My first ministry assignment out of seminary was a medium-sized church in a small town in Nebraska. Coming from the sprawling metropolis of Dallas-Ft Worth composed of millions of people to the somewhat more modest Lexington with a mere ten thousand souls was quite a culture shock. Going from the land of malls and movies, of shopping and spending, of busy schedules and out-of-control lives to the relative quiet of the country was refreshing, but it was clear that we “weren’t from around here”. I remember the comment (or complaint) made about how far the Wal-Mart was from town. It took almost 10 minutes to get there. Really…in Dallas it takes 10 minutes to get out of your neighborhood. But after living in Lexington for a year, we were already immersed in the culture. I found myself complaining about the drive to Wal-Mart. My wife had even learned to “put up corn”. And after 3 years we moved back to Dallas – an even bigger culture shock from Midwest small town life. But once again we’ve adjusted to life in the city. I’ve learned that I’m adaptable. It may take me awhile, but I can and eventually do conform to the culture around me. And being adaptable is a good thing, right?
James 4. The gloves come off. Up to this point, James has admonished; and he’s corrected. Now he’s going for the jugular. What’s the source of conflicts and struggles? It’s your selfishly motivated lusts that drive you. The same ones that drive me. And when those two collide, there’s quite an explosion. Imagine two two-year-olds throwing a tantrum over the toy they both want times a hundred. Far from loving our neighbor, we are in danger of murdering them to get our own way. Instead of seeing others from God’s perspective as those who are uniquely created in His image and purchased with Christ’s blood, we look at them from a worldly perspective as means to further our own selfish ends – to be used or discarded as dictated by our whims.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You cannot serve two masters; you will either hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and money.” James simply says, “You can’t be a friend of both God and the world.” You have to choose one. Trying to serve both is adultery. Wow…very strong language.
James writes to the Jewish diaspora…Jewish believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Not just a single church. It’s not a singular problem. It’s a universal problem. You see, we’re all adaptable. And living in this world, it tends to mold us. It shapes our way of thinking and of interacting with those around us. It takes a very strong opposite thrust to resist the centrifical force of this world’s pull.
But God doesn’t want to leave us in this miserable state of being conformed to this world. He is jealous for us. His desire is that we grow to maturity, that, far from being conformed to this world, we become conformed to the image of His Son. James’ solution: back to the basics – submit to God, resist the devil, cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, humble yourself, control your tongue…only possible as we receive the Word implanted, as we become doers of the Word and not hearers only, as we ask God for wisdom to interpret our circumstances from His perspective.
Being adaptable can be a very good thing, especially when it is informed by the truth of God’s Word. Until next time…stay salty.