When You're Cut Off (James 4:8)
I. Being Aloned
As most of you know, the book of Genesis describes the creation of our universe, including, of course, the creation of our planet, and the creation of the first human being. But in Genesis 2:18 we find a stunning statement. We read...
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone...
Why is this statement stunning? Because God was with the man. Because he wasn't alone. And yet... he was in one sense, right? That declaration introduces a section in which God creates and brings all the animals to the man, and then finally, creates, from his own body, a mate suitable for him. And when that first man and first woman are brought together, we read in 2:24 that the two “shall become one flesh”. This is the beginning of a family; not just any family, the first family, and ultimately, the human family.
As we talked about in the previous message, 2020 has taken its toll on all of us, hasn't it? So many of us feel beaten down by the adversity and loss of the past nine months. And one of the reasons we feel beaten down is because we have been... cut off in terms of so many of our relationships. The need to slow down the virus has led to the need to social distance, just like we're doing here this morning. Strangely, we distance ourselves not because we are indifferent, but because we care.
Now whatever you believe about this approach, we know it has affected everyone to some extent. In some cases, it simply changes the dynamics when relating to a coworker or hair stylist or that other shopper in the grocery store. But in other cases, this distancing has affected our most important relationships: one's family, one's friends, one's faith family. And no, we may not be cut off entirely from such people, but a text or Zoom call can only go so far in addressing those needs. “It is not good that the man should be alone...”
So what can we do when we're cut off in these ways, cut off in terms of human connection? Well, as we talked about last time, we can look back to Christmas. Let's do that by turning over to James chapter 4.
II. The Passage: "And He Will Draw Near to You" (4:8)d
Now, James 4 is not a Christmas passage, but it contains a wonderful promise that can and should inspire real and deep and abundant and ultimate Christmas cheer in all of us. Look with me at the first statement in verse 8. James reassures his readers with these words...
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
What I hope you will see in this verse is not some kind of formula for summoning God, but reassurance that he is ready and willing to be close (or “near”) to you. Why don't we investigate the context a bit and see what else it might reveal about this promise in verse 8. For example, when we read through verses 1-4 of this chapter, we realize verse 8 is...
1. A Promise for the Sinner (vs. 1-4)d
Look at verses 1-4. Let me read those. James asks...
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.
Yikes! James is not 'pulling any punches' is he? There are some very serious problems in this church community: divisions, quarrels, greed, and even murder (or at least murder in the heart; that is, a heart filled with hate). But notice where it all leads according to James in verse 4: adultery. No, he's not talking about sexual immortality. He's talking about spiritual unfaithfulness.
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Many in this church had chosen to live for the world rather than God. But in light of how James challenges them in verse 4, it appears these people believed godliness and worldliness could go together; that one could be devoted to God, but also devoted to a worldly lifestyle of greed and gain. James is not talking here about being friendly to people in the world. He's talking about aligning yourself with a world that hates God; that everyday is in rebellion against God. Are you guilty of that this morning? If you are being honest, is God speaking to you as well?
But brothers and sisters, friends, this is the same audience to which verse 8 is addressed. Amazingly that promise of nearness is for these kinds of people. But that leads us to a second observation about this context. Notice that this is also...d
2. A Promise for the Sorry (vs. 7-9)d
When James writes “draw near to God” in verse 8, there are several nearby verses that help us understand, in part, what he means by that call. For example, look at the phrase immediately before the opening phrase of verse 8. It's there at the end of verse 7: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” What does that mean? It means, stop giving in to the temptations of the devil. Say “no” when the Enemy is enticing you. So James is saying, “to draw near to God you need to pull away from Satan”, and we do that by rejecting his temptations and lies.
But that rejection of a worldly and demonic path must flow from a heart that is broken over our earlier acceptance of such things; our earlier delight in such things. Listen to how James describes it at the end of verse 8, and then into verse 9...
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.
So in order to draw near to God, we must remorsefully reject the world, the flesh, and the devil. Being sorry about that path is not enough. In our hearts, we must also forsake that path. But there's one other idea here that we need to grasp. This is ultimately...
3. A Promise for the Submissive (vs. 6, 10)
Look at the reassurance James provides in verse 6: “But he gives more grace.” These people had experienced the grace of God in their conversion. But James wants them to know that God has even more grace to give. As John 1:16 describes it, He has “grace upon grace” for us. Do you need to be reminded of that this morning? That though you have run out on God, his grace for you as not run out.
