Joshua 7:13-26 – Wrath of God Is Necessary

Last week we tried to understand why God would hold Israel responsible for the actions of one individual.
  • In the process, we outlined 3 aspects to Achan’s sin.
    • Inward
    • Outward
    • Covenantal

We found that the covenantal aspect of Achan’s sin was our best lead.
  • For it was there that we found a deep connection within God’s elect between the individual and the group.
  • A connection, we discovered, that still exists for NT believers.
  • This deep connection meant that the covenantal sin of Achan actually corrupted the group.

We then found that the only solution to this corruption was to separate it from the group.
  • We looked to Leviticus 16 for this principal.
  • There we found the principal of the sacrificial goat and the separation goat.
  • The separation goat was symbolically sent outside the sacred area of Israel’s camp into the wilderness.
  • And for Achan, this separation principal would cost him his life.

Importantly, the separation and the condemnation that follows are expressions of God’s wrath.
  • And it is God’s wrath that we will contend with throughout this lesson.
  • Especially section four – the necessity of God’s wrath.
  • Wrath being, the “punitive righteousness of God by which He maintains His moral order, which demands justice and retribution for injustice” – HIBD.


Joshua 7:13–15 (ESV) — 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’ ”

The time has come to deal with Achan’s sin and Israel’s guilt.
  • The reason for this is clear – “You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things form among you” (vs. 13).
    • “When Achan sinned, the blessing of God stopped for the people corporately; when judgment was applied, blessing returned and victory followed” – James Boice.
  • This edict by Yahweh is consistent with His words to Joshua in Joshua 1.
  • There He made it clear that their inheritance of the Promised Land was conditional.
  • Joshua 1:7 (ESV) — 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

The solution to the problem is severe – an expression of God’s wrath.
  • Yahweh commands that the one responsible for Israel’s guilt will himself become part of the “cherem” that Yahweh put on Jericho.
  • In other words, like Jericho and its inhabitants, Achan will be devoted to destruction.
  • Because he has transgressed the covenant” and “done an outrageous thing” he “shall be burned with fire” (vs. 15).
  • “He in effect had become a Canaanite by his actions” – David Howard.

The stark contrast between Rahab the Canaanite and Achan the Israelite is significant.
  • Rahab, by her confession, had been ushered into the elect of Israel.
  • Achan, by his covenant sin, had been devoted to destruction as a Canaanite.
  • What lessons can be learned from this contrast?

We need to take notice of two things in these verses about God’s wrath.

(1) It Can Be Patient
  • Yahweh does not immediately do what He has a right to do – devote all the Israelites to destruction.
  • (A) In fact, He identifies the problem for Joshua.
    • Act of covenant faithfulness?
  • (B) And He also identifies the solution to the problem.
    • The separation and destruction of the responsible party.

In other words, by identifying these two things God provides opportunity for restoration.
  • “Behind such unwelcome disclosure shines the clear desire of God to restore his people to his favour” – Dale Davis.

(2) It Is Not Flippant
  • God expressing His wrath is not like a man throwing a rage-filled, angry tantrum.
  • It flows from His holiness.
  • It flows from His moral law.
  • It flows from His covenant faithfulness.

It’s expression is logical, deliberate and thought out – not irrational anger.
  • Get up
  • Consecrate yourselves
  • Devoted things in your midst
  • He has transgressed the covenant of the Lord

“Yahweh’s [wrath] is significantly different from the often passionate and sometimes petty tirades of other ancient Near Eastern deities” – AYBD.
  • We can only begin to understand it within these contexts.


Joshua 7:19–21 (ESV) — 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

We dealt with Joshua’s confession in our last lesson.
  • But Joshua’s request and Achan’s confession give an example of how to glorify God.
  • Something in which we need all the help we can get.

“Joshua was not instructing Achan to indulge in a disengaged act of glorifying and praising God and then to confess his sin; rather, by his very confession, he was glorifying God” – David Howard.
  • In other words, when the elect speak the truth they glorify God.
  • And our confessions before a holy God are a specific example of God glorifying truth telling.


Joshua 7:22–26 (ESV) — 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.

Are you serious?
  • They “took Achan”, the treasure ANDhis sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep” (vs. 24).
  • And then “burned them with fire and stoned the with stones” (vs. 25)

I think we can intellectually understand the theological foundation behind God’s death sentence on Achan.
  • But emotionally, the death of his entire family is tough.
  • It feels blood thirsty and over reaching.
  • This was the destruction of Achan’s entire family line.
  • So not only his life, and his children’s lives, but also his family name was done – “They gone”.
  • A serious problem in aNE culture.

