In this sermon, David Capoccia examines the apostle’s teaching in James 4:1-10 as to where conflicts and quarrels come from and what believers must do about them. David Capoccia explains the passage with the following outline:
Three Steps to Reveal and Heal Our Quarrels and Conflicts
1. Understand the True Source: Idolatry
2. Understand the True Authority: Scripture
3. Understand the True Solution: Repentance
Let’s pray before we go on:
Our great God and Savior, there is no one like You. Lord, Your word is essential, and it is our food. We need it more than the bread of this world. God, help us to understand this Word, and help me to be able to explain it well, accurately, and clearly. God, I pray that You would apply it to each person, so that they would see that this is not just a Word to people, but Your word to each one of us. Lord, I pray that You would bless this time now, and that You would grow us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Please open your Bibles to James 4. We will be looking at James 4:1-10, but for the moment, I just want to start with James 4:1:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
Right now, think about this question for yourself and your life. Why is it that, you, sometimes or even often find yourself angry, quarreling, and in conflict with other people? What is the source of your anger? Why do you get upset? What causes the conflicts between you and your spouse, between you and your other family members, or even between you and other believers in this church?
I can think of some typical answers to this question: it’s the other persons fault, he is just so unreasonable, she is just so selfish, or he makes me mad. A different line of answering: it is just the way I am, I have a short temper, I am Irish, and you know what they say about the Irish, or I have a mental illness.
Alternatively, we might say: it is due to my upbringing, my parents were too strict with me, I was abused when I was little, or my parents weren’t strict enough. They gave me free reign, everything came too easily to me, so that is the way I am now. Perhaps, we say: it is due to my circumstances. I get upset because, well, I am so tired, it’s been a long day, money is tight, or life is too stressful right now.
We might make these answers, but do you notice what two assumptions are common to each of these replies as to why we get upset and why we quarrel? Two main ideas: it’s not my fault and there is nothing I can do about it. What I really need is for my circumstances to change and for other people to change.
This is the way the world thinks. Then, is there any wonder that there is so much conflict in our world? So many angry words exchanged, so much violence, so much divorce, so much murder, and so much war. According to the world’s way of thinking, there is no real hope for peace, or for lasting peace because none of us can really help ourselves. What about Christians, God’s people, and God’s children? Should we be making the same excuses? What does the people say is the true source of our anger, quarrels, and conflicts with one another?
Now, the things I have mentioned can and do play a role in producing conflict. Other people may indeed provoke us. Our flesh may be particularly prone to anger. Our upbringing may have had a poor influence on us. Indeed, we might be in difficult circumstances right now. However, none of these, according to God, are the true source of our quarrels, so what is?
Let’s hear from God, on this critical topic, via His apostle James, a brother of Jesus. We want to give full attention to this Word, so that we might not only know what the true sources of our quarrels are, but also know what we can and must do about it. That we might live in peace and might be a greater witness of Christ in this world so filled with conflict.
We’re looking at James 4:1-10, and a quick note of background on this book is that this is a very early New Testament letter. James is giving various exhortations to scattered and persecuted Jewish believers. Besides encouraging these Christians to persevere, in their circumstances, James also warns and confronts the believers not to excuse sin in the midst of their difficulties.
A particular concern to James is relations between the believers in the church. In James 3, James rebukes the Christians for using their tongues for evil against one another, and for their manifest, their demonstrated jealousy, and selfish ambition, which is being masked, by some, as some kind of maturity. It is in the context of these concerns that we read this section of teaching in James 4:1-10:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Like a doctor, who truly understands the nature of a dangerous illness, the Spirit of God reveals, in this passage, what is the true source, nature, and treatment for our frequent quarrels. This disease is not physical, mental, or psychological. It is a spiritual disease. One that we have done to ourselves, and one in which we must carefully deal with, so that it does not do more damage to ourselves or to others.
