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What are you quarreling about?

Today is our fifth message from the book of James.  I hope you’re enjoying this expository series on James. Some of you hav mused if I am offering these messages directly to you, or that I trying  to step upon your toes!   But I assure, you, I am merely exposing the book of James…. and I speak truth to myself first, and second to those to whom the Holy Spirit is whispering.  It’s God that’s stepping on your toes, not my. Take it up with Him


Today’s message addresses the dangers of Christians getting caught up in passionate outbursts  of the flesh,  or “worldliness”, .i.e.  things that tend to creep back into a church or Christian family, no matter what century we’re talking about, or how long we’ve been a Christian.


What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask  wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:1-12, ESV)


So, before we throw up our hands and cry about how bad things are in our church, and how “perfect” things must have been in the early church, remember again, this is the first letter written to the earliest church.  James is talking to people that were alive when Jesus was alive, and he’s addressing not some vague  hypothetical concerns, but genuine, existential challenges within the church right then. He lists the problems in 60 AD, but for a moment consider if you’ve heard about these three same three things, in a church you’ve attended—or perhaps even within this church?


The things he addresses, to believing Christians, disciples of Jesus, were as follows:

The quarrels and fights they were having

The arrogance and a lack of humility some of them displayed

The habit of speaking bad about someone behind their back


Okay, so am I am meddling now—or are we going to listen to what James had to say about this?


These vices….these evils….are not new to the human race and tend to sneak back into our lives even after we give our lives to Jesus. We have to vigilant to address these problems, and recall that even if we never commit any oft these errors, a vibrant and healthy church is always growing and drawing in new people, young believers, those who don’t know and need to be taught godly behavior.  Let’s look then at what James counsels about how to avoid, or how to bravely confront  those things that hinder the work of evangelism and can  divide or destroy a church:


1. Quarrels and fights.  We all hd these as children, and we could all identify what it was that caused a quarrel—it did not just pop out of thin air..  And you might have imagined then, or even now as an adult, that you have good reason to want to quarrel with someone;  but James would ask you, as an adult, to look deep within your soul as to why you are arguing now—-not the “noble reason” you want to portray, or the fight that you hope others will see as your selfless crusade to make things right!  No,  James point is that most, if not all,  of our quarrels and fights are not about the things of God, though we might try to wrap it up to make it appear to be some  holy cause.  No, most our fighting, according to James and Holy Spirit,  is because of this:  We don’t get what we want—-i.e. we don’t get our way.  Doesn’t that sound puerile—silly and  childish?!  We crave the attention, power, respect or success that someone else seems to be getting, so we get into fights with them—- to put them in their place.  It’s our way or the highway!


But let me add this, for a moment of clarification: disagreements will exist within the Christian community—which is not the same as childish quarreling.  Paul and Barnabas disagreed about taking a young man named John Mark with them on a mission trip, and because neither one  of them changed their minds, their parted ways. Barnabas took John Mark and Paul took Silas. Ok, so they “disagreed”, but their love and friendship remained, and later they were all brought back together as close friends. Neither Paul nor Barnabas spread rumors about the character of the other, no harsh or unkind words were written or spoken, they were both strong enough, sure enough of what they believed, and intimate enough with their Savior to accept each other—even though they disagreed.

As long as we live on this earth, we’re going to occasionally disagree—especially with the ones we spend the most time with, our family!  I don’t always get my way at the camp—-and I own it!  As your pastor I have not gotten my way here more than few times, and I think I was right on most of those things.  But people, especially Christian folks, can be in a relationship where they disagree without  in any way damaging the “glue” of that relationship. Because the tying bond, or super glue is love—-the love of God—the Holy One who Himself disagreed mightily with us and all humankind, and yet sent His Son to die for us.  But if their is no foundation of love, disagreements explode into fights, meanness and opposing sides will be drawn up in hate.  That’s not what Jesus died for and that’s not what He expects of the church, His bride.


