Wednesday, March 25

What should we do? Part V

Last week at Quest, we continued our walk through the book of James while looking at the question of what we should be doing if we are really going to be followers of Jesus. As we have discussed in the past, we have noticed that there are two different aspects to the answer. There is an internal response that affects our relationship with God and the building of our character, and there is an external response that will affect our relationship with others and the actions we take in our life. This week, within that context, we looked at James chapter 4. Here is some of what we talked about:

• James addresses the idea of friendship with the world, and tells us that being a friend with the world is being an enemy with God. We talked about how we, as followers of Jesus, tend the use the word “world” in two different contexts. Sometimes we use it to mean the environment and culture that we live in. Other times we mean the people who live in the world who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. James seems to be using the first meaning of “world.” If you are friends with someone (or something) it means that you have things in common and are supportive of each other. The environment and culture of the world around us emphasizes ideas like selfishness and pride and tells us that sinful or unethical behavior is okay. These ideas are opposed to the ideas of God. If we are becoming friends with ideas and values that the world emphasizes, then we are going to be moving farther away from God. This is why being a friend of the world is being an enemy to God.

• This idea that being friends with the world means being an enemy to God doesn’t seem to fit when we talk about being friends with people in the world who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. We need to be able to build relationships with people who aren’t Christians. It is when we become friends with someone that we have the best chance to demonstrate the love of Jesus and to talk to them about Christ. The adage “people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care” is true. A friend is much more likely to listen to what I have to say about Jesus than someone that I don’t have a relationship. Building friendships with people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus is critical to spreading Jesus’ message.

• At the same time, when followers of Christ are friends with non-believers, there still needs to be a level of separateness. We need to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, but when we do so, we need to let them see that we are different. We can be friends and develop relationships without participating in things that are wrong, or that show that we are friends with the world. When our non-believing friends get to know us, they should also realize that there is something different about it. If they don’t recognize that there is something different, then we should ask ourselves whether we are really being true to our relationship with God.

• There is a lot in James 4 dealing with pride. In the first part of the chapter, James talks about how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. In the middle of the chapter he tells us that we should not judge others. When we do that, we are raising ourselves to the position of judge, which is a position that really belongs to God. So when we judge others, we are elevating our own status, which is a form of pride. At the end of the chapter, James talks about how we should not make plans to go someplace and prosper (v. 13). Again, this focuses attention on our own plans and our own abilities to accomplish things. This is another form of pride. Instead of being proud, we should be humble. Remember, being humble is not about saying that we don’t have talents or abilities. It really is about putting the interests of others, and especially the interests of God, before our own interests. When we put the interests of God first, we can receive his grace. When we put the interests of God and others first, we won’t judge others because we will understand that it isn’t our job to do that. When we put God and others first, we won’t be trying to do things for our own benefit, but will be concerned about doing the will of God.

• When we think about sin, we often think about some kind of list of things that we shouldn’t do. Sins are typically defined bad things, and we sin if we do them. This seems particularly true for those of us who come from evangelical or Pentecostal backgrounds. James tells us that this isn’t the only definition of sin. He reminds us that if we know the good that we should do, and don’t do it, it is sin. When we know that there is something good that we should do, we need to do it. If we don’t, it is sin, just the same as if we did something bad. There is no difference to God between sins of omission and sins of commission.

That should give you a feel for what we talked about in our discussion of James chapter 4. Next week we will conclude our look at this short book by focusing on James chapter 5.

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