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Submit to God
Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 2: Loving God by Trusting Christ
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 13, 2019
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: James 4: 1-10
Four or five men were named James in the New Testament. The writer of the book bearing this name was likely the brother of Jesus. He never claims the authority of the family relationship, simply calling himself “a servant of God.” Josephus, the Jewish historian, marks his death in 62 CE, killed by Jews.
He became a follower of Jesus after
the resurrection and became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. The book was written “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” His readers were Jewish Christians, who probably fled the persecution following the stoning of Stephen. As their spiritual leader, he would be concerned for the spiritual health of his scattered flock.
With his death dated as 62, the time of writing in the 50s would make his letter, with Paul’s, among the earliest documents in the New Testament. He expected much from these people, now in the midst of a non-Jewish world. Certainly, a cultural conflict was in full bloom. Rivalries were present, focusing primarily on the inequity of wealth. These conflicts between rich and poor impeded the witness of the early Church. James’ famous dictum, “faith without works is dead,” was being sorely tested by a pride very contrary to the Lord they worshipped.
Humility is the theme of the verses we study this week. James’ language is tough! When Sam read the passage, he groaned: “I don’t want to write this lesson!” The fighting and quarreling sound too much like today, when you can hardly have a discussion without cussing and choosing sides – politics, religion, social issues – even football! Too many of our relationships become confrontational. James’ Greek vocabulary suggests armies in battle.
James sees the root of the trouble as the inner conflict within the believer. Sam has seen too many church fights between strong-willed individuals who are motivated by personal issues and can tolerate no contrary opinion. Surely, James’ language of killing is figurative. We must remember, however, what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: anger is tantamount to murder. (Matthew 5:21-22)
James’s diagnosis of this spiritual illness is the acquisitive spirit of wanting more and more. The result is division within the family. Once again, prayer is elevated to the central place in the life of the church family. Those praying either do not ask God, or they ask with the wrong motives.
Sam remembers vividly a discussion with a church member who quoted Jesus: “If you ask anything in my name, it will be granted.” She was absolutely sure she would own a “cottage” on Sea Island. Sam’s response was similar to our scripture. When you pray in Jesus’ name, you pray as His disciple who has denied self, taken up your cross, and followed Him. Praying in His name means we align our prayer with His will and way – His way, His truth, His life.
The strong language continues in the next verse, when he calls these Jewish Christians an adulterous people. He is not speaking sexually, but using unmistakable language to describe their lifestyle. Sure, sex may have been a problem in this Greek/Roman culture, but, like Joshua, the necessity of choosing between the world or God is all-encompassing. You can’t have it both ways – the values of the world are in direct conflict with the Divine will and way. A friend of the world is God’s enemy. Like the prophets of old, adulterous meant unfaithful. The bride (the Church) is being unfaithful to the groom (Christ)!
In the middle of this very harsh language, James opens the door of grace. Thank God! How we need to hear this word, when we are reeling from being battered and bruised! He reminds them and us: in creation God implanted a spirit within us. The heart of the Eternal One “jealously longs for that spirit to dwell in us.” What is that spirit? He quotes from Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” More importantly, our heavenly Father understands our need and provides the gift – grace! Our pride can only be held in check by God’s grace.
Sam’s favorite benediction is “in the grip of grace.” God will hold us fast by His grace, if we recognize the need. Pride is the enemy, allowing us to love the world. Pride is warped self-love – we become self-made idols of worship.
Our lesson concludes with the admonition to submit to God. Submission does not come easily to human beings. We remember, growing up in the Cold War of the 1950s, people shouting they would rather be dead than Red. We weren’t going to “give in” to anybody. Herein is the problem: balancing proper self-love with our relationship to God. When Jesus defined discipleship, he began with “deny self.” Full submission to God requires us to see ourselves as God sees us: a beloved child who is totally obedient to the Father.
In our human ages and stages of development, we must move from dependence to independence. In our spiritual development, we must grow in the opposite direction, from self-will to His will. In growing and developing God’s way, “We draw near to God,” and, as Jesus promised, “If we seek, we will find.” God is always there, like the Prodigal’s father, waiting for us with open arms.
The closing verses are a harsh reminder of the necessity of repentance. If we are to “turn around,” we must go through some tough changes in thought, word, and deed. This change of life’s direction does not come without discomfort. James describes it with words like grieve, mourn, and wail. Laughter becomes mourning and joy becomes gloom. Is it any wonder Sam didn’t want to write this lesson?
But the call to change/repentance comes with a marvelous promise: God will lift us up. God forgives and restores our joy. The prodigal comes home, beaten down by sin and selfishness. When he comes to himself in the far country and heads home, he has no idea of the welcome he will receive.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.