Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle which was written by James the half brother of Jesus. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first ten verses of the fourth chapter. When you approach the fourth chapter of the epistle written by James you find him seeking to bring his audience and readers into a place of self examination and self evaluation. Like a skilled surgeon James writes and addresses something very specific that was taking place among those to whine he was writing—a reality which is actually quite interesting when you consider that he was writing to those who were scattered abroad. As you read the epistle which was written by James you must notice that this epistle wasn’t written to a specific church and congregation as were most of the writings of the apostle Paul. When James set down to write this epistle he would seek to address it to those who had been and those who were scattered abroad. Upon writing unto those scattered abroad names presents them with an incredibly powerful question—one that closely parallels that which was found within the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation. If you being reading the fourth chapter of this particular epistle you will notice James asking a very pointed and powerful question—one that should and could be asked in many of our churches and congregations in this generation. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize that the question which James presented unto and which he wrote unto his audience was one that we cannot, should not Abe must not ignore. We dare not miss or lose sight of the tremendous value and worth of this question, for to do so would be to miss that which the Holy Spirit is Speaking unto countless churches in this generation.
As you come to and begin reading the fourth chapter of the epistle written by James you will find him asking them a very straightforward question. In the first verse of this chapter we find James asking his readers and audience what causes fights and quarrels and warring among them. This is actually quite an alarming and indicting question, for these words weren’t written to unbelievers, and they weren’t written to those who were outside the church of the living God. This question was written unto saints of the living God—those disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. Granted these to whom he was writing were and had been scattered abroad, but they were nonetheless still saints of the living God. Now I realize and recognize that in the surface James’ question seems utterly absurd and preposterous, however, we must recognize that a lot has happened since the days when the church was first established on the day of Pentecost. Decades had passed since the days of the early church, persecution had caused the disciples and believers in Jerusalem to scatter abroad outside the city of Jerusalem, and churches were now being established among the Gentiles. Removed from the reality of what we read and what we find in both the second and fourth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts we now find men and women within and among the churches fighting and quarreling with and among themselves. Removed from the beautiful and wonderful reality of that which was evidenced and displayed within the book of Acts we find the saints of God being scattered abroad, and no longer being confined to the city of Jerusalem. Even the apostles themselves were scattered among the regions of the earth during that time, for we find the apostle John linked and connected to the church which was in Ephesus. Of course we know and understand the apostle Paul was ordained and appointed as apostle unto the Gentiles, but things weren’t what they once were when the church was established on the day of Pentecost.
I can’t help but think of just how far the church and the saints had come since and from the day of Pentecost. I can’t help but be reminded of what the early church was like immediately following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the one hundred and twenty in the upper room. If you transition and turn your attention to what is found and written in the second chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will not only find the Holy Spirit being poured out upon all those who were present in the upper room, but you will also read and find out about how the early churches acted and behaved during those days—not only in the earth, but also among themselves. We cannot she must not lose sight or that which was written by Luke the beloved physician in the New Testament book of Acts, for to do so would be to miss what is so significant about the words James wrote. What we find and what we read in the fourth chapter of the epistle written by James will make more sense when you consider it in light of that which is found in the second and fourth chapters of the New Testament epistle of Acts, for within these two chapters we find a reality and practice among the early church that is completely and utterly different from what many were experiencing in the years which followed. I would direct your attention to the second chapter of the New Testament epistle of Acts written by Luke, and specifically, beginning with the forty-first verse. Consider if you will the words which the beloved physician Luke wrote within the final verses of this chapter:
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they. Continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
What we find in the second chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is a wonderful and powerful testimony concerning communion and fellowship found within the early church—and not simply among those one-hundred and twenty souls which were originally in the upper room, but among all those which were added on the day of Pentecost as well. If you begin reading the forty-first verse of the second chapter of this New Testament book you will find that after the apostle Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost there were three thousand souls which were added to the original number of those who were found in the upper room. Oh please don’t miss the incredible significance of this, for to do so would be to miss the awesome importance of what Luke is writing. It would be one thing for one-hundred and twenty to have all things common, and if we are honest with ourselves, as well as with the Lord—even that is a stretch. It would be one thing for the original one-hundred and twenty who were in the upper room to continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, as well as in the breaking of bread, but it would be something else altogether for three thousand additional souls to continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, as well as the breaking of bread and prayers. It was one thing for the original one-hundred and twenty to be gathered in the upper room—particularly and especially when you consider the fact that twelve of those one-hundred and twenty were the original eleven apostles, and Matthias who was added to the apostles in Judas’ stead. That essentially leaves one-hundred and eight additional bodies which were present among the apostles in the upper room. Among those one-hundred and eight additional bodies found in the upper room Luke records that there was also present among those remaining one-hundred and eight Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as His brethren. Before we even get to and experience the day of Pentecost, we find that in the upper room were the twelve apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ brethren—a reality which causes me to wonder just how many outside of Jesus’ disciples and family were present in the upper room. The apostle Paul writes in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle written unto the Corinthian saints concerning the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and of His appearance and manifestation after His resurrection. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular chapter beginning with the first verse:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in membory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James’s; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostles, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed” (1 Corinthians 15:1-11).
