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Your Best Friend Matters
Scripture: James 4:1-12
Track 7 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 32 minutes, 31 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, February 13, 2005
7th sermon in an 11 part series
"Your best friend matters"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 4:1-12)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

Father, your grace is amazing. It demands my soul, my life, my all. We come to this table because we remember you gave your all. We come now to the offering and we give back to you our all and we pray that what we give you does, in fact, represent our lives. Be honored by these gifts today. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.

It's a wrestling match every week. Seems like I sit down to start thinking about what's going to happen the next Sunday and I find one more time for the, I don't know, several hundredth time now that the text is always bigger than I am and I don't know what to do with it.

I have a good friend that I've taught with for a number of years and he has always made this comment in class and I have taken it to heart on a number of occasions. You should always ask a text, what does this teach me about God and what does it teach me about man? So sometimes when all else fails and I can't seem to figure out what it is that God's trying to do in that text, I just turn around and ask that same question. Okay, well what does this text teach me about God? And, what does it teach me about ME? Usually it will at least provide something to get my mind around. I want to do that with you this morning with this text in James 4. So much of James is straight forward and really quite clear. And I don't know that this text isn't clear, maybe that's the problem. Maybe it's too clear. But it was too big for me. So let's just ask this question. What does this text tell us about God? And, what does it tell us about US?

James 4 is where we are. We're moving into the first full paragraph in that next chapter. James 4:1 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 you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you 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 toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason 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. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you - who are you to judge your neighbor?

The first paragraph is verses 1-3. And one of the things that I notice about that paragraph immediately is in, at least in the NIV, the translation that I read to you, the word YOU occurs at least fifteen times. Seems to have a particular focus about it. And when I ask that question, what does this tell me about God. I think it tells me at least this much, that he knows more about me than I do. He has a pretty good understanding that he knows us. There is a lot . . . . .

Frankly, um, a group of human beings sat out to satisfy their hedonistic pleasure. That is the word, by the way, that's used in the text. He talks about us squandering ourselves on pleasure. The word from which we get hedonism.

I was interested yesterday as I was walking through the mall and lusting after those $44,000 boats (to speak of hedonistic pleasures). And I was standing in line getting, well, I shouldn't tell you this, but my wife's not in this service, so it's okay. I was getting an ice cream cone and listening to these two little girls, who struck me to be, oh I don't know, ten years old, standing there in line. And the one turned to the other and said, "This is how much money I have left. I just love to spend money." And I thought, at ten?? You have money to spend and you've already fallen in love with squandering your life on pleasure.

God knows us well. That the human spirit delights in pleasing itself, of turning everything toward itself. He recognizes that we are basically "selfish sinners". At least that how Isaiah 53 would paint it. He would say that we have done everything we have done in order to seek pleasure for ourselves. Jeremiah 17 would tell us that the heart is deceitful beyond all things. We would learn if we read our Bibles that almost every story has some element of selfishness embedded in it.

Adam and Eve had the opportunity to be as wise as God. It's a story of being SELF-ish. Abraham journeys to Egypt with his wife Sarah and she is a beautiful woman. And in the journey he realizes that his life is potentially at stake because of his beautiful wife and so he says, when we get down to Egypt you tell them that you're my sister. What that meant was, that the king, and he did, Pharaoh took her into his harem. Made her one of his concubines. And here's Abraham, sacrificing his wife on the altar of his own self protection.

A few chapter later in our Scriptures and we come into Israel trying to cross over into the Promise land and they've already defeated Jericho and then they move down the road to this little wide spot called Ai. Even the name is like its city - small. And they defeat Israel. And the reason they defeat Israel was because Achan had decided that he wanted some of the gold and the silver and the lute from Jericho which God said they couldn't have. And he buried it under the floor of his tent. His own selfish desire had brought the whole nation to its knees.

Well, it's every story. We could multiply those stories because it seems to me that what happens is that we become this selfish center who wants to heap, squander, (the language of the text says) squander ourselves on selfish pleasure. What God wants on the other hand, is to be able to bless you and to give you the desires of your heart. To be able to allow you to experience that which is delightful for you. That's Psalm 37. He desires to give you the desires of your heart.

I have some friends, Dan and Deb Lampton, who have written a song based on Psalm 37:4 and in it they interpret that text just a little different than I've ever heard it interpreted. Rather than us deciding what the desires of our heart are and God giving that to us, much like Bruce tried to do for humanity when he got to play God, their take on that text is if you are going to honor God and you seek God, he will literally give you the desires of your heart. He will recreate in you the right desires in your heart. I find that to be a wonderful take on that Scripture. That if I align myself with what God desires, he will remove from me that desire to please only myself and replace it with the desires of his heart. What he wants for his world to be done through me.

One of the challenges of this text is that God does desire to give us what we desire to have. He wants for us to have the things that he wants us to have. And yet, he says, some of the problem that we face is that our prayer is often blocked by our sin. We don't have because we don't ask but we don't get it when we do ask because we're asking for the wrong reason. We want it only for ourselves.

