17 January 2021: “Draw near to God”

Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
17 January 2021

Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.

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Welcome

Testimony

“I trust you are all well and my prayers continue for you all. I’m doing okay in what’s been a difficult year for everyone and having to deal with all that’s been happening generally and personally. My only testimony in dealing with it all is to: “Let go and let God – pray and trust, and leave it with the Lord. His grace and love are more than sufficient, but I appreciate that it is not always easy – Every blessing”

David

Worship

Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) (adapted) Based on Psalm 103”

Word

Please read James 4:1-10.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

James 4:8

Introduction

James covers such subjects as: ‘Persevering when persecuted’; ‘Poverty, and wealth’; ‘Controlling the tongue’; ‘Caring for orphans and widows’; ‘Cursing’; ‘Boasting’; ‘Oaths’; ‘Prayer’; ‘Faith to be evidenced by good works’; and includes the only NT reference to ‘Anointing the sick with oil’ (James 5:14). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” are lovely words but the context of them are far from lovely, e.g. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1); “You adulterous people” (James 4:4); “Resist the devil” – However, looking into the context helps us gain further understanding of what is involved in drawing near to God and having Him draw near to us. Having God near was one of the distinguishing marks of being the true people of God from the earliest of days:

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

Deut. 4:7

How much more so now ‘Immanuel’, ‘God with us,’ has come! What does this passage tell us about drawing near to God?

(1) Obedience

It is held that James, (‘James the Just’ – Jesus’ half-brother) is writing to Jewish Christians:

“The letter betrays a strong Jewish orientation and was probably written to Jewish churches in Palestine or Syria”

Douglas Moo

It is obvious James loves and cares for these “dear brothers and sisters” (James 1:19; 2:5) in the Lord as he puts forward the practical and ethical demands of God upon His people and warns them against disobedience, unfaithfulness and lack of discipline if they are to draw near to God. He tells it as it is! Trust and obey – no other way!

(2) We are in the world but not of the world

There is a reality about this letter, so much so that over the history of the church, many have struggled with it. But there is an authenticity about James, life is like as depicted in his epistle. We draw near to God amidst a broken, sinful, sometimes/often hostile world and, in the light of this passage, amidst a broken, sinful. sometimes hostile, church. We live in an imperfect world which can enhance the beauty of drawing near to God.

Jesus took Peter, James (the ‘son of thunder’), and John (the other ‘son of thunder’), up to what has become known as the Mount of Transfiguration. Oh, how wonderful, how glorious this time must have been for:

As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which He was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying).While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him”.

Luke 9:29-35

Talk about drawing near to God! Like Peter, we might want to spend the rest of our lives there with Jesus on that mountain! But they had to go back to the world below!

(3) We have to minister to the pain of the world

Drawing near to God is not an end in itself. Jesus then led them down the mountain and from that wonderful place of solitary confinement, alone with Jesus Himself, and the transfigured Jesus at that, back into the real world. A large crowd, with all it’s demands, came to meet them and life got more and more difficult, but Jesus is able:

… when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

Luke 9:37-43

(4) We have to face up to our shortcomings

Jesus rebukes His disciples: ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation’ and it gives us an indication of the standard He expects of them. This is what we find in James also, and it becomes clear from the contents of James epistle that he has been greatly influenced by Jesus (haven’t we all!) in the things he writes about, the way he writes, and the way he expresses himself:

“This epistle contains more verbal reminiscences of Jesus than all of the other apostolic writings”

Allen Ross

For those who like to do a bit of extra study check these Scriptures out!

  • James 1:22 with Matt. 7:20, 24
  • James 3:12 with Matt. 7:16
  • James 2:5 with Matt. 5:3
  • James 4:11, 12 with Matt. 7:1
  • James 5:2 with Matt. 6:19
  • James 5:12 with Matt. 5:34-37

To draw near to God is no light matter and we must allow the Spirit to use the Scriptures to search our hearts to see if there is any wrong thinking, fear, unbelief (Luke 9:33-35, 41); any wrong motives or selfish pleasures (James 4:3); to check we are submitting to God in all humility and with a pure heart (James 4:6-10).

