God’s Word for You
James 4:1 Lusts at war
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Friendship with the World is Hatred Toward God
In chapter 4, James explains that faith submits to God in view of all our relationships. That is to say, we show our faith to God in the way we behave toward each other. After ending chapter 3 with the divine standard of peace and being peacemakers, James the coach now vents his pastoral frustration with his people, dispersed out in the world. He has heard all about their fighting, conflict and quarrels. He reminds us of a coach at halftime, giving a pep talk that begins with everything that’s wrong, but then pointing his people toward what is right. Then he will encourage them to finish the contest of this life by encouraging one another to do whatever we can toward the life of the world to come.
4 What causes conflict and quarrels among you? Is it not this very source, that your lusts are at war within you?
James has heard about conflicts and quarrels among his people. In the same way that Old Testament believers were lured into terrible sins by their passions when they came into contact with the Moabites and Amorites, the Christians of Jerusalem had been led into disputes and arguments. They had a habit of picking up the ways of the people where they lived; they didn’t watch their life and their doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). The words of Nahum were directed at the exiles led astray by the false goddesses of the Ninevites: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over corpses—all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft” (Nahum 3:3-4). James doesn’t want his Christians caught up in sins that will compound into further sins.
Luther warned: “Where the Word is not present or is disregarded, men cannot avoid falling into lusts. Lust brings with it countless other evils: haughtiness, injustice, perjury, etc. These sins cannot be curbed in any other manner than by the First Table (the first three commandments), when men begin to fear God and to put their trust in him. Then they will follow the Word like a lamp going before them in darkness and will not engage in those offenses but will beware of them. But when the First Table is set aside, it becomes possible for shameful deeds and sins of all sorts to prevail” (LW 2:8, commenting on Genesis 6:1).
When a Christian man or woman has a desire or a lust that causes them to fall into other sins—lies, deceptions, pornography, indecent humor, harmful words, abuse, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and everything else that breaks the foremost command of marriage, which is love—then they must acknowledge the sin as a sin. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially if a sin has become such a habit that the conscience has become seared on that side (1 Timothy 4:2). But once a sin is admitted and confessed, the Holy Spirit will help them to turn from it and even to look out for it on the path ahead as life continues in the grace of God. When a marriage has been damaged and broken by the sin of lust, there can only be healing when repentance has taken place. Otherwise, as Paul says, “a believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Beware of desires that break or violate the will of God. If I desire an orange for my dinner, that’s within God’s will. But if I desire a Faberge Egg for my Easter celebration, and my desire makes me plot to steal one, then I have fallen into sin. If a woman wants to sleep with her husband and she tells him so, that’s not only within God’s will, it’s part of God’s plan for them. But if a woman wants to sleep with a man who is not her husband, she breaks God’s law just as surely as the whore in the proverb whose husband is not at home (Proverbs 7:7-23). The best way to crush lust when it rises up is to remember the roles God has established for us, to remember the value of marriage, and also this: Men, the woman you lust after is a daughter of God, the sister of Jesus Christ. Women, the man you lust after is a son of God, the brother of Christ your Lord. Treat them as you would your own siblings until marriage binds your bodies together with a pledge, and God’s gift of sex can be enjoyed to its full within the clear and freeing bounds of marriage.
O gracious God, you consecrate
All that is lovely, good, and true.
Bless those who in your presence wait
And ev’ry day their love renew.
O God of love, inspire our life;
Reveal your will in all we do.
Join every husband, every wife,
In mutual love and love for you. (Christian Worship 601:2-3)
Pastor Timothy Smith