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JAMES 4: 1-10
1 ¶ What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James’ letter was written to Jewish Christians living in Gentile communities outside Palestine. He is also writing to Christians everywhere. His letters are full of practical, no-nonsense advice. His style is direct and does not hold back in telling them their failings and what they must do to correct their behaviour.
He sees that they are arguing and they desire pleasures they cannot get. Jesus tells us we should be in the world, but not of the world. And that, it seems, is what they are doing. James says there is only one answer, they need to turn from their worldly ways and follow God. We cannot choose two masters, God and the world. Just as we were told at the beginning of the pandemic, what your hands while singing “Happy Birthday to you” twice to get rid of the virus, James is using the metaphor to emphasize how we must wash sin right out of our lives. Ensuring that we do not catch Covid-19 is a good way to think about making sure we do not sin. We can be vaccinated by the Holy Spirit but it still requires us to keep vigilant and to avoid the places and actions that lead us to sin.
Resist the devil, says James, and he will flee from you. When we truly decide that sin has not place in our lives, then we can start to turn from it. It keeps coming back to tempt us and the only way to resist it is with God’s help. I cannot do this on my own. I have to humble myself before God and admit that I need help, every day. The wonderful line, expressed poetically in the Authorised version, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”
In verse 3, James explains to them why their prayers are not being answered. They are asking for the wrong things. That is because they are not listening to God. Their prayers are a one-way conversation, “I want this”, instead of “Lord, tell me what you want from me.” How many times in our lives do we pray with the wrong motives? Have a listen to yourself when you pray. Is this really what God wants me to pray? Then listen (it may take some time in silence!) for God to tell you what he wants you to pray. You may find that God is more concerned with your attitude and your life choices than what you want him to do for you.
COLLECT for week day after the Day of Pentecost
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.