We, as people, have a tendency to idealize days gone by, to wax all nostalgic about the “good ol’ days. As followers of Jesus we hear talk about how we need to go back to the Early Church and seek to emulate their ways. As we’ve been studying the letter of James to the earliest members of the Early Church, we’ve become more and more familiar with those to whom James wrote. If you’ve been here each week then I’m sure you’ve recognized that those early followers of Jesus were not that much unlike us. They dealt with many of the same problems that you and I deal with in our walk with the Lord. They were showing preferential treatment to those in their community who had deep pockets over those who didn’t have much of anything. They were even doing this in their worship services as they ushered the rich into the best seats while they seated the poor and downcast in out-of-the-way places where they wouldn’t bother anyone.
In the opening verses of James 4 we see another similarity we share with the followers of Jesus in the Early Church. James asked, “What causes fight and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” Is that not where we are on this very morning? Tensions rising. Discord, dissension, and disputes interrupt and tear at God’s design for our relationships. Fussing about any number of things that we want to happen and yet they are not happening. Quarrels at work. Bickering at home. Controversy at the Capital. Complaints at church. The list goes on and on of the endless places and relationships where fighting and quarreling are destroying what God has intended to bless us.
The truth of the matter is that fighting and quarreling don’t just happen “out there.” There’s a war going inside of me and inside of you. I’m not the man I want to be, not the man God has called me to be. There’s a battle raging, an ongoing tension that persists, and that tension and conflict can spill over into the lives of others as the frustration rises. What’s the answer? Is there a solution, a resolution to the problem that plagues us? Yes there is. Let’s turn to James 4:6-10 and see what we can learn.
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10 NIVO)
“He gives us more grace.” Everything we need is found in Him. He holds the pen to the the “peace accord” that can quiet the storm within and around us. You say, “But you don’t know the situation I’m facing?” “He gives us more grace!” You say, “But I’ve blown it so bad this time that there’s no way out for me.” “He gives us more grace!” You say, “I can’t deal with them anymore. I’ve reached the breaking point, the point of no return.” “He gives us more grace!” His grace is a mighty fountain that can never be exhausted. His grace is a roaring river to carry the most weary among us to the place of rest and peace, even in the midst of the storm. “He gives us more grace!”
The problem many of us have today is that we just want God to snap His fingers and fix everything. We want an instantaneous fix to a persistent problem that has plagued humanity since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. In the verses we’re looking at this morning there are ten commands for us to obey. Dr. Alec Motyer writes,
James, having pointed to God’s sufficiency, points on to our responsibility. In verses 7-10 there are no less than ten commands to obey. James does not see the indwelling Spirit as a means of instant and effortless sanctification–rather, the Holy One may dwell within even while we pursue the pathway of sinful self-seeking. In the same way he does not see the inexhaustible supply of grace as sweeping us along to an effortless holiness. He knows of no such easy victory. The benefits of grace and more grace are ours along the road of obedience and more obedience. The God who says, ‘Here is my grace to receive’ says in the same breath, ‘Here are my commands to obey.’ (Motyer, J.A. The Message of James. pg. 150-151)
It is so important for us to remember that when James sent this letter to the brothers and sisters in Christ there were no chapter or verse numbers. These commands follow on the heels of the question pertaining to “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” and the proclamation, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” There is a wisdom prescribed by the world, by our natural minds, about how to deal with the problems James has been pointing out. There is also God’s wisdom about how to deal with these same matters. What we find in James 4:6-10 is God’s wisdom.
The first step for those who want to live according to godly wisdom is to “Submit yourselves, then, to God” (vs. 7). This opening command follows what James has made very clear in verse 6 where he wrote, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God gives His grace to the humble, so, submit yourselves to God.
Our pride is the very foundation of our problem. The battle with pride is an ongoing battle and will go on throughout our lives. We can focus on squashing our pride, killing our pride, and at some point in the future be convinced that our battle with pride has been won. In actuality, that will be the moment when pride has won most convincingly. Jonathan Edwards once wrote,
Pride takes many forms and shapes and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion- when you pull off one layer, there is another underneath. Therefore, we need to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter and to cry most earnestly to the great searcher of hearts for His help. He who trusts his own heart is a fool. (Edwards, Jonathan. Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England. 1742.)
