The heart of the matter - James 4:1-10
One of the films that has taken the box offices by storm over the last few months is the latest instalment of Star Wars. This time it's Episode 2: The Attack of the Clones. All the favourites are back: There is Yoda, who seems to get more ancient by the episode, but don't let that deceive you- he's still pretty nifty with a light sabre! There's R2D2 and C3P0; there's Obi Wan and Princess Armidala; and there's even a cameo appearance from Jar Jar Bincks. But the character who is central and under everyone's scrutiny is Anakin Skywalker. He's the one who, as we all know, and I hope I'm not spoiling it for anyone, will become Darth Vader, the evil commander of the Dark Side who terrorises the Rebel Alliance in Episodes 4-6. And Episodes 1-3 show how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. And in Episode 2, which is on our screens now, we can see that already the transformation is beginning to take place. It is as if there is a battle going on inside Anakin's head between wanting to do what is good and wanting to do evil. And sometimes that evil side bursts out in dramatic fashion. And we all nod knowingly! We know what's going to happen!
Now this morning we're looking at a passage from the Bible from a letter of James, the brother of Jesus. And here we find another battle going on. But this is not the battle between the Force and the Dark Side, but the battle that the Christian is engaged in between doing what we want and doing what God wants. It's what James has been writing about throughout his letter. If you remember he has been writing to Christians telling them that real, authentic Christianity is about living a life which pleases God. You cannot simply say you are a Christian. You must live it out. And the Christian that tries to do both what he wants, and what God wants, is suffering from, what James calls, double mindedness. It's the disease whereby we try and have a foot in both camps, trying to go in both directions- God's and ours. It's well illustrated by thinking about a boat which you might try and get into on a boating lake in Scarborough or Brid. You try and put one foot into the boat whilst leaving one foot on the shore. And what happens? Disaster! Gradually the boat drifts away from the shore until you are left doing the splits and you fall in. That's double mindedness. Trying to live life my way and God's way at the same time. And James' says: You cannot live like that. You're doing the spiritual splits. You're trying to live life in two directions. Instead you are to live life wholeheartedly for God. Because that's what you were made to do.
And in this passage in chapter 4, James gets to the very heart of what he wants to say. Here he tackles double mindedness head on. It's as if Dr. James has got his surgeon's knife out, and we're on the operating table. And he's looking into our hearts to see if we are suffering from this disease. He's got in mind first and foremost people who call themselves Christians, those who claim to follow God and know him. And he'll ask us some straight and tough questions. Are we being double minded? If so, then we're in grave danger. But if you're not a Christian here this morning, then you'll be wise to listen to what James has to say. Because in this passage, you'll see that there is the answer to life's deepest questions, and you too will need to act on what you hear. So let's look at what Dr. James has to say to us as we go under the anaesthetic and find out what double mindedness is all about under three headings:
1) The Symptoms of Double Mindedness (Vv 1-3)
2) The Heart of Double Mindedness (Vv 4-6)
3) The Cure for Double Mindedness (Vv 7-10)
1) The Symptoms of Double Mindedness (Vv 1-3)
So first, then, James tells us about the symptoms of double mindedness in verses 1-3.
'What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not ask with the right motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.' Now this is very shocking language isn't it? But we need to be clear that James is talking about Christians here, people who claim to follow Jesus Christ and live his way. Yet their lives are going in a different direction, and they are suffering from double mindedness. They are saying one thing and doing another. And James says that it affects us in two ways:
a) In our relationships with others- Now no-one is quite sure whether we are to take James's language about killing here literally. It's always possible he does mean there were murders taking place in the congregation. After all Jesus said that anger in the heart was the first step to murder. But it's more likely I think that he means it figuratively. Even so, the language is still very shocking. They are killing each other with their words. They are verbal murderers. James told us about the power of the tongue in chapter 3. And it stems from their inner selfishness. They don't get what they want so they fight and quarrel. It is a very tragic and horrific picture. 'You kill and covet but you do not have what you want. You fight and quarrel,' says James.
Now we might think that would never happen here at St. John's. But just an ounce of reality shows that that is a dangerous and presumptuous attitude to have. Sadly many of us know from bitter experience how easy it is for selfish ambition and bitter envy to get into a Christian church. Often it is through small things, the music, the flowers, the chairs, sometimes bigger. But selfishness, and the inability to get what we want, leads to fights and quarrels an suddenly there are splits and divisions, and whilst there may not be murders, yet lives are scarred for life. And that says James a mark of double mindedness. People who say they are Christians, but live a different way, a way of self centeredness, and unwillingness to put others first and be submissive, to live the wise way James talked about at the end of chapter three.
Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story of two unmarried sisters who shared a single room. And as people who live in close quarters are apt to do, they fell out. The dispute was over a theological issue. The trouble was that the dispute was so intense that they didn't agree to differ, they simply didn't speak to each other, ever again. And it got so bad, that these two sisters drew a line with chalk down the middle of their room to mark off their respective territories. They continued to live in the same room together, but never said a word as long as they lived. Each one endured the silence of the other as friends came round or they ate meals. And so in this way, the two sisters lived out the rest of their miserable lives together. Sadly, its possible to put our own interests first to such an extent that irreparable damage is caused. Beware such double mindedness. Do you have the symptoms?
b) In our relationship with God- But James tells us that this double mindedness also affects our relationship with God in verse 3. These believers James writes to didn't receive what they wanted because they didn't ask God. But it got even worse when they did decide to pray, because instead of praying for things which pleased God, they prayed for self centred things. Instead of praying 'thy will be done', they were praying 'my will be done'. And that's the fundamental problem. We are 'my will be done people'. Christians suffer from it, and James calls it double mindedness. But its common to all human beings, even though we may try and cover it up with a faof niceness. Fundamentally we are self centred people.
Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, once played a practical joke on twelve of his rich friends. He sent a telegram to all twelve in which he simply wrote anonymously: 'Flee at once. For all is discovered.' And the story goes that within twenty four hours, all twelve had left the country! He didn't have to know about any details in their lives to know that they were all guilty of something! And each of us, Christian and non Christian, live lives which focus on us rather than God. So that's Dr. James's first assessment. He's shown us the symptoms of double mindedness in our relationships with others and with God.
2) The Heart of Double Mindedness (Vv 4-6)
But then Dr. James goes even further with his scalpel and secondly he tells about the heart of double mindedness in verses 4-6. Because we might be tempted to think that a little bit of selfishness doesn't really matter. After all we cannot help doing what comes naturally. Surely God understands doesn't he? Well if that is what we are thinking, then we're in for a shock. Because James begins this section by telling his readers that they are adulterers. That is the stark truth of the matter. He explains in verse 4: 'Don't you know that friendship with the world in hated towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.' Now by 'the world' here, James means not planet earth, but everything that is opposed to God. It's more a mindset and an attitude that James is condemning. It's the self centred lifestyle that he has talked about in chapter 3 v 16, the envy and selfish ambition which leads to disorder. And he is saying that if your life is marked by those qualities, then you are an enemy of God. Now I don't think he's saying that if you are selfish, as well all are from time to time, then you are condemned permanently as an enemy of God. Rather he's giving us a wake up call. He's saying to the Christian: 'If your life displays the sort of qualities that the world in rebellion against God displays, selfishness, self centeredness, then you are acting as if you are an enemy of God.' And he uses this grim image of adultery to ram home his point.
You see when you became a Christian, it was like a marriage. It was as if you said to God that you give yourself to him for better for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do us part. That's the vow. But slipping back to the old ways, is as one writer puts it, flirting with the world. You're two timing God. It's spiritual adultery. You say your heart is God's and yet it is led astray by all sorts of other things which rage in your heart. And James warns us, such an attitude, such flirtation with the world, is the mark of an enemy of God. And I think that is what James is talking about in verse 5. It's a verse which is very hard to translate, hence there are several versions of it. But the one I think best makes sense of the context, is the one at the bottom of the page in the footnotes. 'God longs jealousy for the spirit that he made to live in us.' God is jealous of us when we flirt with the world. And the jealously of a jilted lover is perfectly right. James says, that's what God feels when we don't do what pleases him, when we are double minded. We're behaving like adulterers, forsaking our first love.
You may have seen the film Indecent Proposal, in which Robert Redford plays a millionaire who offers a couple in financial difficulty a way out. The only problem is that the way out involves the wife of the couple, Demi Moore, spending a night with Robert Redford, and the reward will be a million dollars. The couple agonise over the decision, realising that one million dollars will save them from financial ruin. But can they go through with such a grim deal? In the end the wife says: 'It's only my body, not my soul.' And she goes ahead. Needless to say, their relationship suffers terribly, although there is a happy ending typical for Hollywood.
And though James' language is very stark and at times painful, yet I am grateful to him for his honesty. Because we Christians need reminding that flirting with worldly attitudes and sinning is damaging to our relationship with God. We are acting like adulterers, enemies against him. We cannot separate what we do from the effects it has on us spiritually, as the young couple thought they could do. And we need to be reminded just what this double minded attitude really is. No Christian honestly wants to hurt the God who saved them. And yet we do, every time we sin and are double minded. Every time we do things our way, and go the world's way. It is spiritual adultery, and the sooner we realise it the better.