What are we to make of this?
  • Before we try and answer this question, let’s look at a couple of other things.

They laid them down before the Lord” (vs. 23).
  • The word used here (yṣr – “laid them down”) is significant, since it is translated most commonly as ‘poured out,’ referring to the use of oil in anointing and other religious contexts. The stolen items were ‘poured out’ before the Lord, returning to him what belonged to him”  - David Howard.
  • Achan stole what was devoted to God and Joshua “re-devoted” it.
  • Only this time it was a devotion to destruction, not to tabernacle use.

Great heap of stones that remains to this day” (vs. 26)
  • This is the second memorial we have encountered in Joshua.
  • The other was after crossing of the Jordan.
  • The first a reminder of God’s power and presence.
  • This second a reminder of God’s wrath; His “burning anger”.

There is an interesting note on the Valley of Achor (trouble).
  • We can’t forget that God is in the transformation business.
  • A business that involves not only His wrath but also His grace.
  • Hosea 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

Now back to our question.
  • We can say at least two things.

1) We know that God spoke over and over of the consequences of covenant sin.
  • Deuteronomy 17:2–5 (ESV) — 2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.

2) We know that Israel was a theocracy.
  • Meaning, among other things, that God was the judicial system, the Supreme Court.
  • Justice was meted out through Him.
  • His holiness was the standard of innocence.
  • If He condemned He was justified to do so.

But we are still left emotionally traumatized.
  • Especially with the death sentence on his children.
  • Was it that his children, perhaps knowing about the hidden treasure, were also seen as responsible for the profaning of Israel’s camp?
  • That seems a stretch.
  • We just don’t know.
  • Some argue that they weren’t killed.
  • The bottom line is that our modern sensibilities will not find satisfactory resolution to this question.


We have a problem with God’s wrath.
  • We have to be honest.
  • Our modern sensibilities see it as harsh, unfair and over the top.
  • “Our problem here is—sinners that we are—we don’t think breaking Yahweh’s covenant is all that big a deal. We really cannot understand God’s wrath because sin does not bother us much” – Dale Davis.

This flaw in our thinking leads us into error –
  • “The problem with evangelicals is that they treat Scripture as if all of it were equal in emphasis about things like God's character. …the harsh language in the OT is akin to our sometimes harsh and blunt words to infants when they do something wrong. It isn't that God is really like that, but because of our infancy; he speaks to us in those terms. Once Christ has come and we have fully matured in faith, it is the language of love that dominates. Yes the NT does also speak of punishment because sometimes we are all immature. But anyone who reads the Gospel accounts and thinks this is really what Jesus is like is missing the point. It's a conservative evangelical pathology to be fixated on God's wrath. Pure and simple” – Simon (commenting on Gospel Coalition post).
  • In other words, Jesus came and showed us that “it isn’t that God is really like that”.
  • Say what?

This is just complete nonsense.
  • Not only is God like that, but Jesus is also like that.
  • And in fact, on this side of the new creation, God’s wrath is necessary.
  • We will look quickly at four reasons for this necessity.

Reason 1:
“The whole burden of human life after the fall is in itself an expression of divine wrath (cf. Gen. 3; 4; 6–8; 11). As Job 14:1ff. vividly puts it (cf. Ps. 90:7), all human life stands under the constant operation of the wrath of God” – TDNT.
  • In other words, the Bible teaches that the wrath of God is the default experience of God by the fallen world.
  • This is not to say that God’s grace is not manifested in many ways to a fallen world.
  • But that without action by God to mitigate His wrath, His wrath is the norm.

The Gospel of John puts it so clearly:
  • John 3:36 (ESV) — 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  • It doesn’t come upon “him” but “remains on him”.

Reason 2:
The NT is clear that God’s wrath is a current and real attribute of God.
  • It was not replaced or displaced by God’s love.
  • It is not only for the “stupid” OT folks.

Some NT examples:
  • Romans 1:18 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Romans 5:9 (ESV) — 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
  • Romans 11:22 (ESV) — 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV) — 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Reason 3:
All those outside of Christ will experience Him as God’s wrath.
  • Yes, Jesus Himself will manifest the wrath of God to unbelievers.
  • Revelation 6:15–17 (ESV) — 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Did you see that?!
  • The “wrath of the Lamb”.
  • This is an awesome and profound phrase.
  • Yet it seems strangely contradictory.
  • And it hints at the 4th reason why God’s wrath is necessary.

