I am preparing a sermon for this weekend based on the Second Lesson suggested in Christian Worship: Supplement for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C), James 4:7-10. (The choice certainly fits more closely with the Gospel, Luke 15:1-3,11b-32, than the suggested Second Lesson in most lectionaries for this weekend, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). I came across this summary of the section in Gary Holloway’s commentary, James & Jude, from The College Press NIV Commentary series. There are some good application thoughts in this short section, and I thought I’d share it with you as a preview to this coming Sunday’s worship.
In this, the heart of his epistle, James speaks to the contemporary problem of the worldly Christian. A great percentage of our population claims to be Christian. But what makes one a Christian? Are we Christians because we attend church and hear sermons? This is self-deception. Listening to the word is no good without obedience (James 1:19–20). Are we Christians because we believe certain things? Faith without action is dead (James 2:14–25). Are we Christians because we pray? No, even prayer can be evil if we pray for selfish pleasures. Do we claim to follow God while at the same time following the standards of the world? Then we are enemies of God.
An old television advertisement asked, “Who says you can’t have it all?” James answers, “God says.” One cannot be worldly and follow God. “Worldly” may conjure up memories of “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance” sermons, but worldliness is much more than specific vices. In an acquisitive society, it is considered normal to want more. Our whole economy is built on consumerism, ambition, and success. To be successful means fighting the corporate wars no matter who gets hurt.
To fit easily into such a society makes us friends of the world and its standard of pleasure. We cannot have the world and God (Matthew 6:24). He is a jealous husband who demands we keep our vows of exclusive loyalty to him. Keeping those vows are difficult in a culture where it takes little to be considered a Christian. James calls us to buck popular opinion. Such counter-cultural Christianity can be lived only by the grace of God. We turn to God in humble repentance, resisting the devil by rejecting the predominant values of our culture.
Holloway, Gary. James & Jude. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub., 1996.