And James reminds these who are not yet Christians of just where they stand too. Because the Bible makes it clear that you are not just quietly ignoring God. You're actually an enemy against him. There's no such thing as an 'entente cordial' with God. You cannot agree with him that he stays out of your life and you happily get on with yours. No, everyone is an enemy against God. And one day we'll have to meet him face to face to give an account of our lives lived without reference to the God who made us. As James says in verse 6: 'God opposes the proud,' those who choose to ignore him. And that's no position any human being should want to find themselves in.
So that's the second thing Dr. James discovers on the operating table. That the heart of double mindedness is actually being an enemy of God. And up to this point it has all been pretty gloomy news. We've found we're bearing the symptoms of double mindedness, and James has shown us the root cause of the disease of double mindedness, that we are acting as enemies of God. So Dr. James, is there any hope? Well, yes, and he begins to point towards the hope in verse 6: 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'
3) The Cure for Double Mindedness (Vv 7-10)
So let's turn to our last point where James tells us the cure for double mindedness in verses 7-10. Now of course it is vital that when a problem is diagnosed that the correct cure be given to the patient. For instance I came across this story in the paper this week which told of man who was trying to shake a wasp out of his trousers. 27 year old Dan Griffiths from Leeds was working on digging up a road at the time, and those watching Mr Griffiths thought that his pick axe had hit a live cable and he was being electrocuted. So one of his friends did what any decent friend would do, and hit Mr Griffiths in the chest with a shovel. Fortunately, Mr Griffiths was not stung, though he did end up in casualty with a dislocated shoulder. His problem was that his friend gave him the wrong cure! And we might think that the cure for being double minded, for being an enemy of God, is simply to do better, to pull our moral socks up and try a little harder. But throughout the Bible we find that the cure for hearts in rebellion against God is not 'try harder', but 'repent'. Come back to God and ask him to change you. And that's what James tells us in these verses. He actually gives us ten sharp and punchy commands. Verse 7: 'Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you who are double minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.' And the cure can be summed up by those words in verses 7 and 10: 'Submit yourselves to Godyourselves before the Lord.' That's the cure for double mindedness. Indeed that is the cure for any person in rebellion against God. Come back to God.
And for the Christian it means two things according to James, both of which have a promise attached. Negatively, it means resisting evil. Verse 7: 'Resist the devil'. And the promise? 'He will flee.' So resist the temptation to be selfish and self centred. Resist the devil's snare and he will flee. There is hope in dealing with sin. The trouble is all too often we don't want to resist the devil. Or if we do, we want him to leave his contact details so we can get in touch. We love sin too much. And that is why we find verses like verse 9 so hard. Should we really grieve and mourn and wail. Should we really change our laughter to mourning? What about the joy of being a Christian? Well there is joy, great joy and delight to be had with God. Our problem is that often we are unwilling to do the first thing which is to grieve over our sin. Only when we see sin as God sees it, can we know the true joy and delight of being forgiven. Only when we see ourselves as double minded enemies of God will we weep over the pain we cause him. Then we can understand the positive in verse 8: 'Come near to God'. And the promise? 'And he will come near to you'. That's the promise. When we humble ourselves before God, when we admit our failing and fall at his feet, then he will come near to us. And what will he do? Verse 10: 'He will lift you up.' That's the cure for double mindedness. It is to humble ourselves before God. To purify our actions and our attitudes, our hands and hearts. Our flippant and skin deep age will find this very hard to take. But we must have God's attitude to all that is ungodly and evil. Weep over it and come to the God who can cure. That's what it means to submit to the Lord and to humble ourselves before him. So when did you last weep over your sin? How often do you truly humble yourself before God and seek his forgiveness? He will lift you up, but you must humble yourself before him.
And again there is a challenge for those who would not claim to be Christians. Whilst the Bible makes it clear you are enemies of God, yet there is a wonderful hope. You can be purified from everything you've done wrong. God can give you a fresh start, if only you will come to him, admit your failings and submit your life to him. Then, in him, you will find the true way to live life to the full, and find a joy the likes of which we have never known before. So, says James, that's the cure for double mindedness. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.
Well Dr. James has finished. And no doubt after his penetrating examination, we'll be feeling a little sore. But let's remember that as a good doctor, he only opens us up so as to help us get better. He's shown us the symptoms of double mindedness, the broken relationships with others and God. He's shown us the heart of double mindedness, being enemies of God. And he's shown us the cure for double mindedness, to humble ourselves before God and repent of our sin. The question the doctor asks the patient is this: Will you accept the cure?
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.