Submit Yourselves to God
(James 4:1-10) David Xu
If you were asked to describe the first decades of 21st century, what would you say? Wikipedia says “As of 2013, about 80 percent of the world's population uses mobile phones, while an estimated 33% own personal computers (2010), and 40% use the Internet (2014).”
I would say, although mobile phones, the Internet, and digital devices are all very useful, this is a century characterised by a “I want” and “I want it, Now” mentality. The iphone has a nickname in China, “kidney phone”, because some people would even sell one of their kidneys to buy an iphone.
The desire for possessing things and the pursuit of wealth seem to be more and more common today. With the help of credit cards, hire purchase, personal loans, instance finance, etc, it is so easy for a person to go into a store and point to the latest model of TV, car or whatever and say “I want it.” It doesn’t matter if he or she has no money in their account. All they need to do is to take a loan and they can have it NOW. Billy Graham said “Many young people are building their lives on the rock of materialism. I find across the country a deep economic discontent among people in every walk of life. People want more and more things. They forget that we are enjoying the highest standard of living the world has ever known.”
Well you may say, what is wrong with this? What is wrong with the pursuit of wealth and money? Well, the Bible warns us that wrong desire will cause big problems. In the book of James in the New Testament we find some very frank and practical teaching about these things.
Problem 1: “fights, quarrels and killing”
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. ” (James 4:1-2)
In these verses James reveals the dark side of human nature, gives a clear reason why there are so many fights, quarrels and killing in human society. All these evils come from wrong desires that battle within our hearts. First we want to own something, then if we can’t have it, we quarrel and fight. If we still can’t have it, we might even kill.
Well, there is nothing wrong about owning things, about having assets. The Bible here is talking about greed, about the uncontrolled desire for possessing things.
I have to be very careful each time when I give my 2 daughters snack food like, potato chips or chocolate. One time, Joy was in charge of distributing egg rolls. Joanne thought her share was less than her sister’s share and so the two girls started a big fight.
Well, when this kind of quarrel happens among children it is sort of funny, but what if it happens in your work place, in church, or among nations?
My previous regional manager, a very much respected, solid team leader, was transferred to another department, simply because the national manager wanted someone he could fully control. Ironically, a few months later, this national manager was made redundant because his boss wanted someone he could fully control. We knew they fought and quarrelled not for the good of the company, but for the control, for their own sake, because if they have someone they can control, their own position is more likely to be safe.
Let’s look at this kind of fighting and quarrelling in a larger scale, among nations. All wars started because of the desire of one nation to control more land, more population, more money, more gold, more and more. If they could not get what they wanted, what do they do? James tells us, “so you kill”. Many more people have died at the hands of other people than have been killed in natural disasters or through disease. Many wars started for very ridiculous reasons. For an example, on July 14th, 1969, El Salvador had a war with Honduras that lasted four days. Many called it the 100 Hours War, but it is also known as The Soccer War, because El Salvador declared war against Honduras for the way their people had been treated during football games. On July 18th, a cease-fire ended the fighting. It came too late to save the lives of 3,000 soldiers and the homes of more than 300,000 civilians.
In just 4 years 8 million were killed, plus millions wounded in WW1 which was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But only 20 years later, WW2 broke out and over 60 million were killed. What were the causes of the war? Control over the land, fame and power. It is greed – unlimited, uncontrolled greed. How destructive our wrong desire is!!!
Where is this wrong desire coming from? When Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, sin came into the world. What drove them to eat the fruit was the desire to be like God. Wrong desire leads to sin which leads to destruction. Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden. After they left, the Bible recorded the first murder in human history, Cain murdered Abel, his brother. Why? Because God preferred Abel’s sacrifice, not Cain’s. Cain wanted to win God’s favor, but when he didn’t get it, he killed his own brother.
Let’s read what James says again, and let what he says be a warning to us all. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. ” (James 4:1-2)
Problem 2: Wrong Motives
James goes on in the next verse to tell us, ”When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) This is our problem number 2: Wrong motives.
People falling into this category don’t seem as bad as the ones we looked at earlier. After all they don’t fight and quarrel, nor do they kill. They even know about coming to God to pray for things that they want. But Bible just told us they are wrong as well.
Many people complain that God doesn’t answer their prayer. One reason God doesn’t answer our prayer is because we don’t have the right motive. Please remember we can’t hide our true motive from God. He knows our hearts regardless of what we may pretend on the outside.
Many years ago, I was very young and very poor. I thought it was a good idea to buy a lotto ticket and then maybe I would get rich overnight. I could buy a big house, fancy cars, travel around the world, and I would never need to work again. So I put this into a prayer, “God, I need your help to win that $5 million lotto. If you allow me to win, I will give half of it to you to build your kingdom.” What a wonderful prayer, at least from the outside. I would give God $2.5 million. What I didn’t tell God is that I would keep the other half in my pocket for my own pleasure. To cut it short, my prayer was I didn’t want to work anymore. I wanted to be lazy but still be rich. What a wonderful thought. However, what I didn’t realize was that God hates people being lazy. In Proverbs there many warnings about the foolishness of being lazy, and there are many proverbs teaching us to work hard to make an honest living.
“Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it” (Proverbs 13:11)
“The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway” (Proverbs 15:19)
“Laziness brings on deep sleep, an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15)
If you search in Google “bankrupt after winning lotto”, you will find over that 70% of lotto winners went broke, and many people’s lives were destroyed and they wished that they had never won the lotto. Isn’t the Bible amazing! Thousands of years ago it was already warning that “wealth hastily gotten will dwindle”.
I am very grateful that God didn’t answer my lotto prayer, but He blessed me with a job, stable income, and a happy family. These are far more precious than that $2.5 million.
