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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 10:45am service, 2006-03-26

Text: James 4:4-10

The topic of our message this morning is useful to all of us, because we live in a world that holds different values and goals from us. And sometimes, it is difficult for us to know how to be in the world, but not of the world. On one hand, we profess to be Christians who are devoted to God. But on the other hand, we think, speak and conduct ourselves like non-Christians. It is important therefore that we know how we can maintain good spiritual devotion to God while we live in a non-Christian world. This matter is addressed in detail in James 4:4-10. We can divide this passage into two parts. In vv.4-6 James wrote about our Friendship with the World. Then in vv.7-10 he wrote about our Submission to God. Let us examine 

I. Our Friendship with the World (4:4-6)

A. Our Relationship with God Excludes It

In vv.4-6 James says that one simply cannot be a friend with the world and a friend of God at the same time. We cannot have both. It is either one or the other. In fact he says in v.3 that if we become friends with the world, we become guilty of the sin of spiritual adultery. This likens our relationship with God to a marriage relationship, where we are to be faithful to our relationship with God alone. 

And God will not tolerate any rival to Himself. That is why v.5 tells us that 'the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy.' This is based on Exodus 20:5 which tells us that our God is a jealous God (in a good sense). This means that the Holy Spirit of God yearns jealously for our full devotion to Him alone. We must therefore make up our mind to choose to love God and not the world. The call to choose to love God has been given to God's people since Old Testament times. E.g. Joshua 24:15 - 'choose you this day whom ye will serve' and 1 Kings 18:21 - 'How long halt ye between two opinions?' 

B. Conformity with the World Shows It

How do we avoid being a friend of the world? By not conforming to the world. Romans 12:2 tells us to 'be not conformed to the world.' One way that you can tell if two people are very good friends is to carefully observe how much they are conformed to each other. Close friends often like to wear the same kind of clothes, sport the same hairstyle and enjoy the same hobbies or interests. Thus if we are friends of the world, we would also be conformed to the world in our attitudes, thinking, lifestyle, interests, and values. 

One of the great challenges that Christians in our present age must face, is how to handle the values that are increasingly being forced upon us by the world. We live in a world with values that are radically different from those that Christians should have. Everywhere we go, we are told to pursue after material prosperity, pleasure, popularity and power. These are the things that are considered to be worthy of all our time and effort by the world�s standards. And sometimes we find ourselves under tremendous pressure to conform to the world's values.

You know, there is a well-known fairy tale often told about how a town called Hamlyn employed a pied piper to get rid of all its rats. What the pied piper did was to play a magic tune on his pipe that somehow charmed all the rats and led them irresistibly out of the town, and into a river where they drowned. The situation in the world is like that. There is a magic tune being played by the media for all to hear. Our senses are bombarded day in and day out with worldly trends, values, and attitudes. And their basic message is that you must get everything you can for yourself out of this life, so make yourself rich as quickly you can, and then make yourself look good and feel good and enjoy yourself. 

Dearly beloved, the world would like you to believe that great achievements are worth everything. 'The sky is the limit. Go for it!' Everybody seems to want to break a world record or get his name into the Guiness Book of World Records. Have we become such an achievement-oriented competitive society that nothing matters more than making the grade, being the best and reaching the pinnacle of success? Do we realize that this worldly trend of achievement has had some terrible consequences as well? Some who are not able to achieve or make the grade find that there is nothing more to live for. This is why the incidence of suicide among students in Singapore has increased. And every day 1 more life is lost through suicide. Shouldn't this make you think twice about living for achievements?

Besides achievements, the world would also have you believe that good appearance is worth everything. Many spend much of their time and expense on keeping up a good outward appearance. They think, 'If I can only reduce my waistline and improve my figure and posture, I will surely be loved and accepted.' Or 'If only I restore my hair, dye it a different colour, and get tatooed eyebrows, I will be loved and accepted.'

Because of this, many have become very depressed and insecure because they feel that their outward appearance or image falls short of the world�s standards. If you feel that way, I have got news for you: You have been fooled by a terribly false standard. 

But the world would also attempt to fool you into believing that affluence is worth everything. When I was young I learned a song that goes like this: 'Folks around me are saying, Make money while you can. Doesn't matter how you do it - only be a wealthy man.' I don't think I need to elaborate further on the world's pursuit of affluence and materialism, because it is so well known and evident to us all in our own land. But what the world does not disclose is the utter frustration of those who have spent all their lives pursuing wealth only to find that it does not give them the satisfaction and help that they really need.