Reason 4:
If God’s wrath is diluted & diminished, God’s love is diluted & diminished.
  • We can’t paint over God’s wrath with His love without changing His love in the process.

G.K. Chesterton puts it like this:
  • “Being a mixture of two things, it is a dilution of two things; neither is present in its full strength or contributes its full colour” – G.K. Chesterton.
  • And Christianity, unlike the world, always retains its full, undiluted & undiminished colors.
  • The world prefers to dilute and diminish.
  • Christianity “got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious” – Chesterton.
  • Like “wrath of the Lamb

He says this is seen clearly with the imagery of the lion and the lamb.
  • There is nothing significant about this concept if the lion loses its fierceness or the lamb loses its innocence.
  • Typically we think, “that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is--Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem [Christianity] attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved” – Chesterton.

Tim Keller, perhaps influenced by Chesterton, makes the same point:
  • His take used to be, “I can’t believe in Hell and wrath because I want a more loving God” – Keller.
  • But he “came to realize…that if you get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath, you have a less loving God” - Keller.
  • “If you get rid of a God who has wrath and Hell, you’ve got a god who loves us in general, but that’s not as loving as the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, who loves us with a costly love” – Tim Keller.
  • In other words, like Chesterton, if you dilute & diminish God’s wrath, you dilute & diminish His love.

And for the Christian:
  • The thing that shields us from the fierceness of God’s wrath – and it is fierce –
  • Is the equally fierce costliness of God’s love.

In Revelation 6:15-17 (from above), sinners call on the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the “wrath of the lamb”.
  • Jesus’ wrath is so fierce they hope death can hide them from it.
  • But the only thing that can hide us from the “wrath of the lamb” is our union with Christ.
  • Christ doesn’t replace God’s ho-hum OT wrath with a “groovy kind of love”.
  • It is better than that.
  • His fierce love provides salvation from His fierce wrath.


Joshua 7:10-12 – Achan’s Sin and Israel’s Guilt

Joshua 7:10–12 (ESV) — 10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

Achan sinned; he broke the “cherem” God enacted against Jericho.
  • And yet, in spite of Achan’s individual action, all of Israel was considered guilty.
  • Israel has sinned” (vs. 11)
  • Israel broke faith” (vs. 1)
  • The anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel” (vs. 1)

We have got to try and figure out how this can be.
  • Why is Israel seen as corporately guilty for Achan’s individual sin?


To get at this question, we need to understand Achan’s sin from a few different perspectives.
  • 1) Outward Expression of His Sin
  • 2) Inward Expression of His Sin
  • 3) Covenantal Expression of His Sin

The texts to do this are found in verse 1 and 21.
  • Joshua 7:1 (ESV) — 1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.
  • Joshua 7:21 (ESV) — 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

Outward Expression:
There is nothing very profound here at all.
  • Achan stole “a beautiful cloak”, “200 shekels of silver”, and a “bar of gold”.
  • Verses 1 and 21 tell us he “took” them.
  • And after he did, he hid them beneath his tent.
    • The actions of a guilty man.
    • And significant, as we will see later.
    • He hid them in a holy place; Israel’s camp
  • So the outward expression is the physical act of taking the loot and hiding it.

He no doubt justified his actions with some sorry inner dialogue, as we all do.
  • Perhaps with, “The Smiths’ won’t miss these – they’re dead anyway”.
  • Or maybe, “The tabernacle treasury is overflowing, I will care for the excess”.

Inward Expression:
Achan reveals the inward expression of his sin in verse 21.
  • He says, “I coveted them and then took them”.
  • So the inward expression of his sin was coveting.

His coveting gave birth to the stealing.
  • This is very similar to James 4.
  • James 4:2b (ESV) — 2b You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
  • The inward manifestation of our sin (coveting) leads to the outward physical act of sin (stealing, fights and quarrels).
  • Achan coveted riches and he became a thief.

In Achan’s case, the sad part is that God was literally in the process of giving to Achan and Israel the Promised Land.
  • In spite of this, Achan was still not satisfied.
  • More is never enough!

No Answers Yet:
Now thus far, we haven’t really gained any insight into the reason Achan’s sin wreaked such havoc on Israel.
  • Surely he was not the only Israelite who had sinned since Israel crossed the Jordan.
  • After all, we know that all are desperately wicked.
  • And again, as James 4 teaches us, our worldly desires are always warring within us.

