Monday, May 20, 2013

James 3&4 - Two Tales of Kings, War & Peace, Greed & Righteousness (part 3 of 3)

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War & Peace. Greed & Righteousness.

In the third chapter of his book, James compares two types of wisdom – natural wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Natural wisdom results in envy, selfish ambition, disorder, and evil. Heavenly wisdom results in peace. James ends chapter three with the evidence of a person following God’s wisdom, calling them peacemakers, and then continues to flesh out the practical consequences and ends of the natural wisdom of envy and selfish ambition.

James 3:17-4:3
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Each one of us has a King Ahab in our hearts, selfishly desiring things that are not ours, sulking over not being able to possess them. Not submitted to God, they can set our communities on fire, and lead to disunity, destroying us from within.

The passions and desires that lead to fights and quarrels are natural desires. But, just because something is natural does not necessarily mean it is good. In James 3:15, he calls the wisdom of the world “earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic”. “Earthly” means “common”, in the same way we use the word in “common sense”.  “Unspiritual” does not necessarily mean evil, but natural, like the natural instincts of an animal. “Demonic” wisdom is unnatural, the wisdom of the world that goes against even what is commonly understood, or consistent with the natural laws of Creation.

There are many evil acts that are common, and therefore go unquestioned.  Furthermore, acts of self-preservation or self-gratification are not automatically justified simply because they are “natural”. God doesn’t want us to live “commonly” or “naturally”. God calls us to live supernaturally.

Peacemakers live supernaturally.

These passions and desires in verses 1 and 3 both come from the Greek word hÄ“donismos, which means “delight”. It’s where we get the word “hedonism”.

Hedonism is living as though pleasure is the only thing that has intrinsic value, the only thing that is truly good. Actions are justified based on their pleasure produced against their potential for pain. If a hedonist wants to do something that feels good, it is good, and that is all that matters.

James says that this pleasure seeking wisdom, though natural, is not God’s wisdom. The result of this wisdom is selfishness. It ends in quarrels, fights, and murder.

Does this remind us of Ahab the king and Naboth’s vineyard?

Though we may quickly apply these verses to international conflict, James writes this letter to regular Christians, like you and me. Examples like Naboth and Ahab, or wars on the world stage may be grand examples of these horrible consequences, but James’ warning is not just for people “out there”, it’s for us, for you and me.

The end of coveting, is fighting, quarreling, and disunity.

The end of lustful desire, is murder.

James Chapter three begins with a warning that people should be careful about desiring a position of leadership with wrong motives. It continues by saying people who rely on their own wisdom, instead of God’s, need to jockey and campaign for position. James condemns those who would, in seeking to be a teacher, bless God out of one side of their mouth, while cursing others from the other side. Think of the way candidates speak about one another at election time, and then imagine this happening in the church.

This doesn’t just have to apply to people seeking leadership or control explicitly. What is the greatest currency in our community? Is it sharp wit that cuts people down well? Is it knowledge of pop culture? Having the best job, or the best looking clothes, or the best looking partner? To fight and grasp to remain at the top of the social pile is the fruit of the wisdom of the world, and the lust of our natural being.

Every one of us has the opportunity by word or action, to attempt to steal Naboth’s vineyard for ourselves. In our relationships within our community, do we seek to honour one another before God, or do we manipulate and campaign to build up our own opportunity for control?

The spirit of God cannot dwell in a community where the members fight with one another for position.

Mark 9:33-37
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Of course, someone will think, “yes, quarrels can happen in any community, but certainly not murder. We’re good people.” But James is warning of the final outcome of the consequence of empty, covetous hedonism. No addict began by seeking to become one. But in the end, the self-gratification that has consumed a person may bring them to the point of being willing to murder.
If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.

If everyone in the world consumed as much grain as Americans per capita, 2.5 billion (of the world's 7 billion) people could eat. If everyone ate as much grain as the average Indian, the same amount would feed 10 billion people.

Our insistence on personal consumption may cost others their basic needs.

This is true on a global level, but it is also true in a small community. When we strive to take as much as we can for ourselves, it will be at the expense of others. When we hold all we have with open hands, trusting God as our provider, we may also find ourselves becoming agents of generosity in the lives of others.

Murder begins in the heart.

Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:21-24
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Everything we need comes from God. God is happy to give it (James 1:17-18). If what we need is according to God’s will, we don’t need to fight and strive and campaign for it. Like Elijah, God is our provider, and will take care of us. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said (Matthew 6:28), “look at the lilies of the field, the birds of the air . . . your Father feeds them.” James says we can ask God for wisdom, and God will give it, generously (James 1:5).

If our motive is selfish gain,  . . . money, power, glory . . . our prayers are not prayers at all. The result of disunity and hatred is the same.

When we pray, we may not begin prepared to ask for something truly according to God’s will. It is not God’s hand that we move in this case. Just as David was changed when he humbledhimself before God, so that he could act justly toward Araunah the Jebusite, it is in the posture of true prayer that God changes us.

We receive from God when we ask according to the will of God, and with our hearts submitted to God. Anything less than this treats prayer as superstition, (or tradition). Prayer to God is not a slot machine. The power of prayer is in the one who hears, not the one who prays, or the prayer itself. We pray to a God that’s real. Do you believe that? If so, at the moment you bow your head, your heart will be revealed to you, your motives will change, and then your requests will follow.

If we receive an answer to prayer that we did not want, our hearts are revealed in our response. An Ahab will curl up and face the wall, cry and manipulate when he can’t get what he wants. A David will respond with humility, setting aside their own perceived rights or justifications for the good of others and the glory of God.

Isaiah 54:5
 For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.

The entire book of Hosea compares the relationship of God’s people with a marriage. God is faithful. God is merciful.

Our decision to be faithful to God is a binary one, it does not have degrees. We’re either walking in the wisdom of the world, in self-gratification, covetousness, envy, one-upmanship, or in the wisdom of God, peaceable, humble, childlike, and serving.

James 4:4
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.

The word “world” in this passage is the exact same Greek word as in John 3:16, “God so loved the world”,  and Romans 1:20, “since the creation of the world God’s attributes are clear”, and Matthew 4:8, “the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world”. So our understanding of this word “world” must be taken from its context. Clearly God does not mean that we aren’t to love people in the world (to contradict John 3:16), or to not be friends with the universe (which is silly). This is a specific reference to the worldly, natural way of being compared with the Godly, childlike way of being. It is not necessary for you to not be friends with, or fearfully remove yourself from the world.

James 1:27
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Remain in the world. But do not go to bed with, sneak off with, flirt with, or even be a little friendly with that common worldly life of empty ambition and self-gratification.

Matthew 6:24
“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.

Those are Jesus’ words. It’s one or the other. Choose your master.

1 John 3:13-18
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

The proof is in the action. Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26).

If we live like Ahab, a life seeking the power and pleasure and corruption in this fallen world, we will die consumed by that which we will never possess.

If we live like David, our hands open to give whatever we have for the sake of the glory of the only true King, living as peacemakers, resisting the corruption of world, the fruit of our life will drop seeds in this world that will grow the eternal Kingdom of Righteousness.

James 3:18
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.


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