James 4

James 4 deals with a few issues: quarrelling and fighting; not receiving what you want from God; not following the world’s pattern; life with the Spirit; humility; true repentance; slander; and finally, arrogance. It quickly moves from one topic to the other, but James manages to link them all.

The quarrelling and fighting is caused by our sinful nature, envy and desires. These desires are a result of not receiving what we want from God, such as wisdom. Of course, it is proper to ask God for things, but James points out that his readers ask these things for selfish reasons: self-indulgence or for superiority. Therefore, God does not grant these things. Rather we should be asking, in prayer, in humility and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

He then goes to rebuke people for following the world’s pattern. That is one of selfishness, egocentric behaviour and a sense of entitlement. It does make me think about modern Western society. (Especially when we consider the response of simple things such as having to wear masks in the face of COVID-19. ) It seems that personal rights, freedoms, liberties, comforts take a higher importance than obeying Scripture. This, of course, means careful consideration about appropriate responses to oppression. (I do not think there’s a Biblical argument to not fight against injustices. I’m just not yet sure how.)

James then reminds us, that we are to embrace the way of God and the indwelling of the Spirit within us. This is where we humbly acknowledge our sinful nature, and with a grief and burden from sin, cry out to God. James, here, does not ask us to be miserable but instead recognise the gravity and repugnance of our sin. The joy comes in knowing that we are given grace and that God lifts us out of our sinful state.

This humility makes us realise that we cannot slander others, because we don’t have a leg to stand on. Who are we to condemn others when we know the full state of sin within our own hearts? We perhaps only know a few of the sins of our neighbours; but if we were honest about ourselves, we truly know how terrible and sinful we truly are.

The humility also has another response: that we are aware our lives and times are God’s and not our own. Of course, 2020 has been a huge lesson in this. We are to know that we are living within God’s will, so therefore must be humble and not boastful. We cannot say that are plans are certain and not make huge boasts about business ventures or mighty schemes. Because, we simply do not know what tomorrow brings.

Reflection questions

  1. What are my motives when I ask for something in prayer?
  2. How do we put obedience, submission and scripture over person desires, wants and ambitions?
  3. How do we acknowledge God’s will in what we do?

Joel 2

Joel 2 discusses the judgment of the Lord coming on his people like an army. Its horror is far greater than the plague of locusts: it destroys crops, cities and even the sun, moon and stars.

So the Lord calls his people to repentance. This is not just an outwardly, superficial repentance, but an inward repentance. Verse 13 tells its readers “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” The Lord doesn’t want displays of repentance that mean nothing. He wants people to genuinely feel loss, as if their heart has been torn in two. Yes, there are outward signs, as verse 12 asks for “fasting and weeping and mourning”. But this, again, is meant to be genuine, as the Lord also asked that they “return to me with all your heart”. These acts were not trite and glib pretences. They were acts of humility: weeping because your heart has broken, mourning because your God has been wronged.

It’s currently the season of Lent, which is a time of introspection and repentance, so these verses are particularly timely. This repentance isn’t easy; in fact, it’s heart-breaking.

Of course, with Christ, we look to him and ask for him to save us. But often, I think we have the tendency to make it too easy. But our hearts should break. The one in whom all things were creator, the Son and Saviour, the most loved of the whole universe, died. He was tortured, humiliated and murdered. But more than this, his heart was rent as he took on the sin of all and was separated from his father. We should mourn his death with weeping and fasting. But then we should rejoice because on Easter day, he rose again.

And how does Joel 2 end? Not with our response but how the Lord responds to our repentance. First, those suffering from the famine will have their crops and lands restored. Then, God promises to pour out his Spirit on all people.

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32

What a fantastic promise. That all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.