These people James is writing to are people in the church.
They are people who James has been calling to have undivided loyalty to the things of God…
But they aren’t pulling this off very well.
There seems to be some pretty major conflict.
We don’t know what it is and we don’t really need to guess
Because James is addressing the hearts of these Christians.
And he’s calling them out for dividing their loyalty between God and something that isn’t of God.
James addresses the fact that they are asking God for certain things and they aren’t getting what they want. And because one person is praying for something and not getting it…and then seeing that someone else in the community might be satisfied in some way…envy is present.
And James points out that the prayers of an envious person are messed up. Because the prayers of someone who envies and wishes the destruction of good in someone else’s life are not pure prayers that desire God’s desires.
Basically, James says, you are praying to God to give you something that you lust for or desire for your own pleasure…but those lusts and pleasures are not within the scope of God’s desires for you. Especially when the pleasure you seek includes the pain of another person.
And then he hits us with another really hard phrase.
You adulterers! Don’t you know friendship with the world is enmity with God! Don’t you know that if you are a friend of the world you are God’s enemy.
If the wind wasn’t knocked out of James’ readers before…
What’s with the Adultery stuff?
James is using this notion from the prophets that God, when God established a covenant with God’s people, entered a marriage relationship with God’s people. And the church today, according to the New Testament, is considered the bride of Christ.
God married us. We are married to God.
And James calls the readers Adulterers because they are seeking things that are detrimental to the marriage relationship
They have been stepping out on God.
They have been cheating on God
But the crazy thing is they have been asking God to ordain these envious motives by praying to God and saying
“Give me the things that ultimately destroy the health of our marriage.” And then they get all mad when God says, “I’m not going to give you something that will ruin our relationship.”
But here’s the good news!
God gives grace to those who are humble.
Right there…immediately after these really intense words James says
Even though we’ve been a bad spouse, God is ready and willing to pour out all kinds of grace to help us get back into healthy headspace
So we can have a good marriage.
So we can really truly be fulfilled and at peace and…happy.
So…how does this happen?
James says we’ve got to humble ourselves and submit to God.
Now the word used in English…submit…is a really passive word.
You get this notion…especially when you hear it at weddings…Oh that means the one who agrees to submit has to become this weakling who just says yes to whatever the other person wants.
And while James in no way is saying that we don’t have to simply say “yes” to God…what James intends with the word we translate “submit” is that we become people who actively engage in the things that make the relationship between God and the church healthy.
We enlist join in the activity of making the relationship beautiful.
And the fact is, God has set up all of the stuff that will bring about that beauty. All the talk of God’s laws in James simply points to the fact that God knows what we need to be people who thrive in this relationship…God knows what we need to be who we were created to be.
That’s why we can’t seek wisdom from sources that aren’t God
Those sources don’t provide us with what we need to be who we are meant to be.
It’s only when we draw near to God
And we come humbly saying, “Yes we agree God that you have set things up in a way that will bring peace and hope to our lives.”
It’s only then that we will avoid all this envy and horrific stuff that James is warning his readers against.
This humble submission stuff is really just a call to a deliberately cultivated fellowship between God and the church. And that means a deliberately cultivated fellowship between us as members of this church.
So we are called as a church to deliberately and actively be in the marriage. We don’t just say, “Yes, honey, I won’t go out and flirt with other people…I’ll stay here and sit around so you know where I am.” No we say, “Yes, I know that I’ve gone out and been unfaithful, but I am here…I am part of this. I am going to join in the health of this relationship…and I’m not just going to sit around. I’m going to love you back…and even though I can’t even come close to the kind of love you have shown me…I’m going to show you that I do love you and I do want to work towards making you happy.”
As a faith community, we get to practice this every week. When we come to worship, we don’t come as people who simply desire to get filled up with whatever inspiration we can find and then be on our way.
We don’t come here to engage in some one sided observervation experience. We actively engage. And we engage humbly…as people who really do revere our spouse Jesus Christ.
If ever you’ve been in a relationship…and been in love…you know those moments when your partner walks through the door and you feel your gut drop…because not only does he or she look good, but you, in a moment realize that they are it. What they stand for. How they carry themselves. How they smell. How they laugh. How they know just how to talk to you to calm you down or lift you up…or even put you in your place. And you stand in awe. And you say, I’m going to be in this…right here and right now…and I’m going to lift this person up too. And I’m going to say sorry if I screw up. And I’m going to receive his or her forgiveness, because I know she means it when she says “I love you still”
And we’re going to listen to his hopes and dreams and his invitation into making those hopes and dreams a reality. And I’m going to give of myself to her. Because I want her to have all of what I got.
And I’m going to eat the food he prepares for me…because he’s the best cook…because he is mine and I am his…and breaking bread together isn’t just filling, it’s somehow spiritual and more important than when I eat in front of the television.
That’s what we want to cultivate in worship. That’s what God wants to bring us in worship. This interwoven and interlocked love affair that can never be matched.