THROUGHOUT THIS SEASON WITH THE BRAVES, I have tried to share stories from Jesus’ life during Sunday morning chapel services, and I have tried to share some of Christ’s commands during Tuesday afternoon Bible studies. The commands that we have been covering this year have come from our study of James’ letter because James frequently quotes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
A Divided Heart
Just this past week, we were reading what James had to say about a divided heart which I believe is a good reminder for all of us on the subtle ways we sometimes try to follow Jesus while remaining what James describes as a friend of the world.
According to James, we can be a follower of Jesus or a friend of the world, but we cannot have it both ways.
James paints a picture of conflict within the Christian community and then declares that all of this takes place because our hearts are divided between trying to serve God while continuing to just live life like we want to live it. He even mentions that our prayers are not answered in these situations because God can see the self-centered motives behind most of our prayers.
Would you say that you are more concerned about what God wants for you than what you want for yourself? This lead me to ask myself, “How much time do I spend in prayer asking God what He wants from me versus what I want from Him?”
We need to remember that God is not against us wanting things for ourselves. Scripture tells us to pray continually and to present our requests to God. But God does want us to find pleasure in wanting the things that He wants. He wants us to learn to love what He loves and to see the world like He sees it. We cannot claim to love God and yet only concern ourselves with what’s important to us. To do so is a clear sign of a divided heart.
James uses some harsh language to describe this kind of divided heart.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (4:4)
We must not overlook the weight of these words. James calls the man with a divided heart an adulterer and enemy of God.
As the Creator of all things, God has given us the gift of life and desires our unwavering love, faithfulness and allegiance in return. The great temptation is to turn away from God and to live a life centered on what we want and desire for ourselves. And this kind of self-centeredness is the most common way life is lived in this world and that is why James describes a Christian’s divided heart as ’friendship with the world’.
Think about how this plays out in marriage. A man can say he loves his wife, but if he pursues relationships with other women then he is an adulterer. And think about war or how this plays out in foreign policy. A soldier can say he is committed to his country, but if he is too friendly with the enemy then he too becomes an enemy of his country.
Jesus said that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
When a follower of Jesus desires to be a friend of the world, according to James, he becomes unfaithful to God in that moment and runs the risk of making himself a bible-believing, church-going enemy of God.
The strong language used by James and the directness with which he addresses a divided heart might cause some readers to feel shame, guilt and hopelessness over their own unfaithfulness and sin. But God is patient with us, and James declares that God is willing to extend even more grace to us if we would humble ourselves and turn back to Him.
James quotes an ancient proverb saying, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Living a life fueled by our own passions and desires is no small matter. God opposes those who are self-centered, self-consumed and primarily concerned about what’s important to them. But on the flip side of that He is so full of love that He will give grace to those who humble themselves and turn back to Him.
James gives us hope in declaring that if we draw near to God then He will draw near to us. And if we will humble ourselves before Him then He will raise us up to experience the life of love, joy and peace that we were intended to live.
My hope is that we will remember the commitment that we have made to Jesus as Lord. Let’s continue to demonstrate our allegiance to Christ as our King by giving Him all of our heart, mind and strength. And let’s never forget that our King came into this world demonstrating the way life was meant to be lived, and the world crucified Him for it.
We can be a follower of Jesus or a friend of the world, but we cannot have it both ways.