James thunders his warnings against sin in chapter four of his epistle. His context is essentially sin among church members! As with his admonitions earlier in the epistle, the warnings and promises of God hit home in our contemporary world. But we may not be listening and letting God deal with our sin.
Sermon Feel the pain of your sin; be sorrowful and weep.
James thunders his warnings against sin in chapter four of his epistle. His context is essentially sin among church members! As with his admonitions earlier in this epistle, the warnings and promises of God hit home in our contemporary world. But we may not be listening and letting God deal with our sin.
Tony Evans says “If you listen to your favorite radio station as you head out of town, you will quickly discover that as you head down the highway, the farther you get away from the city, the weaker the signal gets. Eventually, if you keep driving away from the signal, you will not be able to get to your radio station at all. This is what sin does. It distances us from the father. The farther we go away from Him, the less of Him we hear. [but] the Bible is shining and throwing up various caution signals and lights. It shows us where we sin and where we offend God. If we don’t go to the Maker and allow Him to address the issues in our life, we are going to end up with much bigger problems on our hands in years to come; (Tony Evans, Illustrations, pp.287, 285). James highlights the kinds of sin that he felt were seriously hindering the early church. Those same sins are equally destructive today. Let us pray.
Sins of Omission
James’ definition of sin in chapter four is one of the most comprehensive definitions of sin in the New Testament:” So if you have an opportunity to do the right thing yet you refrain from doing it, you’re guilty of sin.” The Passion Translation. The sins of omission. For those Christians trying to follow Jesus, their longest list of sins will likely be sins of omission – things we failed to do, bad relationships or hurtful words we didn’t correct and repent from, actions God urged us to take that we refuse to do, etc.
Two examples come to mind.
#1. David Nyquist, in his NIV Application Commentary on James, cites this example:
The atrophied silence of evangelical churches during the civil rights movement stands as a mute witness of shame. The Biblical principles that evangelicals claim to hold so dear – the principles of righteousness and justice to which James gave voice when he said, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (1:27) – were in large measure ignored. Instead, we opted for the safe course of measured inaction, sanctioned by the winds of American political conservation. We became “numb”, to use Walter Bruggemann’s phrase. (pg.241-242)
The application question that this reality confronts us with is: What areas are you “numb” about, so you don’t hear or obey God’s directives in certain areas or share God’s heart of compassion and resulting action?
#2. God challenged me in this area with my own sister.
My sister is several years younger than I am and so we were not close growing up. When we each were young adults, I was a Christian trying to live with Jesus as Savior and Lord, but she had no training in Biblical principles and had made several unbiblical lifestyle choices. That made the gap between us even bigger. But one Christmas both of us and our husbands were together at my grandmother’s house. That grandmother had very strict rules from her upper-class background, one of which was that no family was ever to be in the kitchen. That place was only for servants. Yet this one evening both my sister and I found ourselves in Grandmother’s kitchen at the same time! That was when I heard a voice in my head: “Ask your sister how she’s doing.” I wasn’t sure this was God’s voice, but I countered, “This is the wrong place and wrong time for a real conversation.’ The so-called “voice” repeated: “Ask your sister how she’s doing.” Again, I countered, “My sister and I aren’t close, and she will find that question intrusive.’ But then I heard the voice say, “Sometimes I only speak once.” I realized then it was God speaking to me! I asked my sister how she was doing. Turns out she was doing terribly. She was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic, she was very unhappy in her marriage, she was considering agreeing to an affair with another man, and she was suicidal. God’s question that night in that very inconvenient place unveiled all that inner turmoil in her life. Both of us knew we could not continue the conversation then, so we agreed to meet the next day when we both had driven on for Christmas to my parents’ house. And in that safer environment, God’s merciful, loving presence brought my sister to the Lord. I fully believe that if I had been “numb” to God’s prompting – the sin of omission - my sister would have taken her own life that year.
The sins of omission can have dire consequences. So, James says, “Feel the pain of your sin; be sorrowful and weep!” (Ja.4:9)
Sins of commission
James then describes the sins of commission that the church members in his context were guilty of. Again, these sins are equally prevalent among believers today:
v Ego-centrism which rides over others to achieve your own goals (Ja. 4:1-2). Commentator Nystrom calls this “untrammeled desire for power and authority.” (Nystrom, Ibid., p,224).
v Corrupt motives in your prayer life. (v.3)
v Friendship with the world, which is enmity with God. (v,4)
v Being double-minded, i.e. the “desire of popularity within the eyes of the powerful” (Ja. 4:224) James notes in ch.1 that “a double-minded person is unstable in all his ways” (Ja.1:8). He has his feet in two opposing worlds and cannot maintain stability or integrity from that posture.
v Slandering and judging your neighbor (4:11-12)
v Presumption that with your status and money you can control your life (, v.11-16)
James spoke out forcibly against these sins because their effect was making the church vulnerable to destruction – the same as these sins do today.
God’s Response to Christians’ sins
Yet, amid James’ forceful condemnation of various sins, he paints a positive picture of God’s forgiveness and hope for the repentant. If Christians submit to God and draw near to Him, grieve and mourn their sins, confess and repent, then they can resist the devil; they can experience the closeness of God’s presence; as they humble themselves before God, he will lift them up, and pour out more and more grace upon them: (James: 4:6-12).
This is always the good news of the gospel. God is holy and refuses to lightly pass over or ignore our sin. But He also offers the cleansing and deliverance from each sin as we confess it and deliverance from the power of sin (I Jn.1:9). Jesus died to make God’s grace available and transformative for those who turn to Him in faith. James may thunder on in addressing the sins in his early church context, but his bottom line was to lead the church to a higher and deeper understanding of God so the members would live in holiness and Christ likeness. He proclaimed that God gives wisdom and comfort (1:5); God gives a crown of life to those who love Him (1:12);; God elevates the poor (2:5) and gives grace to the humble (4:6); God heals the sick; He answers fervent believing prayer (5:15-16); He forgives sin; He gives more and more grace (4:6), He moves in His people so we can demonstrate His love and unity to an unbelieving world.
This God is our God. As we move into the Advent season and the end of 2023, may our churches experience new and closer walks with Him so we can live in harmony, honor, and unity together and be greatly used of the Lord in 2024. In His name and for His sake. Amen.
Dr. Mary Lou Codman, Pastor New Hope Global Church, Nov. 26, 2023.