We can break down James teaching into three steps to reveal and heal our conflicts. Step one, in James 4:1-4, understand the true source. Step two, in James 4:5-6, heed the true authority. Step three, James 4:7-10, embrace the true solution. We will find out more about each one of those things, and we will identify them more specifically as we work our way through the text and look at each verse.
The first step James wants us to follow is to understand the true source of our quarrels, and what is that source? The answer is: idolatry. If you want to truly reveal and heal your conflicts with one another, you must understand that the source of your conflicts is not truly external, but internal. Quarrels come from the hearts own idolatry. Look again at James 4:1:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
Clearly, these two questions from James are rhetorical. James doesn’t have to find out what are the particular sources of every and each quarrel for all of these various Christians. He knows that the source of every quarrel is basically the same. The source of all quarrel is, as James says, your pleasures that wage war in your members.
Notice the military terms at play here. In the first question, we have quarrels and conflicts, but more literally, those words are wars and battles, or wars and fights. This military theme continues into the second question: there is something waging war in your members.
Essentially, James is asking: you know why you keep seeing war and battles among your people and relationships? Isn’t it obvious? It is because you have something waging war within you, within your body parts, and within your very heart. There is no peace without because there is no peace within. What is waging war within? James says that it is your pleasures.
Now, your pleasures are all the things that you really like and really want. They are things that you find delight in. So, James is saying that it is your wants and desires that are waging war in your soul. They are seeking to dominate you, and demand that you seek after them. In regard to the origin of sin, James 1:14-15 says:
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Our sin, even our quarrels, comes from the desires within our hearts. Now, consider how this works in real life: you’ve got something you really want – a pleasure – something you feel is so essential to your happiness, wholeness, and your security. Maybe it is something abstract like love, respect, or comfort. Maybe it is something more concrete like money, sex, or even a particular food.
You are pursuing this thing, and you are looking forward to obtaining it. Then, someone gets in the way of you and your expected pleasure. You know you want to be loving toward this person, and you know the teaching of Christ. Meanwhile, that pleasure, in your heart, begins to assault you and it demands that you fight for that pleasure and punish those who are in the way.
You become overtaken by your pleasure and you become angry. Essentially, you communicate to the other person:
How dare you get in the way of me and my pleasure! How dare you threaten it! How dare you take it away from me! Don’t you know that I need this and that I deserve this? Now, you are going to pay!
Thus, you quarrel. Really, this is idolatry. Your pleasure becomes your God, and you worship that pleasure instead of the true God. All sin, at its root, is idolatry. This is true for our quarrels as well. In every quarrel, in every angry conflict, one side or the other is engage in idolatry, and it is often both sides. One side has a certain desire, the other side has a competing desire, and both sides are not willing to let go of their desires, for Christ’s sake, so they, instead, go to war.
This process I just describe is the exact same as what James next describes in our texts. He says in James 4:2:
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
Here, the word lust refers to any strong desire, not necessarily a sexual desire. However, James says that you have these strong idolatrous desires, and when they are not fulfilled, you sin. Notice the sins that James says they commit. The result of not obtaining your desire is that you commit murder. You mean Christians back then were murdering each other because of their lusts?
Well, it’s possible, but it’s probably not literally the case. Though, even Christians can commit murder. Certainly, those who claim to be Christians, but are not, can commit murder. Even if these are not literal murders, which is I don’t think they are, the use of this term, by James, is significant. It should remind you of the teaching of Jesus in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5, Jesus says those who get angry at others and use insulting words with others are as guilty as those who commit murder.
How can those things be equated? The heart intent is the same. When you get angry at someone, you are saying, in your heart:
I want you to suffer for getting in my way. I even want you to die
Make no mistake, at the heart of every murder, is an idolatrous lust. In the blossom of every angry desire, lurks the seed of murder. After all, this is war as far as the idolater’s heart is concerned, and war requires killing. “I will fight to the death for my pleasures,” says the idolaters heart. Unfulfilled lust leads even to killing. Unfulfilled envy leads even to waging battles and waging war. Should Christian’s be enslaved to heart idols in this way? Of course not.