In fact, at this point God’s imputing Achan’s sin to Israel seems a bit arbitrary and harsh.
  • Especially from this side of the cross.
  • Achan coveted and stole and God’s response to Israel is to declare, “they have become devoted for destruction” (vs. 12).

I think the third expression, however, will help us begin to make sense of our initial question.

Covenantal Expression:
Joshua 1 tells us that Achan “took some of the devoted things”.
  • In other words, God made a covenant with Israel concerning Jericho, its treasure, and people.
  • The people (except Rahab) were to be destroyed; the treasure given to the sanctuary treasury.
    • Joshua 6:17a (ESV) — 17a And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.
    • Joshua 6:19 (ESV) — 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.”
  • Achan disobeyed this covenant and took the things of God for himself.
  • So the covenantal expression of Achan’s sin is that he broke the “cherem” God had declared against Jericho.

This is far more profound than just the external and internal expressions by themselves.
  • “Achan’s violation was more than mere theft—it was spiritual adultery against Yahweh because he transgressed the cherem principle” – Michael Heiser.
  • “Achan was acting in a way that broke the fundamental covenantal relationship between God and Israel” – David Howard.

The covenantal expression of Achan’s sin leads us directly into why Israel was guilty before God.


We need to get one thing out the way.
  • One obvious reason that Israel was found guilty for an individual’s sin is because God said so.
  • Joshua 6:18 (ESV) — 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.
  • Though “God said so” is sufficient, fortunately, God’s revelation has given us more detail for why He would say so.

Sin – Individual and the Group:
There is a theological dynamic in play between the individual and the group of God’s elect.
  • And it is a frightening one.
  • “Though it was a single person that sinned, the children of Israel are said to commit the trespass, because one of their body did it, and he was not as yet separated from them, nor disowned by them.” – Matthew Henry
  • The sin of “Achan robbed the whole nation of the purity and holiness which it ought to possess before God” – Woudstra.
  • David Howard says simply “the one man’s sin infected the nation as a whole”.

This is why God tells Joshua in our text today:
  • Joshua 7:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

Achan violated the devotion and Israel is seen as guilty because the sin, both its perpetrator and the booty (buried in his tent in Israel’s camp), is “in” them.
  • Therefore, Israel is in union with the sin of Achan.
  • And freedom from the sin and its guilt comes only from separation from sin.
    • A separation that will cost Achan his life.

This principle is revealed in Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement.

Separation from Sin:
Leviticus 16:6–10 (ESV) — 6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as [first goat] a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel [second goat] shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

The two goats demonstrate a couple of things:
  • Atonement comes from the “sin offering” – sacrifice.
    • This is a well know feature of Jesus' atonement.
  • Atonement also comes from the sin “sent away” – separation.
    • This necessity of separation from sin is foundational to our current subject matter.
    • And it is a parallel to Jesus being sent outside Jerusalem to be crucified.

Michael Heiser tells us why:
“In the Day of Atonement ritual, the goat for Yahweh—the goat that was sacrificed—purifies the people of Israel and the Tabernacle/Temple. Sins were ‘atoned for’ and what had been ritually unclean was sanctified and made holy. But purification only described part of what atonement meant…The goat for Azazel banished the sins of the Israelites to the realm outside Israel. Why? Because the ground on which Yahweh had his dwelling was holy; the ground outside the parameters of the Israelite camp [wasn’t]. Sin could not be tolerated in the camp of Israel, for it was holy ground. Sins had to be ‘transported’ to where evil belonged—the territory outside Israel…” – Michael Heiser.
Our Answer:
So I think now we know why God would consider Israel guilty for Achan’s sin.
  • It wasn’t just because he stole.
  • It wasn’t just because he coveted.
  • It was also because he broke a specific covenant with God as a member of Israel.
  • And in so doing he corrupted Israel because he was part of Israel.

“I suppose many twentieth-century American individualists might believe this is unfair. Naturally, we can complain. But we do better to fear. Fear because one man’s sin turned away God’s presence from a whole people. Fear because a man’s whole household was drawn into his punishment. We Christians generally have such tame views of sin; wrongly, we have no paranoia over this contagious power (cf. 1 Cor. 5; Acts 5:1–11) – Dale Davis.

The link between the individual and the body of the elect of God is not just an OT concept.
  • It is powerfully present in the NT as well.
  • And we would do well to reflect on it.


The link revealed in Joshua 7 still has relevance for the NT Church.
  • We will do a quick survey.

