Sermon for Sunday, May 1st, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Mal 3:6-15 ESV] 6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. 13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.'”
New Testament reading:
[Jas 4:1-12 ESV] 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
[Mat 6:19-24 ESV] 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.
Our passage today from James chapter 4 has a number of statements that can be fit into three categories. And I think looking at these categories helps us to understand the passage. They are:
1. Things NOT to do
2. Thing to do
3. Things God does for us
First, there are the things we are NOT to do:
From an old cartoon I like the term “do not do’s.” They are the “do not do’s”
– Having Wrong desires
– Fighting and Quarreling
– Falling to ask God in prayer
These are, clearly, not extensive. There are other “do not do’s.” James is not making a new 10 commandments. We still have “Thou shalt not steal” etc. But he does have overlap with the commandments. Especially he says, in effect, “thou shalt not murder” and “thou shalt not covet.”
Then, like Jesus Christ himself, he point out the sinfulness even of wrong desires. Actions can be sinful, but so can desires be sinful.
Then there are sins of omission as well as commission. And he says one of them is “failing to ask God in prayer.”
But if there is one “do not do” which is emphasized in the passage it is “fighting and quarreling.” That is where James starts, and it is where all our sins ends up. All the sins we commit lead us to fight and quarrel against one another. We’ll look at that more later.
So, second we have the things we TO DO:
– Submit yourselves to God.
– Resist the devil
– Draw near to God
– Cleanse your hands
– purify your hearts
– Be wretched and mourn and weep
– Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom
– Humble yourselves before the Lord
– Do not speak evil against one another.
If one of these is paramount in James it is “Draw near to God.” And that I’ve taken for the title of the sermon today: “Drawing Near to God.”
Then, in the third category are things which God does for us:
– He gives more grace
– He gives grace to the humble
– He will draw near to you
– He will exalt you
And here, if we were to pick which one James is most emphasizing, I’d say it is the “God gives more grace.” The other blessings of God flow from His grace. Grace is God’s unmerited, undeserved favor. He only draws near to us, he only exalts us, because of His marvelous grace.
So these three categories should help us to summarize and understand the passage.
But it is of utmost importance that we relate these three categories and so understand the thrust of James’s point in this chapter.
To do this, we’ll look at another set of 3:
1. The War Among Us
2. The War Within Us
3. Drawing Near to God
First we have The War Among Us
I. The War Among Us
James speaks of quarrels and fights among the very members of the church.
Calvin says this of James: “James shows that these contentions arose from their invidious desires and lusts, rather than from a zeal for what was just and right.”
Basically, this isn’t a righteous anger and standing up for truth. It is a quarreling over opinions and desires.
This is not an uncommon problem in the New Testament. People, even Christians, not getting along.
And it is interesting to me that there are groups of churches like the Restoration Movement that seek to bring their churches conformity with the earliest Christian churches. And I ask, “Do you mean the churches that James is writing to, which have dissension in them? Or do you mean the church of Corinth who Paul was writing to saying ‘I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you.’ And there were certainly divisions at Corinth. Some said “I follow Paul,” others said “I follow Cephas/Peter,” and others said “I follow Christ.” Or do you mean the church at Galatia, to whom Paul wrote saying “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Jesus Christ and are turning to a different gospel!.”
So there has always been trouble in the churches. We should not seek to emulate the churches, but to emulate our Lord Jesus Christ, and so not have war among us.
But what James is getting at is that the War Among Us has its roots in the War Within Us.
It is because we INDIVIDUALLY have passions at war within us, that these passions come out to war against others!
We desire (an internal battle) and so murder (an external effect).
We covet (an internal battle) and so fight and quarrel (external effects).
If we are to have peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to first get ahold of the war that is within us. That war against sin.
II. The War Within Us
Paul speaks about the war within HIM in Romans 7 when he says “For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” His godly desires are at war within him against his sinful desires.
And in Galatians 5, Paul says “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
James, like Paul, indeed writes to Christians, as I today preach to you. But though we are Christians, forgiven by the Lord Jesus Christ, sin yet remains in us.
We have conflicting passions. We are simultaneously sinners and saints. But this is not an excuse to sin. And it does not preclude sanctification. Rather, James is encouraging us towards sanctification, throwing out the devil and embracing the Lord.
The enemy is the world, it is our sin, and it is the devil. We are not to be friends of any of these. Neither friends of the world, nor of sin, nor of the devil. But we are to fight against these things.
If we do not, then we are enemies of God. James says “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
So what are WE to do?
James says we are to submit ourselves to God.
How are we do that? To repent of our sins. To confess our sins to Him. To seek His will in the Word of God for our lives. I often think of Job, the man who FEARED the Lord and shunned evil. Submitting ourselves to the Lord is fearing him, respecting his power and place of authority, and so turning away from evil as He has commanded us. We are to submit to the commandments of God; not even letting it be a debate in our mind whether we should break one of them when an opportunity arises, but we should remember “Thou shall not.”