Not only is idolatry revolting and unacceptable to God and those who claim to be followers of Christ, but God has also promised perfect provision to each one of His own and pleasure unending with Him in heaven. Why would a Christian seek after idols? Consider what James says at the end of James 4:2:
… You do not have because you do not ask.
“You foolish Christians,” James says. You are ready to fight, quarrel, and kill to get what you think you need and want when, the whole time, you could have just asked God. After all, James already said in James 1:5:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
God responds to the prayer of His people. He knows their needs. He is so happy to provide, according to His own perfect wisdom, for His children. Don’t go to war with one another. Go to God in prayer. Well, someone will say:
I did. I prayed to God and nothing happened. I didn’t get what I asked for. Prayer doesn’t work. God obviously doesn’t know my needs, He doesn’t care about my needs, or He is just not able to do what it takes to provide for my needs.
However, James anticipates this reply, which is seen in James 4:3:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
You know why God didn’t give you what you asked in prayer? He knew that doing so would only encourage you in your idolatry. Basically, you were approaching God in this way:
Hey, God, can you give me this thing that I want more than You because that would be really great. Thanks.
Brothers and sisters, God is a good God. He is a good Father. He is not going to spoil His kids. If you belong to God, He will not give you what is not good for you. In giving you more means to pursue your idol, apart from Him, that is definitely not good for you.
In fact, your idol is a great affront to God, and will you impugn His character and kindness for not indulging your idol and granting your wicked prayer? Yes, asking God instead of fighting one another about our needs is the right way, but even in asking God, you cannot come with idols in your heart.
I don’t think we realize just how serious anger and quarreling is to God. However, what we have seen so far should help us to understand. If God is God and angry quarreling is idolatry, then what does that make you, in essence, if you are a quarreler? James 4:4 tells us:
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
Do you know what your anger and quarreling is to God? It is spiritual adultery. When you fight with others, when you berate them, and when you seek to hurt them with your words or even with your fists, you are manifesting spiritual harlotry. You show forth a love for someone else or something else more than God, and will God tolerate such adultery?
In over what do we quarrel? Is it not the passing things of the world? In doing such, we manifest that our love is for the world, for the things of the world, and we want to be friends with the world and the idolatrous world system. However, this is unthinkable in a follower of Christ. James draws his audience back to Gospel basics in James 4:4:
don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
You can’t do both of these things. You can’t love the world and love God at the same time. You can’t be the friend of the world and God’s friend too. Again, this should remind us of the sermon on the mount. Jesus said in 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 one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Dear Christian, when did the world and its passing pleasures become so important to you again? Have you forgotten your first repentance to follow Christ when you turned your back on the things of the world and said along with the hymn rider?
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also
You left the army of the worldly rebels to join the army of God, so why have you deserted to join the rebels again? Beyond adultery, that’s what quarreling is. A quarrelsome heart is not only a declaration of spiritual adultery, but a declaration of war against God. In the last part of James 4:4, James says:
… Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
So, Calvary, let these sobering words sink into your ears. What do you love? What are your pleasures? What do you delight most of all? Are your highest loves the things of the world? If your heart is captured by the world and its treasures, and if such leads you to quarrel with others, then know that you have made yourself an enemy of God.
God is a jealous God, who will not endure any competition for worship. Only He is worthy of honor and glory, not you and not the things of the world. Brothers and sisters, consider this a very sobering first point from James. Understand the true source of your conflict is idolatry.
Think about your recent quarrels, conflicts, arguments, and fights that you have had. What pleasures were at the root? What idols were you and/or the other person clinging to in those moments? Do you see how that pleasure, or idol, caused you not only to turn against your fellow, but even to turn against God?
Now, someone might say:
I’m pretty sure that in my recent quarrel, I was being righteous. I was righteously angry.
