It was the sixth century in Ireland when the war is said to have first broke. In what might be one of the first cases of copyright origins, its subject was not an idea or an MP3 or even a movie download. Instead, the fight began over a copy of the book of Psalms and it ended in literal war.
St. Columba was an Irish missionary and one of the so-called Twelve Apostles of Ireland who studied under St. Finnian. Columba was a man who was known for his devout and constant prayer and study. Over the course of his life, it has been estimated that he wrote over 300 volumes―all by hand. So, it wasn’t an abnormal request when Columba asked to borrow Finnian’s copy of the psalters. Yet, at the same time, this was no ordinary book of Psalms. It was the first to reach Ireland―the only copy within the nation at the time. And, Columba had intentions to do more than just study this one-and-only copy of the psalters. He wanted to reproduce the work by hand for his own personal collection.
When Finnian found out, he accused Columba of illegal copying―ultimately, of theft itself―and demanded that Columba hand over his copy. Unable to resolve their differences, the matter was brought before the king who decreed, “To every cow belongs its calf; to every book its copy.” The copy, then, belonged to Finnian and Columba must hand it over.
However, the disagreement didn’t end there. The arguments escalated. The offenses compounded. Factions were created. War was declared. And, the result is what is now known as the Battle of the Book where an estimated 3,000 men were killed and Columba was ultimately exiled. All over a copy of the book that teaches us unprecedented grace.
Some 1,500 years later, my wife and I decided to buy our first home. It was a beautiful summer night and, honestly, I just wanted to relax and not do anything. That’s when I hear from the kitchen, “Cameron, there’s an ant in the kitchen.” “Okay,” I responded, thinking why don’t you just kill it. Again, I hear, “No, there’s like several ants.” “Okay,” I responded a bit more agitated, careful not to move an inch. I think it was on the third mention of the unwanted insects that I felt my comfort and my night of relaxation threatened and I responded accordingly. I honestly don’t remember all that was said that night other than it involved me sarcastically asking if I should go to the ant store at 11:00 p.m. and buy all of the ant killer because we apparently had an epidemic on our hands that just couldn’t wait until the morning. You don’t have to be married to understand that didn’t work out well for me.
It’s amazing how easy it was for an argument over the Scriptures to erode into a bloody war or how some unwelcome insects dissolved into sarcastic and personal attacks. Yet, these stories are things we can unfortunately identify with because every single one of us has been engaged in some sort of fight or quarrel. And, not just that but every facet of our lives has been touched by conflict―our spouses, our children, our jobs, our friendships, our neighborhoods, our nation. Some of you can’t even drive down the street without screaming at another car! And this morning, as we continue our series on the book of James, we find ourselves entrenched in an early Church conflict. I find it interesting that one of the earliest books of the New Testament already had to remind the Church how to conduct themselves
FIGHTING MAN: THEM’S FIGHTING WORDS
So, we read in James 4:1-2, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 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.” The opening of James 4 makes it quite evident that fights and quarrels had settled into the early Church from its very beginning. And, while some of our fights are birthed out of legitimate wrongdoings and sins, James warns us that often our fights are birthed entirely out of a disordered heart.
And, remember, we learned from our first chapter that we’re dealing with a persecuted Church. We’re encountering a Church that is against tremendous opposition and oppression from the outside. But, James understood the need to stop and evaluate the conflict and oppression that came from inside their very own church. So, he asks, “What causes these fights?” And, he arrives to the conclusion that it’s not something going on around you; it’s something going on inside of you. It’s not so much about the circumstances as it is about your heart. And, immediately, I sense within myself a defensive attitude. I want to tell James, “I’m not the problem; the other person is the problem. They wronged me. I’m justified in behaving this way.” But, James tells us that our conflicts have to do with our passions at war within us. This Greek word for passion, or maybe your translation says desire, is where we get our word hedonism. Simply put, hedonism can be defined as this philosophy that views our pleasures, or our own self-gratification, as the chief goal in life. Wasn’t that Columba’s problem? Wasn’t that my problem on that summer night? I wanted to be left alone and not just something―but someone―stood in the way of what I desired.
It’s not something going on around you; it’s something going on inside of you.
