Seek ye first the kingdom of God

Seek ye first the kingdom of God – a sermon on James 4:1-3 by Rev. Colin Pretorius.

This passage has different titles in our various English translations: submit yourself to God, drawing close to God, warning against worldliness, friendship with the world, or things to avoid.[1] The first 12 verses comprise all of those things but at the heart of those verses is submission to God. It is only through submission to God that we will avoid friendship with the world. It is only through submission to God that we will draw closer to Him.

In the first three verses that we’re looking at this morning, James focuses on worldliness. And the first aspect that he targets is how people’s desires are worldly – their desires are at war within themselves and that internal warfare flows out into strife, into fights and wars with others.

There is an Indian story about a great archer called Arjuna. He had legendary skills with his bow and arrow. When he was still in training, his archery instructor set up a wooden bird as a target in a tree and asked Arjuna and 2 other students what they saw. One said “the forest,” and the next said “trees.” But Arjuna replied “the bird’s eye” – you see, his prowess as an archer came from seeing the essentials.[2] And that’s what James is doing here too, in these first three verses. He’s drilling down to the essentials of worldliness – he is targeting his arrow at the desires that are at work in the church of the Diaspora. And after showing how those desires cause divisions and fights and quarrels, he goes on to explore the nature of such strife and also where the answer to it can be sought. So let us look then at what the apostle tells us about

  • the reason for strife;
  • the nature of strife; and
  • the answer to strife


[1] NIV, NLT, ESV, NRSV, NASB respectively

[2] Anthony E. Bird, Practice Makes Perfect: The Book of James Simply Explained (Welwyn Commentary Series; Darlington, England: EP Books, 2009), 154.