Oh really? Well, did your righteous anger look like Jesus’ righteous anger. Jesus’ righteous anger had a very noticeable quality: it led to good and loving actions rather than sinful and hurtful actions. Is that what your anger led to? Let’s not deceive ourselves. James 1:20:
for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
Someone may yet say:
I don’t believe this. I am pretty sure that my conflicts are not something from idolatry. Indeed, it is from some other source. I am not truly at fault.
However, James is not going to let us get away from this first point. He gives us a second point to help us even further reveal and heal our conflicts. In James 4:5-6, the second point is that if we are going to be healed, we need to heed the true authority.
People might listen to all sorts of authorities when it comes to assessing their actions and motivations. Authorities like feelings, philosophies, and psychological theories, but James points us back to the only true authority for understanding our quarrels and even our heart, which is Scripture.
What I am presenting to you, brothers and sisters, is not my opinion. It is not even a man’s opinion. I am giving you God’s declaration via His word. If you would love to serve God, then you must heed it. Not only is James writing inspired Scripture, and that we have it for us today, but notice his appeal in James 4:5:
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?
James points to the Old Testament Scriptures to back up what He just said. Immediately, the statement, in James 4:5, presents us with a couple of puzzles. First puzzle is: how exactly should we translate this verse? The Bible might have a little note on the two main ways we could take this verse.
The Greek verb used for desires could have as subject either He, meaning God, or the Spirit, so the sentence could read, as it does in the NASB:
He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us
Or, the sentence could read closer to what it does in the KJV:
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
In other words, who is jealous here: is it God or our corrupt spirit? That is one puzzle, and the second puzzle is: no Old Testament Scripture says exactly either one of these things. What verse are you quoting, James? We can’t seem to find it. So, what do we do with these puzzles? Well, let’s start with the second one.
Most likely, James is summarizing the teaching of the Old Testament rather than quoting a specific passage. Indeed, either sense of that statement, in James 4:5, finds ready support in the Old Testament. For example, when it comes to God’s jealousy for the soul’s worship, we see, in the Torah, Exodus 34:14:
for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
Or, Deuteronomy 4:24:
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Or, even Nahum 1:2:
A jealous and avenging God is the LORD;
The LORD is avenging and wrathful.
The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies.
On the flip, if we take the other sense of this statement, in James 4:5, we see many Old Testament depictions of a human heart, incessant, lust, and idolatry. Consider Israel, despite a special covenant, God’s own presence among them, miraculous provisions and deliverances, especially prepared to land, and many other blessings, then what, basically, is the record of Israel’s history?
It is just them continually going after and turning back towards idols. So much so that the metaphor God uses to describe Israel, in Ezekiel 16, is of a brazen and ungrateful adulteress, who can never be satisfied no matter how many lovers she obtains for herself. Even in the Torah, God describes Israel as being uncircumcised in heart. If that is true of Israel, with all these privileges and blessings, then what about the rest of the world?
Remember what God said about humanity before the flood? Genesis 6:5:
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Even after the flood, man’s heart had not changed. In Genesis 11, God had to disperse man’s rebellious attempt at Babel. Understandably, Jeremiah says of the human heart in Jeremiah 17:9:
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
So, why is the sense of James 4:5 would fit and be supported by the Old Testament? However, which sense is James actual intention? In going back to the first puzzle, how should we translate this verse? The key clues are in the beginning of James 4:6:
But He gives a greater grace…
If God is the jealous one in James 4:5, then the beginning of James 4:6 is kind of awkward: God gives a greater grace than Himself, or His own jealousy? If our spirits are indeed characteristically prone to lust, jealousy, and idolatry, then we might ask: what hope is there for us? We have become enemies of God, we’re adulteresses, we’ll be destroyed, but, in James 4:6, God gives a greater grace.
God is able to overcome our own wicked hearts and rescue us from ourselves, so I favor this second translation. Either way, the overall sense of the passage is not greatly affected. In sum, what is James saying in James 4:5?