And, that’s the problem with such, even subtle, thoughts. They cause us to view the people around us as obstacles to our agenda, to our comfort, to our way of living and it stops us from knowing them as our brothers and sisters and as fellow recipients of the grace of God. They become a people who are just in our way instead of people who also need to know the Way. Pastor and author J.D. Greear puts it this way: “Me issues always lead to we issues.” It begins within your own heart, but it quickly and easily infects those around you. This is because what’s inside of you will come out of you and impact those around you. And, because of this reality, it is so tempting for us to simply tend to the we issue and never address the issue that is me. So, James reminds us that we fight with one another and negatively impact each other because there was first negativity within us.
What’s inside of you will come out of you and impact those around you.
And, he’s so serious about this that he calls us murderers. You murder one another. There’s blood on your hands because of the things you have said and because of how you have treated one another. Again, I sense my defensive spirit awakening. I mean, that’s a little strong, don’t you think? I haven’t killed anyone! Not even close! But, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us, “You have heard it 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; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). James isn’t saying the early Church was committing homicide, but he is reminding us of his older brother’s words: long-standing anger against someone is indeed a violation of the sixth commandment because what is inside of you is so much more dangerous than what’s going on around you. You’re not to assassinate the other person’s character. You’re not to insult them. To do so is to, in essence, be a murderer. It’s the same heart motivation. It’s the same malice and hatred and divisiveness.
So, this morning, I want to challenge you to ask yourself, “Am I more apt to see the shortcomings in others or the strengths in others? Am I more apt to identify where someone needs to grow up or am I more apt to celebrate what God is actively doing in their lives?” You see, we must remember that your opponent is not your greatest enemy. Paul instructs us in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We have been fighting with other men and so distracting ourselves from the greater fight. There is a greater battle than the present fight; there is a battle over the hearts and souls of men. But, our issues often blind us to the fact that the very person we are fighting is the same person who is just as in need of the grace of God as we ourselves are. So, in his pastoral way, James admonishes us to stop fighting one another―to guard our words―to find our common need of grace.
FIGHTING GOD: FIGHTING A LOSING BATTLE
James so realizes the danger of the church fighting against one another and being malicious toward each other that he continues to demonstrate that these fights amongst ourselves are symptomatic of another greater fight. So, he continues in verse three, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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.” You see, that hedonistic heart has not only affected our relationships with one another, but it has further separated us from God. We treat one another poorly because we have a poor view of God. And, this has affected the way we approach Him and the things for which we pray. This is the crux of James 4―our misplaced affections. Our conflicts with one another are not because we don’t love each other enough; it’s because we don’t love God enough.
Just as we tend to view people as either obstacles to our agenda or tools we can use, we approach God like He is some kind of cosmic vending machine. James is pointing out that the way we often approach God in prayer is so that He will meet our needs, our wants, our desires and that somehow, then, our deepest and fullest pleasures would be met. But, our life ought to chase after a much more glorious pleasure―the pleasure of doing the will of God and being involved in this mission of advancing His Kingdom. If we ask for things from this life and not from God―if we are asking to achieve our will and not His―then we are asking wrongly. And, James interjects another harsh word; he calls us an adulterous people. These passions within us make us murderers and adulterers. I can understand why he calls us murderers, but why adulterers? Why that word? I believe James is emphasizing that we have betrayed God and broken our promise to Him in a deeply personal way.
Simply defined, adultery is giving love meant for someone to another. And, we have given the love that was reserved for the Lord only and thrown it away on the pursuit of our worldly passions. Romans 1:25 captures this in saying, “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” The passions within us are intrinsically drawn toward creation and not the Creator. It’s not that we have just broken some law or commandment; we have broken the very heart of God in our act of betrayal. But, in case you needed to be reminded of this this morning, there is a God who cares deeply for you. So, at the same time, our actions are like the weight of one who has cheated against Him. Our entitlement has become our lover, and so we are all adulterers.
And, the danger is that we can often convince ourselves that we have been seeking the will of God this entire time. We justify our pursuit of created things by their merit and value. We convince ourselves that these are good things! But, author and pastor Paul David Tripp rightly points out, “The desire for even a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing.” We fight against God because we don’t understand His thoughts or His actions or even, at times, His inactions. And, because there are passions at war within us, when they go unmet, we war against God. We turn to entertainment to numb us instead of His Word. We turn to unwise counsel instead of His voice. We actively walk away from Him and into the the arms of our love affair with the world. And, in time, we become overwhelmed by fighting the losing battle.
