Stepping On The Snake

Title: Stepping On The Snake

Bible Book: James 4 : 1-12

Author: Frank Page

Subject: Evangelism; Spiritual Warfare; Christian Living



A famous Catholic sculpture shows a life-size statue of Mary. Her face is perfect serenity. Her body is upright but not tense. Under one of her feet writhes a thickly muscled serpent. In its open mouth, fangs drip poison. It is obviously based on Genesis 3:15 which says, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Obviously the scripture says that her offspring will do the crushing.

Writer David Hansen says that that is what preaching is, "stepping on the snake." Preaching is a form of aggression. As we preach, God conducts holy war to conquer territory. The field of conflict is the human heart. He says, "As the sermon progresses and the thesis is revealed, the congregation divides up, splinters into individuals. Some are comforted, others are in distress. Some are angry or stubborn. I feel the battle engage. A line must be drawn in front of every listener...This is where preaching really begins. The offense is what counts. Stepping on a snake is an offense to the snake. Its pride must be mortally wounded. It is easy to back off from the offense. The flesh will scream and the devil will bear his venom dripping teeth. The human heart is the most fiercely guarded piece of ground in the universe. The fortress is built through years and years of self-justification and rationalization."

I want to cross the line. I want to show you that wars are occurring even today. There are wars most churches and most believers have already lost.

Turn to James 4:1-12. James discussed this important theme of war in this paragraph, and he explained that there were three wars going on in the world. He also told how these wars could be stopped. This material is quite deep and because of this we will study two of the three wars which James describes. Therefore today, we will focus on vv. 1-3 and 11-12.

I. There Is The War Within Ourselves (vv. 1b-3)

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1, NIV). The war in the heart is helping to cause the wars in the church! "But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth . . . For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work" (3:14, 16).

Arrogant self-assertion is never the way to peace and it is exactly at this point that the advocates of our so-called "permissive society" display the most guilty ignorance of all. But there is more to it than that. When a man determines that his philosophy is "I will please myself" then he automatically moves God from the center of the stage. If selfsatisfaction comes first, then even at best God can only come second and when God comes second in a person's life, that person has problems!

The essence of sin is selfishness. Eve disobeyed God because she wanted to eat of the tree and become wise like God. Abraham lied about his wife because he selfishly wanted to save his own life (Genesis 12:10-20). Achan caused defeat to Israel because he selfishly took some forbidden loot from the ruins of Jericho (Joshua 7). "We have turned everyone to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6).

Selfish desires are dangerous things. They lead to wrong actions ("you kill and covet" James 4:2), and they even lead to wrong praying ("When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" 4:3, NIV). When our praying is wrong, our whole Christian life is wrong. It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man's will done in heaven, but to get God's will done on earth.

People who are at war with themselves because of selfish desires are always unhappy people. They never enjoy life. Instead of being thankful for the blessings they do have, they complain about the blessings they do not have. They cannot get along with other people because they are always envying others for what they have and do. They are always looking for that "magic something" that will change their lives, when the real problem is within their own hearts.

Sometimes we use prayer as a cloak to hide our true desires. "But I prayed about it!" Can be one of the biggest excuses a Christian can use. Instead of seeking God's will, we tell God what He is supposed to do. Then we get angry at Him if He does not obey! This anger at God eventually spills over and we get angry at God's people. More than one church split has been caused by saints who take out their frustrations with God on the members of the church. Many a church or family problem would be solved if people would only look into their own hearts and see the battles raging there.

Psychologists see it as a defense mechanism called psychological displacement. God calls it wrong.

II. There Is The War Among Individuals (vv. 11-12)

"What causes fights and quarrels among you?" (NIV) Among Christians! "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). Surely brethren should live together in love and harmony, yet often they do not. Lot caused a quarrel with his Uncle Abraham (Genesis 13). Absalom created a war for his father David (II Samuel 13-18). Even the disciples created problems for the Lord when they argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46-48).

When you examine some of the early churches, you discover that they had their share of disagreements. The word "fights" means a continuous state of war. The word "quarrels" means individual conflicts. The members of the Corinthian church were competing with each other in the public meetings, and even suing each other in court (I Corinthians 6:1-8 and 14:23-40). The Galatian believers were "biting and devouring" one another (Galatians 5:15). Paul had to admonish the Ephesians to cultivate spiritual unity (Ephesians 4:1-16); and even his beloved church at Philippi had problems: two women could not get along with each other (Philippians 4:1-13).

James mentioned several different kinds of disagreements among the saints.

A. Class Wars (2:1-9).

Here is that age-long rivalry between the rich and the poor. The rich man gets the attention, the poor man is ignored. The rich man is honored, the poor man is disgraced.

B. Employment wars (5:1-6).

Again, it is the rich man who has the power to control and hurt the poor man. Laborers do not get their wages, or they do not get their fair wages.

In spite of our modern labor movement and federal legislation, there are still many people who cannot get a good job, or whose income is less than adequate for the work they are doing.

C. Church Fights (1:19-20, 3:13-18).

Apparently, the believers James wrote to were at war with each other over positions in the church, many of them wanting to be teachers and leaders. When they studied the Word, the result was not edification, but strife and arguments. Each person thought that his ideas were the only right ideas and his ways the only right ways. Selfish ambition ruled their meetings, not spiritual submission.

D. Personal Wars (4:11-12).

The saints were speaking evil of one another and judging one another. Here, again, we see the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). They are not to speak evil in a spirit of rivalry and criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it (I Peter 4:8). If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back (Matthew 18:15-19; Galatians 6:1-2).

James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Philippians 1:9-12), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives, and then try to help others (Matthew 7:1-5). We never know all the facts in a case, and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men's hearts. To speak evil of a brother, and to judge a brother, on the basis of partial evidence and (probably) unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges. God is the only Judge. He is patient and understanding. His judgments are just and holy. We can leave the matter with Him.

It is unfortunate that the saints are at war with each other, leader against leader, church against church, fellowship against fellowship. The world watches these religious wars and says, "Behold, how they hate one another!" No wonder Jesus prayed, "That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

But, why are we at war with one another? We belong to the same family. We trust the same Savior. We are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit--and yet we fight one another.

Next week, we will study the heart of this passage. It will tell us the true reason why we war among ourselves and within ourselves. It is a problem that we have in our relationship to the Lord. However, we have seen enough today to know that God wishes for us to correct our selfish ambitions and desires and recognize our common and precious heritage in Him. Can you say today, "Lord God forgive me of my self-centeredness?" Can you say, "Lord, help me to see what is happening in my own heart so that I might deal with it honestly and completely?"

As I said at the very beginning, the human heart is the most fiercely guarded piece of ground in the universe. The fortress is built through years and years of self-justification and rationalization. Isn't it time for this to end? Isn't it time for us to be honest before the Lord? Isn't it time to recognize what causes problems with our own life and in our own relationships? The problem resides not in others as much as it resides in us. Will you join with me today in submitting our hearts unto the Lord, asking for His forgiveness, His direction, and His enabling grace?

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