In response to the notion that James is going too far in identifying quarreling as the manifestation of the idolatrous heart, James points to the Old Testament, where again and again the spirit of man, which belongs to God and was given by God, should worship God. Nonetheless, does not, but incessantly lusts, envies, and seeks idols. As well said by the reformer John Calvin:
Man’s heart is an idol factory.
Then, it should come as no surprise to us to hear that our hearts idolatry is being exposed in a new area – our quarrels. However, James doesn’t just point to the Old Testament to affirm the evil idolatry of mans hearts, but also points to hope in Christ because God’s mercy is also put on display in the Old Testament. James 4:6 says:
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
There is grace and underserved favor available even to spiritual adulteresses, or people who have made themselves enemies of God through their idolatry. This grace is the abundant salvation and cleansing that comes by repentance and faith in God’s savior, the substitute, the Messiah – Jesus, God’s son.
For all of those who will turn to God for mercy, in light of their sin, they will find it when they embrace the Son, but this requires humility. James recalls that fundamental principle, of humility and pride, in Proverbs 3:34:
Though He scoffs at the scoffers,
Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.
For those, who refuse to admit their deep-heart wickedness before God, and refuse to turn to Jesus, will not receive any grace or mercy. For those, who in pride, suppose they could do enough good works to make up for all their evil, will receive no mercy from God. However, for those, who in complete humility, throw themselves before God’s mercy and embrace Jesus Christ, and all Jesus’ taught and demonstrated Himself to be, will find grace greater than all their sin.
Then, in James 4:1-4, he is not giving some radical new teaching. This identification of quarreling with idolatry fits right in with the rest of the Scriptures, and what the Scriptures have to say about the human heart, pride, and about God’s judgement. This teaching also fits in with everything the Old Testament declares about the abundant and available mercy of God toward all those who will look to Him in humble faith.
What James declares has the authority of both Old and New Testament Scripture, and it is an authority greater than any other supposed authority on earth. Are you willing to recognize that? Are you willing to heed the very voice of God? Do you see that your unrepentant quarreling idolatry puts you into a long line of scoffers, who do not experience God’s grace? Do you also see that your anger and your lusting after pleasures can find grace no matter how long you have been labeled, “hot tempered,” or have been idolatrous?
So far, we have seen that in order to reveal and heal our conflicts, we must both understand that the true source of our quarrels is idolatry, and we must heed the true authority on quarrels and human heart, which is Scripture. If we do these first two things, then we ought to come to the same conclusion that James does in our text, which is our third point. We must embrace the true solution, so what is the solution to our idolatrous hearts and incessant quarrels? It is repentance.
The solution to our quarrels and conflicts is not medication, therapy, changed circumstances, or simply getting others to act to our way. Such solutions may improve our symptoms, but they fail to deal with the root cause. If you want to be truly healed, then we must repent. What is repentance and what does this repentance look like? James describes in the first part of James 4:7:
Submit therefore to God…
This is the necessary conclusion. If God has a grace greater than all of our sin, then we must submit to God. We may have heard something about this term submit, and the Greek verb is used frequently as a military term. Meaning, to line oneself up under someone else, which is what we are to do to God. We are to line-up under Him and come under His authority.
No longer serve your pleasures and no longer follow their orders. Dethrone them, dessert the rebel army, and line-up again under God. This is repentance and a change of heart resulting in a change in actions. Now, this command to submit is an overarching command over these final four verses. What follows, in the text, are four parallel couplets illustrating what these submission and repentance looks like.
In this last point, from James, I am going to give four subpoints to summarize what James says and describes what true repentance and submission is. Our first couplet straddles part of James 4:7-8, which says:
Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…
What does necessary repentance and submission to God consist? First of all, reverse stances. Notice that the structure of these two statements, in James 4:7-8, is reminiscent of Hebrew poetic parallelism. We have a contrast set between the stance repented believers have towards the devil and the stance they have toward God.
