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This is the eighth sermon in a series of messages on the New Testament book of James. This sermon is based on verses 13-17 of chapter four and verses 1-6 of chapter five. The sermon speaks about separating from the worldly traits of arrogant planning and living for luxury.
James 4:17 (NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Today we are going to resume our topic of separating from worldliness which we started in the last sermon in James 4. Today we plan to finish chapter 4 and the first 6 verses of chapter 5.
Because of James’ statements in 4:4 (“friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever is a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”), we have concluded that the different topics James addresses in chapter 4 and first part of chapter 5 are all related to the subject of worldliness. In the last sermon we talked about worldly strife and conflict. I think we can all agree that these are typical conditions in the world and spirit of this age.
What is worldliness?
I think I would define worldliness as a pattern of thinking and conduct that is shaped and influenced by the values and practices of the present age contrary to God and heaven. Here are some definitions of worldliness from a few others:
C. H. Dodd, (Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, quoted in Tyndale NT Commentary) …the life of human society as organized under the power of evil.
John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life ― “I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth "home." Before you know it, I am calling luxuries "needs" and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don't think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.” (www.goodreads.com/quotes)
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate ― “The sin of worldliness is a preoccupation with the things of this temporal life. It's accepting and going along with the views and practices of society around us without discerning if they are biblical. I believe that the key to our tendencies toward worldliness lies primarily in the two words "going along". We simply go along with the values and practices of society.” (www.goodreads.com/quotes)
There are two more topics that James discusses in connection with the subject of worldliness. These are also areas from which we need to separate ourselves in order to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. The first one is...
Worldliness includes arrogant planning. (4:13-17)
In these verses, James addresses the problem of living life without considering the future, which only God knows.
1. Arrogant plans ignore key factors. (13-14)
v.13 – describes the attitude of people who make plans for improving their lives as if they are completely in control. This is the normal thought pattern of those who do not believe in God – they plan and live as if everything depends and revolves around them. Sadly, many “Christians” live and act the same way.
v. 14 – Two key factors that have been ignored by those who make such plans.
a. First, No one knows the future.
“You do not know what will happen tomorrow.” (lit. "what is on the next day")
Only God knows the future, and when we make our plans without any consideration of our need for His direction, His will, and His aid, then we essentially set ourselves up to usurp His authority and position.
b. Secondly, Human life is brief. “…it is a vapor.”
A person living with a worldly mindset makes all kinds of plans for the future to improve his/her life, but doesn’t consider factors from a spiritual, eternal point of view.
Luke 12:15-21 (KJV) And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. 16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Worldliness blinds us to the fact that life is unpredictable and brief. It is just like a mist or cloud that vanishes into thin air. No matter how long life is for anyone, when we look back at any point, it always seems like the years have flown by and opportunities have slipped away.
Since no one knows the future, and since life is brief and fragile, then none of us should be acting as if we are in control of all our plans and our future. We certainly need to keep our focus on God and what His will is in every area of our lives.
2. Arrogant plans can be corrected. (15-17)
James does not simply condemn the attitude or behavior, but he offers an alternative way of thinking and behaving that is compatible with God’s Word and God’s will.
a. An example of humble planning (15)
In contrast to a worldly mindset which doesn’t take God into account when making plans, the proper way to plan does involve contingency for God’s will and God’s plan.
I sometimes find myself almost absent-mindedly saying, “…the Lord willing.” But, James is talking about more than simply repeating a few words. He is urging his readers to count God into their plans.
b. A condemnation of arrogance (16)
Boasting about what we have planned and what we are going to accomplish is evil. Why is it evil? Because it does not give credit to the Lord, who made everything possible in the first place. It is evil because it essentially credits self for past and future accomplishments without giving credit/ praise to God who provided all the knowledge, the strength and the time to do what was done.
Some of us might have been critical of former President Obama when he made the (in)famous statement, “You didn’t build that…” Many people felt that he didn’t give adequate acknowledgement for the hard work and ingenuity people put into their companies and businesses. However, he was pointing out the fact that every successful person or company has had advantages of other people’s hard work that provided the foundation for which they built their own company upon.
