We’re in our 4th week of a sermon series on the book of James called “Friendship with God.”
Have you heard of “the Five Love Languages?” The idea comes from a book by Gary Chapman, and it’s frequently used with married couples or couples about to get married. The basic idea is that everyone has one or more primary ways in which they receive love, and the person that you’re trying to show love to will only truly receive love if you speak their love language. Gary Chapman, has determined out of his experience, that there are 5 love languages:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
A speaker at a conference (I was at)/[Pastor Chris and I were at] this week brought this up, and he said “Did you know that God has a love language? God’s love language is obedience.” The way that God receives love the most is through obedience. That’s an interesting idea, but is it biblical?
In John chapter 14, Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.”
In the next chapter he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In the book of James, the concept of friendship with God comes up twice, directly. The first time is in James chapter 2, when James is talking about how Abraham was called a “friend of God” because he was willing to offer up his son Isaac at the command of God, although, of course, God stopped him before he did it. The second is in the passage we read this morning.
As the Common English Bible says: “Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.”
James has tough words, doesn’t he? That’s part of the reason why, [at my church], we’ve spent the last 3 weeks talking about this concept of friendship with God. James wants to get all up in our business and challenge the way we live. But he does it so that we can be encouraged to be Christians through and through. He wants us to follow Jesus with every part of who we are, and we’ve been seeing that play out in this whole series on James. Jesus wants our actions, Jesus wants our words, and today, Jesus wants our ambitions and desires. Jesus wants nothing less than our complete obedience. He rarely gets our complete obedience, but that doesn’t change the reality that Jesus wants and expects nothing less.
All of this has led me to believe that, in fact, the sole marker of friendship with God is obedience. The aim of Christianity isn’t to go to heaven when you die, even though we do have the hope that when we die we’ll go to be with Jesus. The aim of Christianity is actually to become like Jesus– living a life of perfect love toward God and towards others, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re not talking about being saved by the skin of our teeth. We’re talking about aiming so much higher; aiming for actual friendship with God.
It seems that James is pretty clear about one thing: we must choose our aim in life. Are we going to seek after the things of the world, or are we going to seek after God?
As far as I can tell, the entire point of James’s letter is that he wants his readers to be Christians through and through. He wants them to be friends with God. That’s why he’s going to call us out on all the places where we’re what he calls “double-minded,” where we’ve got one foot in the door and one foot out.
And so I’d like to look at today’s passage through the lens of just a few phrases that come in verse 7 and 8 of James chapter 4.
This is how it reads in the Common English Bible:
“(1) Therefore, submit to God. (2) Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. (And 3) Come near to God, and he will come near to you”
First he says, “Submit to God.”
We usually don’t want to submit to anyone. Why is that? Well, it offends our pride, doesn’t it? But Jesus’ message was a message of the arrival of what? Of the Kingdom of God. We don’t like that image either these days, because we know that a Kingdom means being under the authority of a king. And like the rest of the book of James, James says submit to God because, well, Jesus said to submit to God.
So why don’t we submit to God? I think that it’s because we like things our way, plain and simple. We’ve made it through life this far without really submitting to God, and so we think, I guess I’m ok.
We also tend to be scared, don’t we? It seems like this big unknown. We think, “What will God call me to do if I submit?”
In my own life, the uncertainty actually hasn’t been the problem. It’s been the certainty. For many years, I knew God was calling me to be a pastor. I wanted the blessings of being a Christian while maintaining control over my life. I was double-minded, which is just a nice way to say disobedient.
I actually think that most people are the same way. They’re not scared to submit because of the uncertainty, but because they know the cost. Many, many people actually do count the cost, and the decide that it’s not worth it. They’re wrong, in a similar way, actually, to the way that my college roommate was wrong when he chose to play video games instead of going to class. To choose a temporary pleasure over a life-long or even eternal gain is foolish.
So, either Jesus is Lord of our lives or he isn’t. If Jesus isn’t king in our hearts, something else is.
