Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Cause of Fights and Quarrels (James 4:1-6)




The death of Andres Bonifacio at the hands not of foreign enemies but of fellow revolutionaries remind us that even in an organization which is supposed to be working towards a common goal, serious internal disputes may arise.

There are conflicts in the home.
There are conflicts in the workplace.
There are conflicts in the classroom.
There are conflicts in the Senate.
There are conflicts baranggays.
There are conflicts in sports teams.

There are conflicts in a band.
There are conflicts business partnerships.
 

If the Overseas Workers' Association of Luzon (OWAL) will be organized abroad this year, don't be surprised if in the following year there will be a splinter group to be called Overseas Workers' Association of Pangasinan (OWAP). Out of the smaller group, an even smaller group may form the Overseas Workers' Association of Central Pangasinan (OWACenPang), and out OWACenPang, no one could stop a member from forming OWAM- the Overseas Workers' Association of Malasiqui.

Fights and quarrels are everywhere; from the the smallest organizations to the gigantic ones. This is consistent with the Scripture's testimony: before regeneration, "We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." (Titus 3:3b)

How about the church? Ideally, she should be different compared to other earthly communities. After all, when the church was newly born, the believers were described as having “one in heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). She received a direct command from her Lord that her members should love one another (John 13:34-35) Yet the church is a work in progress; her members are still far from the ideal of perfect love towards each other. We have had witnessed several church splits. We know about Christians who are not in good terms with each other. We will to go James 4:1-61 that we may further understand this problem and what we can do about it.


If we think this is the problem of the modern church only, our text indicates that this was a problem in the early church as well. James was addressing the problem of fights and quarrels within the assembly of believers. In James 4:1-2, James identifies the immediate cause of fights and quarrels and expands to the broader cause in verses 3-6
 

The Immediate Cause Identified: UNCONTROLLABLE INWARD EVIL DESIRES
Ask Ernie what started the fight between him and Bert. He tells you, “It's Bert's fault! He took away my loaf of bread.” 


Turning to Bert, he counters “It's Ernie's fault! The loaf of bread was too large for him yet he didn't want to share some to a starving man.”

We however must dig deeper to identify the cause of the strife. In the Scripture before us, James started by asking a rhetorical question expecting his readers to agree with his analysis.
 

James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 

The word translated as “desire” in the NIV is hedone in the original Greek. It means that which produces enjoyment”. It's what makes you feel good.2 

We enjoy ice cream; we enjoy music; we enjoy nature; we enjoy humor. But it is more than those. The verse further says “it battles within you”. John MacArthur describes this as "… the war of the unbeliever’s flesh with his soul and conscience, which, despite the corruption of the Fall, has enough awareness of God and His truth to be disturbed when he sins.”3 

I'll point out where I agree with MacArthur and where I disagree. I agree that when men are so committed to their desires, they suppress their awareness of God's standard just to fulfill their desires. I disagree with MacArthur when he limits this propensity to unbelievers. Conflicts within the church may be at times caused by unregenerate men and women infiltrating the body. Yet conflicts may also be caused by genuine born again believers. There are times when true yet imperfect Christians may suppress the truth in the name of gratifying fleshly desires.

These desires not only suppress internal restraints like consience and knowledge of truth. They also suppress outward restraints. It is committed to remove all the barriers to his happiness, even it means resorting to the most drastic measure of all, namely murder. 

James 4:2a-- You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

Donald Burdick comments: 
"James pictures these pleasures as residing within his readers, there carrying on a bitter campaign to gain satisfaction. Pleasure is the overriding desire of their lives. Nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of its realization."4 

By God's common grace, crime investigators know this very well. In identifying suspects, they always look for the possible motives behind the crime.
  • It could be a political rivalry: A politician's burning desire is to be the mayor of a city, yet the polls show that his rival will win by a wide margin. So he resorts to hiring an assassin to get rid of that man who is the hindrance to his happiness.
  • It could be a love triangle: One's burning desire is for a certain woman to reciprocate his affections. Yet the woman chooses a 3rd party (karibal sa pag-ibig). So the suspect repeatedly hammered the victim's head because he was an obstacle to his happiness.
Murders or attempted murders recorded in the Bible follow the same pattern

  • Saul's thoughts of killing David started when he realized that the young man is more popular that him, thus a threat to his throne (1 Samuel 18:6-11).
  • David himself was guilty of murder when he planned for the death of Uriah. The cause? Because he wants to avoid the explosion of the scandal between him and Bathsheba, Uriah's wife (2 Samuel 11).
  • King Ahab badly wants Naboth's piece of land so much that he offers to buy it or exchange it in a barter for a better vineyard. Yet Naboth refused because he inherited it from his ancestors. So Jezebel, Ahab's queen plotted the murder (1 Kings 21:1-16)
They are all the same. Someone is a hindrance to your happiness, so he must vanish. “This life in my womb shall ruin my career plans,” says a young woman. “I must go to an abortion clinic.” 

