Sermon: "With Friends Like That"

Seventh in a series on the book of James,
Given August 26, 2001 by Rev. George Antonakos and Mark & Susan Smith.
This sermon was an intertwining of text and illustration by those named above.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8

Theme: To be a Godly friend, certain relationships need to be ended.

Sermon Text: James 4:1-10

Listen to James, chapter 4, verses 1-10 as we continue in our series from the Book of James.

What causes fights and quarrels among you. Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it, you kill and covet but you can not have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives. That you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God. Anyone who choses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think the scripture says without reason that the spirit he calls to live in us envies intensely. But he gives us more grace. That is why scripture says God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.

PASTOR GEORGE: What would you think if you went to a doctor and complained that you were feeling run down and noticed that your skin had a yellowish tint and the doctor said, "I have just what you need." He proceeded to take a cotton swab and some Mabeline makeup and started to dab your face. And after he was all finished covering your face he said, "There you go. It's all-better. No more problem." Besides checking his diploma to see if it came from the Kellogg's School of Medicine, you would run out as fast as you could because you would be appalled that a doctor would mistake symptoms for causes.

Well Brother James is a spiritual doctor. And he had an interest in the cure of souls. And he knew that the root of many problems in our lives are really traced to deep spiritual causes. He was not interested in quick fixes. I was thinking about quick fixes and thinking about an article in the paper about all the lines for the $280 million dollar Powerball. I was amazed that there was no line to get into church today. Because there is a 1 in 80 million chance that you will win that money. But there is a 1 in 1 chance that you will stand before God. And that's what makes a difference to God. There is a 1 in 1 chance of that being very important to God, but 1 in 80 million and people stand in line. Well James is not interested in quick fixes or facade solutions. He is trying to help us understand that a real cure for those struggles that we have with God and other people has to do with something inside of us. And so he realizes, like Jesus teaching, that wholeness of body and soul has to happen from the inside out. We can't look good on the outside as Jesus accused religious people of doing, and have death on the inside. And so he asks a very important question to people who are interested in getting spiritually healthy. He says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? "What causes the relational problems that we experience between God and others?" And he's been speaking about conflict in this context and so it makes sense that he would move from the symptoms of fighting to the causes and it is very simple. He says that it has to do with that which is inside of us. The desires that we have, the wants, the coveting, not being able to get it and so we do anything we can to try to get it. In fact, he goes on to say that sometimes we are so focused on that which God has no interest in us having or being a part of, that we forget to even ask God about it. He says that "you don't even ask." It's like we put God on the sideline. And then he says that when you remember God, you even try to use God to get what you want. You ask God, but your motive in asking is only to spend it on your own selfish pleasures. And so it boils down to the same cause. That self-centered, me first attitude that gets in the way of our relationship with God and causes conflict and strife in every relationship. I am going to ask Mark to come and share how this plays out in the church in Cambodia.

MARK SMITH: "A tale of two pastors. I was preaching one Sunday in a small house church of Pastor A, but neither Pastor A nor his family were at church this morning. This was unusual because the church met in his house. And his family made up about a third of the church. A church leader explained to me that the church was actually looking for a new place and a new pastor. Pastor A had married one of his daughters to a non-believer in secret for financial and political gains. This is common in Cambodia. A bride's family collects a dowry and becomes linked to the groom's family. But secrets are difficult to keep in a small church and the leadership found out and confronted Pastor A. At first Pastor A denied the marriage had happened. But recognizing he was trapped by the truth, he became angry and defiant. Eventually Pastor A abandoned his church, a church that met each Sunday in his own home. Now Pastor B was a nationally known Pastor, an experienced teacher and a leader of an association of churches in the countryside. By Cambodian standards, Pastor B was a shaker and a mover, a respected leader of the national church. One day to the surprise of everyone, Pastor B abandoned his family, his wife and children, for a young girl in one of the churches that he pastored. Pastor B had gotten inappropriately close to this young lady, they fell in love and Pastor B abandoned his family. Now this is unfortunately common in Cambodia. Men abandoning wives, taking second and third wives. It should be unheard of in God's church, but its not. Pastor B took a second and very young wife. Moreover, Pastor B was unrepentant when confronted, unwilling to relinquish his positions of leadership with his church and the association of churches, which he led. Pastor A pursued material gain. Pastor B yearned for a new relationship. And their searching caused suffering to themselves, their families, and to the church."

