Daily Update #296

Pause: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25 : 8 – 9

Reading: “…do you think Scripture says without reason that that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?  But he gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  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 double-minded.”  James 4 : 5 – 8

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago this letter from James, the brother of Jesus, is full of both practical advice and pastoral teaching.  He is writing to Christian Jews, perhaps originally from Jerusalem but now, because of the persecution following the death of Stephen, scattered around the Middle East.  Sadly, as we see in other New Testament letters, problems arise within the fellowships, and James is keen for these disputes and disagreements to end, and for the believers to live together in harmony.

In this chapter, and in these verses, James recognises that the human spirit, whilst capable of many wonderful things, is also capable of quarreling, greed, envy, and a host of other unhelpful attributes which can come between the brothers and sisters, despite their shared faith.  Those of us who have been Christians for any length of time may well have experienced this ourselves, and we know how disastrous this can be on occasions.  A rift in the fellowship can have a devastating effect on some, and will almost inevitably diminish or destroy the witness to the wider community.  James also recognises that this is sometimes the work of the enemy, who loves to see problems arise between Christians.  As I was writing this I was reminded about an early chapter in “The Screwtape Letters”, where Screwtape is delighting in the disagreement arising between the Christian and his mother.  Although in this chapter C.S. Lewis is referring to the discord between the son and his mother, and the value that this is to the enemy in weakening one’s faith, the principle is eminently true for the Christian family.

Having identified the problem, James then goes on to point out that the Lord does not leave us without help at such times.  If we turn to him in true humility he will, as we read in verse 6, give us more grace, grace that will enable us to live at peace with one another, seeking unity rather than discord.  Then, practically, there is something that we as individuals need to do, and that is to resist the devil.  Again, as I said last week, our example is Jesus, who, when he was confronted by the enemy, used the word of God to successfully counter the attack.  We need to familiarise ourselves with the word of God so that, in our times of need, the Holy Spirit can bring to mind what we need, not only that which will be for our defence and our shield, but that which will be the sword with which we defeat the enemy.  Resist him, using this power, and he will indeed flee from us.

Finally, in these few verses, James is perhaps looking back to Psalm 24 verses 3 and 4, where David writes, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, when James writes of the double-minded he is referring to those who have two minds, one serving God and one serving another. His challenge here, to his Jewish readers and to us today, is to be centred on God, learning from his Word and from the Holy Spirit who is our guide and teacher, so that our lives bring glory to our loving Father, revealing the love of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for us, and drawing others into that loving relationship with God.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help us to maintain the true bonds of friendship and fellowship, both within our church family and in our community, that we may all live in peace and harmony one with another. Amen