Quarreling, arguing, fighting is different from disagreeing. It represents a personal attack on someone else—it’s violence against the character, integrity and heart of the one being assailed—and that’s what James in condemning.  James says it’s wrong because quarreling and arguing causes rifts and divisions within the church and the family of God.  Most of the squabbles and blow-ups with Christians happen because somebody has been keeping score and finally determines, “ok, enough is enough, time for a fight!”  Bu almost every time, a fight could be averted if we all practiced the art of listening, and follow this basic Christian principle: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility consider the needs of others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4, NIV.  Now, do you do that?  Or are you looking to, “put somebody in their place”?


So what was the irritant that caused the early church to get bitter with other and fight?  It had to do with some of the members not feeling satisfied with their status in the church, or some sort of jealousy at what others had that they did not have, or just a general anger that others appeared happier than them!  He said this:  ‘You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask  wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”


If you are angry at someone right now—-or perhaps a whole group of people!—ask yourself this very easy question:  Have you prayed about it? Have you laid it at the foot of the cross and humbly asked God to handle it? Have you given up that primitive, reflexive desire to strike back,  and instead dedicated the matter to God?  If you’ve not prayed a prayer like that, you are praying wrong!   If you’re asking God to smack someone down because they hurt your feelings, or  hoping, plotting and praying for their humiliation, you’re not praying like a disciple of Christ.  True Christians pray that God blesses those that insult, hurt and hate them.  That’s how we’re supposed to pray!  DO THAT,  and then step back and look at how God changes your heart…. and now things works out in such a way that you received the joy and victory of knowing that He is proud of you—and you have maintained, through your humility, meekness and prayers, the unity and focus that really matters as we go about God’s Kingdom work.


Mike Tyson, Will Smith, Elon Musk and the others that maneuver and fight for fame and personal gain is what the world is all about—-and they represent the  antithesis of what our life in Christ must be!  James is speaking these words to us today: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  These are not my words…they’re the inspired words of the Holy Spirit.


James second point of concern was the arrogance and a lack of humility of many within that first century church:


“Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”


Aren’t those wonderful promises!!!  But if you are a  proud Christian, God is working against you—every step of the way until you humble yourself!   You’ve been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus—-but not so that you can get huffy, or pout, or demand your own way, or to begin to think that your opinion is the only one that matters!  Listen:  God gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God…” It’s so simple!  The more we demand what we want, the more He humbles us.  The more we meekly and humbly  pray, “not my will Lord, but your’s be done”, the more He exalts us!  Join me, this morning, in praying,  “Lord, mold me, make me, shake me and even brake me—but let me become that son or daughter that your Son redeemed me to be.”


And so when I feel pride raising it’s head in my mind, here’s my quick prayer:


“Let give a glimpse of who I really am without you, so that I would never be proud.

Let me know my own clumsiness….my silly absurdity before I start act absurdly and awkwardly.

Let me realize that I am closest to your heart when I am humble, and most worthy of your attention when I treat others like I want to be treated.”  The prayer works!


His third point had to do with slander, speaking bad about someone behind their back and somehow convincing yourself that you have the insight, experience and spiritual acumen to judge someone’s “true” intentions.  Danger, danger, danger! You do not know the reason that people do dumb things!  You are not God and despite what you might think,  you do not know why others do hurtful, unkind, things. We are right to speak out against moral failure—sexual sin, sins like those committed by Ananias and Saphira, but God will judge the reasons and justifications others have for appearing to be “jerks”, or not living up to our expectations.


“When you judge others, you do not define them….you define yourself.” -Earl Nightingale.  You show just how petty and immature in your walk you are!  Christians are warned against making personal judgments based only appearances because these are normally going to be false (John 7:24; 8:15-16; Matt 7:1-5). Jesus warns especially against judging another person’s status before God. We must not speak about what we do not know, unless we really want to say things that are distortions and untruths—-things  that will damage people and harm the way we minister to them. When you are in the habit of judging others, others perceive you as unsafe to share honestly with.  You will be avoided for good reason.


We’re warned against making personal opinions of each other in matters not essential for spiritual life—things that are not clearly commanded or clearly forbidden by God in the Bible. Differences in opinion is going to happen—but let it go if it does connected to moral sin—God will sort it out!(e.g., Rom 14:1-19).


Friends, the Epistle from James is as powerful, essential and contemporary today as ever.  If you have not read it lately, please read it this week. Ask God to open your eyes, ears and heart to what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you. Amen.


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