James 4:1–17comment (0)
November 26, 2009
By Michael Wilson
Related Scripture: James 4:1–17
Bible Studies for Life
Director, Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford University
WORK ON YOUR HUMILITY
This Sunday, we conclude a series of challenging lessons drawn from James’ letter to the members of the early church. He confronted their casual Christianity and called them to allow God’s Word to transform all aspects of their lives. Our challenge is no different from theirs: We, too, are called to express our identity as followers of Christ through what we think, say and do. This week, we consider the challenge of dealing with pride and the importance of humility in our relationships.
What Pride Does to Us (1–5)
“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” — Benjamin Franklin
“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.” — Abraham Lincoln
“If I only had a little humility, I would be perfect.” — Ted Turner
Most of us have been around people who by their overconfident, outspoken demeanor clearly think more highly of themselves and their opinions than they ought. Tune to most any television or radio “talk” program whether the topics are religious or political, and one can easily find such personalities. Of course, churches have their share of these people as well. Have you served on a committee that was dominated by one or two whose opinions they thought should trump all others? Where was the meekness Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:5? Popular culture tends to regard people who are outgoing, decisive and quick to offer opinions with greater esteem than people who appear timid or weak. Yet Jesus declared the “meek” blessed — the ones who would inherit the earth. We know that meekness does not suggest weakness. Meekness is the capacity to view all of life with appropriate humility, considering the hurts and hopes of others before one’s own. Jesus’ teaching was countercultural. It is even more the case today.
James clearly identified a cause of conflict within the early church: focus on selfish interests rather than shared interests of others in the community. When one chooses to think, speak and act without regard for the contributions of others in the community of faith, either conflict will result or those whose contributions are ignored will withdraw participation. Restoring relationships in such instances is far more difficult than valuing the contributions of the more “meek” participant.
What Humility Does for Us (6–12)
John Claypool in his book “The Hopeful Heart” wrote that “creation is gift and birth is windfall.” The Father created all that is as a gift of love. God did not have to create anything. Yet God made the heavens and the earth and all that exists — including humankind — as a way to share in relationships the wonder of His nature, which is love. The appropriate response to such gracious generosity is gratitude and humility. Often it seems we forget that we are the created — not the Creator. Such was the case in James’ day. He called the Christians of his time to be mournful and ashamed of their prideful, selfish motivations and actions. He challenged them to have a posture of submission before God. By drawing near to God, God, in turn, would draw near. Only in this manner would they be able to resist the devil. Verses 7–10 contain 10 commands, offered in short, direct statements. This grammatical technique serves to emphasize the urgency of the need, anticipating an immediate response by the readers.
What God’s Will Does in Us (13–17)
Wealth allows people an independence from God that can be dangerous for their spiritual well-being. James wanted to convict people about this prideful, arrogant approach to life. “Come now,” he said. “… You do not know about tomorrow … you are a mist that appears for a while and vanishes.” Reminding his readers that God is God and they are not, he called for a different attitude. “If the Lord wills, then we will live and do.” This attitude is one of humility rather than pride. It reflects an understanding of one’s relationship before the Lord of life. It is significant that James concluded this section with a statement about knowing and doing. If we know the right attitude before God is one of humility and choose to act selfishly, then we sin.