From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not even of your lusts? . . Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not . . . because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. James 4:1-3.
If you have a center reference in the King James version, you’ll notice that the word LUST in verses 1 & 3 should be translated pleasure. The Greek word is “hedon” from which the English word “hedonism” is derived. Webster defines this as: “the philosophy that pleasure is the principal good and should be the aim of action.” There are theories in psychology that suggest that a person’s actions always have pleasure as its aim. Pleasure seeking is a way of life. Hedonists seek to live a life of pleasure, a life of self-indulgence.
Any thinking man must sooner or later ask the question, “Why the breakdown in the American home? Why the violence that marks our society?” James lays a finger on one of the main causes and gives us a direct answer .. . . PLEASURE. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Yet, even the casual observer can see that ours is a hedonistic (pleasure seeking) society. When basketball, baseball, and football stars receive salaries in the millions per year, many times the salary of the President of the United States, one needs to ask the question, “Where are our priorities?” Just how important is pleasure? Pleasure seeking is one of the main causes of societal breakdown. You may say, “No way!”, but James says it is.
But you ask, “Doesn’t God want me to have pleasure?” Sure. 1 Timothy 6:17 says, the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. God created me with five senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, each capable of giving me pleasure. What is wrong then with my enjoying pleasure? The new morality and modern Psychology tells me “If you enjoy it, do it.” You were made for pleasure. Make it your aim.
What is cigarette’s best advertisement? Low in nicotine and tar? No, it’s the taste. The pleasure of it will help you forget the dangers of it, death! The same is true for the beer ads. What do they attract you with? Sex . . . Pleasure. If you enjoy it, forget about the consequences of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy.
This is not new. The lure of pleasure was Satan’s biggest appeal to Eve. When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired, (Genesis 3:6) it was an appeal to her senses. If it was pleasant, how can it be wrong?
You say, “God should not have put temptation before her, saying, ‘Thou shalt not eat of it.’ But the garden of Eden was not a prison, with everything off limits. God who gives us richly all things to enjoy had surrounded them with all that was pleasant and good. (Genesis 2:9), And out of the ground made the Lord to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.
God gave them five senses, each capable of enjoying pleasure, surrounded them in the garden with all that is pleasant and good, but let them know one thing clearly: that He was the Lord their God and pleasure must not be their aim. He put them in the garden to dress it, to keep it. Life has purpose, responsibility. You are not in this world to live it up, but to develop and to be fruitful . . . you must make moral choices. One of these choices is, pleasure is not my aim! Life is not a bowl of cherries. It is serious business, and requires discipline.
You ask, “How can James charge pleasure as one of the main causes of today’s problems in the home, in our society?” When reading James 4:1-3 note the repetition of you, ye, yours. Your lusts, ye lust, ye kill, ye desire to have, ye fight and war. The bottom line is 4:3, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (pleasure).
Webster’s definition of hedonistic is living a life of pleasure, self indulgent. Listen to Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:1, I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure. Note the following repetition of me. (v.4) I made me … I planted me … I gathered me. The bottom line is here in v.8, which one Greek translation renders, I got me many concubines, men’s delight. The pleasure of intimacy with a wife is one of the reasons people get married and children are born. But for Solomon to get 300 concubines for his pleasure when he already had 700 wives is absurd!
There is an interesting story in Judges 14:1-3, And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. (v.3) And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. The marriage failed. His wife and her father were burned to death. Small matter. (16:1) Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her. (16:4) And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. When Samson asked his father to get him the woman at Timnath, for she pleaseth me well, was he thinking of a wife, a mother for his children, a life’s companion? No! All he wanted was a sex symbol. She had what he wanted, but when she died in the fire, a harlot or Delilah would do as well.
Webster’s definition of hedonistic is, living a life of pleasure. In self indulgent, self is at the center.
Let me share some excerpts from an interesting article entitled The Seductive Addiction of Hedonism:
“It is not among the few that this addiction has taken hold on our society. Addiction is not related to the poor or uneducated. It is found as well among the affluent and the influential. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, PCB (Angel Dust), are all equal opportunity employers.