Pay close attention to that which the apostle Paul writes in this particular chapter, for when describing the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and His manifestation and appearance(s) after His resurrection, the apostle writes how Jesus was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. This is actually quite remarkable when you take the time to consider it—particularly and especially when you consider that there were one-hundred and twenty which were present in the upper room. Even if you subtract the twelve apostles, as well as Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ brethren, there was still a significant number of souls which were present in the upper room. Even if Mary and Jesus’ brethren totaled eight in all, that would still leave one hundred bodies and souls present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Undoubtedly, those one-hundred and twenty were found among the five hundred plus souls which Jesus appeared to after his resurrection from the dead. The reason I mention this, is because it would be one thing for the one-hundred and twenty souls which were in the upper room on the day of Pentecost to be in one accord, and to have all things in common—particularly and specifically because twelve of them were the apostles, and at least two were Jesus’ own family. It would have been very easy for those who witnessed the manifestation of Jesus after His resurrection, and perhaps even witnessed His ascension into heaven and unto the right hand of the Father to remain in one accord in one place on and after the day of Pentecost. It would be one thing for those who perhaps followed Jesus during those three and half years of public ministry—those who were present within the upper room on the day of Pentecost—to have all things in common, and to be in one accord on and after the day of Pentecost. Where this truly becomes unique and interesting is that when Luke wrote the words concerning the early church having all things common, and devoting themselves to the breaking of break, and to fellowship, he wasn’t writing concerning the one-hundred and twenty original souls which were present in the upper room. These words were written AFTER Luke had already disclosed how the Holy Spirit had added unto and increased the number of souls in the early church by three thousand. Picture with me if you will three-thousand one-hundred and twenty souls all having everything in common, being in one accord, and giving themselves continually and daily to the apostles’ doctrine, and to prayer. Nowadays most leaders within our churches would be happy if ten percent of their congregation gave themselves continually to prayer, and gave themselves to the breaking of bread—let alone, not only the original number of souls within the body, but also those which were added to them.
What makes this all the more interesting is when you consider—not only the first four verses of the fourth chapter, but also the final verses of the same chapter. In the second chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we read how the Lord added three thousand souls to the early church on the day of Pentecost alone. When you come to the fourth chapter of the same New Testament book, you will find the Spirit still at work adding souls unto the early church.Beginning with the first verse we find and read the following words: “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five-thousand” (Acts 4:1-4). What began with one-hundred and twenty souls in the upper room in the beginning of the second chapter would eventually grow to three thousand one-hundred and twenty when the day of Pentecost drew to a close. Now here we are however many days later, and we find many which heard the preaching of the word concerning Christ believing, and the number of men was about five thousand. It is quite astounding and remarkable how the Lord added so quickly to the original number of those present in the upper room. When we come to the fourth chapter we now read of souls in the range of five thousand—a reality which is quite interesting, for when you read the gospels you will find that at one time Jesus fed five thousand souls with loaves of bread and fish. Now, instead of Jesus feeding five thousand souls with loaves of bread and fish, we find five thousand souls being fed and nourished by the word concerning Christ, and the word concerning the kingdom of God. Oh, please don’t miss and lose sight of the tremendous significance of what is found in this passage of Scripture, for when we come to the conclusion of the fourth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts, we find additional language concerning the early church. Consider if you will the words which Luke records in the fourth chapter beginning with the thirty-second verse:
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37).
