The Path to Peace

James 4:4-5 “You have committed spiritual adultery against God!  Don’t you know that the love of this world’s pleasures is an act of hostility against God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the corruption of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Do you think that the Scripture was lying  about this, or that the Holy Spirit which dwells in us wants us to envy others instead of being contented with the provision of God in our lives?”

Envy is an ugly thing.  It eats away at our should while tearing apart our community.  It manifests itself in mean gossip, destructive whispering, and petty complaints.  We want and want and want more - often specifically what someone else has.  More often than not, envious people are pretty sure the problem is that they just haven't received what should have been coming to them.  "I deserve better!" may not be spoken aloud, but it is certainly believed.

Here is a transformative principle:  Our community life is connected to our spiritual life. The way I treat people reflects they way I view God.The way I view God will be expressed in the way I treat others. If there is ongoing tension and disruption in church life, perhaps the issue is a spiritual one.

Let’s be clear: some conflicts are genuine and needed.  If there is disagreement about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, or  if clear issues of moral behavior are right or wrong, then conflict can be necessary and hopefully redemptive. In fact, sometimes the phrase “I deserve better” is true; abuse victims truly do need saving.

This is not what James is talking about when he writes about envy and the role it plays in destroying communities. He is talking about:

the petty bickering,
the simmering undercurrents of hostility,
the unresolved, unending tension that keeps cropping up in church
the feuds that fester,
the rumor that someone won’t let die,
the reputation that keeps coming up to the embarrassment of the one
  who once failed,
the muttered remarks meant to shame those blessed by God with
  obvious success….

We don’t have to actually steal stuff and kill people to take from them what is rightfully theirs and destroy their lives.  We can do it with words, attitudes, and emotions too. James’ words on this subject are hard and demanding: You have a tough time living well in community because something bad has happened to your relationship with God.

But there is good news:

James 4:6-10 “God’s lavish grace enables us to resist the temptations and bear the trials of life with humility and trust, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit has said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  So, submit yourselves to God; resist the devil (who would tempt you to envy) and he will flee from you; walk closely to God, and God will be close to you.

If you want inner contentment and community peace, there is a way:  resist temptation, repent, live a life of humility, and remain in submission to God.

A couple weeks ago Madonna sang during half time of the Superbowl.  As the last notes faded, the phrase "World Peace" appeared on the field. That's a great goal, but I wonder: does her plan include resisting temptation, being humble, repenting, and submitting to God?

We want peace in ourselves, our families, our church.  That's a great goal too. Does our plan include resisting temptation, being humble, repenting, and submitting to God?

If not, peace will remain elusive. If we are willing to do these things, “The Lord will lift us up.”