The other day, I was chatting with my friend and she asked me to come over to her house to help her with a project. My response to her was, “I’m happy to come to Oklahoma to sit with you and your piles on the floor.” Then I burst out laughing at how that would sound to anyone out of context.
Just like in that conversation, context is key when reading the Bible. Sadly, I can forget this fact. I can take a single verse out of the context of the chapter or book or culture in which it was written and infer meaning that might not be there.
I think we do this with James 4 a lot. We pick and choose which sections of this chapter we want and then gloss over the others. There are some really exciting portions of this chapter, and there are other parts that are a little less fun to talk about.
“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:6-10 (ESV)
Portions of this passage are absolutely amazing! I love that God gives more grace. I love that the devil will flee when we resist him. I love that God draws near to us. And I love the idea of being exalted by God. But there are some important prerequisites that I like to gloss over.
Let’s dive into four important concepts in these verses that I would rather overlook. As you read through these topics, I encourage you to examine your own heart. Ask yourself if pride, rebellion, impurity, and numbness characterize your life and faith. Then bring your heart, no matter its state, to our God who miraculously heals.
God Actively Opposes the Proud
As an American, this is really awkward to discuss. From an early age, I was taught to be proud of who I am. I learned to take pride in my country and my work. Americans are proud people. While there are some incredibly humble people in my nation, many of us aren’t so great with the humility stuff. I know that I am much more prone to pride; I’m tempted to run away from humility whenever possible.
Yet there isn’t an ounce of pride within God. Have you ever thought about that? When the Bible talks about the things that God hates, pride is always on the list. Jesus, the son of God, had every right to be prideful when he was on earth, but he was and is the ultimate example of humility. The Bible tells us that God is attracted to those who are humble and is repelled by pride.
Pride has no place in the life of a believer, yet, sadly, my life can often be characterized by this sin.
We are Called to be Submitted
If we don’t like the word “humble” then we surely don’t like the word “submit.” But we are called to be submitted to God. Oh, how I wish that submitting to him was something that only happened once and then we never had to do it again. It would be infinitely easier if we were able to check the box to say “I’m submitted” and then be free to live as we want.
But that’s the opposite of submission.
“This word was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden””
Thanks, Blue Letter Bible!
As an American, I have been taught my entire life that rebellion is best. From the stories about my nation’s founding to the Disney movies I consumed as a child, rebellion was the subtle (and not so subtle) thread connecting them. It’s hardwired in me to rebel. I don’t want to submit. Yet, I am called to voluntarily obey God. It’s going to take me a lifetime to figure this out, and I’m learning it’s a privilege to grapple with this responsibility.
My Default Setting is Impurity
For the past six months or so, one of my consistent prayers has been that the church would be purified. As I have been praying for the bride of Christ, I’ve been saddened by her state—we’re a big mess and not at all the spotless bride that Jesus is coming back for.
And as I have been praying for the cleansing of the church, I have become more and more aware of the impurities in my own heart. I think the metaphors throughout the Bible about precious metals being purified through testing is incredibly apt. In the midst of the crucible of circumstance, these flaws, foreign objects, and impurities can come to the surface and be dealt with.
While my default setting is impurity, God is completely holy. There’s not a spot of pride or any other sin within him. I can’t even fathom that level of purity! Because of Jesus, we’re called “holy,” and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live like it. We will never be perfect, but we can be quicker to confront sin and follow Jesus than we were yesterday.
Mourning and Weeping are Important
I think mourning and weeping are appropriate (and Biblical) responses to sin. We see this in 1 Samuel 15 where God rejects Saul as King. When God tells Samuel, the prophet mourns. This horrific leader whose pride and insecurity separated him from God still drew tears from the prophet who heard so clearly from God.
If Samuel was right to mourn over Saul’s life and his immense sin, how much more should we be heartbroken by our own sinfulness?
Sadly, it’s really easy to become desensitized to sin. Pride, rebellion, and impurity are common practice to us, so how can they possibly be bad? How can I weep and mourn over something that is normal to me?
In this season, I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit to resensitize me to sin. I don’t want to just go through life doing whatever I want, but I want to live the life that God has called me to. I want to be quick and courageous in confronting and killing the sin in my own life. But first, I must be able to identify and understand the weight of it.
James 4:6-10 is packed with concepts we don’t naturally like. But I also believe that the antidote for pride is found smack-dab in the middle of this passage: When we draw near to God, he draws near to us. He makes himself available to us. He shines his face upon us. Our pride can keep us away from God but he’s asking us to come to him. We don’t need to be perfect (we’re not), we just have to take the first step of humility toward him.
Humility, submission to God, pure hearts, and an understanding of sin are all things that God is calling us to—I pray that we are courageous enough to accept his invitation.
What stands out to you in James 4?
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?
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