We trust our own hearts because we think we know better than God. We want what we want more than we want what God wants for us and when we don’t get our way, when things don’t go our way, our pride rises up and we stand defiant against God like Jonah, who when asked by God, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” answered God with indignation, “I am angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9). We are dug in, in defiance of God, when what God says is not what we want to hear. We are stubborn in our hearts and minds like Pharaoh, who when approached by Moses and told that God said, “Let my people go…” said in response, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). God opposes the proud.
At the same time, God gives grace to the humble so submit yourselves then to God. The Greek word “hupotasso,” translated “submit,” means “to arrange under, to subordinate, to submit to one’s control.” We despise that word, “submit,” don’t we? We like to think that we have to answer to no one. We want to call the shots. We want to be the captain of our own ship, the maker’s of our own destiny. I have to ask the question, “How’s that been working out for you?” God’s Word warns us about following the ways that seem best to us. Proverbs 14:12 says,
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12 NIVO)
Dwight L. Moody once said, “Let God have your life; he can do more with it than you can.” God’s ways are not our ways and therefore we must submit, arrange ourselves under His will, or we will never walk in His ways.
Secondly, James tells us after we submit ourselves to God that we must “Resist the devil.” There is a promise that goes along with the command: “He will flee from you.” The first problem that many people face today is a denial of the Devil’s existence. Many modern-day, supposedly sophisticated and enlightened followers of Jesus find it laughable that some of us still believe in a literal Devil, Satan, who the Bible calls the “accuser of the brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10). There is another problem that is present among followers of Jesus and that is looking for the Devil around every corner. You can turn on some Christian television stations and find preachers who are more than willing to name the demons behind your runny nose, your car that won’t start, and your dog’s incessant barking. C.S. Lewis, in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, wrote,
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors… (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.)
What resources do we have to enable us to resist the Devil? I think it is always best to try and find answers to biblical questions in God’s Word. There are biblical answers for biblical questions. If you will turn with me to Matthew 4. I want us to take a look at what happened in Jesus’ life immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and all of the people heard, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 NIVO) What an incredible moment! Then, in the opening verse of Matthew 4, we read,
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:1-11 NIVO)
We must notice something that is vitally important. Who was it that led Jesus into the desert? It was the Holy Spirit. And for what purpose was Jesus led into the desert? “…to be tempted by the devil.” Now, don’t make the mistake of saying that God the Holy Spirit tempted Jesus. That’s not what the Scripture says. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil.
We face temptation at every turn do we not? There’s no place on this planet where you and I can go where temptation will not follow us there. What’s important for us is to learn how Jesus resisted the temptation the Devil brought His way. The temptation didn’t come until after Jesus had fasted for forty days and nights. At that time, the Devil came to Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” What an astute observation and fitting temptation on the part of the Devil! Jesus was hungry so the Devil tempted Jesus by enticing Him to turn stones into bread. The Devil tempted Jesus where He was vulnerable. Notice how Jesus responded to the temptation:
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 NIVO)
“It is written:” Then Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3. I don’t want to spend too much time with this so let’s move on to the second temptation where the Devil said to Jesus,
6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” (Matthew 4:6 NIVO)
The Devil added a new twist, he quoted from the Word of God, Psalm 91:11, to enhance his temptation of Jesus, but Jesus answered the temptation: “It is also written:” and then He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16. There was a third temptation and Jesus answered it in the same way He answered the first two temptations: “It is written:” and then He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13. After Jesus resisted the Devil for the third time we read,
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:11 NIVO)
Jesus resisted the Devil and the Devil left Him. Was Jesus finished and done with the Devil’s schemes, with the Devil’s temptations? Not on your life! Jesus faced them and resisted them over and over again. In Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert we read,
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13 NIVO)
Wow! That last phrase gives us more insight into what truly happened in the days ahead for Jesus doesn’t it? The Devil left Jesus “until an opportune time.” There is so much insight for you and me to gain from thoroughly studying Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The tool that Jesus used in His battle against the temptations of the Devil was the Word of God. This is our weapon as well. When temptation comes your way, and it will come your way over and over again, you can resist the temptation, fight the temptation, with the Word of God. Lust? Lying? Discouragement? Hopelessness? Greed? Anger? Vengeance? Manipulation? Stealing? Adultery? Abuse of others? Coveting? I could fill the rest of our time by simply listing the temptations that come our way. There is an answer for each one and it is found in the Word of God. We are called to resist the Devil and we are promised he will flee from us, but he will not flee forever. He will look for an opportune time to tempt us again and again.