“Addiction is ecumenical. One out of ten Americans is addicted to some substance or another. The compulsion to drink, to smoke, to take drugs is overwhelming. What kind of people are we? What kind of culture do we breathe into our children and children’s children? Why do they hurt themselves, oblivious to the consequences? Why are there so many so easily hurt, so easily discouraged, so readily bored with living? Is it because they are raised in an enveloping hedonistic culture? It is a mass culture in an unstated theology. Hedonism is a popular system of belief more persuasive and influential than any of the established religions. Its belief system is summed up in two imperatives: Pursue pleasure; Avoid pain. What we really want is pleasure, here and now, and the avoidance of pain. Hedonistic wisdom promises liberation from the world of imperatives. Flow with your natural desires. Put aside your Bible and your
prayer books. Live your life without sadness or sorrow. Admit that in your innermost, private thoughts hedonism is the desire and end of salvation.
“The hedonistic culture registers as simple, sincere, honesty. Who doesn’t want pleasure? Who would not avoid pain if they had the option? Hedonism is an idolatry. The addict has found his small god and blocked out the large God. It is not enough to tell our children to just say no. They will not say no to drugs until they learn to say yes to life. And to say yes to life is to say yes to pain and struggle and sacrifice, without which no ideal can be reached.”
Where do you think this article came from? The Detroit Jewish News, written by Rabbi Schuliweiss. Surprised? I was. Is he overstating the problem? No. Andrea Mitchell on an NBC documentary on drugs exclaims, “Why this obsession with drugs?” She should have known it was a deep desire for pleasure and the seeking to avoid pain that compelled them. Drugs are only symptomatic of the hedonistic culture we live in. It is the seductive appeal of pleasure that fills our advertisements.
Television commercials distort the sacredness of marriage. One commercial starts the scene with a lovely country setting, the church with its lofty spire, and the organ music playing the wedding march. A voice began speaking of the great moment in life when we accept responsibility in marriage. Suddenly a sleek looking car drove to the front of the church, and with these words, “With a Mitsubishi there is always room for pleasure.” Such things sicken people who still hold marriage in esteem as a sacred matter. Using the sacred rite of marriage to sell cars for pleasure!
But it is the same in sports with the beer commercials, the sexy scenes that fill our ads. It is the one blatant cry from early morning till late at night; the obsession with pleasure fills the TV screen.
Philip Schaff in his monumental work on church history states that the decline and fall of Greece and Rome was due to their obsession with pleasure. At the time of the birth of the church, 2,000 human lives a month were sacrificed to sadistic pleasure in the arena.
Certainly pleasure was the reason for the fall of Babylon. (Isaiah 47:8), Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures. (v.9), these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood. History records Babylon’s end. It was the night of Belshazzar’s party while the drunken sexual orgy was going on that Medes and Persians broke though the gates, and Babylon’s history came to an end. We must not forget it was the obsession with pleasure that brought down the great empires of Babylon, Greece, and Rome. It could be the reason for America’s end as well.
Pleasure has made America a consumer nation, and Japan has exploited it with its cars, T.V.’s, VCR’s, and games. Nintendo is the big name; Japan even controls our movie industry. Pleasure is making America poor and Japan rich.
Peter Jennings on an NBC news commentary on Japan’s spectacular rise to become a financial giant in the world said, In the old Japan pleasure was considered a sin. The only ethic they knew was the work ethic. The desire for wealth is the driving force behind their educational system, while America’s obsession with pleasure is leading us to moral, spiritual, and financial bankruptcy.
Hedonism offers uninhibited pleasure. The only rule is, if you enjoy it, do it. On a recent commentary on hedonism an Indianapolis couple with their attractive twenty-three year old daughter were interviewed about their recent vacation spent in Jamaica at a resort named after Hedonism. In the interview something became apparent. You could wear clothes if you wished, or none if you so pleased. You could do what you want openly, publicly. She was asked in the interview, “Did you see any engaged in sex?” She answered, “Oh yes.” Public display of nudity. Uninhibited pleasure.. Peter wrote of such (2 Peter 2:13), They count it pleasure to riot in the day time. (v.14) eyes full of adultery.