And really the simplicity of the commandments is to our benefit. We don’t need to debate or calculate, should I or shouldn’t I? We have the simple “Thou shalt not.” And submitting ourselves to God we listen to him and obey him.
James also says we are to draw near to God.
How might we do that? How can we get closer to God? We come to his house for worship. We go to his Word for knowledge. We go to Him in prayer for our greatest needs and all our desires.
But James warns us to “ask wrongly.” He says “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” When we draw near to God in prayer, let us pray for holy things. Let us pray to be closer to him. Let us pray for sanctification. For patience, fortitude, charity, prudence, humility, and self-control. Do not ask for things that glorify yourself, but ask for things that glorify the Lord.
What else does James say we are to do?
Cleanse our hands.
Purify our hearts.
Be wretched and mourn and weep.
Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
These can be summarized in saying “Flee from the world and from sin.”
This is not a command to flee into a monastery, or to become a desert hermit, or an anti-social recluse. We must be IN the world, but we cannot be OF the world. Flee from sin, fight against. But remain in the station the Lord has put you in. Don’t think that you’ll suddenly be holy if only you get away other people. How silly is that! The problem isn’t other people, the problem is internal! You could go to the wilderness, or to a remote island, or even to Mars and your sin will be there too.
So we are to fight against sin, not take joy in it, but mourn over it, for sin brings death.
But Jesus Christ brings life. [REPEAT: Sin brings death, but Jesus Christ brings life]
That is why we must draw near to Him. This is why we must submit ourselves to God.
But, you say, how can I (a sinner) draw near to God? [REPEAT: How can I (a sinner) draw near to God]
III. Drawing Near to God
The way James speaks you might think that you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and make yourself holy even though you are a sinner.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
Though we find ourselves indeed with the RESPONSIBILITY to obey these commands, this does not entail that we have the ABILITY to fulfill them.
This the great error of Arminianism, to say that responsibility implies ability. But this is not at all the case. Rather, responsibility and sinfulness shows our INABILITY. It shows our need for Christ.
So it is that the Christian is changed and sin no longer REIGNS in us, but even so sin does REMAIN in us. [I’ll say that again – sin no longer REIGNS in us, but sin REMAINS in us]
Oh, how we wish for the day when we will sin no more! But in this world we have, as the Confession says, “a continual and irreconcilable war.” The battle is ongoing, and where would we be without the Lord?
Without the Lord, there would scarcely be battle. We would not be fighting all, but we would be lost, doing all the things which the evil heart desires.
But we have the Holy Spirit within us. And the Holy Spirit who lives in you is greater than the world. God has not abandoned us to sin, but has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, working in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
So James says of the Lord, “HE gives more grace.” HE does.
It is the Lord who picks us up. He finds us rolling around in the mud of our own sins, and HE cleanses us through the blood of Jesus Christ and shows this in baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Without the Lord we are as a dead fish in a river. And the dead fish goes only one way – downstream.
But the Lord has enlivened us. He works in us. Though the current of sin continues ever against us, we are alive to fight against it, even (with the Lord) working our way upstream to fresher waters.
We must always fight those internal battles against sin.
And so I ask, “Are you depressed because you—though a Christian—yet sin? If so, you’ve made progress. Let that be an encouragement. You should be wretched and mourn and weep over your sin.
The world doesn’t even know that it is sinning. If you know your sin, then you know you need a savior.
And you need to know your savior – Jesus Christ.
So now is the time to Draw Near to God. To have joy, not in sin, but joy in Him. Joy in Him who has forgiven sin and called us to live holy lives.
Ultimately, we have the promise that “he gives more grace.” We have the promise that God draws near to us.
And we have to get the order right. God draws near FIRST. We are unable to draw near to Him, but he gives grace, Christ dies for us while we were yet his enemies. The Lord HAS drawn near to us in Jesus Christ, Immnauel – God with us. And the Lord has drawn near to us with His Holy Spirit made to dwell in us.
The LORD does the work. He works in us. So we are to be encouraged that the impossible task for fleeing from sin and drawing near to God, is possible because of God.
And then, the tides of the battle within have turned. The Lord grows us in sanctification, as we ever more and more shun the world, sin, and the devil and more and more embrace Him who has loved us from all eternity.
James then returns to those external battles in the church.
He says, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.”
Do not let the war within bleed out to became a war among others. Here we, and James, come full circle.
We are to draw near to God, one and all. Draw near to him personally, and draw near to him collectively. And as we pray for the sanctification of each person, we pray for the sanctification of the church, that there may be no quarrels and fights among us because we are all in one spirit, the Spirit of the Lord.
And know that as you draw near to God you are drawn near by God. God draws you and to Him goes the glory. Our hope is in the Lord. Let us pray.