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Fighting the Good Fight [4-2-23]

April 2, 2023

James 4:1-4

“Fighting the Good Fight”

Throughout his letter, James gives us a series of tests by which to measure the genuineness of our faith.

How well do we hold up under trial and tribulation?

How do we deal with temptation?

How do we respond when people speak ill of us or treat us poorly?

Are we faithful in worship and prayer?

Most of the time, in most situations and circumstances, are we pure and

peaceable and gentle and open to reason and full of mercy and good fruits and impartial and sincere?

These are all tests of faith that is real.

Which brings us to James 4. There’s a lot going on here. Here’s where we’re going to land:


Let’s begin with James 4:1-4:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! 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.

Clearly, no believer wants to intentionally make himself or herself an enemy of God. We know James is not writing to unbelievers. He is writing specifically to believers…to commend us in our current beliefs and practices as well as give us things to watch for lest we fall into error.

We all understand that, as broken people, we are going to unintentionally do something that James warns us against doing. We all, at one time or another, fall into some sin or error. This can happen to any believer at any time. What James pushes back against…what James condemns…is a settled affection for that which tempts us. He warns against caving in to that strong attraction to the things of this world which the Bible calls sin. Sometimes we stumble and fall. That’s not the issue. What James is talking about is people giving themselves wholeheartedly to the clutches of this world. That’s what makes them enemies of God.

Have you ever experienced moments of spiritual weakness? Ha…that was a trick question. It’s not a question of if you have, but when was the last time you experienced a moment of spiritual weakness? When did you last have thoughts that mortified your soul? When did you last do or say something that drove you to your knees in repentance? We all feel the pull of this world. Sin is an ever-present danger to our lives and loves.

So James says, “Watch out.”

We all have battles to fight.

Verse four makes the problem crystal clear. I love the literal translation:

Adulteresses! Not know you that the friendship with the world hostility with God is? Whoever if therefore has chosen a friend to be of the world, an enemy of God is appointed.

Remember, most of the time, words like adulteresses and harlotry are used to describe false or pagan or idol worship. One word in verse four keeps us on our straight path.

Philia. Here it’s translated, “friendship.” We know that word, right? Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love.” It is a “deeply held affection.” It means shared experiences and values. Philia denotes common objectives. It is an emotional bonding. Philia, or “real affection,” is used over twenty times in the New Testament.

This is not the kind of attachment we want to have with the things of this wicked and fallen world.

Here are but a few examples of the right proper application of philia:

  • “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” {Matthew 11:18-19} In other words, Jesus has deep affection for lost sinners.

  • “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” {Luke 12:4-7} Here Jesus is describing his loving affection for his followers.

  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” {John 15:13-14}

In these brief examples, philia is used to positively show how the love for God and from God is properly manifested in our lives. These are all good things. Pursue these, James says. How are we expressing our loving affection for Jesus Christ? Most of the time, in most situations and circumstances, are we pure and peaceable and gentle and open to reason and full of mercy and impartial in our treatment of others and sincere in our affection for others and desire to serve others? James says that is how we are set apart from the world.

I was driving home from Ann Arbor recently and a song by Rare Earth was playing. “I Just Want to Celebrate.” If you’re too young to know who they were, they were a band out of Detroit primarily active in the late 60s-to-late-70s. Their music style was, and still is, timeless. Here’s a sampling from the song {play about 30 seconds from the beginning}:

One, two, three, four

I just want to celebrate another day of livin' I just want to celebrate another day of life

I put my faith in the people But the people let me down So, I turned the other way And I carry on, anyhow That's why I'm telling you

I just want to celebrate, yeah, yeah Another day of living, yeah I just want to celebrate another day of life

Had my hand on the dollar bill

And the dollar bill flew away But the sun is shining down on me And it's here to stay That's why I'm telling you

I just want to celebrate, yeah, yeah Another day of living, yeah I just want to celebrate another day of livin' I just want to celebrate another day of life

Don't let it all get you down, no, no Don't let it turn you around And around and around and around and around Well, I can't be bothered with sorrow And I can't be bothered with hate, no, no I'm using up the time but feeling fine, every day That's why I'm telling you I just want to celebrate Oh, yeah

Now, I don’t know anything about the background of the band members.

The last original band member died in 2021. Here’s what I like about “I Just Want to Celebrate.” Even though it’s a secular song, it echoes some of what James is addressing in chapter four. When, in verse one, James talks about passions at war within you, the Greek word translated, passions, is hedonon. What English word does that sound like to you? Right… hedonism. There exists within each of us a malevolent tendency to purpose selfish and self-centered desires. That’s why, James says, people quarrel so much. What happens when we don’t get our own way? Here’s something you might want to write down:


What is the goal of the world? Self-glory, recognition, and material wealth. We see some of these characteristics in many corners of church culture today. I call it the Evangelical Entertainment Complex. James keeps us focused.

Rich Mullins was a Christian musician/songwriter who died at 41, in 1997. One of my favorite praise songs, “Awesome God,” was written by Mullins. Here’s something he said, shortly before his death:

“Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have {no people who are different from you} near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved, and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.”

That’s what I love about our little church here in this little corner of Michigan. Remember what James wrote back in 2:23:

And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” - and he was called a friend of God.

That’s where every believer wants to be. When we are a church filled with people who resonate with James 2:23, it makes for a beautiful place. We love God. We fear God. It is always a good thing to fear God. Remember, fearing God means having a reverence for Him that greatly impacts the way we live. The fear of God is respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshiping Him in awe. We long to do God’s will, even though we stumble into sin…even though we think too highly of worldly things…even though we sometimes have blind spots to the wickedness of this world…sometimes we’re trapped in what Paul describes as, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” {Romans 7:15,19-20}

Paul is not saying we are not believers. It’s just that we sometimes struggle. And the beauty in the struggle is knowing we are saved and God is working in us to renew us. Paul closes Romans 7 by affirming:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Finally, there’s this from Romans 8:1-2:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in

Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in

Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Therefore, we are friends of God. Through this wonderful church, we worship God. We serve each other. We serve our community. We are in the world but not of the world together. As Paul says in Philippians 1:27-28:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

Right here…right now…there’s no better place to continue the battle against worldliness and spiritual corruption.

Let’s Pray:


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