But there is indeed a level of uncertainty when it comes to submitting to God. Submitting to God means being open to God messing with our lives. If you let your defenses down, you might find that the Holy Spirit will begin to convict you about things in your life that need to change. And then before you know it, you’ll find yourself needing to apologize to someone you’ve mistreated, or to ask God for forgiveness for something. You might find God calling you to spend less money so that you can be more generous. You might find God telling you to get involved with a new program at church. God might convict you that you need to stop your favorite pastime of bitterness and gossip. Or, yes, God might call you to go to some dangerous country to spread the good news of Jesus– or worse, become a pastor!
That might all sound very difficult, but submitting to God is actually the epitome of true wisdom. Because every step of obedience brings the blessing of friendship with God, or if it doesn’t offend your sensibilities too much, it brings intimacy with God.
It’s not that much of a leap to see that there are two types of wisdom: wisdom that comes from God and wisdom that comes from the world.
And that’s exactly what James talks about before he says “Therefore, submit to God.” He talks about wisdom that comes from above, which we might call Godly wisdom, and then he talks about wisdom that is “from the earth,” which he says is “natural” and “demonic.”
In other words, the things that God teaches aren’t what the world teaches.
Have you ever known a Christian who is just really… different? Someone who is weird, if you’re feeling uncharitable, but in a sort of compelling way that made you stop and say, “I could never be like that…” or at least “Maybe I could be like that but I don’t think I want to?” Earthly wisdom is different from God’s wisdom.
James says that earthly wisdom is always about selfish ambition. It’s always about bitterness and jealousy. You see someone that has something that you want, and you’re not only jealous for the thing itself, but you’re actually bitter against them because they have it and you don’t. James says that type of life motivation might be common, but it’s not from God. In fact, he says, it’s really from the devil.
The Evil One holds out pleasure and self-gratification, which are always fun and enticing, but they never actually satisfy.
I remember having a conversation with an engineering friend a few years ago about MSG, the food additive, that’s in lots of yummy snacks like Cheetos and Doritos. I asked him why they add it… what taste does it add? He said it tastes like, “eat more!”
Going with the wisdom of the world is like living off of MSG. Every bite seems like it should be satisfying, but it just makes you want more. And that’s really what the devil wants. He wants you to be consumed with earthly cravings so that you don’t even notice your appetite for God.
The devil seems to ask for nothing, when in fact he just gives nothing. God, on the other hand, asks for everything, but he gives more than we could ever even imagine: God’s very presence. Jesus requires our submission, but in return, he gives the best gift: fellowship with the Father by the Holy Spirit. Friendship with God. Intimacy with God. Jesus describes this in John’s Gospel as a fountain of living water– an endless and abundant source of live in all its fullness. God doesn’t promise a problem-free existence, but God does promise that he will never leave you or forsake you; that you’ll be strengthened and helped along the way.
One of the great benefits of being friends with God is that you get to be an insider on God’s plans. Jesus says, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
Just think about it! The God of the universe, who created everything that is visible and invisible, wants little old you and little old me in on his plans.
“Therefore, submit yourselves to God,” James says.
James gives tips on how to accomplish this. He says, “Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.”
Submitting to God means resisting the allure of sin and the lies of the devil. Sometimes we make a big deal out of resisting the devil. But really, all we need is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to withstand the temptation of the devil in the desert, and that same Holy Spirit dwells in every Christian. Usually all we need to do to resist the devil is to glance toward Jesus and ask for help. The devil is lazy and wants easy pickings, so he’ll run away from you when you call in reinforcements.
Then James says, “Come near to God, and God will come near to you.” If that were the only advice, we’d probably be left saying, “right, but how do I do that?” The reality is that it’s actually impossible to draw near to God without submitting to God, because submitting to God is how we draw near to God. Disobedience is sin, plain and simple, and sin creates a barrier between us and God.
Only when we’ve submitted to Jesus and received forgiveness from our sins do we have peace with God. Only then can we cease to be friends with the world and begin to be friends with God.
This is what Jesus offers to us. We can have it our own way and find ourselves always trying to hide the emptiness on the inside, or we can have it God’s way, and be filled with all the fullness of God. The choice is yours, because God values your will. But the choice is obvious.
So may you receive the grace to submit yourself to God. May you look to Jesus, so that you can resist the devil and scare him away. And may you draw near to God through obedience, and find that God has drawn near to you. Amen.