Risk - Does God really mean what He says?
While we were living in Nashville, on the afternoons when Trista had teachers meetings or parent meetings and we were supposed to go out to eat with some of the kids I would go and wander aimlessly in stores until she was done. One day I wandered into a Barnes and Noble book store and began to look through the stacks, when a young mother caught my attention. Her son who appeared to be about three years old was standing at the top of a staircase and his mother was calling for him to come down. There wasn’t anything unusual about that, but what struck me as unusual was that the three year old was standing at the top of the stairs making faces, dancing, and mocking her as she called to him. Their conversation went something like this.
Young man, come here. And the young boy stayed at the top of the stairs. Did you hear me? I said come here. And the young boy stayed at the top of the stairs. Don’t make me come up there and get you, I said come here. And the young boy stayed at the top of the stairs.
Do you want me to spank you? That’s it 1, 2, 3, 4, 4 ½, 5! And the young boy stayed at the top of the stairs. Then she continued getting louder and louder 6, 7, 8, 9, 9 ½, 10! And the young boy stayed at the top of the stairs.
Not having children of my own at the time I was a little amused, and left the store counting 11, 12, 13, 14, 15…
At the time I thought that was funny, but later it occurred to me that the boy had his mom figured out. He knew that she would make threats, and not follow through. So, he could do whatever he wanted to do. I am sure that there were times when she administered punishment, but he was willing to risk the punishment in order to push his boundaries.
The object of our game this morning is very much the same. In the game Risk the object of the game is to push your boundaries one battle at a time until you conquer the world. But there is a bit of strategy involved. First you have to decide how strong your opponent is. If they appear to be strong then you make fast friends with them, but if they appear weak then you take advantage of them.
This little boy in the bookstore knew who his opponent was. He knew that his mom would would stand at the bottom of the stairs and make all kind of threats and he was willing to risk his behavior on the fact that she was lying. That day he won that battle, and sadly, he probably won the war.
Now the difficult part is that many of us are playing the same game, while we may not be playing against our parents, we are playing it against an even more dangerous opponent. Whether we are willing to say this out loud or not all too often our actions reveal that we are playing the game of Risk against God because we believe that God, like this young mother, will not keep His word.
Look with me at our text this morning. It comes from James 4:4-10 and it is some of the most sobering words in the New Testament. (Read Text)
As we grow from young children to adults we all go through this phase of having exclusive friendships which eventually becomes the first great drama in our lives. Every home has experienced the pain of a child who comes home in tears because her best friend announced that she is now best friends with someone else. For the child it is the end of the world, but thankfully these crises are short-lived because children mature to the point where they can make friends more widely, and on a variety of levels.
But there are some relationships that demand exclusiveness; the obvious example is marriage. While, various societies have experimented with polygamy, there is something deep in the human psyche that desires to bond with one person above all others.
In the Bible, marriage and the exclusiveness of that partnership, is often used as an image of the relationship God expects with those who claim to belong to Him. That’s why James uses such a strong accusation here in verse 4. Adulterers is not a pretty word, and definitely not a word that we would wear with honor. But it is a word that James applies to Christians who are friends of the world.
Could James have made it any plainer? The Church is the Bride of Christ, and as such she is to be loyal and true to Him, pure and holy in His sight. My fear is that many of us are guilty of spending more time with our mistress, the world, than we do with Christ. We spend more money on our mistress than we do on Christ. We are more at home with our mistress than we are with Christ. If that’s the case then James is pretty clear that you have made yourself an enemy of God.
Honestly, I have and continue to struggle with this text, but last Monday night our Men’s Bible Study group was looking at this and we talked about two different ways that we live as a friend of this world and an enemy of God.
First, there are some folks who demand that God changes to accept them, rather than changing their lifestyle to conform to God. I believe that the statement that was made was, “If God cannot accept me for the way that I am then, I don’t need Him.” When I hear statements like that my skin crawls. How self centered do you have to be to make that statement. How inflated is your arrogance to even entertain the thought that God has to fall in line with what you think or believe or want.
And while that is a terrible attitude to have, I don’t believe that those folks are the ones that James is writing to in this text. The second way that folks live as a friend of this world is that they want to have the best of both worlds; folks who want to have a little of God and a little of the world. Just enough God to feel saved, and just enough of the world to not feel compelled to sacrifice. It’s not a new struggle and it’s not an American phenomenon. Actually it’s a struggle that the Israelites had all through out the Old Testament.
If you were to just look in the book of Judges you would see that 15 different times, this cycle repeats itself. The people begin to look at the world around them, and they begin to long for the things of this world. Pretty soon they start playing both sides of the fence, worshiping God and worshiping Baal or Asherah. Eventually they drifted away from God and worshipped idols. So God allowed their enemies to defeat them usually making the Israelites their slaves. However when they cried out to God, He raised up a judge to lead them and defeat their enemies. Yet each time a judge died they went back to their old ways.
Maybe you don’t understand worshiping the whole wooden image thing, so you don’t believe that this applies to you. But let me warn you, that the threat of worshiping idols is still alive and prevalent. Go back to the idea that James uses in verse 4; he says you adulteress people. And then he gives the reason for the adultery; friendship with the world is hatred toward God. I like the Greek language, because the words they use paint pictures. It’s interesting the word that James chose for friend here is the word φιλ?α (f?-l?'-ä) and the picture is that you are loved and accepted by the world.
The adultery comes in not because I am chasing after the things the world has to offer. But because I am living a lifestyle that allows the world to love me. That’s a whole different idea, and one that stands in stark contrast to what Christ says in John 15:18-19, If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you out of the world, so you don't belong to it. That is why the world hates you.
