James 4:6b-10 (NIV)
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
There had been fighting in the congregation. As always, the quarreling had been caused by the inner, sinful desires of the people. When the people prayed to God, their prayers went unanswered because their prayers were motivated by those same inner, sinful desires. They did not see that as their friendship with the unbelieving world grew more intimate, their relationship with God became more strained.
James wrote to remind them,
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b NIV).
Their pride had caused them to fight with one another. Their pride had blinded them to such a degree that they actually came before God, asking Him in prayer to feed their hunger for sinning, by giving them the sinful things they longed for.
The Proverbs 3 reminds us,
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs NIV).
We must beware our own sinful, blinding pride. It seeks to tug us along on it’s leash, into the very presence of God. If we are not careful, our pride will lead us to approach God with an attitude of selfish, arrogant expectance, instead of a proper attitude of selfless, humble confidence.
“9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV).
The Pharisee stood in God’s
James told the prideful congregation to do the same. He wrote,
“7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:7-17).
When we run away from Satan, we are running toward God. As we seek God’s forgiving embrace, God reaches out to receive us in love.
The humble wash their hands of their sins. They stop continually dirtying them with sinful actions. The repentant purify their hearts. They stop continually dirtying them with evil thoughts. The Christian attitude is one focused on doing the Lord’s will, not a double minded attitude.
The congregation that James wrote to had a double mind. They wanted to stand with one foot in the sinful world and one foot in God’s church. Then they could continue seeking the dark pleasures of sin, while also seeking God’s blessing and approval. God keep us from such double minded foolishness. God keep us from our own blinding pride.
We dare not approach the Almighty with upraised heads. Sinners must come near to God with downturned faces. We must approach God not with self-confidence, but with self-examination and repentance over our sins. We must approach God with humility, looking to God alone for forgiveness. For He sees what is in our hearts.
God’s sinless Son humbled Himself, and was lifted up on the cross of our suffering. He did this so that we sinners might humble ourselves before God the Father, and be lifted up by the cross of God the Son. Lifted up in forgiveness to eternal life.
11Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Jesus once said,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NIV).
But Jesus never meant this statement to be interpreted alone. For Christians are indeed commanded by God to pass judgment in the proper time and place.
When Jesus miraculously healed a man on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees tried to pass judgment on Him, saying that Jesus was sinning against God by working on the Sabbath. Any fool could see that healing a person was a perfectly God pleasing thing to do on the day of the LORD. So, in His response, Jesus didn’t condemn judging, instead He said,
“Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John NIV).
When a man in the
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you” (1 Corinthians -13 NIV).
This expulsion would be for the man’s benefit, showing him outwardly what was already the case inwardly. He had separated himself from God’s Son through His ongoing and unrepentant sin.
This right to judge according to God’s Word was given to all Christians by Jesus Himself when after His resurrection He told His disciples,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John NIV).
We Christians constantly come into contact with religious teachers who claim to tell us what God says. These too we are commanded to judge by comparing what they say, to what God’s Word says. The apostle John wrote,
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
So, if judging is a necessary part of the Christian life, what was Jesus talking about when He said,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NIV).
Jesus was telling His followers not to judge others in a self-righteous and hypocritical way. We judge others wrongly when we jump to conclusions on the basis of their sins, while quietly dismissing our own. What we aught to do when we see our fellow Christians sinning, is approach them in love, pointing out gently that their actions are not fitting for a child of God to continue. Paul wrote in Galatians,
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1 NIV).
If their response is to recoil from Christ’s rebuke and cling to their sin, then Christ’s judgment must follow. But again, Christ’s judgment, spoken through the Christian, is fittingly spoken with a spirit of loving concern, not of self-righteous disdain.
James wrote the following warning to a prideful congregation:
“11Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12 NIV).
A Christian sees another sin. He instantly judges that the other is not a Christian, or at least, not as good a Christian as he is. He immediately begins to catalog all the past slights and sins that this other person has done to back up his conclusion that this person is a bad person and not a child of God. This is judgment that is not based on God’s Word and truth, but on personal self-righteousness and slander.
When a Christian does this, he is forgetting that God commanded,
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus NIV).
The judgmental Christian is saying, “God’s laws apply to you, but not to me. I decide when God’s laws apply to me and when they don’t. And I have decided that they always apply to you.”
James reminds us,
“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James NIV).
Are we to pass judgment on our fellow Christians? Yes. But not each and every time they sin. We are to declare Christ’s judgment on them only when they declare through their continuing unrepentant sin that they have abandoned their Savior and cherish their sin above Him.
When we pass judgment on each other before this is clear, we do well to remember James’ sobering question,
“…who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James NIV).
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
When I was in college I worked one summer trimming Christmas trees. The Christmas tree fields of lower Michigan get awful hot by . So, we would get up early so that we could work in the cool mists of the morning. You see, in the morning it was invariable foggy. The grass was wet enough to soak your boots. The air was cool enough to give you a chill before you got started swinging your shearing knife.
But as the sun rose into the big blue sky, it would burn off the morning fog, and a haze of humid heat would settle into the rows of evergreen trees.
God says that we are that mist. Here for just a short while. Gone before long.
In Psalm 103 God puts it like this,
“As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’S love is with those who fear him,” (Psalm 103:15-17a NIV).
Pride leads us to approach God with arrogance. We forget that we sinners can only approach our Creator with Jesus at our side.
Pride leads us to judge our fellow Christians unfairly. We forget that God judges us not by our own record of sins, but by the sinless record of Christ in whom we trust.
Pride leads us to brag about our future plans like we are the ones that have the power to make them happen. We forget that all our worrying and planning and toiling can accomplish nothing if the Lord does not bless our efforts. Human pride is utterly foolish.
James reminds us that we are frail. If don’t want to live this life like fools, we must recognize our frailty, and look to God for every good thing and every success. With James we also say,
“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James ).
And also with Paul we say,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians NIV).
How strange it is that this humblest of statements begins with the phrase, “I can do all things”. But, the phrase that follows makes all the difference in the world. It changes the arrogant statement that I am the master of my fate into the humblest expression of faith.
Yes, I am a mist. Yes, I am a vapor. Yes, I am a flower that fades. Yes, I am grass that withers. Yes, I am dust that will return to the ground. But, I can do all things, through Christ Jesus who saved me, and who is my strength.