James Chapter 4

James 4

If you can find a Bible, let’s turn to James. When I read the Bible on my own, I tend to think about the context first, and then try to sum up the passage in my own words. 

With James, the context is that James (actually known as Jacob) was Jesus' brother, who later became one of the three main church leaders in Jerusalem, along with Peter and John. The context is that he is writing to very early Christian communities in AD45 ish.

If I summed up the book of James, I would say it like this, faith spills over. Faith so real inside us it spills over into our lives. Just like those people we all love because their personality spills over. Like Tracey, for example. She’s so full of life it overflows to everyone around her. 

But let’s look at chapter 4 slowly, and go through I think there’s 3 ways there our faith spills over: into how we pray, how we lean into God + how we talk.

THE WAY WE PRAY - Just ask! (v. 1-3)

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

That sounds like a day in the life of the Hinsleys! Children fighting over things, and us saying the same thing ... why don't you just ask for help??

And we’re like that sometimes too. We see a problem and we try and fix it, even get ourselves into all sorts of headaches (v1-2), before we remember to ask God for help. Then we remember, we pray, and the situation falls neatly into place, then we think - 'why didn't I do that earlier?!'. Do we think it too complex? Do we have no faith?

Jesus taught that prayer isn’t complicated: calling God ‘Dadda’, or comparing it to toddlers asking for food. 

But the faith issue… when we ask for things, we demonstrate (at least some) faith. When I pray I ask what people want prayer for. What they ask for, demonstrates what they have faith for. So I pray for that, according to their measure of faith. Some people say they don’t want prayer at all. This either means they are honestly wonderfully fine in life, or they have zero faith that prayer works for their problems. Faith spills over when we ask for what we need. Faith is leaning into an Almighty God, with our full weight. That is what God loves… (Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God). We demonstrate faith when we pray.

There’s another thing here, in verse 3: our motives matter. 

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

This is not saying that our motives are always flawed and sinful, they actually won't be, because if the Spirit lives inside us - our motivations are often pure and holy. 

But sometimes our motives are little more complex, like when we try to persuade God… ‘God, please heal my friend, she is such a good person and she really doesn’t deserve this,’. On this point we’ve got not just mixed motives, we’ve got a need to simply know what the Bible says about healing, how it works, what God thinks of it all. If our mind is muddled here, let’s get clarity, let’s be transformed by the renewing of our minds (as in Rom 12) by studying what the Bible says about healing and illness. God loves healing. That’s why the 9th name He gave of Himself in Scripture is Jehovah Rapha. Some people think God is teaching us a lesson through illness… or punishing us somehow…. So we pause… We don’t really pray for healing because we don’t know if we should. But, having looked into it, I for one believe healing is God's will for us, so we can ask for it. Illness is part of the spiritual battle we are engaged in; it does not come from God’s hand. So with healing, we can pray like this, ‘God, you love my friend, let healing come, I speak it into being because you said I can. I stand and fight in this battle. Let it be done on earth as it has been done in heaven’.

Let’s let our faith spill out into prayer… let’s not hold back.

THE WAY WE LEAN INTO GOD – being set apart for Him (v. 4-10)

James continues to talk about how faith spills over, let’s get back to the Bible (v4-5). His manner is brusque, don’t lose your focus or get put off! Dig deep... 

"You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us"

What have we got here is a choice: friendship with the world or friendship with God… Are we going to trust God, or the myriad of other options before us? Faith is expressed by a quality decision for God’s ways and friendship with Him, over other things.

For example, when push meets shove, sometimes we lean into dazed nothingness. We lean into our physical desires, and raid the fridge, or what the Bible calls desires of the flesh. Sometimes we work ourselves into a frenzy, trying a billion ways to fix our problem. This is called friendship with the world, leaning into the world. 

Friendship with God Is when we lean into prayer, onto our knees… James says that the Spirit God put inside us ‘jealously longs’ for our attention. He wants our attention, not just when we’re in need, He longs for us. He wants us to choose Him, not just once at our conversion, but daily, to LEAN on him to meet our needs for affirmation, or being cherished and loved.

I remember a time when this whole subject was very close to home. I was 15. I was playing with the ways of the world: trying to live that double life. I vividly remember when I repented ... the sorrow that James speaks about in verse 9, like I was grieving for the time lost. Suddenly, standing in the fierce wind of the Highlands I had a vision of being given white clothes to wear, and I knew He had given me His righteousness. He lifted me up from my sorrow, and do you see here in v.10? We won't stay in our grieving, mourning and wailing for sin, God will lift us up! I felt like I was flying in His love, and still do to this day, because anyone in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), I have righteousness, it is mine, it was given to me as a gift and no one can take it away. So faith spills over into heartfelt repentance, and this awesome sense of being lifted up as we realise that righteousness is given as a gift.

So let’s allow our faith to outwork into a heartfelt commitment today. 

If you’re a sinner, repent and humble yourself, confess it, say sorry, get rid of it, get help for those habits or whatever it is, get serious. Let your faith spill over to do something… repent! Set yourself apart for God! Lean in hard, into Him, not into the comforts and securities of this world. 

THE WAY WE TALK: Establish a culture of honour (v. 11-12) 

"Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it."

This congregation is already known for its culture of honour. We understand about ‘loving each other intelligently’, and how that plays out in being careful with our words. We know that we must not slander one another (verse 11), and we understand that casting judgement on anything is not our job. But it’s good to be reminded of this, a jewel of wisdom from one of the first leaders in the Early Church. Let’s honour each other well with our words. 

So, in summary, three ways our faith will overspill from James 4:

•The way we pray – we’ll just ask for stuff all the time

•The way we lean into God – we’ll just want Him for who He is

•The way we talk – we’ll just build this culture of honour around us. 

As a response to this, you may want to

•Just get more childlike with God, and overflow into asking more and more often.

•You may want to make a commitment to draw nearer to God. On this, come and talk to us after the service. There’s something about vocalising it that makes it a done deal! You share your moment of commitment, make yourself accountable, and we as a team respect where you are at. We might help you find a book to help go forwards.

•Or you feel simply feel reminded to honour those around you in your words. Again, commit yourself to God in this conviction, and He will help you to protect your relationships and establish this as a culture in your life.

Going deeper

  1. How quickly do you turn to God and ask for his help when things are tough? What stops you? How could you turn to Him more quickly?

  2. How could faith spill into prayer more fully in your life?

  3. What does the phrase 'lean into God' mean to you?

  4. Can you think of occasions when you have relied on God? What happened?

  5. What kinds of things would be going on in our church if we were living a 'culture of honour'? How could you help grow that kind of culture

Hugh Nelson