Preacher: Kelvin Mulembe
Scripture: James 4:1-7
What is causing the quarrels and fights among us? Why are we seeing so much hatred?
It is not a secret that this nation is divided. And this division is getting uglier and permeating through the church, through our communities, and into our families. For many years, experts have told us that the number one cause of relationship problems is poor communication. Yet, today we have more excellent tools for connection and communication than we have ever had in the history of humanity. We can video conference with someone who is on the other side of the world. We can text each other immediately and don’t have to wait for a letter in the mail. And yet, despite all this connection, recent studies by Memphis Flyer and National Institute of Health show that Americans are facing a loneliness epidemic. Nothing seems to bring us satisfaction.
Could it be that the causes go beyond poor communication?
The letter of James draws more heavily than any other New Testament letter on the sayings of Jesus, especially the beatitudes. The book offers a guide for following the path to life (James 1:12) and avoiding the way that leads to death (James 5:9-20). And, Jesus said I am the Way, Truth, and Life. This declaration is fundamental to the Christian faith. We can agree that most Christians hold this to be true. But what then is the problem? Why are we still dissatisfied and fighting?
This is what the letter of James tries to explain to us. James believes, and so does Jesus, that it is not enough to just talk the Christian faith. It is not enough just to believe in God or God’s word. Remember the rich righteous ruler whom Jesus challenged to be more generous with his wealth to be a true disciple? The Bible reports that he went away sad? Many of us can relate to this young man in some ways. It is never easy to give up your comfort. Yet, we must live out our faith even amidst discomfort. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” That kind of faith cannot save anyone. The proof of the reality of our faith is in a changed life. Make sure your faith is more than just a statement. It should result in action.
What happened yesterday at the Tree of life synagogue in Pittsburgh is a tragedy. We have become all too familiar with evil. And it reflects the kind of society we have created and tolerated. Our faith is weak and compromised. If we can have prominent religious leaders eager to fight over a supreme court nominee, and yet remain quiet when 11 worshipers are killed, and 6 others injured while in the house of God. Something is wrong with your faith. What kind of faith remains untouched by evil and loss of innocent lives? What use is your private prayer if you can’t even stand in solidarity with the grieving families?
Why is it so hard to put our faith into action?
Pastor Joyce Meyer, in Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind, makes a profound statement that; “Our fallen nature obstructs the will of God from us due to reasoning. The Lord may direct us to do a certain thing, but if it does not make sense – if it is not logical – we may be tempted to disregard it. God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense to his mind. His spirit may affirm it and His mind reject it, especially if it would be out of the ordinary or unpleasant or if it would require personal sacrifice or discomfort.” Although I wouldn’t say that reasoning is the problem, I would say doubt and self-centeredness are. Especially our preference for comfort.
Unfortunately, the church is not exempt from this moral lostness. The church is made up of individuals in need of redemption. We all need God’s grace to live out our faith. Christians cannot be relied upon as examples of righteous living without the holy spirit working within us. A true testament that we humans are all fallen creatures in need of redemption. We constantly need to rely on God to make sense of our faith and put it into practice.
James mentions three important aspects of our lives that make the most difference in our living as God’s people in the world. Our Desires, our Prayers, and our Posturing.
Our Desires – these can be needs or wishes or requirements that set the parameters of any relationship. Whether it is a relationship with another person, or with God. If the desires of those involved are in conflict that relationship will suffer. When you come to God; what needs, what wishes, or what requirements do you come with?
Our Prayers – how we communicate our desires to God. James mentions the most common problems in prayer: not asking, asking for the wrong things, or asking for the wrong reasons. I don’t want to assume that we all talk to God. But let’s say we do. When you talk to God at all, what do you talk about? Do you ask only to satisfy your desires? Do you seek God’s approval of your already formulated plans? It is my firm belief that our prayers become more effective when we allow God to change our desires so that they perfectly correspond to God’s will for us (1 John 3:21-22).
Our Posturing – our estimation or feeling of self-importance. Our attitude of pride or humility. We often worry about our position and status, striving to get recognition for what we do. We should remember that God’s recognition counts more than the accolades we receive from people. People can shower you with praises for your wrong successes that are outside God’s will. One commentary says that the cure for evil desire is humility. (1 Peter 5: 5b-6) “God opposes the proud but favors the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time God will lift you up in honor.”
But is it realistic to seek friendship with God while living in this broken world?
Firstly, it is important to recognize that there is nothing wrong with wanting a pleasurable life. God avails and blesses us with gifts that God wants us to enjoy (1 Timothy 4:4-5). We should give God thanks for them. However, this does not mean we should abuse God’s gifts to us by being greedy and depriving others of the same enjoyment. Or be so self-seeking that we create unjust systems so that others do not have access. Or allow greed to control your life that you are willing to go to extremes of committing murder in the name of protecting your possessions. We should enjoy these things with the goal being to serve and honor God.
Have you thanked God for the things in your life that you are currently enjoying and are you using them to bring honor to God?
The reality is that the Christian life is not a vaccine against evil desires. If Jesus was not spared from temptation, you also should expect it. We will continue to struggle whether to conform to the standards of this world, and do what everyone else is doing, or choose to obey the guidance of the spirit. You will be challenged to be welcoming to strangers because it is the right thing to do or tempted to side with your political party because it is much easier. You will have to choose to speak out against injustice or pretend it’s not as bad as the media portrays it. There is no escaping or neutral ground.
Friendship with God entails courageous obedience to God’s word. James encourages us not to compromise our faith through devotion to the world. We need to be connected to the true vine, which is Jesus. And Jesus set a vivid example of how to live in the world and bring the Kingdom of God wherever he went. And Jesus said, “greater things than this will you do, if you believe.” With God’s help, we can do far more than we have done to put our faith in practice. We cannot continue to be Christians who love worldly pleasures as much as we love God. In the end, we are going to compromise our faith and we will no longer be the salt of the earth, or the light of the world.
How are you going to ensure that your friendship with God is healthy? Have you taken some time to assess how close you are with God? Is your relationship with God just a shadow of your past, or are you seeking intimacy and desiring to be in God’s presence?
Let this admonition by James keep you from losing your faith to complacency. Faith without works is dead. Faith is made manifest or tangible through our actions. Let the mind that was in Christ be also in you. Always striving to do the will of God.
Ask God for help.