James is basically warning against the same arrogant attitude that people exhibit when they act as if they are not dependent upon God every single second of life in order to accomplish what they accomplish. So they ought to include God and His will into their plans for the future.
c. A description of sin (17)
There has been some debate about the interpretation of this verse and whether it really fits in with the rest of the chapter because James changes from 2nd person pronouns to 3rd person pronouns. However, the word “therefore” at the beginning of the verse does indicate that it is tied it in with what has already been said.
He seems to be urging his readers to follow the instructions he has just provided in verse 15 for the right way to think and plan for the future. (Tyndale NT Commentary) i.e. if you know you should consider God’s will and His control over the future before you make any plans, then whenever you don’t do that, it is sinful.
Even though the meaning of the verse should be connected with the context in verse 15, the principle has a broader application to the Christian understanding of sin. Sin = omission of what one ought to do. Jesus has given believers instructions about what we are to be doing in the world (make disciples), so if we do not obey, we have committed sin.
Jesus also gave other examples of sins of omission: “Just as you did not do it to the least of these my brothers, you did not do it to me.”
Sin also includes the assumption that knowledge was present. This brings some theologians to define sin as the “willful transgression of the known law of God.”
The second topic James discusses in connection with worldliness is...
Worldliness includes the love of luxury. (5:1-6)
Worldliness includes the love of luxury. (5:1-6)
One area of worldliness that has always been a trap and snare to all people, including Christians, is the area of wealth, materialism, and luxury. All the finer things of life have an alluring affect upon every person, which we must intentionally resist in order to keep our affections on things above and not on things of the earth. The whole problem with materialism and luxury stems from the fact that our list of “daily needs” keeps on getting longer and longer.
(Dale Yocum, This Present World, p.79, 1972) G. Ernest Thomas, in his splendid book on stewardship, entitled To Whom Much Is Given, declares that slightly over 100 years ago in the United States, approximately 6000 different articles were being manufactured. The average individual had 72 different wants, but only 16 needs. Standing in sharp contrast to this in one recent year, 400,000 articles were being manufactured, while the average individual had 484 wants and 94 needs! Undoubtedly the latter figures have risen much higher since the publication of his book.
As more products became available, the number of items “needed” rose also. I found out that Thomas’ book was published in 1946. Can you imagine how large the list of “wants” and “needs” for the “average individual” has grown today?
I am quite certain that all of us here today would not consider ourselves wealthy and living in luxury. Probably most of the things we have we can cite good reasons why we “need” them. Yet, I am also confident that everyone one of us here today would be considered “filthy rich” by people of other countries.
1. Love of luxury produces disappointing results. (1-3)
James warns his readers of pending ruin to all the material wealth they have been relying on. There will be wailing and weeping due to the worthlessness of all they had trusted in and invested in. The condition described by James in these verses shows the futility of “laying up treasures on earth” rather than “laying up treasures in heaven.”
2. Love of luxury causes injustice. (4-6)
In all probability, James would acknowledge that riches and wealth do not affect everyone the same and certainly not to the extent as he describes here. However, he describes the natural tendencies of the human heart to take extreme advantage over our fellowman when a person is completely motivated by the love of money and the things money can buy.
James describes: Cheating on wages; poor treatment of employees; and even killing (or abusing) the innocent. – Greed. It can affect even the most pious.
“murder” or “killing” may not be intended literally, since such crimes would be handled by civil authorities. However, as one author points out, wealth has been used to pervert justice and influence the legal system against others who are not so affluent. (Terry Pollard, 24/7 Living: Hard Truths from James)
“The love of money is the root of all evil.” People have done and will do unbelievably horrible things if there is money in it.
The story is dark and depressing. There have been many people who have ended up doing some very evil things because they did not guard their hearts and minds from the influences of this ungodly world. Instead, they caved to the world’s values and allowed them to change them.
As I said earlier, there are many, many expressions of worldliness. James only gives a few examples here. The only answer against the lure of worldliness is for every believer to be constantly cleansed in our minds and hearts by the purging, purifying fire of the Holy Spirit.
One of the Scriptures that was read earlier came from Romans 12:2 – “Be not conformed… but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
I want to close the service today by singing the hymn: Cleanse Me (O God)