On the one hand, believers are to withdraw from the devil, no longer walk with the devil, but must take their stand against the devil. On the other hand, the believer must no longer run away from God, but draw close to God. It is interesting that the devil is only, now, mentioned in the text.
Up to now, all of the impetus that we’ve heard toward evil has been coming from mans own heart. Indeed, as I have heard Mike Riccardi say recently:
Even if the devil and his demons never tempted us at all, we have enough wickedness in our fallen nature to bring us away to even the worst iniquities.
In a sense, we don’t even need the devil’s help. However, we are reminded here, since James brings up the devil, that the evil one and his forces do have a hand in drawing our hearts toward idolatry and quarreling. If we are true to repentance and submitting to God, what must we do now?
We are to resist the devil. We are to set ourselves up for battle against the devil. We are to stand firm against him and hold the line as we have faith in God. As we do this, notice the promise James reports to us: if you resist the devil, Satan will flee from you.
Oh, Satan will test you, he will probe your defenses, he might even engage you for a prolonged period of time, but don’t give an inch. Hold until relieved, and eventually, the devil will break and flee. The devil is truly powerful, and he has an ally in our flesh. However, God is greater, and His grace is greater, so that we can even resist the devil.
On the one hand, we are to set up a reverse stance against the devil and fight against him until he flees. We’re not under his power. We’ve been given a greater grace. On the other hand, we open our stance toward God, and we are to seek Him.
In the Old Testament, to draw close to God is a very dangerous choice. Even as we read, God is a consuming fire. He is holy, and you can’t get close to this Holy God if you, yourself, are unholy. If you try, His bright Holiness will have to destroy you. Yet, God is the source of all goodness, all beauty, and all salvation. If only we could get close to Him.
Well, look at what is promised by James: if you draw close to God and seek to get near to God, then it’s not that God’s holiness will smite you, but instead God will draw near to you also. He is telling us that you can have fellowship with God, you can approach God’s face, and you can experience His blessing. In fact, you are commanded to do so, and promised that God will respond.
So, why is this? Is it because of our own merit where we have earned something with God? No, it’s because of that greater grace that we have received in Christ. In other words, no longer make God your enemy, but draw close to Him as Friend and Father, so that you might enjoy Him, and God will grant your request. God will grant you His joy and His fellowship. This is the first way we see repentance illustrated. We’re changing our stance towards the evil one, and we’re changing our stance toward God because we have new promises.
A second illustration of this repentance comes from the couplet at the end of James 4:8:
…Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
We could describe this element of repentance as thorough cleansing. Notice that these verses say we are to cleanse both our hands and our hearts. Together, these terms really represent a totality, the whole person. The hands are often representative, in Scripture, of external acts whereas the heart describes the inner person.
The heart is the place where the thoughts, desires, and emotions are all generated, and James says that both must be purified. All of you are to be purified. It is to be a thorough cleansing. Repent of sin both externally and internally. It can’t just be one. You are to repent, trust Christ to make you clean once and for all – both inside and outside, and then walk in new holiness. Not just on the outside, but even on the inside – your thought life, what you believe, and what you desire. This is what true repentance and submission comprises before God.
Also, notice the term sinner and double-minded. They are also set in parallel, and they are two ways of describing the same concept. To be a sinner is to be double-minded, so what does it mean to be double-minded? We get a clue back in James 1:6-8:
But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The double-minded man is the man who cannot quite believe God. He prays to God, but then he acts like God is not going to answer his prayers. This man is not able to successfully stand against the evil one’s temptation or even his hearts own lusts. As soon as his flesh or Satan suggests that he might not be able to trust God, then this man abandons the cause and goes back to serving his pleasures.
Interestingly, James says that the double-minded man needs purification of heart, not instruction of his intellect. The double-minded man does not suffer from a lack of information – not that, “Oh! I just need to learn more.”