In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul gives us a great description of the tools God has provided for His people to take their stand against the Devil and the temptations that He brings our way. Paul writes,
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:13-18 NIVO)
We could spend weeks taking a look at each of the pieces of the armor of God. I would encourage you to study these passages because it is when we understand and utilize the “belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and prayer” that we can stand against the attacks of the Devil.
We need to talk about another way to resist the temptations that come our way and that is, sometimes we must flee. James says to take our stand and the Devil will flee from us. There are times and situations in which we need to do that, but there are also times when we need to recognize the situation we are in and, like Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife, get out of temptation’s way. Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul wrote,
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIVO)
Several years ago I was talking to a friend who was really wanting to grow in his relationship with the Lord. While we were talking he told me about a problem he was having and he wanted some advice. He said, “My buddies and I like to go to strip clubs to hang out and have a few drinks together. These guys are my friends, I love spending time with them, but now that I’ve made a decision to really get serious in my walk…I just don’t know.” I said, “You know. That’s why you feel uncomfortable. God’s Word says we are not to look at women lustfully. Lust is the cornerstone of strip clubs. I would recommend you meet your buddies somewhere else to hang out.” We are to flee sexual immorality. It would have been ridiculous for me to tell my friend, “Well, you can go there, but make sure you turn your back to the stage.”
Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy and gave him some great advice about how to battle greed and the love of money. Paul wrote,
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:10-11 NIVO)
Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” People who profess a love for the Lord, and I don’t doubt their love for the Lord, have have made some very bad decisions because there was the opportunity to make some money if they would only compromise their walk with the Lord. We see this in the ministry all the time as preachers prey on those who trust them, respect them. Jesus said,
13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (Luke 16:13-14 NIVO)
God blesses some people with wealth. They’ve worked hard, they’re honest, and are good stewards of the material blessings the Lord has given them. There are others who salivate over the thought of having more and they will do whatever they need to do to get more. Paul told Timothy to flee the love of money. Be satisfied with the financial resources God has provided and serve God alone. Paul’s advice to Timothy is great advice for each of us. Instead of pursuing riches we should pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”
We’re just getting started in our study of the solution to the problems that plagued those early followers of Jesus and which continue to plague us to this day. Most important for you and me is the willingness to submit to God. At the end of our Scripture James says, “Humble yourself before the Lord…” There is nothing in us that desires to relinquish control of our lives to God. It is our pride which bows up and resists God, but let me assure you that if we resist God we will most certainly submit to the Devil.
God calls us to hand over the reigns of our lives to Him because He knows what is best and because we make horrible gods. When we are in control of our lives we are certain to mess things up, hurt others, live by worldly wisdom, and give in to the temptations that come our way. When we submit ourselves to God we are certain to grow in our understanding of His ways, grow in our trust as He leads us through each day of our life, and grow in our satisfaction of His provision for our lives. When we submit our lives to God we are much more committed to resisting the Devil and the temptations that come our way.
How about you this morning? Are you willing to submit your life to God this morning? That’s not a question to taken lightly or to answer too quickly. I can’t answer that question for you, but I would urge you to allow the Lord to search your heart this morning. I can assure you that if we aren’t willing to submit our lives to God then we are most certainly submitting our lives to the Devil. If you’ve never surrendered your heart to Jesus then you need to know that is the first step in submitting your life to God. Won’t you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114