Today, I’m excited to introduce you to two more devotion writers – Mark and Gretchen Potma. Mark and Gretchen are church planters who minister in Prague, Czech Republic. They are currently on home assignment in Windsor (Mark’s home town), living with their four young adult children. LSA first sent a summer team to help with their English camp in 2008 and has been partnering with them ever since.
Mark and Gretchen will be taking us through chapter 4 of James. The next two days are written by Gretchen. (Mark will do the final two days.) – Audrey
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?”
You might have started to notice by chapter 4 of James that there are a lot of commands and not as much explanation of doctrine as there is in some of the other epistles. Maybe it’s starting to feel like a “to do” list that you can’t ever get done. It might be helpful and heartening to think about the context and setting for the letter. Picture that you are a new believer in Jesus, in the first century, meeting with other believers. You want to know how God wants you to live and how to handle different problems that have come up in your fellowship. Perhaps there have been some tensions between the richer and poorer people in your congregation, or discussions about the church’s responsibility to take care of widows and orphans, or what to do about people whose tongues are stirring up trouble. Looking at the first few verses of chapter 4, it’s obvious there has been some quarrelling going on in the churches scattered around. Where would you turn for help?
It’s worth repeating that James was a pillar of the early church in Jerusalem, with the apostles like Peter and Paul coming to him for advice and approval. He would have been respected by those who were receiving this letter as a wise elder. It’s also worth thinking about where his wisdom came from. We can assume from his background as a Jew in the first century that he would have been memorizing the Old Testament Scriptures all his life. He was Jesus’ younger brother, and even though we know he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah all along, he would have spent a lot of time with Jesus and we can imagine that he heard him teaching many times (And just a side comment, we can also imagine the regret he must have felt for all the time he wasted not listening to Jesus with the ears of a believer). Do any of the words of James sound like something Jesus said? When you read James does it sound like he had spent time with Jesus?
On the subject of fights and quarrels in the church, James writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder”. Remember what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5: 21 – 22)
James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask”. What did Jesus say? “Ask and you shall receive.” (Matt. 7:7)
James warns that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24)
James says to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Do you think he might be remembering what Jesus told him about his forty days in the wilderness? And when James writes those pessimistic-sounding commands “Be wretched and mourn and weep,” does it help us swallow them a little more easily to think of Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”? Matt. 5: 4)
One commentary on the book of James (TheBibleProject.com) points out that the goal of James isn’t to teach new theological information, but “to get into your business and challenge how you live.” We’ve already felt that in the first three chapters. His frequent rhetorical questions make us—or should make us–stop and look in the mirror (and not at once forget what we are like):
Verse 1: What is causing quarrels and fights? In my home and extended family, in my church or Bible study group. There are plenty of possibilities for differing opinions these days.
Are my desires at war within me? I want to stand up for truth as a Christian, but I also don’t want my neighbours to think badly of me.
Verse 4: Do I really comprehend that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Media choices and how I use my time are obvious areas of soul-searching with this question.
Verse 5: Has it sunk into my inner being that the Spirit which God has made to dwell within me jealously yearns for the full devotion of my heart? James used the word adulterous purposely. The commentator William Barclay wrote, “It reminds us that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow. It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife. It means that when we sin, we break God’s heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.”