Now, most people living in the world today have somehow been mysteriously charmed by the world�s message of pursuing achievements, appearance and affluence and they are conformed to it, very much like the rats that were charmed by the tune of the Pied Piper. And as we see our own loved ones, friends, our neighbours, and our colleagues at work, all being enticed irresistibly by the same tune, we sometimes feel ourselves drawn to follow it also, unaware of the dangerous end that it will lead us into.

As a Christian you must not be charmed into following the world's pursuits of achievements, appearance and affluence. Your values must be different from that of the world. In 1 John 2:15,16 we are told very clearly, 'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.'

C. The Grace of God Enables Us to Resist It

Sometimes the world is so attractive to us that it becomes very hard not to love the world and the things that are in the world. How can we succeed? Verse 6 gives us the answer: 'But He giveth more grace.' (this is quoted from Proverbs 3:34). 

When we make up our minds to love God and not love the world any more, God will give us more grace to resist the attractions of the world and to submit ourselves to Him. This is known as the cooperative will of God. When God is pleased with the direction we have taken, He blesses us with the grace we need to keep us going in that direction. But the important thing to note is that we must do our part to make a clear-cut commitment not to love the world anymore, but to love God alone. As long as we keep cherishing some desire to be friends with the world, we will not experience the grace of God to resist the world.

One illustration may help us to understand this better: When the angels of God helped Lot and his family to escape from Sodom, they told the family not to look back. But while they were escaping, Lot's wife looked back, and she turned into a pillar of salt! Why did she look back? Perhaps she began to miss all the things that she loved about Sodom. 

Dear friends, let us not look back at the world that we leave behind. Keep your eyes firmly on the direction that God wants you to take. By doing that you will find that God gives you more grace to to go on submitting yourself fully to Him. Let us now turn our attention to:

II. Our Submission to God (4:7-10)

In these four verses, James issues a series of four steps that we must take in order to submit ourselves fully to God.

A. Resist the Devil (7b)

The first step is to resist the Devil. What has resisting the Devil got to do with overcoming friendship with the world? Well we must recognize that it is the Devil who often makes use of worldly values and attractions to make us fall into sin. Remember how he tempted Christ? (Matthew 4:1-11) The second temptation, which was to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple in order to be saved by angels was clearly an appeal to the pride of life that the world promotes. The third temptation, which was to obtain all the kingdoms of the world was clearly an appeal to the lusts of the eyes which characterises the world. 

And that is why the first step toward submisstion to God is to resist the Devil when he tempts us with all these things. We can do that the way that our Lord Jesus did: He used God�s Word as His sword! What should you do when Satan comes 'knocking at your door'? Give him the Word of God! Especially what you have just learned here from James 4. This command to resist the Devil is accompanied by a wonderful promise 'he will flee from you.' It shows that as powerful as the Devil may be, we can effectively resist him and send him fleeing from us, with God's help. 

This leads us to the second step in the series of four steps toward submitting ourselves to God:

B. Draw Near to God (8a)

To draw nigh to God as v.8 says, is to set your heart upon seeking the Lord, and loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6:5). Let God become your all-in-all. Surrender your will to Him. Perhaps some of you here were once closer to God than you are now. You used to enjoy moments of sweet fellowship with Him. But somehow, you were charmed and distracted by the bright attractions of the world, and you have drifted further and further away from Him and left your first love. If that is the case, then it is time for you to come back to Him. Come back to Him now, just like the prodigal son who came back to his father in full repentance of sins. And you can be assured that God will welcome you back with loving arms!

You see, this command, like the first, is accompanied with a wonderful promise 'He will draw nigh to you.' Jesus echoed this same promise in John 6:37 when He said that, 'him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.' He is ever ready to receive us warmly, when we come to Him sincerely and with the desire be cleansed by Him from our sins. This leads us to the third command that comes in the latter part of v.8:

C. Cleanse Your Hands and Purify Your Hearts

This means that you should repent of all your sins and confess them to God. Repentance can be defined as: a change of mind that leads to a change of conduct. And if there is no change of mind and change of conduct, then there is no repentance. True Repentance is characterised by two attitudes 

1. Spiritual poverty. When you come before God, you must be ready to admit that you are spiritually poor and in dire need of God�s mercy and grace. Psalm 34:18 says, 'The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.' - a broken heart here means having a sense of one's own unworthiness. Psalm 51:17 'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.' 

