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The devil is a moralist. The devil is self-righteous. The devil is an angel of light. The name Lucifer means light- bearer. Who could be against that? The devil is censorious. The devil disapproves of us, and likes it when we disapprove of one another. The devil is a Pharisee. The devil is the accuser of the brethren, accusing them day and night before the throne. And this means we should be more far more concerned than we usually are about the danger of becoming like the devil.
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not . . .” (Jas. 4:1-17).
Summary of the Text
Where do our fights come from (v. 1)? They come, not from outside us, but from inside us. You want something, but don’t get it (v. 2). You kill but don’t get it. You fight and go to war, but you won’t humble yourself and ask for it (v. 2). You want it by conquest, not as a gift of grace. And, when you do ask, your motives for asking are all messed up (v. 3). Friendship with the world and friendship with God cannot coexist together (v. 4). The spirit in us veers toward envy (v. 5). But God gives more grace. He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (v. 6). Submit, resist, and watch the devil flee (v. 7). Approach God and He will approach you (v. 8). To approach God, you must purify yourself. You must afflict your soul (v. 9), and not on the surface of it either. Humble yourself so that God might lift you up (v. 10).
Don’t speak evil of one another. To judge your brother is tantamount to judging the law (v. 11), which is bad. There is one lawgiver, and it isn’t you (v. 12). Come now, ye big movers and shakers (v. 13)—you don’t know that your entire life is a little wisp of fog at 7 am that will be gone in 45 minutes (v. 14), as soon as the sun gets over the trees. Your plans for the future therefore ought to take the Lord’s will into account (v. 15). If you don’t, you are boasting, which is an evil self-sufficiency (v. 16). So if you know what is right, you had better do it (v. 17).
We might not really want to, but let’s unpack this further.
What Desire Does
The first and most obvious thing is that desire collides with other desires. Two men want the same job, the same honor, the same girl, the same reputation, the same birthright. Where does conflict come from? James answers the question bluntly—from the desires of your members. Instead of praying to God for the desire of your heart (Ps. 37:4), you pray with the desire of your heart, and so you are turned down flat. This blind desire (which amounts to the desire to be friends with the world) is a desire that is enmity toward God (v. 4). Our front end needs to be aligned—left to ourselves we always veer toward the envy ditch. This is because we desire things in a world where others are usually there first. In fact, given your luck, they are always there first.
How Desire Awakens
Desire awakens because of the presence of the other. This is why desire (and the desire of others) leads to conflict, war, grabbing, accusations, and judging. Using the law that way makes you exegete Scripture like the devil. The name Satan means accuser; the word devil refers to slanderous accusation. But who wants to be like that? Well, more people want to be like that than know they want to be like that. When you boast about what you will do tomorrow, such boasting has others in the rear view mirror (vv. 11, 16). Watch my dust, chump. So remember what we learned in the previous chapter about the wisdom from above and the wisdom from below.
And He Will Flee . . .
Now consider the wonderful promise of v. 7. Submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. But if we have superficial views of the nature of our relationships, and the nature of our conflicts, and the nature of our desires, then we can apply this verse until we turn blue, and the devil will not flee at all. He will just sit there, leering at you. And he will make comments from time to time, because he likes to watch you twitch.
If you view the “world of desire” as simple, then it will not be surprising that you are easily confounded. God says not to take that chocolate chip cookie, and so all you have to do is submit to God on the point of law, recognize that the cookie belongs to another, and poof! the devil vanishes. So if it is so simple, why doesn’t he vanish?
Submit to God means to submit to His entire evaluation, as described in this extended passage, of the tangled web of conflicting desires that makes up your world, and it means to break off your adulterous friendship with the world entirely. To resist the devil means to resist the spirit of accusation that whispers to you every day about how right you are. Who is that who tells you every morning that you are “quite right”? Do you really need to ask? If you want the devil to flee and your right to accuse others to stay, then you are a double-minded man, not knowing what on earth you are asking for.
When we are delivered from envy (and from the envious), we are delivered by grace. God gives more grace (v. 6). He gives grace to the humble (v. 6). He will lift up the one who has humbled himself (v. 10), not the one who has vaunted himself. God draws near to such a person (v. 8). If the Lord blesses, we will do what we do—otherwise not (v. 15). Please note that there is such a thing as vindication. There is a rear view mirror, but you had better not be looking in it the wrong way. Remember the contextual flow. The one who is boasting in his great business plans is someone who clearly has an eye on the competition.
One Last Thing
Is James an accuser? Look again at verse 4, and ask if James is a devil. Is any minister who preaches these words a pulpit devil? Well, it has been done before, but there is a key distinction. The cross comes down to one point, and one point only. The cross judges the judgmental.