We of the Not-That-Early Sunday school class, along with lots of others, are studying James 4:1-10 for Sunday, January 13 – a text that points us to the roots of conflicts and that contrasts two kinds of friendship: friendship with God and friendship with “the world” – with the clear implication that friendship with God is better.
Here are a few questions we might want to consider before or during class as we think about what message this text is communicating to us:
Verse 4 mentions “these conflicts and disputes among you,” and links them to “cravings that are at war within you.” What “conflicts and disputes” are we involved in? (We might think of family; workplace; church; community, at various levels …) Can we trace them to their sources? Does the language of “warring cravings” resonate with what we find? How? Or, if not – why not?
What do we “crave”? Why is that? What view of the world do those cravings spring from? [This might be a little too personal of a question, or too therapeutic? Still, it seems to me to be a question our author wants us to think about.]
Where does our view of “the world” come from, do we think? How does it match up to the view James has? Why do we say that? What would have to change for us to share James’s view? How would we feel about that? (For instance, is that something we want to do right away, might want to do but have reservations, … ) Why is that? What do we learn about ourselves from noticing that?
What does it mean to have “friendship with the world,” do we think? What does it not seem to mean to have “friendship with the world,” do we think? What makes us say that? What is James’s point in v4, do we think? Do we agree, disagree, agree in part and disagree in part – and which parts? Why is that? Does that tell us anything? What?
How does it feel to think that “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? Why is that? What does that mean for us, do we think? (For instance, does this need to affect what we think? What we do? What we feel? When? Why?)
Verse 6 says “he gives all the more grace” and specifically names “the humble” as the ones who receive God’s grace. How do we understand the connection between grace and humility? Why is that? What does “humility” mean to us? Why is that? How might “humility” relate to “friendship with the world”? What makes us say that?
James gives specific behavioral advice in verses 7-10. What aspects of this advice seem easiest to follow for us? Why is that? What aspects of this advice seem most difficult for us to follow? Why is that? Do we see ourselves as people who follow this advice, who resist it, who qualify it in various ways, …? Why is that, do we think? Are there ways of following this advice that look potentially helpful from here? Ways of following it that look potentially unhelpful or even harmful from here? What are those? Why do we say this?
Overall, it seems to me we might want to explore the practical question of how we see ourselves as being addressed by this text, taking James’s diagnosis of the human problem seriously; and to consider what it means to be open to James’s exhortation – being conscious both of ways in which we might resist it because it applies all too well to us, and of ways we might be tempted to carry it to extremes that have little to do with friendship with God.
With respect to the “conflicts and disputes among you,” there seems to be a lot of discussion, and perhaps even assistance, in this department among people out in “the world” who are observing people’s difficulties in working through conflicts.
For example: Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, of the Harvard Negotiation Project, have distilled many of their insights into disputes and conflicts into a book, Difficult Conversations, which, judging from one of the handouts, suggests that some of the things we crave that are at war within us are things like emotional understanding, being correct, and being taken seriously.