Hedonism cheapens life; it makes us a vulgar, coarse people. There was a recent article in the Reader’s Digest entitled, ” I’m Tired of Four Letter Words.” Our language is becoming obscene.
But what is worse, pleasure in America is becoming sadistic. Webster defines sadism, “The getting of sexual pleasure from mistreating physically another.” From a friend who works with troubled children in the public educational system comes this remark, “One out of every three girls in San Francisco is sexually abused.” The sexual exploitation of our children is epidemic.
But there is a hidden danger in that hedonism’s uninhibited pleasure ends in absolute slavery. (Titus 3:3) . . . serving divers lusts and pleasure (hedone). Or, slaves to lusts and pleasure. Addiction is the big word in pleasure. What does cocaine have to offer? Pleasure. But one has not used it long before he has become enslaved to it.
But the bottom line in what is wrong with hedonism is well put in the words of Rabbi Schuliweiss, “It is idolatry.” It competes with God for our money. With biting sarcasm James writes, That Ye may consume it upon your lusts (spend what you have on pleasures). Pleasure costs big bucks. It competes for our time.
All of us are familiar with the T.V. wasteland. But there is one area in which this can be seen clearly. If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day … and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure. Isaiah 58:13. The Lord’s day has become a day of pleasure. It was sacred in my youth. Only essential business was transacted. Today it is the one day above all given to pleasure. The finest of sports begin at noon. The finest of movies, Sunday evening. And finally pleasure competes for our love. In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves,” 2 Timothy 3:1-2. (v.4) lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. This fits Webster’s definition of hedonistic, “living a life of pleasure, self indulgent.”
James’ words, That ye may consume it upon your own lusts. is followed in verse 4 in these simple words, You adulterous people, don’t you know friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Pleasure seeking is a worldly philosophy which James calls spiritual adultery, destructive of our relationship to God. What is James saying? Simply this, God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14), and we are to love him with all our heart, soul, and strength. God views the world’s view of pleasure as idolatry; spiritual adultery.
One can only wonder among the tens of thousands that crowd the baseball, football, and basketball stadiums on the Lord’s day, how many are there who once loved the Lord’s house, the fellowship of the saints, would not miss a service, and are now paying big bucks to see the game, absorbed in pleasure seeking. It didn’t happen overnight. Pleasure like cocaine can be addictive. Why is it we are fast becoming a Sunday morning church? Is it because pleasure is crowding out our love for Christ?
The pleasure seeking James spoke of is a worldly philosophy, and James describes its wisdom in 3:15, This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, which Webster defines as ” preoccupied with bodily or sexual pleasure, and finally devilish.” Pleasure was Satan’s big appeal to Eve. It is still the same to each of us.
You say, “Easy now, preacher. You are forcing me to make a choice.” Exactly. That is my intention. You cannot serve God and mammon, God and Baal, God and hedonism, with pleasure as your aim. We are faced with a choice, as Moses was. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. Hebrews 11:24-26. He was surrounded by luxury. Every conceivable pleasure at was his fingertips. He was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But outside that palace his people were slaves. Their lives were made bitter by hard bondage. The choice he faced was clear, pleasures now or a life of suffering. Faith helped him to see pleasures were for a season; they would not last; that suffering for Christ was “greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”
For years his life was one of suffering. But let me remind you his name is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible. He was with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration. The last time his name is mentioned is in Revelation 15:3, And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.
Moses the servant of God. What a title! The book of Joshua opens (1:2), Moses my servant is dead. If one could find his grave, it would be the epitaph on his grave stone. As I researched his life, I was amazed at how often he was called Moses the servant of God. I like that. But to win that title with God he had to make a choice, pleasure of sin for a season, or suffering with his people, sharing the reproach of Christ.
Faith enabled him to see that pleasures were for a season. There is a law of diminishing return in pleasure. It takes more cigarettes, more booze, more dope, more sex to get less and less pleasure out of it. And with old age the ability to enjoy pleasure diminishes. Winston Churchill complained, “I am nothing but a breathing, excreting hulk.” His ability to enjoy pleasure was gone. Faith chooses the ultimate good of the Kingdom of God over the immediate pleasures of this world and the flesh.