God won’t answer a prayer that has wrong motives, because if He answered that kind of prayer, we would turn our backs to Him to embrace the secular world, instead of focusing our eyes on God. As Christians, we should focus our eyes on Jesus first, serve God first, not money or fame, nor any other things what the world considers as success. In James 4:4 we read, “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.”
What a warning. When we become a friend of the world, we are an enemy of God. Jesus said we can’t serve wealth and God. We can only have one master. You may wonder does God forbid us to make money, then how can we live on this earth? We need money to buy food and other things we need in life.
Well, God certainly allows us to make money and even to get rich, as long as we put him first in our lives. In fact many rich people in the Bible were clearly blessed by God, people like Job, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon. When we put God first, He likes pouring out His blessings to us, and one of the blessings is wealth. We must remember, all the wealth belongs to God, and according His will, He gives each of us our share of wealth. We must use the wealth according to His will, not to spend for our own pleasure, but for His.
So what shall we do,
Submit yourselves 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.”(verses 7-10)
One thing which makes the Bible different to all other books is that, in the Bible you have solutions from God. Not only are these solutions written in plain words but there is power in the Word of God. When you obey God’s teaching, His power will be with you. And only with His power, can we prevail in this world.
God asks us to submit ourselves to Him. This is absolutely our first priority. Without submitting to God, we won’t be able to understand His words, and we won’t be able to get His power from the word. Think about a rugby team – if players in the team don’t listen to the coach but they all play according to their own will, what would happen? They won’t win. It is the same in our spiritual lives. The Bible says very clearly first “submit to God”, and then “resist the devil and he will flee from you”.
Please note that the devil is real. He is a player in the game of life and he doesn’t want us to win. And without God we can’t win.
1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour”. Without God to protect us, the devil can devour us like a lion. He can easily rip us apart.
One of devil’s deadliest weapons is temptation for money. Jesus said “truly I tell you, it well be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). There is nothing wrong with money or wealth in themselves. Working for money, build up your wealth, are all totally fine. One of God’s ways of blessing us is through money and wealth. But if you put money or wealth in a higher place than God, then it is totally wrong.
If we put God first in our life, then He will “come near to us.” And our heart will be purified. We will humble ourselves before the Lord and He will lift us up. And you will not be easily tempted by worldly things. With the power of God, even we as individuals can make a big difference. We can win big victories.
One good example was the gladiatorial contests of the Roman Empire when gladiators would fight to the death in the arena before cheering crowds. It was the most popular form of entertainment in Rome for many hundreds of years. Famous gladiators were popular like today’s sports stars. Think about Michael Jordan, Messi, and Richie McCaw. To Romans gladiators were like rugby players are to New Zealanders. Then in 4th century, the popular games gradually stopped, despite their 600 years of history. This was a major national crisis. Imagine rugby being stopped in New Zealand. You may wonder what had happened. Well the truth is, as more and more Romans converted to Christianity, they started to realize that gladiatorial fighting was immoral. It was a form of pagan human sacrifice which was totally against Jesus’ teaching of love. They started not going to see the games, and told people around them not to go either.
“The last known gladiatorial fight took place during the reign of the Emperor Honorius (reigned 393 - 423AD). The catalyst for this change was an Egyptian monk named Telemachus who had newly come to Rome and visited the Colosseum in 404AD. He objected to the savage bloodshed and slaughter in the arena and the midst of the bloodshed shouted for it to cease in the name of Christ. He was stoned by the outraged 'mob' and killed. Three days later the Emperor issued a decree that the gladiatorial games were to stop. The advent of Christianity led to a massive change of attitudes in the Roman Empire. The Roman culture changed from being antagonistic to becoming pacifistic. With the new Christian religion the morals, principles and values of the Romans changed.”(quoted from http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/)
What a wonderful change! Many of us think we are just an individual, we can’t make too much difference to society, so we’d better follow the world, pursuing money, fame, so-called success, instead of submitting to God first. When I was in high school, my fellow classmates invited me to smoke with them. They said we were all going to smoke, how about you? And I followed them. When I was in university, many friends liked to drink, and they said to me, if you want to be one of us, drink with us. I never liked smoking nor did I like drinking alcohol, but I didn’t have the guts to say no to them. We are very easily kidnapped by the majority in the world.
Jesus tells us to “enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). If we follow the world, it is an easy road, but it leads to destruction. You may say it is too hard to be a Christian. You may be the only Christian in your family or in your work place, but be assured we are not fighting the battle alone. We have God standing with us. Like Roman Christians, each of us needs to be submitted to God, follow His will, not the world, and He will fight the battle for us. He will win the victory for us.
Paul said in Colossians 3:1-5, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above… set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death therefore, whatever in you is earthly, fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).”
As Christians we are supposed to be different to the world, we are called to be salt and light to the world. We shouldn’t follow the world, but follow Jesus.
In the third century Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote to his friend Donatus, “It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people, who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians . . . and I am one of them.”
What a privilege it is being a Christian!
Today we studied the Bible and know we have 2 problems and only 1 solution:
- Greed is hidden inside us. If we don’t get the things we want, we quarrel, fight and even kill.
- When we pray for things, be aware of wrong motives. When we come to God for prayer, we must have right motives. God won’t answer a prayer with wrong motives.
- There is only one solution to our problems – submit to God. It sounds easy, but it is hard work, because the world and the devil don’t want you to submit to God. The devil will use every means to drag you back to the old way. But God’s words have power, we must cling to His holy words, and with His power we can win the victory. We are no longer slaves to Satan or to sin or to our old sinful nature, but we are children of the eternal God.