God’s Word for You
James 4:2-3 You don’t ask
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 12, 2020
2 You lust and do not have. You murder, you covet but you don’t have what you want. You fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motive: to spend it on your passions.
Sixth commandment, fifth, ninth, and tenth. James knows that his people are guilty of other sins, but these need to be addressed with a special vehemence. You lust! he shouts. You lust, and you cry about not having? Go ask a woman to be your wife, and as you satisfy her passions and needs, you will fulfill your own without lusting anymore. “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). In Luther’s day, “before these times of the revival of the Gospel (the Lutheran reformation),” husbands were taught from the pulpit to be ashamed of having sex with their wives “as a most serious sin.” “Indeed,” Luther wrote, “if at any time some honorable matron or virgin had crossed the cemetery of the Franciscans (a Catholic monastic order), the monks immediately cleaned it with brooms and purified the sacred place with fire. Yet they are our mothers!” (LW 5:35). Where the Gospel is forgotten, God’s plan for marriage is soon forgotten along with every other gracious detail of the will of God for his people, and man falls into the worst sins imaginable.
You murder! he exclaims. Your hatred has spilled over into impatience, anger, and unmentionable violence. You rage about everything, as if the world itself were your enemy. Indeed, the world is your enemy, but not in the way you think. The world is your enemy when you love it more than you love the Father (1 John 2:15). Appreciate the world because it is the Father’s creation, and treat the people of the world as the Father’s children. Do not be impatient with a man just because he is impatient with you. Do not hate a woman because she suffers secret sorrows too terrible to guess. Be patient and understanding, and treat every woman like your own darling daughter; every man like your own dear son. Don’t pick a fight with someone who can’t fight back. If you need to argue, wrestle with the Holy Scriptures about the most difficult passages, and you will learn true humility as you nurse the black eyes that will come from the pens of Moses and the holy Prophets and John.
You covet! he cries. Beware your sinful desire for what God has given to someone else. Think of an orchestra, or a high school band. If you covet someone else’s instrument, and your petty coveting turns to larcenous theft, what will they play when their turn for a solo comes? What will their mother and father think as they sit in the audience, listening for what was practiced at home for weeks on end? If you can see why coveting within a band or an orchestra is foolish and useless, then understand that God is the great Conductor of our lives. He has wonderful duets and solos and flourishes for each of us to carry out, and he wants us to tap or bang out the regular rhythm of our lives so that our children learn to play as we play, and the harmonious music of God’s creation will continue day by day, with each of us using what God has given without coveting. When you covet you become nothing but an ignorant bully, someone who should be locked hands and neck in old-fashioned stocks so that the rest of the village can throw their garbage at you, along with the contents of the cats’ litter box. Be content with what God has already given you and learn to use it with brilliance and virtuosity. “The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him” (Proverbs 15:26). If God finds that he can trust you with a little, he will give you more (Luke 16:10). But do not desire what you haven’t got, “or you will become ensnared by it” (Deuteronomy 7:25).
Finally, James says in exasperation: You don’t ask! You wonder why God doesn’t bless you? You’re like a child who pouts on his birthday because he never told his parents about the toy he wanted, and he is surprised that he didn’t get it. God invites us to pray so that, in the act of prayer, we will tremble at the thought of approaching his holy throne and adjust our requests to fall into line with his will for us. We want to remember to pray as Jesus prayed, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). When we approach God in true humility and faith, he will give, and he won’t be stingy with his gifts. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). One of the most delightful passages God has given to us about prayer comes from Jesus: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
When Luther wrote to explain the ending (doxology) of the Lord’s Prayer, he turned as he always did to the Scriptures themselves to explain it best:
We can be sure that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven and are heard by him, for he himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Therefore we say, “Amen. Yes, it shall be so.” (Small Catechism)
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer! (Christian Worship 411:1)
Pastor Timothy Smith