Friday, September 13, 2013

James 4 - Draw Near to God

LINK: James 4  (memorize 4:1-4)

BACKGROUND 


James 4 is called a diatribe with worldly believers. A diatribe is a "debate with an assumed opponent" using "the question and answer method along with many imperatives (commands)" (Precept Upon Precept: James, p.98). In this diatribe he talks about the war within, the war with others, and the will of God versus making plans without Him.


The war within consists of our inner sensual lusts and pleasures that lead to the war with others. James has already talked about conflict in previous chapters (1:19-20; 3:13-18) and will in the next one too (5:1-6). The Greek word for "pleasure" is hēdonōn. It is where we get the English word, hedonism, which is "the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life." 


The war within leads to war with others. Paul also addressed the issue of conflict in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; 14:23-40, Galatians 5:15, Ephesians 4:1-16, and Philippians 4:1-3. It was common then, and it is common today. We set our mind and heart on worldly things. We want more money, more possessions, exalted status, and recognition, even in the church. We will even fight for it in order to get these things. By the way, the murder in 4:2 is probably not physical murder but more figurative. The Amplified Bible says, "to hate is to murder as far as your hearts are concerned." 


There are many ways that commentators look at 4:5, but because it follows on the heels of a discussion about worldliness, the best way to read this verse is that "the Holy Spirit, imparted to us by God at conversion, yearns enviously for our total loyalty and devotion to Him" (The Epistle of James: Tests of Living Faith by D. Edmond Hiebert). The Amplified says, "The Spirit Whom He has caused to dwell in us yearns over us and He yearns for the Spirit [to be welcome] with a jealous love." 


We need to abandon our spiritual adultery (4:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ezekiel 6:9-10; Hosea 2:19) with the world and be wholly devoted to our one true Husband (Isaiah 54:5)! And our God is a very jealous (in a good way) Husband (4:5) who wants to bless us far beyond anything the world can give with grace upon grace. This continual grace is greater than the enemy within, the power of the enemy, and the world without. 


In this diatribe James gives us a path from proud to lowly by submitting to God, taking a stand against the devil (who exploits the evil desires within by worldly temptations from without), drawing near to God, and confessing, with deep sorrow, your sins (1 John 1:9). This is all part of the process of humbling ourselves before the Lord (Micah 6:8). I had a pastor who used to say, "The way UP is DOWN!" Amen! 

Another "war without" involved condemnation and judgment of other believers (11-12). 

Here, again, we see the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); they are not to speak evil in a spirit of rivalry and criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it (1 Peter 4:8). If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back (Matt. 18:15–19; Gal. 6:1–2). 
James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Phil. 1:9–10), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives, and then try to help others (Matt. 7:1–5). We never know all the facts in a case, and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men’s hearts. To speak evil of a brother and to judge a brother on the basis of partial evidence and (probably) unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges; God is the only Judge. He is patient and understanding; His judgments are just and holy; we can leave the matter with Him. 
(The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 2, Jas 4:11-12, p. 267) 
The Jews were the great traders of the ancient world. James concludes his diatribe by taking aim at their belief that they were in control of their future destiny. James emphasizes that man's future is in God's hands and that all plans must be committed into His hands for safekeeping. God knows what is best for us, even when we do not.  

James concludes the chapter with an exhortation to do good which is really a reiteration of all that he has been saying thus far in this great epistle! 


REFLECTION 

My sophomore year in college was possibly the worst year of my entire life. I was playing basketball which was a full-time job in and of itself, carrying a full-load as a science undergraduate, struggling with some pretty deep sin issues (war within), and in conflict with someone who I thought was the most important person in my life (war without). Despite being stressed and struggling, I skipped bible study one night. I returned to a handwritten 3 x 5 card in my mailbox:

Draw near to God and He will  
draw near to you. 
James 4:8
As I read this card in the tiny hallway, with the yellow walls, at the bottom of the stairway of my sorority house, I was immediately convicted. You could say that those eleven words were the turning point in my life. 

And I have not looked back.


Life is a balancing act, but James 4:8 tells us what our ONLY priority needs to be. All other things fall into place after it.
Dr. A.W. Tozer has a profound essay in one of his books, entitled, “Nearness Is Likeness.” The more we are like God, the nearer we are to God. I may be sitting in my living room with my Siamese cat on my lap, and my wife may be twenty feet away in the kitchen; yet I am nearer to my wife than to the cat because the cat is unlike me. We have very little in common. 
God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our lives that keeps Him at a distance. He will not share us with anyone else; He must have complete control [emphasis mine]. The double-minded Christian can never be close to God. Again, Abraham and Lot come to mind. Abraham “drew near” and talked to God about Sodom (Gen. 18:23ff), while Lot moved into Sodom and lost the blessing of God.  
(The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 2, Jas 4:8, p. 370) 
APPLICATION 

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. 


Do not be afraid. A whole life awaits you.


Perhaps you need to stop whatever you are busy doing today and make God your number one priority by drawing near to Him. Go for a walk with Him and talk! 

PRAYER



  1. I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
    And it told Thy love to me;
    But I long to rise in the arms of faith
    And be closer drawn to Thee.
    • Refrain:
      Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
      To the cross where Thou hast died;
      Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
      To Thy precious, bleeding side.
  2. Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord,
    By the pow’r of grace divine;
    Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
    And my will be lost in Thine.
  3. Oh, the pure delight of a single hour
    That before Thy throne I spend,
    When I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God
    I commune as friend with friend!
  4. There are depths of love that I cannot know
    Till I cross the narrow sea;
    There are heights of joy that I may not reach
    Till I rest in peace with Thee.
  5. (Frances J. Crosbypub.1875)
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