• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Sept. 29 focuses on James 4:1-10.
The toy catalogs start arriving in our mailbox before summer gives way to fall. The kids dig them out of the stack of junk mail. Our middle child climbs in my lap and shows me his favorites on every page: “Mom, I want this truck, and this space shuttle, and this motorcycle, and this treehouse, and this marshmallow cannon, and … .”
The youngest hasn’t quite figured it all out yet, but she’s learning from her older siblings’ example: “Mine! For me?” Our oldest is a little more strategic: “I could save up my money for this, but it would take a really long time. How about we put it on my Christmas list? And you see this giant inflatable ball you can climb inside and roll around in? Don’t you think it would help me get more exercise?”
Impossible wish list
My children’s impossible wish list makes me laugh. I use it as an opportunity to teach about wants and needs, but I have my own list of wants:
• I want to be right—and I want other people to know I’m right.
• I want the friend I’m mad at to apologize first.
• I want to hide my imperfections.
• I want people to notice my generosity.
• I want to be Christian enough that I feel good about myself, but not so much that the rest of the world thinks I’m strange.
• I want to be the center and ruler of my own world.
We are consumed with wanting. Like children who don’t want a toy until they see it in another child’s hand, we look at the people around us and want what they have. We envy their financial security or their free time. We covet their influence and popularity. We want respect and honor. When we don’t get what we want, conflict breaks out. We look for excuses to criticize. We assume the worst instead of the best. We hold on to grudges and nurse our wounds. Our conflicts stem from our own misplaced and misdirected desires (James 4:1-2).
When conflict takes over our churches or our homes, it’s a symptom of an underlying disease. James had harsh words for the church: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
In the Old Testament, adultery was an image used frequently to describe the people’s idolatry and unfaithfulness to God (Jeremiah 3:6). God used the picture of a marriage covenant to depict his faithful love for his people. When the people of God broke the covenant by worshipping idols and oppressing the poor, God described their sin as spiritual adultery.
Why does James jump from the idea of our desires stirring up conflict to that of adultery and friendship with the world? Israel rejected God’s faithfulness and worshipped idols like the nations around them. When we look at the blessings God has given us and still crave what the world has to offer, we do the same thing. Whatever we desire and are willing to battle over has become more important than God. Our thoughts and philosophies look like our culture instead of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). The world tells us our excess is meant to be stored or splurged, not shared. It tells us there’s no need to take the initiative in reconciling relationships; just make them come to you. The world tells us beautiful people are the most important people. It tells us we can earn righteousness on our own, and it’s a good idea to call a news crew when you do.
When we let ourselves start thinking like the world, we stand on dangerous ground. Worshipping God is an exclusive business. He demands our everything. We can’t say we love God and hate our neighbor (1 John 2:9). Neither can we love God and cling to the world’s priorities and patterns. Becoming friends with the world makes you an enemy of God (James 4:4).
The cure in humility
There is a cure for our disease—humbling ourselves before God (James 4:6). Humbling ourselves before God means admitting our spiritual bankruptcy. We cannot make ourselves righteous. We need God’s forgiveness and grace.
Humbling ourselves before God means we stop justifying our sin and recognize sin for what it is—a disobedient insult to our mighty God. We fall on his mercy and submit to his rightful rule. We allow God to show us what is good and transform our desires. When we draw near to God, he draws near to us (James 4:7). He shows us what we were always meant for—the passionate pursuit of our loving Father. Then one day, we realize the depth of our transformation. All we want is him.