The Disease Called Worldliness
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
This week’s passage is a bit of an unusual passage. It reads almost like the book of Proverbs—just a series of short statements. In fact, I counted how many sentences there are in the four verses we will be studying tonight and there were six. And one of those sentences was two phrases separated by a semi-colon—which seems like cheating to me. I’m counting that as seven.
But it isn’t just a series of sentences that doesn’t have anything to do with anything else. In fact, the first word of our passage in the NKJV is “Therefore.” And when you see the word “Therefore” you have to ask, “What’s that ‘Therefore’ there for?” Before we answer that, the sub-title of this passage is, “Humility Cures Worldliness.” Last week we discussed in great detail what the New Testament says about worldliness. We took between ten and fifteen minutes just reading passages that contained negative statements about the world, its values, and system of beliefs. So today’s passage is going to teach us how to cure the disease called worldliness. There’s a pill you can take, it’s called the “Gospel.”
So back to our original question—What’s that therefore there for? Well if we look back at last week’s passage James 4:4-6:
(Have two youth stand on opposite sides of the room, one represents God and the other satan. Place a third youth in the middle representing the struggle between choosing God and choosing the world. Demonstrate submitting to God, submitting to the devil, and the tug of war of trying to please both)
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. 5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? 6 But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but favors the humble.”
but favors the humble.”
James calls us adulterers because of our so-called profession of faith and love to Him, as well as our friendship with this world, which we clearly demonstrated that God is not pleased with anything this world has to offer. Pop Quiz: Who’s the ruler of this world? Satan.
So if this passage is designed to cure us of the disease of worldliness, we have a few questions we must ask ourselves. First, you have to ask “Do I want to be cured of this disease or am I OK with it?” I don’t like to be sick. I don’t like to have headaches, tooth aches or any other type of pain if I can avoid it. The way I look at it, if I have a pain or ailment and I have access to a pill that will eliminate that pain or ailment with little or no side effect, I will take the pill. If I’m sick, I will take as much over-the-counter medicine as I can in order to beat the sickness. If all else fails I will go see the doctor. My wife, Rebekah, will try to will away the sickness. If she asks for medicine, I will drive to the moon and back to get it for her, because the amount of pain she must be in to decide to actually take medicine for it. In almost six years of marriage I remember her going to the doctor because she was sick one time. She was really sick. So you have to ask yourselves, “Is the pain of doing nothing worse than the pain of doing something about it?”
Secondly, “Am I willing to do what is necessary to cure the disease?” Or in other words, “Will I follow the doctor’s advice?” Are you willing to listen to the doctor’s instructions or are you going to follow your own plan? I texted Dr. Lile and asked him specifically how many years from high school graduation to being a practicing medical doctor. He said it was eleven to fifteen years depending on the specialty. So are you going to take that eleven to fifteen years of specified education, throw it out the window, and just figure it out on your own? Or will you submit to the advice of the doctor. There’s a passage in 2 Kings where Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army and a leper sought the help of the prophet Elisha to heal him. Elisha said to dip in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman thought Elisha was blowing him off and left mad, frustrated, and still leprous. One of Naaman’s servants said, “If he would have asked you to do something great, would you not have done it?” Of course he would have. So Naaman humbly submitted to Elisha and dipped in the Jordan River seven times and was cured of his leprosy.
What prescription does this passage give to cure the disease of worldliness? Humbly submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Remember James calls us adulterers, meaning we have conflicting interests between the things of this world and the things of God. Picture in your mind God on one side, the devil on the other side, and you right in the middle. You keep looking back and forth trying to make up your mind which side to choose. In the process of resisting the devil, saying no to the things of this world, we need to run to God’s side and submit to Him. Submit is a military term meaning to be under one mission. With you and God on one side, the devil is completely exposed and has no other option but to flee. Another way to look at it is like a little child who is scared, running up to his dad, grabbing his leg and hiding behind it. I’ve never seen that happen where a father shakes the child loose. The father always smiles, and puts his arms around his child. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” God will smile, and put his arm of protection around you.
After we have submitted to God we need to “cleanse our hands” which means to repent of our sin, or change direction from our sinful choices. Secondly we need to “purify our hearts.” James calls us “double-minded,” which in James 1:8 he says those whoare double-minded are unstable in all of their ways. As adulterous double-minded people we have to stop having one foot in Satan’s camp and one foot in God’s. We need to be singularly minded. It goes on to say that we need to “lament, mourn, and weep” letting our joy turn into gloom. It sounds strange to think that God would want us to be sad, weeping, and mournful. It’s not so strange when we compare it to the image of a group of people involved in a really crazy party, laughing and carrying on as they’re fully engaged in sin. James wants us to be mournful of our sin. He wants us to look back at our sinful choices and see them the same way God sees them, with utter shame and disdain.
The last verse is a promise: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” If you humbly do the things prescribed to cure the disease of worldliness, He will lift you up. The opposite is also true, if you lift yourselves up in the sight of the Lord, He will bring you down. Lifting yourself up means saying you don’t need God’s help, and instead of getting under God’s leadership, you remain squarely in the middle, sitting on the fence. But if you do not choose to follow God, you by default are choosing to follow Satan. Some of the greatest deceptions in the world are that you don’t have to decide, that there is no God, that there is no enemy of your soul, that there is no hell, that there is something else you could be thinking about, and that you don’t need to concern yourselves with spiritual matters.