Remember also that murder is not just taking out the life of a person; it also includes bitter anger against him (Matthew 5:21-22). A son says in his heart “I want to inherit that lot near the road,” yet the parents gave him the lot behind it and gave his desired lot to a younger sibling. So he resolves, “I'm gonna hate my brother with all my heart for all the days of our lives.”. He did not shed the blood of his brother as Cain did, but in his heart, he murders his brother daily.

There is a righteous way by which we may obtain the things we desire. That is through prayer-- expressing our desires before God without hating anyone. Yet oftentimes we don't pray. 

James 4:2c “You do not have, because you do not ask God. 

Prayer springs from the conviction that we are powerless to acquire lasting happiness for ourselves and that only God is able to satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. If you don't have that conviction, of course, you will not pray.

In verse 6 of Hebrews 11, a chapter about men of faith, we find that
  1. Men of faith come to God
  2. Men of faith believe that the God of the Bible exists
  3. Men of faith believe God rewards those who earnestly seek him
Without these, it is “impossible to please God”, and a conclusive manifestation that you are indeed a man of faith is that you pray and submit your desires before God. A man of faith takes God at his word when he reads from his Bible. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

A man of uncontrollable evil desires has no interest in submitting himself to God. What's on his mind is “I want this. I will get it. And I will do it my way.” 

The Broader Cause Identified: WORLDLINESS (4:3-6) 

James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” 

Some do pray yet still don't receive. The reason is because they pray a wordly man's prayer. The chief end of these prayers is not the glory of God but the glory of the self. “Hallowed by thy name” may proceed from their mouths but in reality, the exaltation of God is far from their hearts.

In an older post titled “The Love That Must be Stopped”, I wrote a three-point guide to diagnose if you are falling into worldliness:
You might be a world-lover if...
  1. You want to fulfill your desires outside of God's revealed will
  2. Visual delights arouse your desire for sinful acts
  3. You measure the worth of yourself and the worth of others by possessions and accomplishments
If your prayer is driven by any of these three elements, then God will not honor your prayers. Why? Simon Kistemaker explains:

“Greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5) and that is an abomination in the sight of God. God does not listen to prayers that come from a heart filled with selfish motives. Covetousness and selfishness are insults to God.”5 

James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. “ 

In verse 4, there are two things about worldliness that make it dangerous to our souls
  1. It is spiritual adultery. It is no different from the Old Testament's depiction of Israel's unfaitfulness as harlotry (see the book of Hosea and his relationship with Gomer). But there is hope (See this older post titled “In Cash and in Kind”)
  2. It is enmity with God. Worldliness is opposed to God. You can love God and hate the world. Or love the world and hate God. But you cannot love both. There is no middle ground. If you love the world, you remain at enmity with God 


    The Holy Spirit Demands Total Allegiance
James 4:5 “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?”

We have a little problem with regards to verse 5. Bible translators don't agree on how to translate it. Translators don't agree on how to translate it. I may sound authoritative if I preach as if I am certain about it, and may even impress some. But I would feel like an arrogant man if I'll do. I'll just present two plausible options and indicate my preference.

1st, The “spirit” the human spirit. When it says, “The spirit yearns jealousy”, it refers to the sinful human nature's uncontrollable lust, which is connected to verse 1.

2nd, The spirit is not human spirit but the Holy Spirit yearning jealousy when we engage in worldliness, when we engage in spiritual adultery.
This 2nd option is my preference. It calls to mind Exodus 34:14, Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” He is the God who demands total allegiance; if we are into worldliness, then we are no longer true to our calling to be wholly dedicated to God.

Such is the high standard God sets for those who would serve him: total allegiance. Who is sufficient for all these things. I know I don't have that level of commitment. I know I have my selfish desires and I am powerless to subdue them. 

The God Who Gives Grace 
 At this point, verse 6 offers comfort: But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble." 
Though he has set a high standard for us to follow him (total allegiance), he did not leave us on our own to fulfill his requirements. We are too poor spiritually for that.

God has set a high standard for wholehearted love and devotion on the part of his people, but he gives grace that is greater than the rigorous demand he has made.”6 

God's grace is sufficient to enable us to serve him in an undivided way. And in times we fail, his grace is sufficient to forgive and cover our sins. But he requires one thing for you to be receive that grace: Humility. James then quotes a God-inspired proverb: “ God opposes the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34)

You can stay in your pride devising schemes on how to get want you want, even at the expense of hating people whom you perceive as hindrances to your dreams. Sure you can persist in that way. But remember, God's favor is not with you. The proverb says God is against you; he opposes you; he resists you.

