These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
If someone were to ask you, “Why do you argue so much?” or “Why do you give people the silent treatment? Or yell at people? When people disagree with you or upset you why do you try to manipulate them, twist things around, and even use deception, lies, half-truths, or to emotionally manipulate them in order to get what you want? The question is, “Why do you argue with others?” and “What type of person are you when you argue with them?”
James 4:1 begins with this question, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” (NLT). He answers the question by letting us know it comes from our “evil desires” that are driven by selfishness. Out of jealousy or envy or greed we want something and if we don’t get it we start saying and doing things that don’t honor God, others, or ourselves. We want someone’s time, attention, money, or we want them to start doing something or stop doing something and if we don’t get the results we want we start lying, deceiving, yelling, giving silent treatments, playing mind games or emotional games with them in order to get what we think we deserve.
By the time you get to verse 7, God’s Word shifts from diagnosing the problems to giving us a solution. In order to move away from the quarreling, fighting, and arguing you are told do something that is transformational and life changing at multiple levels. So look carefully at what James 4:7 says, So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor (NLT).
From that we see four significant actions we need to take to move from being an argumentative person to being a peaceful person.
Resign: I need to surrender myself to God
First, I need to surrender myself to God. You need to give up trying to control everything and everyone. You need to quit placing you at the center of everything. James 4:7 says it this way, “So humble yourselves before God” (NLT).
One of the reasons why you argue with your parents, argue with your spouse, argue with your children, argue with people at work and argue with family is because you have an aggressive attitude. You respond to criticism in a combative way. When you receive criticism you go on the attack. When you disagree with someone you become bossy, pushy, and harsh. Your aggressive responses to people can be sharp and hurtful. Adding unnecessary fuel to a small fire in a relationship.
This aggressive and argumentative attitude comes from those “evil desires” that James mentioned back in verse 1. So instead of having this aggressive, combative, and sometimes arrogant attitude James says, “Humble yourselves before God” (NLT).
This word “humble” (hupotasso) means to submit. It means to yield, obey, and to surrender. You humbly resign to the fact that God is right in how to handle disagreements and arguments. You resign to the fact that God is correct when He says we are to be patient with each other, forgiving each other, loving one another, enduring one another and allowing for each other’s faults.
When you humble and submit yourself to God you are removing that aggressive and arrogant attitude with a yielding, quiet, and understanding attitude. When you are listening to others out of humility, speaking out of humility, responding out of humility it is near impossible to be aggressive, sharp, and unnecessarily offensive.
2 Timothy 2:24 says, “God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener… who keeps cool” (MSG). When you are not humble, you are not operating in the power of God but in the power of you. When you humble yourself before God you are submitting yourself to His way of doing relationships and treating people and engaging with them.
Resist: I need to defend myself against the devil
Second, I need to defend myself against the devil. You need to resist the temptation to get the first word and the last word. You will need to fight the urge to say or do something that unnecessarily hurts others just to prove your point, win an argument, or to get what you want. You need to defend yourself against Satan’s attack. James 4:7 says it like this, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (NLT).
Behind the desires we allow to go wrong is the devil’s influence and strategies. The devil loves to see people argue, fight, quarrel, give each other the silent treatment or verbally abuse each other. He enjoys watching God’s people snap at their children in irritation. He loves to see Christian men and women argue. Satan takes joy in that. God wants us to resist the devil.
The word “resist” (antistete) is a war term. It’s a military term. It means to be prepared to stand against. It means to withstand the attack. It is a defensive word. This comes across clearly in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack. But you must resist the devil and stay strong in your faith. You know that all over the world the Lord’s followers are suffering just as you are” (vs. 8-9, CEV). As a follower of Jesus you never have to pick a fight with the devil, because the devil is always looking to start a fight.
The devil wants to destroy your marriage, your relationship with your children, your church, and any other relationships you and I have. One of the ways he does this, is he gets people to arguing, creating conflict and division. Resist the devil and he will flee. Listen, the devil will eventually quit knocking on a door that doesn’t open.
Repent: I need to change the way I see my sin
Third, I need to change the way I see my sin. Take a look at verse 8, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy” (NLT). Let’s break this down in bite size pieces.
James says, Come close to God, and God will come close to you. The very fact that we are commanded to “come close to God” should teach us a very clear lesson, and that is that we have a constant need to do so. It is possible to go to a great church, read the Bible faithfully and talk to God regularly and think we are walking close to God. It is possible to be diligent in your religion and distant in your relationship. It’s like that marriage where they live under the same roof, say the right things and do the right things, but they are far apart. Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (ESV). God wants you to experience a genuine and loving relationship with Him.
Part of this coming close to God involves James’ next statement, “Wash your hands, you sinners.” This has nothing to do with personal hygiene, but everything to do with spiritual hygiene. James is referring back to the Old Testament when the high priest would wash his hands in an elaborate ritual before entering the tabernacle and encountering the presence of God. That was a great object lesson for them then and for us today to deal with the sin in our lives.
When the Bible talks about the hands of a sinner it is usually referring to specific sins. The statement, “Wash your hands, you sinners” is reminding you to deal with the specific sins in your life that you know you do.