Church Body Life:
1 Corinthians 12:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:26–27 (ESV) — 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Church Discipline:
1 Corinthians 5:1–2 (ESV) — 1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
1 Corinthians 5:5–7 (ESV) — 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Original Sin and Salvation:
1 Corinthians 15:21–22 (ESV) — 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Union with Christ:
Romans 6:3–4 (ESV) — 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Final Thought:
In Christ we are all connected to one another.
  • This is both a profound and scary thought.
  • And it means that the phrase “my sin doesn’t affect you” is simply not true.
  • If a member of the body is in sin, the body of Christ suffers.


James 4:1-7a – Worldliness

James 4:1–6 (ESV) — 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 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. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7a Submit yourselves therefore to God.

James is on a mission.
  • His readers’ personal lives and relationships are corrupted by worldliness.
  • friendship with the world” (vs. 4)
  • a friend of the world” (vs. 4)
  • They have befriended the world and have put themselves in opposition to God.
  • But James wants us to know that the Christian life is to be lived in humility and submission to God.

We will try and understand James’ insights into worldliness from the following two perspectives:
  • 1) Ruin through Worldliness
    • Evidence of
    • Source of
    • Stain of
    • Why it Matters for Us
  • 2) Freedom from Worldliness


Evidence of Worldliness:
James mentions at least 3 behaviors that reveal the worldliness of his readers.

1) Quarrels & Fights – “what causes quarrels” & “what causes fights” (vs. 1); “you fight and quarrel” (vs. 2)
  • These are heated disputes between individuals.
  • And in fact “quarrels” (Greek polemeo) is military language that conjures up imagery of war, battles and physical hostility.
  • “James is describing a condition where a group has come to a state of war, with open skirmishes breaking out among people. Sides have been chosen, positions have been dug in, and anyone seeking to be neutral is looked on with suspicion by both sides” – David Nystrom.

2) Murder – “so you murder” (vs. 2)
  • Some commentators hold out the possibility that some in the church actually did murder.
  • But at the very least, James is using “murder” as “hyperbole for bitter hatred” – David Nystrom.
  • 1 John 3:15 (ESV) — 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

3) Wrong Prayer – “you ask wrongly” (vs. 3)
  • James makes the point that even their prayers are worldly.
  • And in some cases they aren’t praying at all – “You do not have, because you do not ask” (vs. 2).
  • And when they are praying, they are asking for things to satisfy their worldly passions.
  • Peter Davids says, “This is not the trusting child asking for a meal, but the greedy child asking for the best piece or the spoiled child demanding his or her own way.”

Be Careful:
James cites quarrels and fights, hate, and lack of or selfish prayer as the evidence for the worldliness of his readers.
  • Now, all of us have to be careful at this point not to “check out”.
  • We might be saying to ourselves, “I am not fighting, quarrelling, hating or murdering anybody”.

But, James has something to say to the rest of us too.
  • We will see why soon enough.

Source of Worldliness:
  • In verse 1, James essentially asks, “What causes worldliness among you?”
  • His answer, “your passions are at war within you” (vs. 1)
  • To find out what he means, we will deal with both parts of James’ answer – “your passions” and “at war within you”.

“Your passions”:
In Greek, “passions” in verse 1 is actually a phrase – “ek ho hedone”.
  • Ek ho” is simply the idea of “the source from which something flows” – BDAG
  • Hedone” (passions) simply means “pleasure, delight, enjoyment” – BDAG.

So, worldliness flows out of ones love of pleasure.
  • But it is both more and worse than this.

With James and the NT, worldly “passions” have a decidedly negative connotation:
  • A “desire for pleasure” that “work[s] against God and drag[s] us back into evil” – TDNT
  • Acting in opposition to God’s will, in favor of our desire for pleasure – TDNT.

The NT has many texts that convey this negative connotation; here are a few:
  • Being lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” – 2 Timothy 3:4 (ESV)
  • Being “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” – Luke 8:14 (ESV)
  • The process where “the desires for other things enter in and choke the word” – Mark 4:19 (ESV)

So, worldliness flows out of a desire for pleasure acting in opposition to God’s will.
  • But once again, there is more and it is worse than even this.
  • We have to contend with the “at war” part of James’ words.

“At war within you”
In Greek, the phrase “at war” means to be “engaged” or “battling” against something.
  • So what James is telling us is that this is no passive or neutral stance.
  • Our passions are actively “battling” to be satisfied over against God’s will for us.

Definition Summary:
So when James speaks of “your passions are at war within you” he is saying:
  • Worldliness flows out of a desire for pleasure acting in opposition to God’s will.
  • And the desire for pleasure is actively fighting to be satisfied.

