Requirements for Victory – Self-Knowledge

James 4:1-5

Task of the believer – pursue holiness; exercise living faith demonstrated by good works; bear fruit; work out salvation. To actually reach the goal, attain the holiness God intends for us, achieve victory in living Christian life – requires knowledge. Have to know the enemy in order to overcome. Since it’s spiritual enemy, warfare, weapons must be spiritual ones to be effective. Means they must come from God, their use be directed by God in strength he supplies.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 1, Book 1, Section 1

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. …no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves. …the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. …We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.”

Is a given: true, accurate self-knowledge only possible in any measure for Christian. Unregenerate person deceived by sin and Satan, can’t and won’t recognize/identify source of obstacles to holiness. In addressing issues, James uses shockingly strong language, perhaps to draw attention to seriousness of problem. Shouldn’t dismiss too quickly as not applying; think through what James is saying in context of other biblical instruction as he deals with nature of our condition, why things are that way, what it means for our relationship with God.

A. nature of our condition v.1

a war zone

wars / fights; conflicts / quarrels; battlefield terminology, shocking since directed toward activity inside the church

does not mean there was actual blood on the floor, missing limbs, casualties

far worse than that

begin as sins of the heart, not the hand

often hidden under veneer of smiles, right-sounding words, most of the time

have both human and spiritual consequences – blown relationships with man and God

remember Jesus’ and John’s words: Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15 “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer”

so,… problem is internal

not result of circumstances

war is already going on within, kept under wraps much of the time

particular circumstances give opportunity for break-out

source: “desires for pleasure” (1) and “lust” (2)

ἡδονή – hedone – enjoyment, pleasure

occasionally used +, most often –, in regard to life focused on “this world”

hedone refers to pleasure derived from the desire acted upon and realized

ἐπιθυμέω – epithumeo – passionately desire, long for, set your heart on (usually pleasure)

not inherently negative, used in Scripture both + and –, more often —

identify the right culprit

problem is not presence of desire, even enjoyment of pleasure

issue is what sin has done to corrupt desires, make pleasure the goal

desires and passions that are self-indulgent, not God-focused, result in conflict

anyone/thing that gets in way of satisfying them is fair game, literally

B. reason of our condition v.2-3

You lust and have not, so you murder.

You burn with desire to have, and cannot obtain, so you fight and war.

You have not, because you ask not.

You ask, and do not receive, because you ask amiss so that you may squander it upon your lustful desires.”

point 1 – summary of the issue, points 2-4 outline how you get there

failure to be content; stems from focus on what is lacking, not what is present

determined to have what they believe is deserved, certainly what is desired

will stop at nothing to achieve goal, even murder (figurative or literal)

can be stuff related, doesn’t have to be; power, position, influence, being right, own way, recognition

methods are all the usual: spin, rushed decisions, foot-dragging, manipulation, etc, etc.

point 2 – where it begins: burning desire to have that is frustrated

desire to have, make attempt to get, fail in attempt

try again, turn up the heat, determined to remove opposition, fail in attempt

now it’s open conflict, whatever it takes to achieve goal

point 3 – more of problem is exposed: wrong method

attempting to achieve ends by own means, efforts, not striving in prayer

two aspects that are important

it’s hard (not impossible) to ask God for wrong things, what we know (or are pretty sure) he would not approve

prayer, not fighting, God’s appointed way to achieve right goal right way

point 4 – last but not least, wrong motive

fervent prayer must be God-centered in order to be answered

“May we not seek our own good and benefit? I answer, not ultimately, not absolutely; but only with submission to God’s will, and subordination to God’s glory. The main end why we desire to be saved, to be sanctified, to be delivered out of any danger, must be that God may be honoured in these experiences, in comparison of which our own glory and welfare should be nothing.” Thomas Manton

effectual prayer must follow models given

disciples’ prayer; Jesus’ high-priestly prayer; prayers of Paul

even short portion of Jesus’ prayer for himself had God’s glory ultimately in view

if self-gratification is source of fights and conflict, way to peace must be through self-denial in submission to God’s will

should go without saying: self can’t deny self in own strength; only through living faith instructed by God’s Word and empowered by God’s Spirit that believer can obey Jesus’ command – deny self, take up cross, follow (Mat. 16:24; Mar. 8:34; Luk. 9:23)

C. evaluation of our condition v.4-5

leaves no room for doubt / question what he means – James in echo from OT prophets charges people of God with adultery (4a)

speaking of spiritual unfaithfulness, using language of marriage

equivalent of idolatry

doesn’t have to be issue of “ultimate trust” to count – simple preference is enough

in adultery – prefers someone else to God

in idolatry – have greater thirst / desire for created thing than for Creator

demonstrated in priorities based on preferences where God doesn’t come first

spending time / effort that rightfully belongs to God on something else

further defines it as “friendship with the world” (4b)

subscribe to world’s way of thinking and doing

prefer things world holds important

cultivating relationships with others who do the same

and “enmity with God” (4c)

no gray area, it’s either / or

same as Jesus said in Matt 6:24 “no one can serve two masters”

world is kingdom of Satan, place where he rules men’s hearts, is at war with God and his people

to become friend of the world – eventually get sucked in, become enemy of God, too

to summarize:

Friendship with the world, then, “means to affirm the values, choices, priorities of a meaning system that grounds meaning in material possessions, status and regard.”

Friendship with God, on the other hand, is “to affirm the values, choices and priorities of a meaning system that grounds meaning in the promise of the one who gives every good gift and is both ‘lawgiver’ and ‘judge (Jam. 4:11-12)’” William Brosend

just in case you were wondering if this is at all serious….

Bible warns of penchant for envy, inordinate desire; means what it says (The present Commentary opts for the following translation. “The spirit that he (i.e., God) caused to dwell in us, lusts to envy” (envies intensely, NIV;) Krabbendam)

if we give in to desire, feed it with world’s friendship, situation is hopeless

no way we can escape power of indwelling sin coupled with external encouragement to sin

don’t despair!

as great as danger is, God’s grace is greater – see v.6

when Christian understands / acknowledges true inward condition, then is ready for God’s solution

Whether we are born again or still in need of conversion, our only hope lies in acknowledging utter inability and total dependence on God. Doesn’t mean we stop working, passively waiting for God to do his thing and make us all better. We have responsibility to do what is right – making right choices, resisting sin and Satan. In words of Luke (describing work of Barnabas in Antioch), may we “remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart” (Acts 11:23, HCSB). May God grant us grace and strength to do that.


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