Some of you might remember this. Back in the late 1970's there was a phenomena going on in the Philippines where there were people doing healing in ways that nobody had ever apparently experienced before. Some of us were convinced that it was probably a hoax and others were convinced that it was, in fact, something that God was up to. We had a fella in our church who was suffering from a rare liver disease and Clarence had made up his mind that he was going to go to the Philippines and get healed. One of the Elders of the church and I decided that we probably ought to at least talk to him about the possibility that this was not a "God thing" and so we went to his house. And in the course of conversation, this is what he said, "I have been asking God to let me go to the Philippines and if he doesn't want me to go, he should stop me." And I looked at him. I said, "I wonder if that's why we're here." And of course, he went anyway. Because when he said God stop me, I think he meant, don't let the plane leave the ground. Somehow our coming to his door to warn him didn't appear to be the answer to his prayer because he was not asking God, he was telling God what God was supposed to do.

I sat in class one day listening to a student sermon as I have done on hundreds of occasions. I remember sitting at the back of the room listening and all of a sudden, this student says, "If God answers every prayer just the way we pray it, he's no longer God." And, I missed the rest of the sermon because I was so profoundly impacted by that comment. I don't know whether it was his or he read it someplace, but he was exactly right. If God answers every prayer just the way we hand it to him, he's no longer God, we are. James says one of the difficulties that we have is that we are selfish and God knows that about us. He knows it well.

Well, I look at the next paragraph, James 4:4-6 and all of a sudden I'm struck by this strong opening line; You adulterous people - literally, the text says You adulteresses. You know that's not how he starts most paragraphs. Most paragraphs he starts Dear Brothers. Huh! Something happened to Dear Brothers in here. I don't know where all of that went but I have a feeling it has something to do with James' intensity about the issue at hand. That suddenly he's turning to an Old Testament image about God and humanity. Because God addresses the Old Testament people in the terms of adultery regularly.

I think what you learn about God in this text is very, very simple. God jealously desires our loyalty. Let me just walk you through two or three texts from the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 32:16 I remember how odd this text sounded the first time I read it. Deuteronomy 32:16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. Deuteronomy 32:21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. And I remember thinking, jealousy does not sound like something that should be ascribed to God.

If you go back to Exodus 20:5 the giving of the law. He says, You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. . . . . . That comment is repeated at least three more times in the Old Testament God is a jealous God. He longs for our absolute loyalty and accepts nothing less than that.

There's an interesting translation problem in this text and I'm not here to resolve it for you, only to point it out to you. You'll notice down in James 4:5 when James says, Do you think Scripture says without reason (and here's where the translation gets interesting) that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

The implication is this particular translation is that God has placed within us the human spirit and that human spirit tends to envy, to be jealous of what other people have and that's true. I don't have any doubt that it's true. But there is an alternative translation to that, that I think makes an even better sense out of this text and that translation is this. Do you not understand that the spirit that God placed in you, he longs - HE longs to have back to him? It sounds a little different when you say there is this spirit within us that he longs to long for him. God is jealous any time he thinks that we have somehow fallen more in love with the world than we are in love with him. Don't you know he says, that to be in love with the world is to be an enemy of God, to be at odds with God? John said it this way in 1 John 2 Don't love the world, neither the things of the world for the things of the world are - and he dismisses them. And in one of those sad plaintive words from Paul as he's closing out his life and writing the last thing that he wrote, 2 Timothy 4:10 he reminds us of his friend Demas who had been a traveling companion throughout Paul's ministry and he says, Demas has left me because he's fallen in love with the world.

I read this little interesting blurb this week. It was the story that had something to do with the poet, Emily Dickinson who most of us are familiar with as an American poet. Apparently, back in her youth she (and this is her word from a letter she wrote to a friend) found Christ. And she talks about how delightful her peace and her serenity was but in a letter sometime later she admits in her journal that she has lost that fervor. In fact, she finds her morning prayers to be irksome and difficult. And ultimately she walks away from her faith. A bit later in another letter she writes to another friend and she says, My friends tell me that it's not too late to do something about this. My conscience reminds me that it's not too late to do something about this. But this is here closing line. It is hard to give up the world.

As a child I was profoundly impacted by a cartoon. I don't remember the cartoon. I only remember the image. Sitting on one shoulder was a little red demon with a fork and horns and sitting on the other shoulder was a little white angel with a halo and they were arguing with the character about whether to do something or not do it. And I remember how vividly that impressed me that it was what life felt like. That there was this war going on inside about what to do, what to do, what to do. Huh! And I remember how often I lost the war. I didn't know that it was Biblical until I started reading my Bible some years later and I ran across this text in Romans 7. Maybe you have heard it. It sounds like this.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is , in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God''s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

You ever feel that way? What you want to do you don't want to do you do and there's this constant ongoing battle. God understands that about us and he says there is no relationship that should ever enter in to your life that is stronger than my relationship with God himself.

