Monday, February 9, 2015

Ambitious Imitation

Week 6 in our 6 week study of the book of James at

Selfish ambition is an imitation of the world and the source of much conflict and Godless behavior. This lesson continues with the same line of thought but focuses more on the motivation behind worldly behavior. It also emphasizes the humble nature by which we must approach God. With this attitude, we see ourselves as the sinners that we really are in front of a holy God. As we draw close to Him with such humility, we become closer in our relationship with Him, and our faith is strengthened.

James 4:1-10 (ESV)
Warning Against Worldliness
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Supporting Passages:  Isaiah 6:1-8, 1 Peter 5:5-6 and Matthew 23:12

There is a fundamental problem with being human. Humans are, by nature, selfish. They choose the ambitions of the world over submission to God. This kind of behavior leads to all kinds of fighting, quarreling, coveting, and murder. Even within the Body of Christ, this behavior can occur when believers pursue selfish ambition instead of a humble relationship with Christ.

1. Selfish ambition is the root of sin against others (Jas. 4:1–3).

James began this chapter with a rhetorical question concerning the reason for some of the problems among the believers to whom he was writing. Apparently his audience had been fighting, quarreling, and coveting. All of these conflicts were a result of their selfish desires that they had allowed to run rampant. Even their prayers were based on selfish motives; they were asking God for things to help themselves instead of the advancement of His kingdom. Think of it this way - Water, ice, and steam––they are all composed of the same molecules, but they take on a different form. Selfishness is the same way. It takes many forms, but it is all connected to our own selfish pursuits. Jealousy, bullying, arrogance, gossip, rumors—these are all things that we deal with every day. The root of all of them is selfishness. Watch the students in your school cafeteria or locker-room. How many fights and quarrels do you see? What about in your youth group? There are times that it seems we just can’t get along. But shouldn’t there be a difference between the school cafeteria and your youth group. We have to put our own selfish desires aside and pursue the character of God. When we take our selfish ambition out of the picture, we can start to grow as a community.

2. Imitating the world is opposition to God (Jas. 4:4–5).

James summed up the selfishness problem in one simple explanation: People love the world more so than God. In fact, he said that by loving the world, people become enemies of God. James did not mean that believers could not reach out to and minister to unbelievers. Rather, he meant that acting in selfish pursuits and quarreling with other believers is an imitation of the world. But God desires that His people follow solely after Him through the power of His Spirit that lives in them. What happens when two people are married and one of them begins a relationship with another person? We call that cheating or adultery. James said that when we love the world, we are spiritually cheating on our relationship with God. Following God is a serious matter. James said that His Spirit wants us to follow God and God alone. There is no room to love the sinfulness of the world and love God. Do you love God more than your girlfriend or boyfriend? your clothes? your friends? your cell phone? your popularity? your own selfish ambitions?

3. Humble submission before God draws us to Him (Jas. 4:6–10).

The problem of selfishness and worldly ambition is remedied by submission to God. James told his readers to resist the devil and to purify their hearts before God. He wanted his readers to have a serious view of sin and mourn that they had offended God with their sin. The proper attitude, however, was not one of demand but of humble submission before the God who could cleanse them. 
On National Geographic’s television show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, Cesar uses an approach to training dogs by teaching them submission. Dogs are pack animals; in every pack, there is a known hierarchy. Once Cesar teaches the dog that its owners are the pack leaders, the dog willingly submits. Although we are not dogs, we must continually see God as our leader, and our proper response to Him is one of submission. 

Speaking of the Dog Whisperer, have a good laugh and check out this video we put together when I was doing a student ministry internship at First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, TN 
(No animals were injured in the making of this video... except me!)

Back to the study......
Evaluate your motives. Do you try to be the leader of your own life? Or have you submitted your life to God in humility? Take a long hard look at who’s directing your life. To seek God is to submit to His authority in great humility. We also must view our sin as the serious offense to God that it is and turn to Him to purify our hearts.

So what's the big idea of the passage?

The solution to our selfishness is humble submission to God. James said that imitating the world is being an enemy to God. Humbly submitting to Him purifies us of our selfishness. Consider your ambitions. What are your wants and desires in life? Are you chasing your own selfish gains or submitting humbly to God?

James likely wrote this letter to Jewish believers who had been scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution under Herod Agrippa (Acts 12). Since there is no mention of the Jerusalem Conference in this letter, the epistle was probably written between A.D. 44–49, which would make it the earliest written document in the New Testament (Acts 15).
This letter resembles a sermon in its format and content. Following the opening greeting, it lacks the personal references that were customary in letters of that time. In addition, it has no conclusion. Apparently it was prepared for public reading to the congregations addressed. James’ purpose was to motivate early believers to spiritual maturity and holy living. He majored on practical Christian living.
God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. He is the moral Judge of the universe, and all created intelligences are accountable to Him. He eternally exists as a Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—each equally deserving of worship and obedience. His worthiness demands that His people draw close to Him with a humble attitude and with a desire to leave their love for the world in the past. He has loved His people from all eternity and has demonstrated His love by Christ’s death on the cross. His power, through the Holy Spirit, is available for God-honoring living. This was James’ point in writing. He desired that his readers engage in God-honoring living by means of practical holiness, which was an act of worship and an effort to draw near to the worthy God.

In this lesson, James pointed to selfishness and the pursuit of pleasure as the polluting fountain from which conflict springs. This is even true in our own lives with fellow believers. Conflict among people who still struggle with a sinful nature is inevitable. But we must not follow the ways of the world in looking out for ourselves above everyone else. Selfishness results in behavior that imitates the world. The pursuit of selfish pleasures has no place in our lives when we are striving to live for Christ. Repentance and cleansing occur when we humble ourselves before God. What areas in your life most exhibit selfish behaviors? In what ways are you not demonstrating holiness of Christ because you are imitating the world? If your students modeled their lives after you, would they be imitating Christ or the world?
Students have been growing through phases that naturally led them to be intensely focused on themselves. As they grow older into later adolescence, this self-focus begins to open up. This lesson is important for students to understand that selfishness is what drives much conflict and sin in their lives. This type of behavior is not Godly but is actually an imitation of worldly behavior. Help students to understand that the Holy Spirit gives them the power to obey God’s Word and draw near to Him in humility. Help them to understand His desire for them to be set apart from the world.

Small Group Questions
  • Is it wrong to look out for yourself? When does it become sinful?
  • What are some selfish desires and ambitions that students battle with today?
  • Name two things that typical students love more than God?
  • How would you be different if you gave up your own selfish ambitions and completely submitted to God's will?

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