Rather, he suffers from a lack of sanctification. He still believes the pleasures of his heart even though they are not worth trusting. He believes that those pleasures are worth serving, they will fulfill him, and he somehow thinks that he can serve those things and God at the same time. However, God says, via His apostle James:
If you are to be truly submissive to God and have repented, then it must include a turning away from this unbelief and double-mindedness. Stop believe what your idols tell you and believe the word of God. Stop vacillating between two sources of authority – “God says this, but my feelings say that,” or, “God says this, but the opinion of the world says that.” Stop vacillating! Have faith in God. Unmask your idolatrous pleasures for what they are. They are frauds, unworthy of your service, and unworthy of your praise that only belongs to God.
Indeed, true repentance consists of a thorough cleansing both inside and out. A third element of necessary repentance is given in the couplet of James 4:9:
Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.
This third element of true repentance is sincere sorrow. Notice how emphatic James is here. Five times, within these two lines, he tells us that we should express sorrow. This is the logical result of someone who finally understands what his quarreling heart truly is before God. Brothers and sisters, are we not guilty of underestimating this seriousness of our conflicts in God’s eyes?
Ah! It’s not big deal. We fought a little bit, but common! Let’s get back to fun, to life’s pleasures, let’s laugh, let’s have joy, and let’s be merry!
All the while, we are, in essence and according to James, committing murder, idolatry, and spiritual adultery. Brethren, let’s see our sin and ourselves for what we really are before God, and let us weep. Weep for how seriously and senselessly you have betrayed your Lord and turned against your brethren, God’s children. Mourn for how you have dishonored the name of Christ, your Savior.
Stop being so “happy-go-lucky,” and realize your great crime. Let the magnitude of your sin and betrayal of God drive you to contrition, and let your contrition drive you to repentance. This repentance causing you to forsake your old way and draw near to God in new faith. God promises to the truly contrite in Psalm 51:17:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Now, James is not commanding us to be morose for the rest of our lives. There are many other Scriptures that say Christians should be characterized by joy. However, friends, brothers, and sisters, sorrow is the expected response when someone realizes just what his sins are before God. This is another necessary element of our true repentance and submission before God.
A fourth and final element is in James 4:10:
Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
I’m calling this last element humble expectation. With this final command, James, refers us back to that Old Testament principle he cites in James 4:6. If God gives grace to the humble, then we must humble ourselves, which makes sense with the command to submit. You can only submit if you humble yourself. You can only bring yourself under another person’s authority, truly, if you humbled yourself, which makes sense once we realize what we have done and have become sorrowful.
We cannot come to God holding our heads up high, or asking begrudged:
O.K. God. I’m sorry. Please pardon me.
Instead, we come abased before the Lord like that repented tax collector, beating our breast, and saying:
God, be merciful to me, the sinner of sinners. Please be merciful to me.
That is the way we ought to come, but notice something wonderful, and perhaps unexpected, appears with this last command: He will exalt you. You say:
That’s not what I deserve. I deserve to be banished to some corner, never exalted, never made great, never honored, or never blessed.
That is true, but do you know who God is? Yes, you need to know what your sin is, but do you know who God is. God is a God full of abundant, loving kindness. Overwhelming wrath to His enemies to be sure, and we can’t ignore that, but for His children, amazing grace.
When you humble yourself before God and repent, He will restore you even to the place of honor in His household. He will do for you as He did for the prodigal. As it were, He will put a new cloak on you, a ring on your finger, He’ll kill the fatten calve, He’ll put on a feast, and He will declare you His son or His daughter.
Now, why would he do that? He is trying to make much of us? No, there is nothing in us that is worthy of honor. He is making much of Himself – His glorious Self. He is putting on display, to us and all the universe, the greatness of His glorious love. When we come to God in repentance, you do not have to wonder whether God will accept us. He will do more than that. He will exalt us to show forth His own glory.