PASTOR GEORGE: What will it take for someone who is so rooted in their own self interest to get out of it? The same thing that it takes for us to stop ignoring a nagging pain inside of us. For some of us to get somebody to go to the doctor is a major production. I don't know if you have any folks like that in your family, but they almost have to be dying to go to the doctor. Well in a similar sort of way, we have to admit deep inside that there is a struggle, a problem, a spiritual sickness that has to do with our cravings for things or relationships, which leads us to obtain them in illegitimate ways. In fact, this illegitimacy is so clear because of James' use of the words, "You adulterous people." It's an Old Testament image of God calling Israel an adulterous wife in that context, Jesus said, "How long will I deal with this sinful and adulterous generation?" Why this image? Because we are pursuing relationships that God never intended for us to pursue. And so he says to his listeners, "Are you cheating on God? You're cheating on God." As Christians we are called the "Bride of Christ" and that makes Jesus our spiritual husband. Are you cheating on your spouse? James wants to know. How do you know if a person is cheating on their spouse? How do you know if someone is committing adultery or not? Well we can rationalize like a certain president once did. We can make up all kinds of goofy lines in the sand that say that we have or we haven't, but it's fairly simple. Where do your affections lie? Are you being illegitimately intimate with someone other than your spouse? You know, there is even emotional adultery. Somebody who is more intimate with someone other than their spouse. And adultery first and foremost is a matter of dishonesty with a person to whom you are committed. James says, "You have committed yourself to God, why are you fooling around with the world?" Why are you befriending someone you have no right to befriend?" It's like he is asking, "Who do you really love?'

Susan is going to share a story about a young man in her village.

SUSAN SMITH: "We are shocked to hear that a Pastor left his wife for a young women and we ask, 'How did this happen?' And the answer is one step at a time and that is illustrated in this story about Ame. Ame participated in our Bible study and went to church most weeks. We weren't sure if he was a believer or not. But he was a good kid, the son of our landlord and a middle school student. He was thrilled when his dad bought him a new bicycle. At first he rode over to the school and played volleyball with the other kids there. But his trips lasted longer and longer. Meanwhile we started to notice things disappearing from our house. Mostly our money. We weren't 100% sure who it was. But one day there was a crisis. Ame was caught stealing money from his aunt downstairs. It turns out he had stolen from a lot of people in our household and a search had revealed a bag of glue that he was sniffing. It turns out that Ame had met some kids on his way into the city that were gang kids and those friendships had led him down the path that would surely ruin his life. Fortunately for Ame, he had a dad that loved him enough to discipline him and cut off the friendships that were destructive."

PASTOR GEORGE: Thank you Susan.

James goes on to say that this adulterous behavior is like being friends with the world. He says, "Don't you know that friendship with world is hatred toward God and anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God?" I have a question for you today. How many here would like to be enemies of God? A show of hands. No one, I thought so. But that's like asking, How many here would like to have cancer? And nobody is going to raise their hand on that one either. And yet we engage in behaviors with toxic substances that often put us at risk of deep harm and so in the same way to be on God's wrong side, we engage in relationships that we shouldn't be engaging in, we go to places that we shouldn't be going, we do things we shouldn't be doing, and we wonder why we are at odds with the Lord. To be a friend of the world--a friend is somebody who you have much in common with. The world that he is talking about here is not the globe, it's not earth, it's a world system. We can make a living in the world of business, we can go to school in the world of education, we can enjoy entertainment and music in the world of media, but to be swept away by the philosophy, the agenda of the world, is what James calls being a friend of the world. If we want to enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God, love, joy and peace and patience and long-suffering and all the fruit of the spirit, then certain things James is telling us have got to go.

I remember my first two years of college before I was a Christian and then halfway through I became a Christian. The second half of my college experience was a constant see-saw between one foot in the world and one foot in the church, as it were. I had a group of Christians friends and I had a group of non-believing friends and I always felt uncomfortable if any of those groups overlapped one another. I tried to kind of keep them away from one another. One day I went to a prayer meeting, and then I would go to a party that night. I was constantly on a seesaw. Have you ever noticed that when God wants you to get healthy, something has got to go. I mean, if you have a bad heart, you can't be eating fatty foods anymore. If you've got bad conditioning, you've got to give up the couch potato lifestyle. Something has got to end. And today there may be someone here who is engaging in a relationship, engaging in a behavior that God is clearly saying to you, "This has to go." But no matter how far down the road you go, no matter how mature you become spiritually, there is always a challenge to the balance of being in the world and not of it. Mark is going to illustrate this concept for us.

MARK SMITH: "Our neighborhood has a reputation of being one of the worst places in Phnom Penh, a den of thieves, a haven of crime and brothels. Many of our Cambodian friends and even some of our missionary friends wonder why we live in such a place. Well to my mind, what better place to be salt and light? We have chosen not to shun sinners and this place of sin. Our neighborhood is a wonderful opportunity to bear witness to Christ through righteous lives, lived out publically and transparently among unbelievers in that place of sin. A word of caution though. It is difficult to resist becoming friends with the world living in our neighborhood. Sometimes this friendship with the world can start with small things. For example it is culturally expected that I would drink beer to excess at Cambodian weddings. It is also expected that we will lie to save someone's face, to save someone's image. But sometimes too, the world's temptations come in more obvious forms. For example the multitude of brothels that are in our neighborhood. We do hang out with unbelievers in a dark place and we do so purposefully. How do we balance interacting with the world, but not being friends of the world? It requires constant introspection and constant vigilance, a willingness to expose oneself both to the unbelievers in places of sin and to people in structures of accountability to help maintain that balance. This is a double edge vulnerability. We must choose wisely so our hanging out in our neighborhood does not tempt us unduly. At times this means avoiding or fleeing from people and places that we shouldn't be near. At times it means not lying to save people's faces, even when it is very uncomfortable. And finally and most importantly we must pray for God's protection that we do not cross over into sin."