But why this emphasis on grace? Because, as we saw several weeks ago, Proverbs 3:34 contain another beautiful reminder of reassurance. James quotes that proverb here in verse 6...
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And that call to humility leads directly into verse 7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” And this same call is picked up again in verse 10... “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Turning away from the world, the flesh, and the devil are meaningless if we are not turning to God. In fact, those are the only two directions we can turn: toward God or away from God. But please don't miss that turning to God involves an attitude of humility and a willingness to submit. When we give up our attempts to be in control, when we abandon our illusion of control, we must acknowledge and submit to the fact that God is in control; that He is worthy; that He is everything we need; that His will is true and right and good; that we exist for Him, not he for us.
Brother and sisters, friends, that is what it means to draw near to God. And what is that promise to sinners who are both sorry and submissive? That when we draw near to Him, he will draw near to us.
III. Nearness Now Because of Nearness Then
God near to you. God... near. Do you believe that's possible? How good does that sound to you? Please hear this: though all of us were made for human connection, when we are cut off relationally from others (in whatever ways, to whatever extent, for however long), the ultimate answer is not simply to restore what once was, by whatever means necessary; that is turning “normal” into an idol. No, the ultimate answer is to draw near to God.
But why? Because that's both the nature and order of creation. God is first and full, in all things. And our first father, Adam, had God first, before he ever had anyone else. This is reflected in the commands as well. The greatest command puts God first. And it's a command of love. It's a relational command. Only in the second are we called to love others. You see, Scripture does not teach that a right relationship with God somehow makes human connection unnecessary. No. It teaches that a right relationship with God informs human connection (defining what it means to love) and marks out its boundaries (defining what it can and cannot give us).
And trials test us in this way. Adversity not only reveals what we believe, but also teaches us about the sufficiency of God's nearness. This is especially true when what is being tested is what we believe about human connection.
Paul was tested in this way. Listen to what he writes in II Timothy 4:16–17 about the time he appeared as a prisoner before Caesar himself; a prisoner because of the gospel. He writes...
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!  But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
When Paul was cut off relationally, his sufficiency in the reality of Christ's presence was both tested and demonstrated. In that monumental moment, probably with all its possible feelings... Paul drew near to God, and God drew near to him.
Are you feeling cut off this morning? Is social distancing taking its toll on you? Or maybe there are other hurts, other hardships, that have created a rift between you and a friend, between you and a spouse, between you and a child, between you and a parent. Whatever the situation, please don't focus on being cut off. Rather, focus on drawing near in light of the promise of God's nearness. As we've seen, that promise is for sinners like us; but it's for sinners who are both sorry and submissive. You see, no one can draw near to God when they remain stubbornly on the run from his loving reign.
And when we do that, do you know what happens? When God is near, we are reassured of his provision. And that includes his relational provision. The same God who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”, is the same God who will provide for you in terms of human connection. Will you trust Him today for the how, the who, and the when of that provision? And will you trust Him for what he wants to show you, and how he wants to grow you, through hard times like these?
But brothers and sisters, friends, we must never, ever, ever forget that the promise of James 4:8 is rooted in the reality of Christmas. As 2:1 makes clear, James is writing to those bound together by “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” What he writes to them, he writes in light of Jesus. The reassurance he offers here is grounded in the gospel. We must understand that the nearness James describes begins with the nearness Paul wrote about in Eph. 2:13...
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The death of Jesus, his sacrifice on the cross, has made the nearness of God possible because it removed the very sin that kept us apart. And in one sense, the story of Christ's death begins with the story of his birth. Think of it this way: Christmas is a celebration of the greatest act of social 'un-distancing' ever undertaken, in all of human history. Though we had not drawn near to God, He drew near to us in the person of Jesus. God the Son became the Son of David; the son of Mary. Though we had defiantly turned our backs, his nearness in Christ turned us back.
Ultimate Christmas cheer wells up when, by faith, we embrace the reality of God's nearness now through the reality of Christ's nearness then. Do you believe this? Do you want to experience this, even today. The psalm we studied last time included this verse: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18) Will you call on Him in truth this morning? Tell him how you feel. Talk to him about your needs. Confess the absolute sufficiency of His nearness for sinners like us. Will you ask Him this morning for that ultimate Christmas cheer? For the joy that comes through faith alone in Christ alone? Let's pray.