IN the second chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find three-thousand plus souls having all things common, and devoting themselves continually to the apostles’ doctrine, to the breaking of prayer, to fellowship and prayer. In the fourth chapter of the same epistle we find upwards of five thousand souls being in one accord and having all things common. How absolutely remarkable it is to think about and consider this reality, for what began with one-hundred and twenty being of one accord and having all things in common in the upper room on the day of Pentecost had now exploded to five thousand plus in such a short period of time. I stand by the fact that many leaders and pastors of our churches today would be thrilled and elated if perhaps ten percent of the congregation had all things common and gave themselves continually to prayer, to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread. There would be many leaders and pastors who would be absolutely ecstatic if fifty percent of the congregation they were entrusted care of gave themselves to the teaching of the word of God, gave themselves to fellowship, gave themselves to prayer, and gave themselves to the breaking of bread. What we find and what we read in the New Testament book of Acts is—according to church history and much of our experience—an enigma of sorts. What we find and what we read in the second and fourth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is and has not been reality for many of us within our churches in this generation. We would be hard pressed to confidently assert and state that the churches we are apart of are giving themselves wholeheartedly as those in the original church gave themselves. Please note that this isn’t to say that there aren’t men and women among us within our congregations who aren’t giving themselves to this reality and practice, but that the number is far less than what we would like and desire it to be. We would be hard pressed to point to a single church and congregation among us within our midst where everyone has all things common, and where everyone in the body gave themselves continually to the breaking of bread, to fellowship, and to prayer. There may be some who practice and give themselves to it, but the majority of our experience is anything but this. What we find and what we read in the second and fourth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts would eventually give way to discord, to strife, to contention, to division, to feuds, to bitterness, to resentment, and so much more. In fact, when you read the first epistle which was written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth, you will find the apostle writing concerning the tremendous amount of discord, strife and contention that was found within that church. Consider if you will just a few passages and references which are found in this first epistle written unto the Corinthian congregation:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (1 Corinthians 1:10-16).
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, not covetous, nor drunk arms, nor revivers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you. Not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my Brody, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:17-26).
It is clear when reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the first epistle which was sent unto the Corinthian congregation that there were a number of issues that were plaguing that church. When you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto this congregation you will not only discover that there were divisions, strife and contention among them, but they also took offense with each other, and allowed themselves to get caught up in being offended one with another. What’s more, is that the apostle Paul would write of a report which he heard concerning them taking their brother or sister to court among the Gentiles. The apostle Paul emphatically wrote unto them concerning their unwillingness to be defrauded and mistreated, and to instead take each other to court among the Gentiles. The apostle Paul wrote concerning this congregation that he could not write to them as spiritual, but as carnal—even as babes in Christ. Why? Why couldn’t the apostle wrote unto and address this church as spiritual? The answer is actually found in the same passage—although what we find throughout the epistle points to this reality. The reason the apostle could not write unto this congregation as spiritual was because of the strife, the contention and the division that took place among them. It was the constant and continual division, strife and contention found among them that prevented the apostle from being able to write unto and address them as spiritual. This is actually worth noting and pointing out—not only because it reveals a marked transition from the reality and experience of the early church, but also how far the church had come in such a short period of time. The fact that the Corinthian congregation wasn’t perfect is an understatement, and the apostle Paul was compelled to write unto them in order that He might address these issues. Here we are perhaps three decades removed from the day of Pentecost and the experience and reality of the early church, and instead of finding the brethren having all things common, and giving themselves continually to prayer, and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, we find strife, contention, discord and division. What’s more, is we find the brethren harboring hostility, animosity, and offense with each other, and as a direct result—they took brother and sister to court among the Gentiles. What we find and what we read in the first epistle written unto the Corinthian congregation is a far cry from the reality and experience we find in the New Testament book of Acts, and instead of finding unity, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread, we find discord, dissection, strife, contention and animosity. Oh how far the experience and reality had come from the days of the early church to where the Corinthian congregation found themselves.
