Wrestling Through James
You 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. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. 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. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you– who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:4-12).
Whew! That’s a tough one to hear. Really, where is the grace in that?
I just listened to Beth Moore’s teaching from James 4:9-11 and it struck me so profoundly that I had to share it. I will borrow from her exact words in places and I believe that this is something that all of us in this culture will be blessed to hear.
In James 4:9-10 Beth admonishes us to take this truth as straight truth and not to try to make apologies for God; we are not to try to soften His words so that we won’t offend others or to defend God by explaining away His words when those words are hard for us to hear. This teaching from James hits us in our culture and it hits us hard.
Beginning in verses 9-10 Beth asks the question: “When is it appropriate to turn our joy into gloom?” She answers,
• When we’ve consciously traded the joys of the Lord for the highs of the world. Returning to vv 9-10, we should turn our joy into gloom when we have consciously traded the joy of the Lord for the high of the world: ‘Whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy’ (James 4:4, NET). Friendship with the world means we’ve traded our joy in the Lord for joy in the world. It is a decision—we know we are doing it.
• When we don’t take God seriously: ‘Or do you think the scripture means nothing when it says …” (James 4:5, NET). We don’t take God seriously when He says . . . ‘Friendship with the world makes me an enemy of God.; . . . ‘Stop the secret sin before it becomes public’ . . . ‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people; . . . ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving;’ . . . ‘Therefore do not be partners with them;’ . . . [we can add our own to the list]
• When we are arrogant about our sin, making light of it, making fun of other believers when they don’t want to participate in something that we know is not pleasing to God.
• When ridiculing sincere believers is our idea of hilarious. God is serious about how we treat each other in the body of Christ.
In James 4:11 Beth addresses a subject that I have been aware of, but have not been able to define—Cynicism. Cynicism has become a cancer in the body of Christ in our culture. Why?
“Premise: In a religious pop-culture where we hear so much and see so much, Cynicism is one of our top risks. Cynicism is carnality that thinks it’s smart. All cynicism carries an air of superiority [as an example--when I am excited about something that I have just heard from the Lord and share it and that person scoffs or makes me feel stupid, that is cynical superiority]. The opposite of the fear of God is cynicism.”
In my own life, here is where cynicism invades: I have personally prayed for a certain thing for many years. At times it seemed God answered and I rejoiced, only to have the thing not only not happen, but to actually become much worse. My heart has grieved over this thing and I have spent many long nights weeping. I have surrendered it; I have put it on the altar; I have renounced it as something that maybe I have allowed to become an idol (if it isn’t answered, my joy and my faith begins to weaken); I have offered the sacrifice of thanksgiving even in the midst of watching it grow worse; I have a collection of scriptures that promise me that this prayer is from Him and He will answer it because it is His will; and finally, in discouragement, I have forsaken it and stopped praying for it altogether. If I reach the latter I find that when I begin to pray for someone else, or something else, this unanswered prayer lurks in the shadows and says “God isn’t going to answer this, after all, He hasn’t answered that other prayer.
Beloved—this is cynicism. This is a cancer of the soul and a trap of the enemy. The enemy only desires one thing and that is to persuade us to turn away from our God; to turn away from our faith; to stop believing that God is who He says He is. He will use these unanswered prayers to set the lure for us to fall into cynicism. And it is a well rehearsed lure and one of the most dangerous because it is very difficult to leave the place of cynicism.
Beth gives five reasons to not become cynical:
“Five top reasons not to get cynical:
1. Jesus is still flagrantly changing lives!”
She gives the example of a loved one who had become such a desperate addict that she was sleeping under bridges, in and out of rehab, and seemingly unreachable.
Beth had prayed for this loved one for years, crying into her pillow wondering where she was that night, was she ok, was she warm? This went on for years, until a short time ago when this loved one received her one year token for sobriety and her higher power was not an unknown, it was the Lord Jesus Christ, her Savior! Beth has seen God flagrantly change this life. I have also seen God flagrantly change lives. I have a list of people I know whose lives were absolutely unreachable—who resisted the power of the Holy Spirit for years—now walking in the freedom of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ still changes lives—believe it!
2. Real people are doing the real thing all over the real world!
When I become discouraged about the condition of the Church in our culture—apathy and wealth and the laissez faire attitude with which we approach our walk with Jesus Christ in an easy culture, all I have to do is read one of the newsletters from the Jesus Film Project, or hear from someone in another part of the world where clearly, things are happening—huge things—miraculous things—and my faith is restored. Muslims who are meeting Jesus Christ personally through dreams and visions and then changing their own world one person at a time; shamans and witch doctors and jihadists who come to kill those who are viewing a Jesus Film end up getting saved and then going out to share the gospel.
Beloved, there are Damascus Road experiences happening all over this fallen planet and you can believe that real people are doing the real thing and God is moving. Real people are risking their lives in other countries to share the Gospel; people are coming out spontaneously and voluntarily as we saw in our recent tragedy of the deaths of our hotshot team in a fire—people from all over the country and even other parts of the world came together—the body of Christ came together, to see what they could do to help. In every disaster story this country has seen, what we don’t see on the news is that there are thousands of these volunteers—spontaneously showing up to help; there is the Samaritan’s Purse organization who work tirelessly day and night as first responders to tragedy as well as other organizations—these are real people doing real Kingdom work and God is among them.
3. The appetite to study scripture is becoming increasingly ravenous.
We pray for revival and lament that it doesn’t happen, but that’s because what has happened over the past several decades has been a slow, steady increase in those who have become ravenous for the word of God. In my own generation, I can remember when going to Church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night, and the occasional church potluck were the extent of our Christian lives. I don’t remember people having small groups studying the Bible together, or people buying up commentaries and study guides to learn more about the Word of God. I remember Sunday School, and we might do a Sunday School Quarterly booklet that was prescribed by the denominational leadership, but as far as watching people gather together in homes to learn what the word of God has to say to us about our real lives, it wasn’t happening to the degree that it is happening today. Granted, there were those who might have this kind of hunger, but for the most part, what we heard in Sunday School or sermons was the extent of our learning the word of God. I will never be able to express my gratitude to those who, in my early years as a believer in the 1990s, men like Chuck Missler and women like Beth Moore and so many others, who whetted my appetite for the Word of God to such an extent that I am still ravenous to this day and my passion for Jesus Christ has only grown deeper. This is revival friends, it just doesn’t look like the revivals we have all come to associate with that movement. Thank God for it and run, don’t walk, to the best Bible teachers you can find and sow that seed into a transformed life.
4. Some long-standing barriers are breaking down.
Now listen to me when I say this: There was a time when you would not find believers from two different denominations studying the word of God in the same room. These barriers are coming down. In the denomination of my childhood, you would not see a Charismatic and a Baptist studying the Word of God together—it would never happen. With the phenomenon of teachers like Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Joyce Meyer, Greg Laurie and so many others, who hold large events and do deep, intimate, life changing teachings from the Scriptures, these barriers have been crossed. With the phenomenon of the Internet, the word of God has gone throughout the world—lives are being changed—souls are being won and believe me when I say this—Jesus told us that the Gospel would be preached to the whole world and then the end will come—the Gospel is being preached to the whole world—not simply as denominational teachings, but as Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and He is coming soon.
He is coming soon!