clean about the waywardness of their hearts, is like the mighty Niagara. Did you know 3,160 tons of water that flow over Niagara Falls every second? That’s 75,750 gallons of water per second over the American and Bridal Veil Falls and 681,750 gallons per second over the Horseshoe Falls. That’s a lot of water! With so much water flowing over the falls every second of every hour of every day of every year, you would think it just couldn’t last. Yet, scientist tell us the falls are estimated to be 12,000 years old. Just think of all of the water that has flowed over those falls through the years…and still it flows. God’s grace is greater still. God’s grace is from everlasting to everlasting. God’s grace is able to cleanse from within. God’s grace is able to take a wayward man or woman, boy or girl, turn them around, and guide them into the Father’s arms. Oh how He loves us! He. Gives. Us. More. Grace. Won’t you come to Him this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 18, 2018