Summary: James helps us to evaluate whether we are in fact friends of God
Several years ago there was a popular worship song titled “I Am a Friend of God” which we used to sing here at TFC from time to time. But as I was reading the passage from James that we’ll be looking at this morning I began to wonder how many of the people that have sung and continue to sing that song are in fact God’s friends.
In just a moment we’ll be looking at the first 10 verses in James chapter 4. But before we do that, we need to make sure that we put that passage in its proper context. Frankly this is a passage where it is real easy to get off track by failing to do that. In fact as I began to prepare this message earlier this week, I started off on the wrong track at first until I focused on that context.
Take your Bibles and open up to James chapter 1. You’ll remember that when we began our study nearly three months ago, one of the things we did was to identify James’ audience. In the opening verse of his letter, we see that James is writing to Jewish believers who have been dispersed throughout Palestine. And in each major section of the letter he addresses his audience with a specific term. I’m going to enlist your help in identifying that term.
[Wait for answers after each question.]
The first time he uses it is in chapter 1, verse 2. What is the term he uses to address his audience there? [Brothers]. Skip down to verse 16. [Brothers]. Now skip down to verse 19. [Brothers]. Okay, go to chapter 2, verse 1. [Brothers]. Skip down to verse 5. [Brothers]. Skip down to verse 14. [Brothers]. Turn to the first verse in chapter 3. [Brothers]. Now skip down to verse 10. [Brothers] Finally, go to verse 12. [Brothers]
So do you agree that it would be fair to conclude that James consistently refers to the Jewish Christ followers in his audience with the term “brothers”?
Keep that in mind as you turn to chapter 4 of James’ letter and follow along as I read beginning in verse 1:
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. 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.
Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
(James 4:1-10 ESV)
What term is conspicuous by its absence in that passage? [Wait for answers]. That’s right - James does not use the word “brothers” anywhere in that passage. But he does use several other terms to directly address those to whom he is writing here. See if you can identify the three phrases that James uses. I’ll give you a clue – each phrase begins with the word “you.” [Wait for answers]. [If needed]I’ll give you another clue – look in verses 4 and 8.
He addresses them as:
• “you adulterous people” – as the note in the ESV translation indicates, in the underlying Greek, this is literally “you adulteresses” They are spiritual adulterers who claim to love Jesus but who are unfaithful to Him.
• “you sinners” - They are sinners who continue to live in bondage to sin even though if they were genuine believers they would have been freed from that bondage.
• “you double-minded” - They are double-minded because they claim to want to be friends with Jesus, but at the same time they are attempting to remain friends with the world.
Next week, when we pick up with verse 11, we’ll find that James goes right back to addressing his audience as “brothers”. And with the exception of one more short section in chapter 5 where he is again addressing another specific audience, James uses the term “brothers” four more times in that final chapter.