Reading for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: James 4:1-17
Peace be with you!
The devil and the Lord have been at odds with each other shortly after the beginning of time when the devil fell from God’s graces.[i] Unfortunately we get caught up in the middle of their battle. The devil wants us to fulfill our desires by living according to our own plans, while the Lord wants us to live according to his plans in order to be in a relationship with him and to receive his forgiveness, grace, and love. Both the devil and the Lord want what they think is best for us, but the devil has evil motives and does not have our best interests at heart.
The devil stirs up the conflicts and disputes that we then fuel among ourselves. When we want what is not ours to have, the devil tempts us with actions that go against God’s wishes, like committing murder and causing conflicts (James 4:2). We may be tempted to ask God for [whatever “it” is] that we do not really need, but it only satisfies a desire of the moment. Or we may be tempted to take what we have no rights to, because again it satisfies a desire of the moment (James 4:3). The devil does not care that fulfilling these desires will wrongfully ultimately cause more pain and suffering. The devil asks, “Why do you want pain and suffering now when you can be rich and happy instead? It makes no sense, right? If you can satisfy your desires in the here and now, why shouldn’t you take the opportunity? Why should you care about the welfare of others? Do others care about you?” The devil is only concerned about the here and now and providing a way for us to obtain our present desires, even if it comes at the expense of others. If we go after our desires for the wrong reasons, we are giving into the ways (envy, jealously, murder, fighting, and war) of the devil.[ii]
However, satisfying the desires of the moment does not satisfy our desire to be in a relationship with the Triune God, to know the love of Jesus Christ, and to have eternal life in order to enter the Kingdom of God. God answers, “It is not about you as individuals getting what you want in the moment. It is not about what others can do for you. It is about living in community and taking care of one another. It is about a bigger plan that I will fulfill in time with your help, but you have to be patient and put your trust in me.”
God wants us to allow his Spirit to dwell within us (James 4:5b). God’s presence is all around us; he goes wherever we go; he feels our pain, fear, sadness, joy, happiness, and contentment. By always being present, God shares his wisdom and understanding with us regarding his plan for us. If we allow God’s Spirit to lead us, we will see our riches in heaven when we come to understand his prefect plan.
God asks us to resist the devil (James 4:7) by washing our hands and purifying our hearts (James 4:8b). When we remorseful and repent our sins (James 4:9a), we can draw God close to us and he can draw us close to him (James 4:8a), which is how he shares his wisdom with us. Therefore, God asks us to speak with love, not hate, by not judging one another one or enforcing the law according to our ways of thinking (James 4:11). There can only be one Judge: God who is the only one with the authority to “save and destroy” by carrying out the sanctions of the divine law.[iii] God alone is the judge. Our job is to love and care for one another.
Furthermore, James says, “Stop leading double lives, and starting living for God—the one who created you and has the power to forgive when you humbly repent. Give your life back to him. God is a gracious God who offers his love, mercy, and grace. God will provide you with what you need as long as you live for him—and only him.”
It is a message of grace in the face of fear, of love in the face of hate, of joy in the face of pain, and of forgiveness and mercy in the face of confusion. God sends us to the places and people who need us the most. Sometimes God gives us a job description, but most of the time we just have to trust God will reveal his plan over time. Even if we do not understand where we are heading or why we must go to places we have never been to before, we can go in confidence that God will always be with us.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for calling upon us to do your work in the world. Help us to only want what you deem we need. Lead us to the places where we are needed the most. Remind us it is your will, not our will, to be done. Forgive us when we get sidetracked, and redeem us as your children. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.
[i] God created the devil as an angel who fall from God’s grace and fell to earth as a subordinate to God.
[ii] Dan G. McCartney, James, vol. of Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 208-209.
[iii] Ibid., 221.