It was in 1926 when James J. Braddock first entered the boxing ring. He quickly became known for his strong right hook which helped him overwhelm his competition at each and every opportunity. And, after three years of boxing, his record stood at an impressive 44 wins with 21 knockouts and just two losses. Then, on July 18, 1929, Braddock finally had the opportunity to fight against Tommy Loughran for the heavyweight champion title. But, Loughran had studied his competition and masterfully learned to dodge Braddock’s powerful right hook throughout the fight. After a long 15 rounds, the judges decided that the title would remain with Tommy Loughran. Braddock lost the belt; but, in reality, he would lose more than just that heavyweight title.
At that moment, Braddock’s career turned for the worse, winning just 11 of his next 33 fights. Furthermore, just two months after his championship loss, the stock market would crash and usher in the Great Depression. Fights were difficult to come by and his losing record was of no help. From fighting in front of tens of thousands in Madison Square Garden, Braddock was now fighting small contenders in small clubs of just a few hundred. Even then, he fractured that strong right hand and decided it was time to retire from the sport. He was left with no job and no money and no fight.
Without an education, Braddock searched for any work he could find to support his family of three kids. He would often walk the three miles to the docks to see if there was work unloading the railroad ties. If not, he would walk another two miles into West New York, looking for work. It wasn’t abnormal for James Braddock to walk 10-12 miles a day and return home with no work. It was nine months since his last fight when his manager announced he had secured Braddock a big ticket fight against Corn Griffin. It was a paying fight. And, although Braddock was picked to be an easy win for Griffin, Braddock pummeled his opponent in the arena. The tide began to the turn. Braddock would win a few more fights and then the opportunity came again. He had a chance to fight for the heavyweight title against Max Baer. In the 2005 blockbuster, Cinderella Man, we see a private conversation between Braddock and his wife before the big fight.
No matter the amount of training Braddock went through before the big fight, he still had to remember who he was. And, I want you to catch this back in our passage this morning. At this point in James 4, my heart hurts because it’s like looking in a mirror. In our selfish ambition, we are men and women who have fought against those around us and the God who loves us. Our passions and desires have made us murderers and adulterers. It feels like we are fighting a losing battle; so, at this point, what are we to do? James has used strong language to rebuke the Church so far. But, at this point, he doesn’t say, “How dare you? What’s wrong with you?” Instead, James turns our attention to the faithful and unfailing love of God and asks, “Don’t you realize who you are?” James 4:5 reads, ”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’?” He’s reminding the Church that they are a people by the grace of God who are objects of His eternal and unfailing love. Church, don’t you realize who you are? You are:
- Complete in His power (Colossians 2:10);
- You are alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5);
- You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
- You are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19);
- You are free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2);
- You are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10);
- You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17);
- You are the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13);
- You are part of a chosen generation (1 Peter 2:9);
- You are called (Psalm 66:8);
- You are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).
Friends, you are loved by God. And, I know it’s difficult for us to wrap our minds around this reality because James is right. Our hearts are so overcome with other passions and desires that war against God. But, then, Pastor James comes forward with one of the most profound statements in Scripture. James 4:6 says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” What is God’s response to our murderous and malicious hearts toward one another? What is God’s response to our rebellion, betrayal, adultery, and hostility directed toward Him? What is His response to our friendship with the world? He gives us more grace! And, praise God! He hasn’t abandoned us. He hasn’t rejected us. He continues to make a way for us to be made new and to be restored. Paul echoed this amazing statement in Romans 5:20, where we read, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” No matter how great our passion and love has been for this world, God’s passion and love for us is stronger. And, when you’re losing the battle, there is a jealous God fighting ferociously for you.
But, He calls us to humble ourselves this morning, to repent of our worldly passions, and to respond to His grace. If we fail to humble ourselves, we’ll miss it. We’ll miss who we are. We’ll miss who the people around us are in Christ. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” So, James calls us to humble ourselves so that we can properly see God for who He is. And, in seeing who He is, we might remember who we are. And, in remembering who we are, we might remember who those around us are, too. His grace is deeper than any war of our heart.
