I’m going to share a something I’ve learned about my own spiritual growth. I have a lot of spiritual shortcomings, and I hope I’m growing in Christ a little more every year. But I’ve learned a little, only a little, about our wants and desires.
When I first became a Christian, I can’t describe the excitement I felt about belonging to Jesus for the first time. But while I may have been enthusiastic, I wasn’t very knowledgeable. If fact, one of the greatest impediments I had was just understanding how much I didn’t understand.
I had wants and desires, and I thought somehow that being a Christian, signing up for God’s team, meant God was on my side. Whatever my wants and desires were, He would fight for me. The bible told me I would be able to move mountains if I just had enough faith.
It took me years to begin to understand that becoming a Christian didn’t turn me into some sort of religious superhero, able to leap tall buildings and move mountains with my new faith.
It is true that God will fight for me. But God really wants to fight through me to accomplish His will. When I get distracted by my own desires, God patiently waits for me to align with His desires. Not my own desires.
What are my desires? Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.”
What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”
Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.
Was it just last month they had that lotto drawing worth $1.6 billion? With $1.6 billion, you can sure buy a lot of lotto tickets. Did anybody here daydream about what they would do with $1.6 billion? I know I did. I even enjoyed daydreaming about what I’d do with the winnings, and I didn’t have to pay a dollar to do it. I daydreamed for free.
What we’re going to study today in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but by learning to trust God and leaning on Him and relying on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle through us.
God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.
II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”
The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”
When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? Our relationships with each other are how we demonstrate the love of Christ within us, and Christ values our relationships highly. In fact, Christ values our relationships far more than He values our tithes and offerings. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
The first problem with hedonism and selfish desires among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ἡδονή (hēdonē), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain. We just want our own way.
This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.
III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Our God is a jealous God. He made this clear all the way back in Exodus 20:5 when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, one of the first words were,
“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”
There are many ways to misunderstand God’s jealousy. Oprah famously rejected orthodox Christianity when she said that God was jealous of her. She said, well, let’s just hear it from her:
But God is not jealous of Oprah. That’s a complete misunderstanding of God’s desire for us. God is jealous *for* Oprah. God is pure and holy and wants the best for us, especially encouraging us to find our heart’s desire in Him, not someplace else. There is a place for sanctified jealousy and it revolves around broken holy covenants. A wife can be jealous if her husband’s affections are not for her. Likewise, if our affections are not for God, God is jealous. There is no other worthy object for our affection other than God; the jealousy of God wants us to desire what is best, which is Him.
The scripture here in James 4 implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?
Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers our love of worldly things to be spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. What did it say in Exodus 20:5?
“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”
God created us with the ability to love Him, and He also gives us the ability to choose whether to love Him. Our fights among ourselves and our sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God? That we covet the creation instead of the Creator?
This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.
James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have only a few close friends. To develop a friendship takes time and sacrifice for the one we wish to know better. How much time do we spend being friends with the world? Spending time on Facebook or Instagram or Spotify? And how much time do we spend being friends of God? Being a friend of God takes time, there are no shortcuts. And when we spend our precious time on worldly things, our love of selfish pleasures spurs our God to jealousy.
IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
There are several commands in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism.
1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit to His authority. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Learn and study, then apply.
2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition. I have noticed that when I am tempted by sin, the best defense is a good offense. It is difficult to sin while praying. Pray. Pray without ceasing.
3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.
4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24:3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”
5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Is James telling us that perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable? Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.
6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we take pride in ourselves. On our own, though, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.
V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Tesla, a sister wearing new diamond earrings, my initial reaction might be hedonistic – I want one of those, too. Or my response may be the opposite; “well, I certainly wouldn’t spend my money on that. He shouldn’t either.” The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldly, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. Our job in the spiritual growth of others around us is to encourage them in truth and love, not to judge them and speak ill of them.
VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and then I attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions in and of themselves may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.”
And then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.
We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.
A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. I can’t tell you how many advertisements I see on television that include the phrase, “go ahead, you deserve this.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to receive what I deserve. In Christ, I receive what I don’t deserve – His grace. God wants us to live for Him first. And James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?
We assume too much about our own future, making our plans for tomorrow and the next. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptuous enough to claim what he will accomplish.
What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.
When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.
Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.
Now, James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Poof. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?
We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”
Also, James isn’t telling us not to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.
So how then shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.
Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
A hedonistic lifestyle bumps God out of His rightful place in our lives. We make his creation #1, and put God #2. Or worse, even lower. Our God is jealous for us, He wants us to desire what is best. And yet, we are so easily satisfied by pretty trinkets. C.S. Lewis once said,
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made, and give glory to the One who made it.
To God be the Glory. Amen.