James addresses our spiritual “hands” where outward, individual, and specific sins are identified; but then he dives deeper into the real source of where our trouble lies… our “hearts.” This is where James identifies another reason why you argue and fight and quarrel with others. It is because “your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”
This phrase “divided between God and the world” (dipsuchoi) means to be double-minded. This is referring to a believer who is committed and dedicated to God one week and then the next week is committed and dedicated to the world (doing whatever pleases him regardless of what God says). This is the Christian who may be dedicated to honoring God with their finances, but they don’t honor God in sexual purity. They are divided between God and the world.
Then James says, Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. This is a very heavy statement. It uses words like tears, sorrow, grief, sadness and gloom. Before we get into this, let me tell you what this is not saying. It is NOT telling you to be sad and miserable throughout life. It is not saying boycott joy. There are numerous examples in the Bible where we are encouraged and given instructions to be a joyous people. Psalm 126:2 says, “We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’ yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!” (vs. 2-3, NLT). Then in 1 Timothy 6:17 we are told that God “richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” (NLT). God wants you to enjoy life! So, that is not the issue here. So, what is the issue?
Now remember. James 4:1 begins with this question, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” The answer is your “evil desires.” Your selfish desires. That sarcasm you use to prove your point. Those intentional hurtful words that you think will help you win the argument. The yelling or the silent treatment you think will help you get what you want. You think it’s funny how you manipulate others and lie to them and get away with it. It brings you happiness knowing you can get what you want when you get angry, threaten to hurt yourself, or withhold something. All this comes from your “evil desires.” These are the things that tear relationships apart, that bring division, and unnecessarily bring heartache into relationships. James is saying these are things you that should bring you to “tears” and that you should have “sorrow” over and “grieve” over in your life.
It’s this sorrow that should bring you to repentance. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin…” (NLT). You need to see the way you see the sins in your life. When you see or hear yourself being deceitful, manipulating, selfish, and harsh with people it should deeply bother you to the point of change.
Revere: I need to humble myself before God
Number four, I need to humble myself before God. Verse 10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor” (NLT). Verse 7 also said, “Humble yourselves before God” (NLT). There are two types of humility here.
Verse 7 humility deals with how you see God. You see Him as the authority so you submit to Him. You see God as in control so you surrender to His commands. Verse 7 humility realizes how great and powerful God is.
Verse 10 humility (tapeinoo) deals with how you see yourself. This humility literally means to make low, but not in the self-put-downs. This is not cutting yourself down or devaluing yourself as a person. This humility is a genuine realization that you are nothing without God. This humility says, “Without God I am broken, weak, and lost. I have sinned against God and I need God’s help.”
Listen carefully, you cannot create this humility within you. This humility (tapeinoo) comes from without, not within. It comes from God, but let me explain how this works.
Like a lot of high school students I played football and I was pretty good. I won the award for defensive lineman of the year. Like many teenage football players I started thinking about college and the NFL. I thought I was something. I was in Chicago on a mission trip with a church. One of the men on our trip was Ricky White, a former running back for the New York Giants and he and I shared a room together for a week. One day he decided to take us to the Chicago Bears training facility. When we got there, there were some Chicago Bears players training on the outside field. He brought one of them over (don’t know his name) but he was huge. I thought I was big, but this guy was muscled up, tall, and large. When I shook his hand I was looking up at him. He was a mountain of a man. Listen carefully, being in the presence of that NFL player made me keenly aware of the difference between an NFL player and a high school player. I realized that what he could do was by far greater than my abilities. I was humbled in his presence. That humility did not come from within me, it came from without. By being in his presence I could see my abilities or lack of very clearly.
Verse 10 humility comes from without, not within. When you get into the presence of God and see Him more clearly you will be humbled and see with great keenness how big He is and how little you are. When you get into His presence you will see your sins, weaknesses, and needs much more clearly. You will be humbled.
That’s exactly where you want to be. Why? Well, look at verse 10 again, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor” (NLT). Stay with me. When you are humbled in the presence of God you become aware of how weak and broken you are because you are aware of how strong and perfect God is. Simultaneously, as you are humbled by your own sinfulness, you are exalted and lifted up by God’s holiness and strength. At the same time you are crying out in humility, “God, I need help” you are also being exalted by the fact you are acknowledging God is the one to help you. Once you go low that’s when you can go high. From God’s perspective you don’t ascend into greatness, you descend into greatness. The humble will be exalted.
When this is all said and done, the key word is “humility.” This is submitting to what God says and to place value on others and the relationship you have with them.
So who have you been fighting and arguing with? What was it about? How did you handle it? It doesn’t matter what it was about. It doesn’t matter who was at fault. How did you handle it? How did you respond? Did you respond in humility or did you respond with selfishness?
If you responded in humility, then thank God for His guidance and strength at that moment.
If you responded in selfishness, then ask God for forgiveness and then ask the person to forgive you for how you reacted or for what you said. Stay away from saying, “If I offended you” or “If I acted selfishly.” Say, “I am sorry for how I talked to you. It was all about me. I was selfish. I yelled at you. I gave you the silent treatment. I said this or that (be specific) and then say, will you forgive me for what I did and said?”