I remember it like it was yesterday. I graduated seminary with this childlike understanding of the work I was called to do. “Go, Teach, and Baptize.” Sharing Christ with a group of fellow sojourners and those yet to become a part of this collective we call the Church Universal. Idealistically I believed we are all part of the same team, that my fellow pastors and I would be taking on this fight against the forces of the Evil One together. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the words of James. He is one of my favorite writers. James is a tell it like it is kind of disciple. No sugar coating things in his letter. He takes on the church’s issues head-on. Four lessons start today from this hard-hitting apostle.
The church is supposed to be united. It is supposed to come together to advance the cause of God. We are called to do all we can to raise godly children to love and serve God and continue the legacy of faith established by a great cloud of witnesses. The church has been sent on a mission by our Lord and King to share the Light of the Word with our friends and neighbors.
But far too often what the church has become is a place of unrest, internal fighting, envy, jealousy, we have started a different “Me” movement, the “MeFirst” movement. If someone were to conduct a survey you would find that many believers do not appear to have a common belief. Oh, we may claim to be in accord, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, but our actions, our conflict makes a very different confession.
James peers into his audiences’ heart and soul and sees three things that were holding them back. If we take off the rose-colored glasses we see the same things in our churches.
Argumentative Spirit (vv. 1–2a)
What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2 You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask.
You have to imagine what James saw in the church breaks the heart of God. He looked at the church and saw a shocking and disturbing thing, a church divided. I see that same church today. The church should be united around the truth of God and the mission. The church should be united in worship and service. Sadly, this is not the reality of what the church was that James saw on display. He saw a divided church. James experienced ongoing hostility, mixed with brief outbursts of antagonism.
What was feeding this quarrelsomeness spirit? People were going to church for the wrong reason. A “MeFirst” attitude driving their attendance. Members were not there to help the church and advance the mission of Christ, but to advance themselves. Each wanted to be known as somebody. Each was seeking his or her own good instead of the good of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Their lust for notoriety led them to ‘murder’ one another. Things didn’t get to the actual level, but the deep hatred led to inward murder.
Can you imagine being in such a spiritual setting? Maybe you can. It is possible you are or were in one and that has turned you off to Christianity. A church filled with anger and strife lacks the credibility to preach the gospel. It invalidates its own message. How can you ask those unconnected, disengaged members of society, ‘Come to church and meet a Savior who will change your life’ and see believers behave in such a godless manner? My response would be “no thanks, I see how it has changed you. I will pass.”
Jesus simplified the commandments for us on the night he was betrayed.
34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”John 13
Next week we pick up the other issue in James chapter four, looking at the absence of a prayer life. And we will conclude this series with the issue of worldliness and what is the pathway back for the church. Stay tuned.
More on this series on the Book of James:
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The Christian "movers and shakers" from past centuries have a lot of relevant things to say to us today!