The title sounds like a soap opera, and correctly so. Have you ever watched a soap opera? I must confess that during my senior year in college I (and many others) were so hooked on General Hospital we scheduled our classes around it so we could catch the latest in the trials of Luke and Laura.
Remember that? Hall and Oates playing on the radio, Luke and Laura on TV, I had hair, those were the days.
But I digress, back to soap operas. What is it that drives soap operas? Is it selflessness or selfishness? Is it people being kind to each other and putting their wishes behind those of others or is it greed, desire, ambition? If the people in a soap opera were not beautiful, the sets did not depict upscale scenes, if the guys wore grungy wife beaters, but all the actions stayed the same, what would you have? I mean besides Corsicana.
Now suppose you put all those people in a church but did not change their actions except for using a lot of religious language? Would that fit or would it look incongruous? Unfortunately, says James, it often looks just like what happens in church and he tells us why it happens. He tells us in 4:2 that “You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight.” And in 4:4 “Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? a So whoever decides to be the worldʼs friend makes himself Godʼs enemy.”
In essence he says that our desires for the things the world can give us pit us first against God, then in an internal struggle against ourselves, and then against each other. He tells us that this even extends to what we ask God to give us. He says we ask God to give us things so that we can “…spend it on our passions.” What is our real intent when we ask God to bless us? Is it so that we can do his will, or spend it on ourselves?
He also offers a prescription for avoiding a soap opera life in 4:7-10:
- Submit to God – Put his desires for our lives before our own.
- Resist the Devil – Actively oppose the temptations posed by things of this world.
- Draw near to God – Actively seek to to be in God’s presence.
- Cleanse you hands – Make sure your actions are those God would approve of.
- Make your hearts pure – Pure in the sense of unalloyed, that your motivations are sincere, your are not double minded.
- Turn your world inside out – Be sad about things that used to make you happy.
- Humility before God – God exalts the humble.
And how is all of this accomplished? Because, lets be honest, that may be what we say we want and even think we want, but not what we do. James says its a matter of grace. Ultimately we can’t do it by ourselves because our nature is to live like the people in a soap opera, or as James would have it “The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning”. Its in our nature, the very fiber of our being to want to live like soap opera people. But Gods Grace is bigger than that, we can transcend what we are by nature.