Summary: The sermon examines our human tendency to rely on self rather than seek God.

The Declaration of Dependence

(Why Men Don’t Ask For Directions—Part 2)

James 4:1-10

Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister

First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO

Review: In our previous study we explored the normal human tendency to be independent and self-reliant. Independence and self-reliance are good qualities until they come between us and our God. Our human nature tells us to believe that God helps those who help themselves. The Bible teaches us to believe that God helps those who ask for his help. The Bible teaches us that what God wants from us is humility, trust, and dependence. He wants us to come to him in prayer as a first impulse, not a last resort.

Our text connects these important themes. James is one of the most simple and practical books in the New Testament. He doesn’t pull any punches. You don’t have to guess what he is talking about. Often, James, like Proverbs in the Old Testament, is a spiritual 2x4 between the eyes. The grand theme of James is “true religion.” Or as he terms it in 1:27-- "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.” In James such religion is not about ceremonies, rituals, and rules—like the Jewish religion tended to emphasize—but practical compassion toward the poor and disadvantaged, self-control, especially of the tongue and temper, and a lifestyle and mindset that didn’t just go with the flow of the moral pollution of the surrounding culture. He explains these three principles over and over again.

The practical compassion and the self-control are fairly easy to put yours hands around. The unpolluted lifestyle is a bit tougher. This is what James 4 is about. The world acts this way; we shouldn’t. The prevailing non-Christian culture thinks this way; we must not. For example, most people think we should take care of ourselves and only ask for God’s help as a last resort. People who know the Living God think and act differently. And when we don’t, when we allow our lives to be polluted with the world’s way of thinking, is when we get into big trouble. Individually and as a church, we regularly face the struggle about whether we will be a worldly church or a praying church. Both styles pray; one prays as a last resort, the other as a first impulse.

I will call this choice—living by Plan A or Plan B. Plan A is the normal human pattern of independence and self-reliance. Plan B is a personal walk with a God who is intimately involved with the affairs of our lives and wants to be in our decisions from the beginning. In our individual lives and as a church together, we either stop and ask for directions sooner or later. The difference is telling.

Note how James brackets this section (4:1-10) with a discussion of Plan A and Plan B.

Watch for the contrast. (James 3:13-18) "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. {14} But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. {15} Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. {16} For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. {17} But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. {18} Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."

Shortly after our text, he writes: (James 4:13-17) "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." {14} Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. {15} Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that." {16} As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. {17} Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins."

Our text explains where Plan A living leads and what we can do to prevent it. James starts with a discussion of the symptoms of Plan A living. There are two symptoms and they are related.

The first is conflicts. "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The terms “fights” and “quarrels” could be rendered “wars” and “battles.” The first refers to the big picture and the other to the little skirmishes or individual battles which make up a war. What comes to your mind when you hear this question? Probably wars, international hostilities, and then maybe a marriage squabble or an argument between friends. That is certainly part of it. He might specifically have in mind church fights. They do happen you know. As hard as it is to believe, Christian people sometimes don’t always agree and sometimes the disagreements actually end up in verbal combat and physical violence.

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