(5) God looks at our hearts

Frequently, in the OT, even the priests got it wrong thinking the outward act was the all-important matter e.g. the ritual of washing their hands:

Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord.

Exodus 30:20

But God is not interested in merely an outward show, it must come from the heart, e.g.

The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

Isaiah 29:13

In Jesus’ time, things hadn’t improved in this respect, as He rebuked the teachers of the law and Pharisees who had complained to Him that His disciples hadn’t washed their hands. Jesus reply:

‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions’ … ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!

Mark 7:6-9

As we draw near to God, we must allow the Scriptures and the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to search our hearts. David a man after God’s own heart prayed:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

(6) Repentance

God is not in the business of condemning us, His dear children, but convicts us of our shortcomings, so that He may lead us in the way everlasting as we repent and move forward with Him! James gives an important illustration early on in his letter:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Sometimes I cut myself shaving and its messy with blood oozing out. What if after seeing this in the mirror I go off to work forgetting that I have blood all over my chin. James likens such to believers who having been convicted of something in the word continue in the same old ways, without repenting. This new life in Jesus, and in His kingdom, begins with repentance (see Matt. 3:2; 4:17), a change of mind, not doing it my way any longer but living His way. Such brings freedom and blessing.

(7) Freedom

Reading the book of James again, with it’s many imperatives (54 in 108 verses), brought back to memory how the Lord used the book ,“Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis, during my conversion. Here is one of many many excerpts from the book:

If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing.

(cf. James emphasis on humility – James 4:6, 10). I found that as I started to obey these imperatives, I was filled with more light, more power, more of the Spirit’s presence within, more freedom in Jesus. I felt stronger as a Christian. I had initially been convicted of my weakness in the many ways I was not imitating Christ, but as I, by His grace sought to put these things into practice, His presence increased within. This is part of drawing near to God and Him drawing near to us!

(8) Resist the devil

Why put this point last?

  1. We don’t want to give too much prominence to him
  2. As in Ephesians we need to get our relationship with God sorted before we battle the enemy.

After giving some wonderful teaching (Eph 1-3) and then urging them to put it into practice (Eph 4:1-6:9) the apostle then tells them to

be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Eph. 6:10-11

It was after Jesus was anointed by the Spirit and His heavenly Father confirmed His Sonship, (Matt. 3:16-17) that the devil sought to tempt and test Him (Matt. 4:1-11). Note Jesus resisted him and he fled (Matt. 4:11) and it will be the same with us. So God draws near and the devil flees!

Conclusion

In putting into practice these commands we will find that His light will shine more brightly within; that we are drawing near to God and He is drawing near to us in our daily walk with Him and that more of our prayers are being answered.  

Quote for Week

“My child, he who attempts to escape obeying withdraws himself from grace … I became the most humble and the lowest of all men that you might overcome your pride with My humility”

”Voice of Christ” – Imitation of Christ – Thomas a Kempis

Verse of Week

… clothe yourselves with humility towards one another …

1 Peter 5:5

Let’s Pray

Lord, You became nothing that we could become something – Your children, Your sons and daughters. Lord, You became poor so that we could become rich in our relationship with You.

Lord, give us, Your Church, a hunger for Your word, and then let us go and do what it says.

Keep us humble in Your sight that You might exalt us and that You might continue to bless the nations of the world through Your people according to Your promises of long ago. Help us to show/demonstrate the fruit of Your Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control, to a world lost without You. Help us not to gossip; help us not to boast about tomorrow; help us to obey you continually, and strengthen us to be patient and persevering in the trials and difficulties of life.

Finally, let us be those who pray the prayer of faith which is powerful and effective in Jesus Christ Name, Amen!