With all of this, is not quarreling over the passing things of the world the must senseless thing? If God will exalt you when you seek His face in humble repentance, then why clutch the empty idols of the world? Don’t forget what God says about His Messiah and those who belong to His Messiah in Psalm 16:11:
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
The expectation of God’s undeserved exaltation is a necessary element to spur us to humble repentance. Here, we come to the end of this section and the end of our text, so let’s review James argument: we have conflicts in our lives as a plain fact, but God’s Apostle, James, gives us three steps by which we must reveal and heal these quarrels.
One, we must understand the true source of our quarrels, which is idolatry. Two, we must heed the true authority on our quarrels, which is Scripture. Three, we are to embrace the true solution for our quarrels, which is repentance.
We saw how that repentance was illustrated to us in four ways: It is reversed stances toward Satan and God, it is a thorough cleansing of our hearts and actions, it is sincere sorrow for our great offense to God, and it is a humble expectation of God’s provision and exaltation.
Brothers and sisters, will you obey the word of God? Will you listen to how God is speaking to you today from James? If you are a Christian, will you confess that your angry conflicts are indeed the result of idolatry? Therefore, will you unmask and cast away the idols of your heart? Will you patiently, and in love, help one another to get to the root of your conflicts, exposing the idolatrous pleasures each of us so often blindly and foolishly cherish?
Will you acknowledge just how deeply you have betrayed and offended your saving God? Will you be grieved enough over your sin to thoroughly repent and seek reconciliation with others, trusting that if you will humble yourself before God, then before men, He will exalt you in the end?
If you have not yet trusted Christ and have not yet submitted to Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you must hear the great warning of this passage. True believers may fall into quarreling idolatry and spiritual adultery for a time, but for you, who do not really know God, this describes your constant state.
You may put up a good front and be moral, by worlds standards, but God knows your heart. Outside of Christ, you do not love and serve Him, and you have not submitted to Him. In pride, you still serve yourself. You refuse to give God his rightful place. You still worship idols even if they are the unseen idols of your heart.
Thus far, He has shown you patience and undeserved mercy in your life, but there is no guarantee that He will do so any longer. In your heart, you know the words of this passage are true, which is why you continually have these quarrels and conflicts in your life. You must repent, and you must line yourself up under God.
Heed the imperatives of this passage. Take hold of the promises. Draw near to God, and He guarantees He will draw near to you no matter what you have done. You are not beyond God’s greater grace. God can and will free you from your slavery to your desires and to the devil if you will repent and believe.
So, give up your old thoughts, your old way, and believe the good news about Jesus. God sent His son to take on human flesh, live a perfect life, die an innocent death, suffer God’s punishment for sin on the Cross for all those who believe in Jesus, and to rise again. Everyone who trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior will never suffer God’s judgement but will instead see God’s face forever and enjoy God forever.
I urge you to be rescued from God’s wrath, and from your own diseased heart. Indeed, our hearts are wicked, prone to idolatry and quarrels, but God’s grace is greater. May God grant us repentance, so that we might no longer be like the people of the world overtaken by war-within manifesting in wars-without. Instead, may we be characterized by the peace of God, and a testimony to our raging world. Let’s close in prayer:
Our God, we have, indeed, underestimated the seriousness of our sin. Even our quarrels seem like no big deal, but You call it out, God, and You say that it’s idolatry, adultery, and making ourselves into enemies of You. O, God, forgive us for this sin. Forgive us for so easily turning away from You. God, we repent. Lord, let us no longer walk in this way. God, we do not want to go in this path anymore. Forgive us for our failures, but we trust God, because we belong to Christ, that we are secure. No judgement will ever come upon us. We have been clothed in the very righteousness of Jesus, so we know that nothing will ever separate us from You. Nevertheless, God, we want to be good testimonies of You, and we want to experience Your blessing. Grant us peace, God. Grant us the casting away of these idols. Grant us the discernment both for ourselves and for one another. That we may identify these idols that cause our conflicts and pleasures we cling to, so that we can get rid of them and enjoy Your way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.