In the beginning of Chapter 4, James unveils the lowest layer, the very foundation, of our spiritual warfare: it is the battle within each of us between pride and humility. All throughout the Bible, the two paths a man may walk are presented in terms of a binary choice. In Genesis 3, it is the choice between obedience or disobedience. In the Psalms and Proverbs, it is the choice between the way of the wise (righteous) or the way of the fool. And here in James, it is the choice between pride and humility.
While James only deals briefly in Chapter 3 with the real cause of the earthly and demonic wisdom of an evil tongue, here in Chapter 4, he lays bare the foundation of sin that we might better destroy it. “Why is it,” James asks, “that you have wars and fights and that your tongues have become restless evils?”
James’ answer is: “Because you are proud.” Out of your lusts you want what you want, and when you don’t get it, you sin even more. You lust and do not have, and therefore you covet or become angry. You are angry and you start feuds and fights because you don’t have what you want, and you don’t have because you don’t ask. You don’t ask because that would mean falling humbly on your knees before God, and even when you do ask God you ask for things only so that you can spend them on yourselves.
At the root of all of this is the master sin of Pride, which is the desire to put myself first. And here is what God has to say about pride: “I resist the proud, but give grace to the humble” (verse 6.)
If you think back to all the times you or others have been unhappy or angry or ready to start a fight – what’s the reason? Isn’t it because you didn’t get your way? Isn’t this, this insult to our pride, to our always being first and getting our way, the root of our discontent, anger, and fighting? It grieves me how many times throughout the day, usually in small ways, that I am temporarily upset or angry simply because things don’t “go my way.”
We find ourselves muttering to ourselves such wonderful affirmations as: “I’d like to catch just one break today!” “Why does it always have to be about you?” “Everyone’s against me.” “I can’t believe she would do that to me!”
The way of pride is the way of the fool, and if we persist in putting ourselves first then we will become very frustrated, bitter, and angry people.
But the way of wisdom is to submit to God (verse 7.) It’s not just that we fight against other humans. No, the real person we contend with is God, who has given us our daily and life circumstances. It is God and His holy will that we refuse to submit to every time we exalt ourselves.
If you want to be wise, if you want to live in peace, and if you want to honor God, then submit to God. Exalt Him by obeying Him, and humble yourself before Him. James mentions a lot of ways in which our humility (which is closely related to love) should manifest itself. First, we should humble ourselves by praying. To pray is to acknowledge who God is and who you are and that only God can give you what you need. To come in prayer, therefore, with a list of selfish wants or desires, is therefore to be proud again, and it negates the very reason for prayer: which is to humble yourself before God.
When you have drawn near to God in this way, then the devil will flee. When you draw near to God in this way, then you drop all your pretenses to being King or Queen of your world, and the pride and its children of lust, anger, and fighting will vanish. But you must come with an intention to be purified. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep!” (verses 8-9.) Why? Because of the holiness and glory of God and your own sinfulness and humiliation before God.
But when you come humbly before God, freely confessing your own unworthiness, then God can work with you again. Then God says to you: “Humble yourself in My sight, and I will lift you up.”
This kind of humble and fearful drawing near to God is at the heart of James’ wisdom. Do you want to be a doer of the word and not only a hearer? Then humbly draw near to God and exalt Him. Do you want to be impartial in your judgments? Do you want to avoid being a hypocrite, and do you want to be loving and faithful and peaceful? Then humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
It’s risky business, this humble giving up of self to God. We have known too many people to whom we have given ourselves, and sometimes they have shattered us. But not God. God is utterly trustworthy and faithful to you, if you draw near to Him. If you truly come before Him out of your own sin and weakness and humility, then God will lift you up into His presence. He will exalt You into His bosom and receive You as His own beloved child.
Draw near to God in your humility and weakness, and God will draw near to You in all His glory, strength, and love.
Prayer: Father, I draw near to You today. Please accept my broken heart and humility before you, for it is all I have to offer. Allow me to draw near to You that You might draw near to me. When You come near, expose to me my pride and selfishness and cleanse me of my sins. Through the humility and exaltation of Your Son, lift me up into Your presence today that I may be your faithful child, full of joy in Your presence again.
Point for Meditation: Examine the pride in your life – any way in which you seek yourself first before God or others. In what ways does this pride manifest itself? In laziness, anger, lust, fighting, discontent, greed, covetousness, lying, etc. Seek to understand that your pride is behind all of these. Confess all of your sins connected to pride. After you have confessed, spend some time in your humbled state, receiving the grace and consolation of God, trusting that if you have humbled yourself before Him, He will lift you up.
Resolution: I resolve to freely confess all of my sins before God, especially the sin of pride. I resolve to humbly come before God with all of my sins and weakness, and I resolve to fully trust in His promise to draw near to me.
© 2011 Fr. Charles Erlandson
CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Peta-de-Aztlanh on Flickr.jpg