All of this—the reality and experience of the early church, as well the experience of the Corinthian congregation—is particularly and especially interesting when you consider what James wrote in the fourth chapter of the epistle he wrote unto those which were scattered abroad. In the opening verse of the fourth chapter we find James writing unto his audience, and asking them this very important question: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1). In order to set the stage for that which is found within this chapter James begins and opens up by asking his readers where fights and quarrels came from which were found in their midst. James first asked where the wars and fightings came from among them, and he then transitions to answer that question with another question—“come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (V. 1). What’s more, is James goes on to write unto his audience that they lust and have not, they kill and desire to have, and yet cannot obtain. What’s more, is they fight and war, and yet have not because they ask not. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to what James writes unto his audience, for James is calling out the quarrels, the divisions, the fights, and the warring that took place among them. Even more than this, I would dare say that not only was James addressing those fightings within, but also those fightings without. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the seventh chapter of the second epistle which was written unto the Corinthian congregation beginning with the first verse: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Corinthians 7:1-5). When writing unto the Corinthians for the second time the apostle Paul not only wrote of fightings without, but he also wrote of fears within—a reality which I am convinced was true of those to whom James wrote. I am utterly and completely convinced that the fightings which James wrote and spoke about were not only fightings and quarrels among the brethren themselves, but there were also fightings and warring within themselves.
When writing unto those to whom James addressed this letter we first find him asking where fightings and wars came from among themselves. James then transitions from this question by answering it with another question—a question that asks how fightings and wars proceed from the lust which wars in their members. James would go on to write how they lust and have not, how they kill and desire to have, yet cannot obtain, and how they fight and war, and yet do not have because they ask not. What’s more, is James goes on to write how they ask and receive not because they ask amiss in order that they might consume what they receive upon their lusts. James goes on to write unto them how they were adulterers and adulteresses, and then asks them if they know that friendship of the world is enmity with God. He goes on to to declare that friendship with the world is enmity with God and whoever therefore would be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to these words, for not only does James diagnose the issue facing those to whom he is writing, but he also provides a cure and a solution for that which was plaguing them. What began with James writing concerning the fightings and wars which were present within and among them, would eventually culminate and reach the point and place where he would give them very candid and pointed instruction on how to face and fix that which was plaguing them. If you begin reading with and from the sixth verse of this chapter you will find the following words: “But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw night to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (James 4:6-10). The advice James provided unto his readers and audience in light of the fights and quarrels which took place among them didn’t simply involve one thing or one practice. The prescription James provided for this congregation was one which was multi-faceted, for there were several things James advised and encouraged them to practice: “submit yourselves to God,” “resist the devil,” “draw nigh to God,” “cleanse your hands,” “purify your hearts,” “be afflicted, and mourn, and weep,” “let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness,” “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord.” The advice which James provided them was centered upon the destruction of pride within and among themselves, and the voluntary giving of themselves unto the Lord by drawing nigh unto Him, and by humbling themselves in His sight. The cure and solution for what we find and read in this passage of Scripture begins with letting go of and dealing with our pride, drawing near unto the Lord and humbling ourselves in his sight, as well as resisting the devil. It would include cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts, and by being afflicted, mourning and weeping—much like the priests who would weep between the porch and the altar. Included in all of this is a clarion and pointed call to submit ourselves to God, and through and as a result of that submission unto God, we resist the devil knowing he must flee from us. Oh that we would not only address that which causes fights and quarrels within and among us, but that we would be willing to take the necessary steps to ensure that such fightings and quarrels cease—not only among ourselves, but also within ourselves before the living God.