A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.C.S. Lewis
FIGHTING SIN: A FIGHTING CHANCE
Now, at this point, you might be wondering about that James Braddock and Max Baer fight. What happened after his wife’s inspirational speech? Braddock was still going into the fight as a 10-to-1 underdog. And, not only that, but Max Baer (who, in the video behind me, is wearing the shorts with the star of David) had such a hard punch that he had literally been held responsible for two other boxers’ deaths already. At the same time, Baer hardly trained for Braddock. James, on the other hand, secluded himself in the Catskill Mountains to undergo a training camp that the press affectionately dubbed “Homicide Hall.” And, though Braddock will never be considered one of the greatest boxers, what he lacked in skill he made up for in resolution. And, on June 13, 1935, Braddock decisively won the Heavyweight Championship of the World in what was called “the greatest fistic upset” at that point in history. One contemporary newspaper described the fight this way: “Serene was Braddock and unafraid. There was about him an inspiring calmness that transcended his ability.” Remembering who you are―remembering Whose you are―and focusing on the right fight makes all the difference. So, if we are not to be fighting against one another or against God, what is the right fight? What is our training regimen to be?
James tells us in the following verses: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7-10). See, this morning’s message isn’t meant to tell you to stop fighting entirely. In all of our lives, there are battles that we must fight, win, and win them decisively. But, that battle is not against one another. That battle is certainly not against God. James has spent this chapter showing us that we must fight against the passions that are at war within our hearts. Then, he gives us our training camp.
First, we must submit ourselves to God. In just a few moments, we are going to open these altars, and you’re going to have a chance to respond. And, I want to be clear that this instruction is not just for the person who has never prayed such a prayer. This is for each and every one of us to once again submit our will and agenda to His will and agenda. Remember, to gain a proper view of God, we must humble ourselves.
Then, we must resist the devil. Assemblies of God Superintendent George O. Wood says, “You can always tell the difference between the voice of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the devil. The voice of the devil will leave you with no hope and feeling worthless. The Holy Spirit may convict you of things you’ve done wrong, but He’ll give you an out.” We must be ever-watchful and vigilant against Satan’s schemes and distractions. How did Jesus resist Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness? Through the Gospel. He knew the difference between the word of God and the word of Satan. And, in that, we find yet another amazing promise: if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.
We’re told to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. We have to bring our sins before the Lord in confession. We read in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You cannot cleanse and purify yourself, but the Lord is always faithful to do so. We must learn to take the sins of our words, our actions, and, yes, even our thoughts so much more seriously. Which leads us to the fourth (and perhaps most surprising step in our training regimen).
We’re told to mourn. When is the last time your sin has caused you to weep? When is the last time your own brokenness has caused you to mourn? I am convinced if we truly understood the depths of our murderous and adulterous hearts that James is talking about, we would have no other response. We cannot remain complacent in our sin. And, it is as we confess our sin, mourn our rebellion, and humble ourselves that an amazing thing happens. The Lord exalts you. The sorrow of your transgression is replaced by the joy of His grace.
You see, the key to winning this fight is not our strength. It’s not even about us at all. Remember what we observed at the beginning of this morning’s message. There is not an area of our lives that remains untouched by conflict. These worldly passions surface in every facet of our lives. So, as you have a chance to respond this morning. I want to encourage you to come forward; training camp begins now with our submission to the will of God. Your marriages need you to come. Your workplace needs you to come. Your friends need you to come. Your family needs you to come. And, as you draw near to Him, James promises He will draw near to you. James promises us that whatever condition that we come to Him in that He is faithful to respond with more grace. So, this morning, as the band comes to lead us in this song, may its words become our prayer as we humbly submit our will and declare that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our lives. And may our hope no longer rest on our passions and desires but only in the name of Jesus Christ. This morning, come.
There was a moment in the Old Testament where the Israelites were being pursued by their enemies. They were caught in a battle for their lives when they came up against the Red Sea. They looked up and saw the Egyptians marching toward them and Scripture says they feared greatly. The Israelites were mad at Moses from bringing them into the desert and they were upset with God for seemingly leaving them to die. But, Exodus 14:14 delivers us a powerful reminder. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Moses was not their enemy. God certainly was not their enemy. And, God wasn’t simply trying to deliver them from their physical bondage in Egypt. He desired to deliver them from their spiritual bondage in their own hearts. And, the people of Israel would not win that battle because of anything they would say or do but simply because of who the Lord is. This morning, there are some of you in the throes of conflict. May we be vigilant first in warring against the worldly passions in our own hearts. May we be humbled and broken by our own transgressions. And, may we show grace to others even in our conflict, as God has abundantly shown grace to us.