I have watched it happen on so many occasions that it has become almost a living example of that very issue on a human scale. You watch a married couple and they seem to be perfectly happy, in love with each other, enjoying each other's company and then, one or the other finds a friend. It's a perfectly normal kind of thing. It isn't, in any way, intended to be a problem. It's just part of life. You find somebody that you like and you begin to spend time with them, but the next thing you know. there is this sense that there's a competition now for your life, for your attention, for your affection, for your time and your energy. And it begins to rip and tear at that original relationship. And as harsh and as apparently legalistic as it sometimes sounds when you say to somebody, "I'm sorry, you really need to cut that friendship off." They look at you like you're accusing them of something and I'm not trying to accuse them of anything. I'm only saying, you are jeopardizing the most important relationship that you have on earth. This other friendship cannot be more important than your marriage.

And I think God would sit in heaven and he would look at us and he would say, "I have this connection with you. It's a marriage relationship. It's a covenant commitment and this friendship that you're forming with the world is interfering with our relationship with each other." And he jealousy longs for you to have no relationship with anything that is stronger than your relationship with HIM.

You come to this next section and you are just inundated with commands. It's just one imperative after the other. In fact, in James 4:7-10 there are 10 imperatives. The first one occurs in Verse 7 when he says, Submit yourself to God. The last one occurs in Verse 10 when he says, Humble yourself before the Lord. Those two act as bookends around the other eight imperatives. Those eight imperatives say this. Resist the devil. . . .Come near to God. . . . . . Wash your hands. . . . .Purify your hearts. . . Grieve, mourn and wail. Turn your laughter into mourning. . . . Your joy to gloom. It is the serious nature of sin that it should strike us as such a serious issue that it would grieve us to know that we had sinned.

I was a brand new Christian when I went to college and I remember this conversation with my wife's then roommate like it was happening again today because I was so struck by it. Her name was Charlotte. She was a preacher's daughter and in the context of a small group of people talking, she confessed that one time in her life she tried to smoke a cigarette to be like the rest of the kids at school. And she said that I realized that if my father ever found out, it would break his heart.

I didn't understand then - a father's broken heart. I do now! I know what it's like as a parent to weep over the decisions of a child. To ache over their choices. And, I have become more aware than ever in my life that there is a God in heaven who must just weep daily over some of our choices.

It was a fine morning. One of those that I delight in being outside running. It was cool and crisp. It was early. I was headed right into the sun rise. It was absolutely magnificent. It was probably four or five years after my father died. I was thinking about something that one of my kids had done and I was thinking how excited my father would have been to have been able to be there and to see this event and all of a sudden, I had to stop on the side of the road. There was this wave of grief that swept over me like nothing I had felt since his funeral. And I stood on the side of the road, a grown man, just weeping over the loss of my father. And I walk away from those kind of grief experiences and wonder, do I ever grieve over sin with that kind of intensity? Do I ever look in the mirror and realize how I have offended God with my choices and get on my knees and weep because I have broken God's heart?

And Charlotte's words echo in my mind. If my father knew, it would break his heart and the problem is, my father knows. And so James says, FIX IT! Wash your hands. Clean up your life. Purify your heart. Get the junk out. You belong to God and noone else. And that has to control us. It has to absolutely sweep over us.

What it tells you about God is this. That he wants you close. But you can't be close as long as there's sin in your life.

I'm fascinated by Jeremiah's story of being asked to wear a linen girdle until it got so filthy dirty that he was asked to take it off. It would be as if I woke up this morning and God said, "ya know that sash I asked you to wear for the last six months, it's now filthy. I want you to take it over and I want you to bury it next to the baseball stadium in Kansas City". And so Jeremiah walked from here, the distance to Kansas City, and he buried that dirty girdle, that sash - and then he walked back home. And God said, "Oh by the way, that sash is like my people. I want you to go back and get it." You talk about amazing grace. The very sash that was so filthy, that God had to get it out of his sight, he sent his prophet back to get. Because that's how he loves us. That no matter how dirty we are, he wants us back.

The last paragraph is the odd paragraph. He tells us not to slander one another because it has to do with judging the law. And quite honestly, here's the conclusion I've come to, as I asked myself this question. What does this tell me about God and what does this tell me about man? It tells me this. There is a God, and I'm not Him.

And when I presume to start judging my brother and slandering my brother, I have taken God's job and tried to become God. He said, Only God should be allowed to call men into judgment and so he moves, interestingly enough, back in James 4:11 to Brothers. He called us adulteresses, unfaithful people, but now he comes back to us and calls us brothers and he recognizes that we are a friend of God when, in fact, we let God be God and we just come to him as humble sinners seeking out his grace.

My friends, it really does matter who your friend is and in this world there is only room for one real friend. And that friend has to be God. That doesn't preclude our human friendships. I'm not suggesting that you have to have a monolithic life in that sense. You understand what he's trying to say though don't you? That there can be no room for loyalty in your life to anything in this world - any person, any thing - if it interferes with your relationship with God. He jealously longs for you to love him and not love the world.

Don't know how many conversations I 've been in with people over the years who were in love with the world and had come to find out that the world is a faithless lover. It will eventually turn on you and destroy you. But there is one who so loves us that he desires beyond all other desires to have us as his friends. So much so, that he sent his Son to die so that you could live.

That my friends is Amazing Grace. But the God of the universe wants you as his friend and desires your loyalty. So we're asking for you to take a look at your life to find out who's in first place and if it's anybody other than God, to do something about it. Let's stand.