For the 16th Sunday after Pentecost the three assigned readings are Jeremiah 11:18-20; James 3:13-4:10 and Mark 9:30-37. The text chosen for the sermon is James 3:3, “You ask and do not receive.”
What is so interesting about this verse is that verse 2 concludes with, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Then verse 3 begins, “You ask and do not receive.” Does that not sound like a contradiction? Elsewhere the Bible says, “Ask and you will receive.” How do we resolve this paradox?
Context is primary followed by the distinctions between Law and Gospel. The context is the rest of verse 3, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” The Law and Gospel distinction that is relevant here is that the theologian of self glory is one who seeks his own glory while the theologian of the cross seeks the glory of Jesus. What James is saying is that even if you ask with the wrong motivation, you will not receive because you ask amiss.
To make it more clear, James points out that asking for your own pleasures is to be a friend of the world and an enemy of God. All of our prayers and desires is to give God the glory and not ourselves. But in light of the fact that we are sinners in all that we do, how can we ever ask rightly? The answer is found in verse 10 in which James exhorts us to humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.
What is humbling in the sight of the Lord? It is repentance which is the life of the Christian. Repentance referring to both contrition over our sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In our requests to God we humble ourselves by first acknowleding that apart from His grace we are unworthhy to come before Him. Then when we pray we add “If it be Thy will” leaving in His hands the answer to our prayer. In that way we need not be anxious because He promises always to answer to our good as He sees it.