Warning against worldliness – a sermon on James 4:1-12 by Rev. Colin Pretorius.
When persecution of Christians started with the death of Stephen, many believers fled to the same cities to where Jews had been scattered some 600-700 years earlier. But these believers soon found themselves face to face with adversity and trials of every kind, yes even death. It is to people such as these that James writes. The evidence of the New Testament tells us that James was the half-brother of Jesus. He was also known as “James the Just” because of his humility and his righteousness. It is said of him that he spent so much time on his knees in prayer interceding for the people that his knees became like those of a camel! And this humble, righteous and prayerful apostle of Jesus writes to the 12 tribes in the dispersion – as these believers are called in chapter 1 – to encourage them in their adversity, to comfort them in their trials and to encourage them to live out their Christian lives in faith and with their eyes focused on God. James’ Spirit-inspired words against friendship with the world don’t just apply to the early believers, though. They are especially applicable to modern Christians because more than at any time in the past, Christians today are under pressure to conform, to be like the world. This happens in some churches, where true worship has been replaced by entertainment. It happens in our homes, where worldly standards are more acceptable than God’s standards. And it happens in our schools, where our children are taught there are no absolutes, that all things are relative.
When you look at English translations of the Bible, this passage has various titles: submit yourself to God, drawing close to God, warning against worldliness, friendship with the world, or things to avoid. At the very heart of James’ warnings and instructions is submission to God. Friendship with the world can only be avoided if we submit to God. And submission to God flows out into bringing things before God in prayer. It flows out in living lives that are not worldly but God-orientated. It flows out into how we speak to and about others – in how we use or watch our tongues. To put it another way, these 12 verses are about
- supplication (1-3);
- serving (4-6);
- submission (7-10); and
- speaking (11-12).