Daily Update #295
“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 cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (N.I.V.)
We have four, power-packed, challenging verses today.
Centuries before modern psychology James had a deep understanding of human nature and was under no illusions about it!
In today’s world the culture of demanding “my human rights” regardless of how this affects someone else’s “human rights” says it all. “What I think is always right” “What I want is what I must have”.
It is very easy to think that life’s difficulties come from external factors. Sometimes they do, but James tells us that our deepest problem lies within us. People have strong ideas about what they believe they need to be happy and fulfilled, and in their desperation to meet their inner needs they behave in all kinds of unhelpful and sometimes extreme ways.
Two main areas of life are affected…
James’ question – “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” is powerful and apt. Families, neighbours, churches, work situations all have the potential to turn into battle-grounds full of tensions, arguments, rudeness, aggression, power struggles etc. when people feel threatened and uncomfortable. Relationships, which are intended to be our greatest joy and comfort, become the cause of deep pain instead. Instead of loving and caring in the way that God intends, people use and abuse one another. In extreme situations people take one another to court, divorce, murder…
2. Relationship with God.
Our deepest problem is an underlying rebellion against God’s rule by not allowing Him to decide what is for our good, and by trying to meet our needs independently. God cares about us and wants our highest good. He understands us completely and is able to meet our deepest needs through a relationship with Him, yet so often people will go anywhere, other than God, to have their needs met.
God is only a prayer away and sometimes our problems are the result of us not going to Him in the first place. However, we need to consider carefully whether what we are asking is within His will. It is tempting to use prayer just as a means of trying to tell God what we want Him to do, instead of submitting to His will.
When we ask God for something it is good to examine our hearts and consider WHY we want it. We could ask ourselves “is it just because it would make me and my life feel better – or because I want God’s will?” This does not mean that it is wrong to enjoy ourselves, but it is important to consider our motives.
James uses the strong language of spiritual ”adultery” to describe a life lived simply for the meeting of our own pleasures. This may sound extreme and come as a shock, but Jesus used that language too.
The Bible describes a love story between God and His wayward people. One way of looking at it is as a marriage covenant, seen particularly in the Old Testament book of Hosea where things had gone sadly wrong, and in the New Testament book of Revelation, of which Chapter 21 gives a wonderful picture of the Church described as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”. How amazing to realise that this is what God wants for us.
Sadly though, Christians and Churches do not always behave as if they believe this. Attitudes and behaviour can sometimes seem little different from the secular world and spiritual adultery is the result. James must have been thinking of a particular situation as he wrote this. As I write this I am not thinking particularly of St. Johns at the present time, though it is always good to consider if it might be true.
The marriage imagery is important and powerful because God wants a separated people, committed to an exclusive relationship with Him. We have to be careful how we live and how we engage with the world around us and remember what we are called to be. Nominal, superficial Christianity that has no positive effect on behaviour offends God. When Christians fight and struggle to get what they want they are not behaving as befits God’s bride but working against Him.
The idea that “friendship with the world is hatred towards God” is tough. There are always tensions for Christians, and today is no exception as we are called to live in the world but not be of the world. We have to make daily choices about whom we are serving.
God, the Holy Spirit needs to do a deep work within our souls so that we are changed into His likeness and fit to become His bride.
What we are on the inside is revealed on the outside!
Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild restless sea,
Day by day His voice is sounding,
Saying, “Christian, follow me.”
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s gold store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more.”
In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”
(Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-95)