And how does James know that the selfish desire for pleasure is fighting for satisfaction?

He knows because the quarreling, fighting, hate and selfish prayer show him that:
  • They are desiring – “you desire and do not have” (vs. 2)
  • They are coveting – “you covet and cannot obtain” (vs. 2)
  • The very things one would expect to see.
  • The worldly desire and covet.
  • The desiring and coveting are the battling for satisfaction.

So what is the problem with worldliness?
  • James is clear that the problems are devastating.

Stain of Worldliness (James 1:27):
James bluntly tells us in verse 4 that worldliness positions you at odds with God:
  • adulterous people
    • Allusion to OT language referring to Israel’s unfaithfulness.
    • This language carries with it the idea of breaking the First Commandment.
  • enmity with God
    • Enmity toward God is to be hostile in actions towards God.
    • It is the act of disobedience.
  • an enemy of God
    • This suggests the idea of hating God – BDAG.
    • John 14:15 (ESV) — 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

All of these should disavow us of any notion of neutrality before God.
  • Sin is an offense to a holy God and this language conveys just how offensive it is.

Paul wholeheartedly agrees with James:
  • Romans 8:7 (ESV) — 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
  • Worldliness is creaturely rebellion against the Creator.
  • How ridiculous is that?

Why it Matters for Us:
I suggested at the beginning of this section that James’ words are relevant to us even, if outwardly, we don’t resemble James’ readers.

Here is why:
  • The outward actions James identified in his readers are ultimately not the problem.

The problem is the worldliness itself that resides in our flesh:
  • We all have selfish pleasures that battle within us
  • We all desire certain things or outcomes
  • We all covet things or circumstances

The fighting and quarrelling, as we saw, are merely the evidence of worldliness.
  • BUT – The evidence of your worldliness may look much different.
  • You are responsible before God to ask, “What does my worldliness look like?”

A few quick examples of possible evidence for our worldliness can be found in:
  • Lack of a continual Spiritual Growing and Maturation
    • Those caught up in worldliness do “not mature” – Luke 8:14 (ESV)
  • Lack of Love and Appetite for God’s Word.
    • Worldliness will “choke the word” of God – Mark 4:19 (ESV)

With respect to number two, a huge red flag is having no interest in theology and doctrine.
  • These are Scripture’s revelation of the deep things of God.
  • The details of who He is, what He has done, and how it all fits together.

Having little interest in these is evidence of worldliness choking the word.
  • It is certainly not godliness that delights in ignorance of the deep things of God!

Albert Mohler speaks to this symptom of worldliness as follows:
“How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word…In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God.”
Compare to Jeremiah:
  • Jeremiah 15:16 (ESV) — 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

We need to know:
"The more you focus on something — whether that's math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain” – Upenn Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg.
This is why Scripture is so adamant that we renew the mind and deny the self.
  • Romans 12:2 (ESV) — 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Colossians 3:2 (ESV) — 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
  • Colossians 3:10 (ESV) — 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
  • Hosea 4:6 (ESV) — 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.
  • Titus 2:11–12 (ESV) — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
  • James 1:27 (ESV) — 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
  • 1 Peter 1:14–16 (ESV) — 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
  • 1 Peter 4:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
  • 1 John 2:15 (ESV) — 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.


Does James give any insight into how we battle back against worldliness?

He mentions three things in our text (much more will be said of these things next week):
  • Grace of God
  • Humility
  • Submission to God

Humility positions us under God and His grace and prepares us to submit to the word and will of God.
  • Without humility there can be no submissive posture before God.
  • It is for this reason John the Baptist tells us –
  • John 3:30 (ESV) — 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Too many flavors of worldliness come from a lack of humility and much too high of an opinion of oneself.
  • We think we are a reliable source for:
    • What we need
    • What is best for us
    • What is important
    • How God could best glorify Himself in our lives
    • What circumstances best suit our spiritual development

These are dangerous things to think.
  • We, for example, would not naturally think that participation in the sufferings of Christ is beneficial.
  • Paul would disagree!

I will end with a great quote from G.K. Chesterton on humility:
“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert--himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt--the Divine Reason.”
Do you doubt the necessity of diving into the deep things of God’s word – Divine Reason?
  • If so, you have much too high an opinion of yourself.

Final Thought:
From a humble and submissive posture, we can we surrender ourselves, our ideas, our desires, our passions, our expectations, our circumstances.
  • Knowing that what God gives back to us is the best for us!
  • And in so doing, we can begin to defeat the worldliness that pervades our Christian walk.