By Pastor Glenn Pease
Theodore Reik tells of how an Austrian Jew was trying to find a refuge from Hitler. He went to a travel office to select a place to which he could flea, and with the help of the clerk he began to consider the possibilities. But each country had some difficulty connected with it. In one you needed a certain amount of money; in another you needed a labor permit, and others required a passport, which he could not get, and still others would not allow immigrants at any price. Finally, after going over the globe, the Jew turned to the clerk and said in desperation, "Haven't you got another globe?" He was frustrated by the limitations of only one world.
For the present, at least, man is stuck with only one globe, and this limitation is tough on those who are looking for a utopia. This world is all we have. The Christian, however, though he is also temporarily stuck in it, is not stuck with it. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and those who are citizens of His kingdom are to be in the world but not of it. Their lives and conduct are not to conform to the world pattern, but are to be a contrasting challenge to the world. The Christian does not have another globe, but he has another sphere, for his life is hid with Christ in God, and he is a citizen of eternity.
This alternative is not automatic, however, and if a Christian does not consciously commit himself as a living sacrifice unto to God, he can become a victim of the secularism of the world. The words of William Wordsworth are too true to ignore. "The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers." The tentacles of secularism do not stop at encircling our society, but they continue until they worm their way into the church, and straggle its opposition. If the world can just get the church to lose its saltiness so that it does not cause their wounds to sting, and if it can get it to hide its light so it does not reveal their shame, then the world will join the church, for there will be nothing to fear. The church will cease to be an instrument of God, and will soon be worshiping materialism along with the world.
Georgia Harness defines secularism as, "The organization of life as if God did not exist." It is practical atheism, and many feel secularism is the greatest enemy of the church today. It is not an new enemy, however, but has been with the church from the start. The Christians to whom James writes were only 20 years removed from the cross of Christ, and yet they were so infiltrated by worldliness that they were in danger of becoming enemies rather than servants of God. There is nothing quite like these words anywhere else in the New Testament, and their uniqueness demands careful consideration. The content can be broken into two parts: The external symptoms of secularism and the internal sources of secularism. First consider-
I. THE EXTERNAL SYMPTOMS OF SECULARISM.
The symptoms are so shocking that some commentators feel that James cannot be writing to Christians. He must be addressing non-Christian Jews, they say. They say, "Certainly you cannot believe that Christians could fight and war even to the point of murder." Phillips, NEB, Berkely, and the Amplified all use murder in verse 2. The RSV retains kill, as with the KJV. There is no basis for thinking that these were unbelievers, however, James speaks of them as brethren in verse 11.
This does not prove they are Christians for non-Christian Jews would also be his brethren, but when he speaks of their submission to God and resisting of Satan in verse 7, and of their drawing nigh to God in verse 8, it is obvious they are believers, for if not, James is advising non-believers that they can be right with God without Christ. Unless you admit that James is writing to Christians you are faced with a book in the Bible that says a non-believer can come to God on his own merits without trusting in Christ. This makes it certain that James is right to believers.
Scholars have tried all kinds of things to escape the implications of the strong language of James, and especially in verse 2 where he says they kill or murder. If you cannot deny he was writing to Christians, then next best thing is to deny that he wrote what he did. Erasmus, the Greek scholar during the time of the Reformation, did just that. He said the original must have said that they envy rather than they kill, and so he inserted envy into the second addition of his Greek New Testament. His conscience must have bothered him, however, for in his third addition he changed it back to kill. He knew he was tampering with the Word of God without a shed of evidence to support him. Many other translations, however, continue to use envy, and not until the KJV was printed did kill get put back into the text.
Even great men like Calvin and Luther substituted another word. Calvin used envy, and Luther used hate. In other words, no one wanted to believe that Christians could be so much influenced by the world that they could even go so far as murder. Men were willing to reject a word from the Bible with no good reason except that they did not want to believe it. Let's face it, we may not be happy about all that God reveals, but we must accept it even it shatters our pre-conceived notions. Luther came close with his substitute with the word hate, for according to the New Testament the hate of a brother is equal to murder. Jesus said in Matt. 5:21-22 that murder faced judgement in the Old Testament, but that to be angry with a brother would lead to judgment in the New. In I John 3:15 we read, "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer." So hate can be a legitimate substitute, but it is no way lessens the seriousness of it.
Let us remember that the Christians to whom James writes are Jewish Christians with a background of contention and fighting among themselves, and with the Romans. Some of them had, no doubt, been zealots who had cut a few Roman throats. The thief on the cross who accepted Jesus was certainly a thief, and possibly a murderer. The Jews were very militaristic. They had hopes for a Messiah who would conquer the Romans, and give them all the material benefits of life. They had a good start on being secularized before they became Christians, and they brought their worldliness into the church with them.
It is good to remind ourselves that the early church did not draw on a Sunday School trained population for its members, but upon a thoroughly paganized population. Even the Jews were in an awful state of decline. Jesus called it an evil and adulterous generation because they were so worldly minded and materialistic. Our failure to make a distinction in our reference to the early church between the church at Pentecost, and those founded by the Apostles after Pentecost, has led to confusion in our minds, and has blinded us to an understanding of much of the New Testament. When we refer to the early church as our ideal, and that to which we want to conform, we are referring to the Spirit filled church in which there was perfect unity, harmony, and sound doctrine. This was the church at Pentecost, but the church to whom the Epistles were written were already far from the ideal. The battle with the world in the church began immediately, and it was just this battle that was the cause for much of the New Testament to be written.
