Phil Cox Phil Cox


Home page
Recent Columns
Previous Series
Phil's background
Preaching engagements
Creation and science
Contact Phil

Stubbington Baptist Church
Acorn Christian Healing Foundation
Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith

The Epistle of James - Godly Values

Part 27 - Unanswered Prayer

James 4v2b-3

16th November 2018

In verse 17 of James chapter 3 James teaches us about godly wisdom. In verse 18 he urges us to be peacemakers. Then, in Chapter 4 verses 1 and 2, he warns us against quarreling and fighting. Isn't it desperately sad that we need to be warned about that? Here are those verses again:

James 4v1-2
What causes fights and quarrels among you? don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

We looked recently at the appalling sin of Christians fighting each other. Now, we'll move on to the question of unanswered prayer. Reading from the middle of Verse 2 to the end of Verse 3, we see:

James 4v2b-3
You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you don't receive, because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Christians can reach the place of sin in which they're so busy fighting each other that they forget to pray. Or perhaps their hearts are so darkened with anger, resentment and plotting that they don't really feel able to pray. I think they've begun to believe that fighting is the best way to get what they want. Let me say something that should be obvious:

Prayer, instead of fighting, is not just the right thing to do, it works better.

If your life, or your church, or anything else, is not how you'd like it to be, then go to God in prayer. God can do anything. If your ideas are right, God will bring them into being. And - I hope - if God thinks your ideas are not good, then you won't want Him to bring them into being. Trust God's judgement.

But how can you come to the place of prayer if you're angry with your brother or sister? You can't, and you shouldn't, pray for God to change somebody else, until you've prayed a prayer of repentance for your bad attitude. Once you're right with God, you can pray about anything, and God will hear you. He'll change your brother, or He'll change the situation, or He'll change you. And then, because you're heart is right, you'll be content with whatever answer comes.

If, in the mist of our fighting with our brothers and sisters, we actually do begin to pray, then, James says, "you don't receive, because you ask with wrong motives". These wrong motives are "that you may spend what you get on your pleasures". Some people think that when James says this, he means that you pray for money so you can buy a sports car or something. Or perhaps we think of pleasures such as eating too much or drinking too much - sitting in an armchair with some chocolate ice cream all afternoon - or whatever it is for you. That might be right, but I think it also means wanting my own way, whatever that is. The context of this passage is pride, envy and ambition. If I pray for anything to minister to my own pride, my own envy, or my own ambition - especially in God's church - God's not going to help me to be more proud, more envious and more ambitious. God's going to deal with the sin in my heart.

Jesus said:

Matthew 5v21
"you've heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'do not murder', and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement'. But I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother, will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, raca is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'you fool', will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift".

"Raca" is an Aramaic term of contempt, so feel free to apply your own English term of contempt at this point. "You fool, you idiot, you lazy so and so", whatever abusive term you want to apply to the brother or sister in Christ who really annoys you. Jesus says that anyone who uses such words about his brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If we speak - or even think - words like that against our brothers and sisters, why would we imagine God will answer our prayers?

If this quote from Jesus means anything at all, it means peace between you and your brother or sister is more important than worship. Leave your offering to God and fix your relationship with your brother first. I think this passage says to us in our twenty-first century Christian context, before you come to another worship service, fix your relationship with your brother or sister.

Brothers and sisters, everything between us is fixable, if we choose to fix it. And anything between us must be forgiven, or we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6v14-15). We must accept that it's OK to disagree, choosing to remember that we're all sinners, so it's crazy to condemn somebody else. And then, with clean heart and clean hands, we can come and worship our God.

The New Testament is full of teaching about living at peace with other Christians, loving other Christians, and submitting to other Christians. For example, Romans 15:5-7 says, "May the God who gives endurance [and we need endurance] and encouragement [and we need encouragement] give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God".

Churches that live in peace, glorify God. Churches that don't, don't. Dear sister, dear brother, it's entirely up to you. Will you choose to live at peace with your brothers and sisters, including the irritating ones, including the ones you're convinced are wrong, including the ones who aren't perfect - because that's all of us - to the glory of God, so that we might reap a harvest of righteousness?