PASTOR GEORGE: You know, we can all blow it from time to time, but James says something very interesting in this text. He says, "Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world." So in my mind, and I think in James' context, a person who chooses to be a friend of the world, deliberately and selfishly and consistently makes a decision to hang out with people and places that you would feel embarrassed for Jesus to be with you. And someone could say, "Well wait a minute, Jesus hung out with sinners" and I would say that is right he did. And if we can have the same intent and the same impact then go for it, but most of the time we get into trouble because they have more influence on us than we do on them. So how do you get off the seesaw? How do you walk straight paths, as the scripture says? Well James has the answer. He says you know God gives grace so that this can happen. I don't want this to be a moralistic sermon, you should do this, or you shouldn't do that. The scripture says that God gives the grace we need and it even says that God gives us more grace, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble, but it says that he gives more grace, which means he gives more strength, more power, more help than the pull of the world. And basically there are four steps in verses 7-10 that indicate how victory can be achieved. The first is to submit to God. Verse 7. "Submit yourselves, then to God." This simply means that I will put God as my authority in every area, he will be my authority. If somebody calls you and says let's go rob a store, you say wait a minute I have to check with the authority. Actually when it says submit in this text, it has the same flavor as enlist. It means to submit to a whole new system of thinking. So you say to the Lord, you put your hand over the receiver, "Lord can I go rob a store today?" "Check the commandments," the Lord says. You find it on the list, Thou shalt not steal; nope, no good. You get back on the phone, I'm sorry I can't do that. You have submitted to a whole new way of thinking. Secondly he says, "resist the devil." Stand toe to toe. You know, in the scriptures when it comes to youthful lusts and to sexual temptation, the scripture says flee, get out, run. But when it comes to the temptations of Satan, like Jesus in the wilderness, you stand toe to toe and you quote the scripture. Twice in James' text in verse 5 and in verse 6 he says, "just like Jesus in the wilderness, "stand and resist the devil." And Satan will flee." Thirdly, draw near to God. It says come near to God and he will, don't be afraid to come near to God. Jesus came near to God everyday. The priests of old came to the Holy Place and so there is a sense that when we have been walking away from God, there is a fear that God will not receive us, but he says, "No, draw near to God. God will not reject you." And then lastly he says, "Repent." Verses 8 and 9. "Grieve, mourn, wail, wash your hands, purify your hearts," all images of Old Testament repentance. This simply means change your mind, turn back just as Peter did after the denial, he wept after he turned his back on his truest friend ever. James is saying, "Weep, turn, come back to God and God will lift you up, God will restore you." Susan is going to share some illustrations from Cambodian life, and how people have found this to be true.

SUSAN SMITH: "Mydia is a member of our Bible study. She and her family rent a room from the same landlord that we do. I was hanging out with her one day while she was cooking and she was sharing with me about changes she noticed in her family after she began studying the Bible and applying it in her life. She noticed less quarreling and fighting with her husband and with our landlord, Myhian. She even noticed that her husband, who doesn't even attend the Bible study, spent less time and money drinking. Mydia also told me that she was able to improve her job, and that each month she is able to save more money. Rith is a single, young man who works in a hospital and he became a believer there. He told his family about what had happened to him and his father took the family rice bowl, broke it on his head, and kicked him out of the house. Rith was forced to rent a spot on someone else's porch. He didn't even have enough money to rent a proper home because he spent part of his own salary buying medicine for his poor neighbors. Eventually Rith met a lovely Christian woman whom he wanted to marry. Since the scriptures teach about honoring your parents, Rith did not want to marry without his father's blessing. Rith prayed and waited for over a year, as did his bride, until his father gave his blessing and agreed to the marriage. Now Rith's family relationships have been restored and God has been faithful to Rith."

PASTOR GEORGE: You know, these are illustrations of regular people, humbly coming before God and saying, "Lord help me," experiencing what James says will happen, that the Lord will lift you up. In one part of the text it says that God opposes the proud. And on the other side of the text it says that God will lift you up. Did you know that an opposing force can become a lifting force if faced at the right angle? That the same wind that will knock over a tree, will lift up a bird? The scripture, the Word, the Spirit cry out today and say humble yourself before God and he will lift you up. He will lift you up above all the difficulties, the struggles, the strife, the lust, the greed, and temptations in his power. And his way of doing that is simply by way of commitment and confession. To simply say, "Lord, Your will be done in my life, give me the strength to do what you ask of me." I am going to encourage you because I believe that God is speaking to some of us today about needing to reorient our lives, and so I am going to have a brief prayer and if you would like to make this prayer your own, then pray it silently in your hearts.

Lord, we thank You that You love us so much. We have gone far from You and we ask, Lord, that You would help us now, help us turn back, help us to not be afraid to come into Your presence again. Lord, thank You for Your abundant forgiveness, help me now to turn to You, to submit, to repent, to draw near. Give me the Spirit's strength again. Cleanse me of my sin, lift me up that I might serve You in Christ's name. Amen.

© 2001, Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org