As many of you know, I was recently ordained as a minister in the Wesleyan Church. This was a result of a long journey and some of you have heard the story. There are several ways you can be ordained in the Wesleyan Church. The first is (especially if you’re a traditional student) is to go to one of our Wesleyan colleges and take your courses for ministry there. You also have the option of attending seminary. For those God calls later in life or perhaps you received Christ after the college years there are two options. One is taking the courses via correspondence. (some people like this path) The other option is to take the courses via live instruction classes. (SWU and Houghton both offer these and several districts offer these classes as well including Shenandoah.) Another option in the live instruction path is FLAME (Fellowship of Leaders Acquiring Ministerial Education.) Your pastor took most of his classes that I didn’t already have through Indiana Wesleyan through FLAME. There is the class taking element of FLAME, but it is so much more. There is wonderful Christian fellowship and networking. Each morning we meet for worship and a devotional. There’s the Wednesday night communion service in which a local pastor, FLAME professor or even a former FLAME student prays for the student and his wife if she is there. The classes are excellent. We have some of the best Wesleyan teachers in the denomination; Bud Bence, Phil Bence, Dr. Bob Black, Steve DeNeff, Pat Bennett, Jim Dunn, and others. These classes have shaped who your pastor is. The reason I mention all of this is this series was born in a FLAME class this past spring. I took a class on the Epistle of James and as usually happens a sermon series was born. James is a book about the church. It’s relevant to today’s church.
We are going to look at James 4:1-10 this morning. First let me give you a little background. According to our research, James was the half-brother of Jesus. He was also the District Superintendent (if you want to use our terms) of the church in Jerusalem. Martin Luther called this book a “right strawly epistle” (because of its emphasis on good deeds.) At first glance it would appear that way and some would wonder how it got into the Bible. But if we look at it closer we find that James’ teaching in this epistle really follow and echo the teachings of Jesus. James would have heard Jesus’ teaching. The Jerusalem church was made up of at the time primarily Jewish followers. The letter distinctive characteristics are: (1) its unmistakably Jewish nature: (2) its emphasis on vital Christianity, characterized by good deeds and a faith that works (genuine faith must and will be accompanied by a consistent life-style); (3) its simple organization; (4) its familiarity with Jesus’ teachings preserved in the Sermon on the Mount; (5) its similarity to OT wisdom writings such as Proverbs (sometimes James is called the NT Proverbs); (6) its excellent Greek.
This series is a little unusual in that we will not begin at the beginning of the book and work our way through, but we will jump from place to place. This series was birth by a question that Mike Walters (a professor at Houghton) asked of us and then we worked on in small groups. “If we take a look at James, find five things James would say to the Wesleyan Church in the 21st century.” Our group was made up of three pastors. One was the youth pastor of a large church in the Chesapeake District; another was the pastor of a small church in a small city in Northern Indiana and myself. What was the first thing James would say to the Wesleyan Church? Submit to God, Repent, and be humble. Let’s take a look at James 4:1-10
1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4You 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. 5Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?[a] 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”[b]
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
I don’t know if you know it yet, but the church can be an interesting place at times. It seems the very place where there should be unity is a place that (at times) is full of disunity. James asks the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” He is asking this church, “What is going on?” It seems that the Jerusalem church had some issues. Let me say this up front. I’ve only been here three weeks. I don’t know you very well yet. But I know as I’ve observed that this is a trend in the church. There is disunity. Sometimes it is needed. There are issues that need to be disagreed with. If we don’t, liberalism will infiltrate the church. We’ve seen that in mainline denominations. It is not peace at any cost. There are things worth fighting for. If we look at what James was saying here, these were not arguments and quarrels about doctrinal things. These were quarrels about preferences. What was the source? James speaks about this throughout the letter: double mindedness. The first five verses here deal with this. In James 1:6-8, he speaks to this issue. James say’s our bodies are a battleground. Our desires battle against God’s desires. We want something and don’t get it. We covet what others have (Pastor’s can and are guilty of this) He says you don’t have because you don’t ask and even if you do ask, you ask with the wrong motives and when you get what you ask for you spend it in the wrong places and the wrong things.
James highlights this double-mindedness again with verse four. You can’t be a friend of the world and a friend of God. Jesus said that you can’t serve God and money. You can’t serve God and the world.
So what is the solution to our problem of double-mindedness? Let’s go to verse 7. “Submit to God.” It’s the 21st century. In America, submission is a sign of weakness. We don’t like to hear about this. Most of you have probably heard the saying that God is a crutch. They say, “Submit to God, you’ve got to be kidding. Why would I want to give up what I have to do what God tells me to do?”
The second part of submit to God is to resist the devil. I don’t know if your aware, but we, everyday, are in a spiritual battle. The devil never rests. He is a formidable enemy. He doesn’t like Christians who behave the way their suppose to. James continues, “Draw near to God and he will come near to you.” Do you want to know one of the best solutions to the sin problem? Love God. Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength.” If we got this one down, everything would come together. You want to resist the devil? Draw near to God.
Let’s continue “Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” I know at this point, I’m going to step on some feet. Again in the 21st century church and in America these are not popular ideals. This is talking about confession and repentance. Those who are coming on Sunday evening are going to see some parallels from time to time. Confession and repentance is good for us. The Christian life is a life of repentance, regardless of what the “health and wealth” preachers say. Walking in close fellowship with God means walking the way of brokenness before Him. John says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” When we pray the Lord’s prayer we confess this life of humble repentance.
One of the things that I have participated the past two years is in New York was a community Lenten service. These services were held each Wednesday night throughout the season of Lent. Do you know what the season of Lent represents? Let me read from Dr. Mike Walters, “Unfortunately, the life of repentance and brokenness before God is not a popular approach to religion in modern culture, and therefore we can understand the shallowness of much of North American Christianity. The season of Lent (the six Sundays prior to Easter that elevate the need for repentance) is the most dislike season of in the Christian year. We would much rather celebrate than come before God broken by our sinfulness and cry out to Him for the grace that He only bestows upon the humble. But the curse of double-minded religion never can be replaced by the blessedness of true religion until the place of authentic repentance is found. This is the promise with which James ends: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
My passion for you and for our church is that we have true religion. We need to live a life of brokenness before God. We need to constantly submit to God and draw near to him. We need to live a life of repentance and humble ourselves before God. James speaks of true religion. We are going to take a look at that more next week. But let me issue you a challenge this morning. Are you living a double-minded life? Do you love the world more than you love God? This morning’s invitation is for everyone. I invite you to submit to God this morning and live a life humble before him.