Playground or Battleground? - James 4
Sometimes you find yourself reading parts of the Bible and it feels like a slap in the face, or a punch in the gut. When James in verse 10 of chapter 4 says “Humble yourselves before God” I hardly think that was necessarily when I feel so floored by what he has said before.
Mark Twain once said “it’s not the parts of scripture I don’t understand I find difficult it’s the parts I do understand.” James has already taken a serious tone on such a matter as we noted earlier in the first chapter: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror, for he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like…” (1:23-24). So when we read scripture it is not for us to pick and choose which bits we like, nor is it enough to say “oh that’s challenging!”, we must listen and obey!
In chapter four James describes the world we live in like a warzone. We are constantly under assault, from our passions, from the world around us, from the devil. More often than not we like to think of the world around us not as a battleground but a playground, a place where we have our choice of toys and games to play, a place where we find pleasure, fulfilment and satisfaction. But James calls out his readers’ lust for the world “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (verse 4).
Our response is never to separate ourselves off into a Christian ghetto, Jesus prays that his disciples and us would be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-15). But we need to be on guard, we are constantly under attack. Not just from the world but within ourselves. James describes the “passions that are at war within you” (verse 1), elsewhere he calls out the “double-minded” (verse 8). When he calls his readers “You adulterous people!” (verse 4) this is a powerful accusation because it gets to the heart of the human struggle. We struggle to be truly faithful to God, our hearts, our minds, our passions are pulled between one way and another. Money, success, love all fight to sit on the throne of our hearts when the only one who is truly worthy to sit there is Jesus Christ.
Despite this humbling lesson, James says this: “But he gives more grace” (verse 6). Acknowledging our falling short, by humbling ourselves before God and choosing to turn back to him, this is what allows God to work his grace in our lives. That’s why he says “Submit yourselves to God…draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (verses 7-8). When we’re far from God, attracted by the pleasures of the world, we need to turn ourselves around and get back with God – “he gives grace to the humble”.
Whilst we may find ourselves in the midst of a warzone, we know that the victory is assured through Jesus’ death and triumph over the grave. That is why it is possible to overcome. James writes, submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. We can find confidence in the God that died for us; that saved us. This should draw us back to him like a child hides in the arms of a parent. But not to stay hidden, but ready to go back out to play again, back out to battle, to shine as salt and light in this world.
Jesus, shortly before being sent to the cross told his disciples “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).