2. Godly sorrow for sin. V.9 of our text brings this out 'Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.' Some may wonder why such negative feelings like these are part of true repentance. There is a simple reason for it. 

Our sins cause God to have these feelings. They are an affront or insult to His holiness. God is afflicted when we sin. He mourns and weeps over our sins. One verse that shows this clearly is Genesis 6:5-6 -- 'And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.'

When we are grieved by our own sins and mourn for them, that means that our feelings about them are now in perfect harmony with God's feelings. Repentance changes our attitude to sin from disharmony with God to full harmony with God. It is only then that He can forgive us and our fellowship with Him can be restored.

We have already seen three steps in submitting ourselves to God: Resisting the Devil's temptations, drawing nearer to God, and Cleansing our hands and hearts. Now we come to the fourth and final step, which is given in v.10 - 

D. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord

According to v.6 humbling ourselves is the pre-condition for receiving more grace from the Lord. This is the remedy for dealing with pride. Pride is a most pernicious sin that we must be careful of when we live in a non-Christian world. Many of the world's pursuits are based on pride - pride in one's wealth, health, intelligence, or accomplishments. Status symbols are much sought after by the world, and Christians may also feel the urge to seek after them. But v.6 informs us that God resists the proud. Did you know that pride is the most common sin that you can find in this world? Both good and bad people are guilty of it. Pride is actually a sin of the heart. 

There are some forms of pride that can be easily seen, while other forms cannot be seen by people at all. The most obvious form of pride is straightforward boasting. Another form of pride is the desire to be honoured and praised by others. One form of pride that is more subtle is the habit of putting down others all the time. When a person keeps on criticising and putting everyone else down, the implication becomes clear: he is better than everyone else!

And as there are many forms of pride, there are also many areas of life in which a person may become proud. Some are proud because of their social position, their status, rank or the office they hold. People love to be promoted to prominent positions of authority and honour. Others may be proud of their good physical attributes - because of their height, beauty, good figure or strength. Some others are proud because of their intellectual abilities - because of they have been getting the best grades in exams and the top place in school. And there are yet others who are proud because of all their past achievements and services they have rendered. There are also people who pride themselves in their own goodness, humility, their faith, and think that they are better and holier than others.

God's response to the sin of pride in this world is always the same: He utterly hates it. And we must regard the sin of pride in the same way that God Himself regards it. Pride must be removed and replaced instead with Humility. So let us talk now about humility, as v.10 tells us to 'humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord' To humble ourselves before the Lord is to regard ourselves as being nothing, and God as being everything. It is to deny ourselves any claim to honour, power or glory, and to ascribe all these to God alone who deserves them. 

This command is also accompanied with a wonderful promise 'and He shall lift you up.' Dear friends, there is no honour that is greater for any creature in God's creation, than the honour of being lifted up by God! Instead of trying to exalt and promote yourself as the world does, let God Himself exalt and promote you! How will God lift you up? Let us read Isaiah 61:3 to find out. 'To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.'

He will remove all the ashes of your life and replace them with His beauty. He will turn your mourning for sins into the joy of being forgiven. He will take away the spirit of heaviness and replace them with His own garments of praise. And the end result is that you will be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. These words describe the process of sanctification in a believer's life. The process by which the Lord transforms your life into the glorious righteous and holy image of Jesus Christ. 

And this is a process that goes on continually as you walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16) The Spirit of God who dwells within your heart since the day you were saved, is the One who transforms your conduct. Your part is to submit yourself to His work of transforming your conduct. The four steps of submission given in vv.7-10 must be applied. You must make this a daily habit.

When you begin each new day, go first to the Lord during your quiet time and submit or surrender yourself to Him. Say NO when the Devil tempts you to live this day for yourself and for the world. Draw near to God and tell him that you want to do whatever He wants you to do that day. Let God direct you through reading His word. Confess any sins that you are convicted of, and then humble yourself in His sight. 'Lord, I am nothing, and I can't do anything right without Thee. Take my life Lord, and live in me.'

As you keep on doing this each day, you will find it easier to maintain your spiritual sharpness and testimony in the midst of the non-Christian world you live in.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25