And then comes the day when pleasure is over, and the long night of suffering begins. (Luke 16:19-25), the rich man died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments. His life was spent in luxury and pleasure. Clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously everyday. Now memory only served to add to his torment. In v. 25 Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things. You have lived the good life, but that is ended. Your opportunity to bless others is ended as well.
That is what James meant when he wrote in 4:3, that ye may consume it upon your lust (pleasures). You have nothing to show for all the time and money you have spent in your pursuit of pleasure. You come to the end with the awful realization; Selfishly I have lived it up here instead of laying it up there, and have to confess with the prodigal of Luke 15, I have wasted my substance. God never intends it to end this way. He created us to be fruitful and called us to a life of service.
John records in chapter 12 that in the last week of our Lord’s life, at the close of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, certain Greeks came to Philip and Andrew with the request, (v. 21) Sir, we would see Jesus. (v. 22-26) Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
Our Lord knew that within the week He would die, and speaks of His forthcoming death as the hour in which He, the Son of man, should be glorified. And from the illustration of the seed, shares that unless he dies like that seed He will remain as He is. Only through death is the full realization of his life realized. He knows that only as a seed falls into the ground and dies it brings forth much fruit, so by His death many will be brought to God.
He is not merely explaining the necessity of His going to a cross to die. He is concerned that those who listened to Him would understand the simple truth that their death to self was as necessary as His. (John 12:25) He that loveth his life shall lose it. It must lose its potential of coming to fullness of life. But he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” He guarantees its permanence.
And then our Lord shares life’s ultimate purpose. (v. 26), If any man serve me, let him follow me. He met Satan’s offer in the wilderness, All these things will I give thee, by referring to Deuteronomy 6:13 when He quotes, It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. The bottom line to life is serving God. And that means on my part denying myself, taking up my cross and following Him.
Oh, the rewards for such a life! If any man serve me, where I am there shall also my servant be. Heaven. The Psalmist wrote (36:8), In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Rivers of pleasures, fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore are found. It is hard to grasp the wonder of heaven!
But for the one who takes up his cross to follow Jesus in an unselfish life of service, there is more than the joy of anticipation of the future. He will find his life surrounded with all kinds of benefits in this world, along with its law of diminishing return. Nevertheless, as Proverbs 4:18 says, The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
Remember the early days of courtship, the great pleasure of being with the one you love? Fifty years of married life has increased, not diminished, my love for my wife. So it is with my relation to Him. “Sweeter as the years go by, richer fuller deeper, Jesus’ love is sweeter, sweeter as the years go by.” There is pleasure in reading a good book. His is the best. What hours of pleasure I have had from its pages. There is the pleasure of fellowship in His house, with His saints. There is the pleasure of leading a soul to Jesus. There is the pleasure of giving, of helping another in need.
One can even find pleasure in adversity. Paul did. (1 Corinthians 12:10), I take pleasure in infirmities” … in necessities. How could he? It was then he discovered that when he was weak he was strong! That is a paradox, but true. There is the pleasure of a job well done – of finishing life’s course. And then, there is the pleasure of God’s honor. If any man serve me, him will my Father honour. There is no greater pleasure at the end of life than to hear God’s “Well done!”
The Christian view on life is seen in the maxim, Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. The exact opposite of the maxim the world lives by is, Only one life twill soon be past. Forget about the future, let’s have a blast.
And we are forced to make the choice. We cannot serve God and mammon, God and pleasure. But we will serve one!
Israel at the foot of the mount, partying before the golden calf, felt they were not rejecting God. Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord, And brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play. Exodus 32:5,6. God thought differently.
He was a big man in his early forties, rather handsome–one of twenty prisoners from Indiana State Prison, who had come to our church to minister, along with pastor Stewart Robinson. He sang a song which I think was entitled “Wasted Years.” A lump came to my throat and tears to my eyes. But there was one line in that song, if I remember right, that goes something like this: Turn around, turn around, the saviour is waiting!