It is impossible for us to be loved by the world and be friends with God. If we fulfill the greatest commandment of “Loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, body, and strength” the world will hate us. Now maybe we will not suffer the same persecution that we see happening around the world in Communist and Muslim countries. But those who love God with every breath they take, will be labeled as intolerant by the world. We will be called religious bigots and suffer social or economic exclusions. And we don’t have to stand on a street corner screaming out hate in the name of Christ, for it to find us. Just living like Christ and walking like He walked will cause our world to label us as crazy, and hate us.
It’s not that we never belonged to the world. There was a time in each of our lives that we were lost sinners who deserved the pain and death that is waiting for this world at the end of time. But Christ says that we were chosen out of the world. Those who have been saved by accepting the beautiful gift of grace, know what it means to be connected to and to have an exclusive relationship with Christ. The problem comes in the fact that like the Israelites in the book of Judges, we have become lax in our love affair with God, and we are now enemies through our adultery.
Let me go back to the word for a moment. I mentioned earlier that I don’t think that adultery is a pretty word, and definitely not a word that we would wear with honor. But it is a word that James applies to Christians who are friends of the world. Maybe you don’t feel like you have committed adultery in your relationship with God. I mean basically you are a good person: you are kind to animals and small children, you always allow folks to merge in traffic, and you even do charity work from time to time.
So look at it this way, let’s pretend that you have been married for 30 years. You and your spouse have a good relationship, and most people would say that it is a great relationship. You guys seldom fight, you hold hands when you walk through the grocery store, and you even get along with your in-laws. But once a year your spouse has an affair. It’s just a one night stand, and it only happens once a year, but for the entire 30 years you have been married they have had that one night fling.
Are you ok that with the fact that your spouse has shared the most intimate part of human nature with someone else? Are you ok with the fact that they have this carnal knowledge of someone else, and then another, totaling 30 other people? I mean for 364 days a year they are deeply committed to you and if you average it out it’s just a small blip on the calendar. So it’s no big deal, right???
Of course it’s a big deal. It’s a HUGE deal. You can’t be faithful 99% of the time and be truly faithful. A relationship where one member is unfaithful even once a year, suffers from a lack of intimacy, trust, openness, and love. It makes me shudder that anyone would think that they are in a fully committed, exclusive relationship and still need to go somewhere else or to someone else to find any type of fulfillment.
It’s the same way with God. We are offered a relationship with God. A relationship with the One who not only created you, not only created everything you can see, know and experience, but the One who can do so much more that we even ask or imagine. Since God can do all of that, it makes no sense for us to look somewhere else to try to find anything else.
I was reminded this week of something President George W. Bush said in the days following the attacks of 9/11. He announced to the nations: “You are against the terrorists or you are against us. There is no neutral territory,” In some situations there is no middle ground. There is no room for a person who wants to play both sides. That’s how God feels about anyone who wants to be His child.
So what do we do when we find ourselves in opposition to God, even if it is only 1% of the time? James says we must Submit or humble ourselves. Now I understand that for many of us, the idea of submitting leaves a bad taste in our mouth. We like to be in control, we like to be in charge, and when we are told to submit that goes against our human nature. That’s why we are enemies with God.
I believe that everyone in this room today, and those watching on the internet really like Jesus. But if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t really want to become like Jesus. We admire His humility, but do you really want to be that humble. I mean we think the scene in John 13, where Jesus get’s on His knees and washed the dirty, stinky feet of the disciples is a beautiful gorgeous picture of Christ and His love for us. But is that really the goal of your life?
We are thankful that Jesus was abused, humiliated, embarrassed, and even spit on. But there is no way that you would ever allow that to happen to you.
You love the fact that Jesus laid down His rights so that we can have fellowship with God, but you are going to spend your life fighting for yours and defending yours.
You sing songs of praise to Him and you love Him because He loved you enough to suffer for your sake while He was down here on this earth. But you are going to make sure that you have a good time and have fun doing what makes you happy while you are here on this earth.
In short, you think that Jesus is a great Savior, but you live like He is a terrible role model. And I say that because over the last few weeks we have been discussing the games we play with our relationship with God and even this morning we are looking at God’s desire to have every bit of your life. And it has been met with this attitude that I’ll give God, some of my life. I’ll submit a little to Him. I’ll give Him 55% of my life, but there is no way that He’s going to get all of my heart, all of my mind, all of my strength, and all of my soul.
And in full disclosure, God says if you give some of your life, or even most of your life, as a matter of fact even if you give me 99% of your life, it’s not enough. God says that He created you, He sent His Son, Jesus to redeem you, and what He expects in return according to 1 John 2:6 is Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. It’s not an optional thing. If you claim to have Jesus in your life you MUST walk like Jesus did. You must look like, love like, serve like, and submit to God like Jesus did.
The question is not are you a good person, or even are you are good Christian. The question we must answer is are we giving God 100% of our life? And if we say no then God says we are not His friends, we are in fact His enemy.
Questions To Consider
James uses a harsh phrase, “you adulterous people” to describe the recipients of this letter. Why would he use this term to describe what was going on?
Jeremy described friendship with the world as “ living a lifestyle that allows the world to love me”. What would that lifestyle look like?
Then why would that make you an enemy of God?
Read 1 John 2:15-17 and discuss how this verse ties in with the thought of being friends with the world.
Go back to the illustration of the married couple where one spouse cheated one night a year for 30 years. Is that good enough to be considered faithful?
If it’s not good enough for a marriage, then why do many folks live like that level of faithfulness is more than enough for God?
Quickly do an inventory of the last 7 days. Would you say that you acted like a friend of the world or a friend of God?
What are some things you can do to help you turn your back on the world and be a friend to God?