Why not go the other way. Choose the path of humility. Humbling your self before him. Bowing down the knee to his sovereign control. Entrusting your desires in the hand of the Lord through prayer.

You may ask, “How about my desires? How about my dreams? How about my happiness?” Well, the proverb says, that if you will humble yourself before the Lord, there is grace-- more grace reserved for you. Draw near to God in prayer and believe that he rewards those who diligently seek him.
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ENDNOTES:
1. Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the NIV 1984
2.  J. P. Louw & Eugene Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Societies, 1999)
3. John Macarthur, James (MNTC series; Moody Publishers 1998)
4. Donald Burdick (Expositor's Bible Commentary, 1st edition, Volume 12; Zondervan 1982)
5. Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of James (New Testament Commentary; Baker Books, 1986)
6. Donald Burdick (EBC)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj is no Agabus


Abdul's comment is just one of the many this blog received a few hours after ABS-CBN's late night news program Bandila aired that shameful hoax. Though I have already posted about my general feeling about these comments, I decided to write a separate post on this one.

Abdul asserts that if I were present in the early church, I would brand Agabus as a false teacher just as I have done to Selvaraj. He claims that Agabus uttered two prophecies that did not came to pass:
i. that there would be a famine in the Roman world (Acts 11:28)
ii. that Paul would be bound and turned over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10-11)

But is Abdul correct?

I. The Predicted Famine
"One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius." (Acts 11:28 NASB)

There are records written by ancient historians of a series of bad harvests during the reign of Claudius that resulted in famine conditions:
  • Suetonius (Vita Claudius)
  • Tacitus (Annales)
  • Dio Cassius (History of Rome)
  • Orosius (History)

In addition to the historians mentioned above, there is a reference to a famine in Josephus' account of Queen Helena's conversion to Judaism. Josephus records that Helena's pilgrimage to Jerusalem at around 46 A.D. was advantageous to the people because:
"at that time the city was hard pressed by famine and many were perishing from want of money to purchase what they needed. Queen Helena sent some of her attendants to Alexandria to buy grain for large sums and others to Cyprus to bring back a cargo of dried figs. Her attendants speedily returned with these provisions, which she thereupon distributed among the needy. She has thus left a very great name that will be famous forever among our whole people for her benefaction." (Antiq. XX, 51-52 [ii.5]).
II. The Predicted Arrest of Paul
"As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" (Acts 21:10-11 NASB)

This one makes me scratch my head. How could Abdul miss this? Unlike the first prophecy, one does not need to consult extra-bibical sources on this one. The fulfillment of the prophecy is indicated clearly in the text itself! (see verses 27-33)

Conclusion:
Agabus and Sevaraj belong to two different categories. The former is a genuine prophet affirmed by Luke's account and secular historians while the former is a false prophet by the standards of Deuteronomy 18:20-22 for serious blemishes in his recent track record (click HERE)

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Works consulted:
1. John Macarthur, The Macarthur Study Bible
2. Richard Longenecker, Acts in the Expositor's Bible Commentary (1st edition)

Facebook Public Posts (March, 2014)


Monday, March 31, 2014

Comments received a few hours after Bandila aired that irresponsible "special report"



It's been more than a month now since ABS-CBN broadcasted that irresponsible special report on a "flesh-eating" skin disease "gradually spreading" in Pangasinan through it's late evening newscast Bandila. The 2nd part of the report was never shown on TV for in less than 24 hours, other media organizations and government authorities have conclusively shown that the report from the giant network was a hoax. The matter is now in the hands of the network's internal Ombudsman for investigation. For how long will this investigation process last? I have no idea.

The intent of this post however is not add more criticism to ABS-CBN for they received many already except from loyal fantards who would sing praises to the the network no matter what. This post is a personal lament. Though I'm glad and thankful that the Lord speedily exposed the falsehood of the report, I'm lamenting the fact that the incident manifested the gross lack of discernment in a large portion of the Filipino evangelical community. When I say "discernment", I simply mean the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong, the ability to identify the gem of truth from a pile falsehoods.

The Spirit of truth resides in us, right? The Spirit guides us, right? But why is it that within the hours immediately following the report of Bandila, the most vocal accessories in spreading the falsehood in social media are professing Christians? They are quick to tell the world, "See? We told you our prophets are for real!" They were also quick to confront fellow believers who questioned the credibility of their Indian prophets. Some of them found their way to my November 28 post Should Pangasinan Fear the Skin Disease Prophecy?: an Examination of Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj's Recent Track Record.

I've created a Facebook photo album of the comments I received the hours immediately following Bandila's special report. Click HERE