We must face the language of James honestly, and not try and brush it off as applying to non-believers. All of the Ten Commandments have been broken by believers, and not to recognize it is to blind yourself to the dangers you face, and the need for constant growth in grace. We would not need the Ten Commandments if it was impossible to break them. We do not forbid fish to climb ladders. We do not prohibit elephants from flying. Why command Christians not to lie, steal, kill, or commit adultery, and covet if they can no more do these things then a fish can climb a ladder, or an elephant fly? If the Ten Commandments still have any meaning to the believer, it means he can break any, and all of them.
Peter assumes this to be so when he says in I Pet. 4:15, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busy body in other men's matters." This is strange advice to give to Christians, but history proves it is needed, for just as the Jews killed Christians thinking they were serving God, so Christians have killed other Christians with the same enthusiasm. It would be a study in itself to cover the history of murder within the church. Most of this was by professing Christians who are not truly children of God, but history gives many examples of true believers who killed. Men like Calvin and Luther, and the great Puritans of early America who murdered Indians and witches. And who knows how many in the unrecorded history of the heart have hated another believer?
It is hard to believe that there are no Christians guilty of this right today. Since there are born again Christians on both sides of almost every serious conflict, it is likely that there are believers everyday who are in a category with those to whom James writes. Many issues are so emotional that we know they fill Christians with hatred and bitterness, and sometimes it is directed toward other Christians with an opposite perspective. When this happens it is because we are being filled with the spirit of the world rather than the spirit of Christ. This is an example of the external symptom of secularism. Next we consider-
II. INTERNAL SOURCE OF SECULARISM.
James makes it clear that the external wars are products of internal wars. War begins in the heart. Thomas Manton said we carry an enemy in our bosom. The Canaanite is not wholly cast out. There is still the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, and if we feed them, they will consume us. Let your desires go unchecked, and it is like putting a madman in the ship with drills and dynamite. The sides will soon be split, and the waters of worldliness will flood the ship and sink all that is spiritual.
These Christians to whom James wrote were fanatics for things. They desired and fought to get what they wanted. They had set their affections on things below, and not on things above. They were not content, but operated on the principle that a man's life consists in the abundance of his possessions. This naturally leads to conflict with others, for some will hinder this goal, and others will get more than us, and so in envy we seek to get it from them. Covetousness becomes a ruling passion, and is a form of idolatry that threatens the very soul. Peter warned Christians in I Peter 2:11, "Abstain from fleshly lust which war against the soul."
The Bible is frighteningly realistic about the Christians personal responsibility. James in 1:13-14 makes it clear that God is not the author of temptation. God may test by trial, but never by enticement by sin. Satan can not be blamed either, for he is a defeated foe, and in 4:7 James says if he is resisted he will flea in defeat. Satan only has power in a believer when a believer submits to him. In other words, a worldly, secular minded, covetous Christian has no one to blame but himself, and when he stands in judgement he will have no excuse for the poor use he made of his body and time.
In the crash of 1929 J. C. Penny's business was quite solid, but according to Dr. S. I. McMillen, Mr Penny had made some unwise personal commitments. He was so worried he couldn't sleep. He developed shingles and had to be hospitalized. Even under sedatives he tossed all night. He began to break mentally as well as physically. He became overwhelmed with a fear of death. He wrote farewell letters to his wife and son, for he did not expect to live until morning.
The next morning he awoke and heard singing from the hospital chapel. He got up and went to the chapel. They were singing, "God will take care of you." As he sat there he said something happened to him like a miracle. He felt like he had been instantly lifted out of a dark dungeon into warm brilliant sunlight. He wrote, "I felt as if I had been transported from hell to paradise. I felt the power of God as I had never felt it before. I realized then that I alone was responsible for all my troubles. I know that God will His love was there to help me. From that day to this, my life has been free from worry. I am 71 years old, and the most dramatic and glorious minutes of my life were those I spent in that chapel that morning." They were glorious because J. C. Penny was delivered from the grip of worldliness, and he found freedom in the kingdom of God.
All of this ought to wake us up to do some serious self-examination. Are we self-centered? Are most of aims and goals in life materialistic? Do we covet the power, popularity, and possessions of others? Benjamin Franklin said, "It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it." If we let desire and covetousness have its way in our lives, it becomes a sort of mental gluttony. It kills affection for all else, and becomes the alpha and omega of our being. The solution, of course, as James says in the following verses is to submit to God; to draw nigh to God, and to humble ourselves before God. We must study these solutions to secularism in depth, but our goal in this message is to make it clear that the problem is real, and only as we are aware of the reality of the danger can we honestly face up to it, and conquer it by the grace of God.
It is possible for the world to enter the church and dominate its attitudes and actions. It is possible for the church to be become so secularized that it ceases to be a tool for God. Like the church of Ephesus in Rev. 2, it is possible to leave our first love and substitute our love for the world in place of our love for Christ. The result will be that our candlestick will be removed, and we will no longer be the light of the world, for we will be the world instead. All of this being possible makes it shear folly for believers not to consciously dedicate themselves to build up their faith and knowledge of God, and to consciously battle the forces that operate in our own lives that tend to make us world minded. It is only as we as individuals keep the world out of our lives that we can keep the world out of the church.