James is writing to churches scattered all over the ancient Roman world. In the passage, the problem of conflicts comes up again. James says in Chapter 3, ‘You harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts’. In Chapter 4, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you?’, ‘Don’t slander one another’, ‘Who are you to judge your neighbor?’ There are friction and conflict within these early Christian communities.
Now the bible speaks about how human nature remains fundamentally unchanged. The problems that Christians faced all the way back then, we still face today. We will still encounter friction and conflict with one another.
B. Two ways of failing Christian community
There are two ways of failing Christian community. One is to fight and quarrel and not get along – that’s what James is talking about. And the other way of failing Christian community is not engaging, not getting involved in Christian community.
C. Humility comes when you make the right choices
Having identified the problem of conflict within Christian community, James points to the solution, and all the way through this passage, he speaks about something which is crucial to the Christian life, he speaks about humility. It’s there straight away in verse 13―Real faith is characterized by humility.
C.S. Lewis describes humility as self-forgetfulness. Humility is not falsely thinking that our abilities are less valuable than they really are. It’s a self-forgetfulness which means you’re not continually self-evaluating or comparing yourself to those around us.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less often. It is always noticing yourself and how you are being treated. The truly self-forgetful person loses their sense of ownership in their own achievements. So how can we get this humility? In this passage, James says that humility comes from making the right choices in three areas. We make the right choice between ― the two different wisdoms, the two different friendships and the two different judges.
1. The two different wisdoms (Chapter 3:13-18)
James talks about two wisdoms in Chapter 3:13-18, he begins by saying, ‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’
The good life is characterized by deeds done in humility, this humility comes from choosing between two different wisdoms. James contrasts these two wisdoms in verses 15-17, by telling us about their sources: One wisdom is from heaven, the other is earthly; One is spiritual, the other is unspiritual; One is from God, the other is from the devil.
When James says that the source of true wisdom comes from heaven, he’s picking up on something repeated in the Book of Proverbs. Prov 2:6, ‘For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding and James said earlier in chapter 1, ‘If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God’.
True wisdom, as it’s described in the bible, especially in places like the Book of Proverbs is more than just knowing and following the moral rules. Wisdom is about knowing what the right thing is to do in the 80% of life situations when the moral rules don’t directly apply.
Proverbs says that wisdom comes through real-life experience through deep and honest reflection on that experience. In other words, true wisdom doesn’t come quickly or easily.
It doesn’t come overnight. It takes years to produce, often through trial and deliberately reflecting on your mistakes.
Therefore, we cannot gain true wisdom without God; and we cannot gain true wisdom without praying for it ! Humility is required to ask God for this wisdom and humility comes when we ask God for this wisdom. James tells us the different sources of these two wisdoms and at the same time, he tells us the different results from each of them.
In verses 14 and 15, James says that earthly wisdom doesn’t lead to humility. It leads to bitter envy and selfish ambition, and it causes fighting and quarrels amongst people. Pride always brings envy, bringing a sense of comparison and competitiveness with others. Envy is you weep when other people rejoice, you rejoice when other people weep.
So, the results of earthly wisdom are envy and pride. On the other hand, James tells us of the results of heavenly wisdom from verse 17, James gives an incredible picture of heavenly wisdom. It’s ‘peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James uses this wonderful phrase: ‘Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness’.
This relates to two things, firstly, when we live according to God’s wisdom, we become pleasing to him in how we live. To be a righteous person means to live justly, to live with integrity and with love. Secondly, it also has to do with the impact we make beyond our own lives. The language of harvest suggests fruitfulness and blessings, as our behavior becomes so compelling, people begin to ask questions about the gospel.
A community where the gospel is visible, a community of peace, and service, and humility. As a result, we’re peace-loving communities and the world around us sits up and notices.
2. The two different friendships (Chapter 4:1-10)
James speaks of two different friendships in Chapter 4. He describes the dynamics of these two very different friendships. In Verse 4, ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’
James isn’t saying that Christians have to separate from the world, that you can’t have friendships with people outside of the church or to have nothing to do with the world. The way the New Testament describes friendship with the world is similar to how the Old Testament describes idolatry. You are giving your heart to something or someone else other than God and attaching yourself to something of this world as your focus. Here is the public problem which has a private cause.
So, how could James accuse them of this spiritual adultery, this friendship with the world?
It’s because of their fighting with one another, with dividing hearts, following earthly things of this world.
The word James uses for desire, is the Greek word ‘epithumia’. It means an over-desire, or an inordinate desire. Having desires are perfectly natural – we often have desires for good things. But here, James is describing desires that are competing with God for our affections
that have taken over our heart.
So, what’s the solution? Look at verse 6, ‘But God gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble” And further down in verse 10, ‘Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up’. James is picking up a thread that runs all the way through the bible.
It means if you lay down your life or you consistently seek to give up power, to seek the good of others before yourself, you won’t be less secure and satisfied but will be more secure and satisfied. But if you hold on to your power and position or you hold on to your safety and security, you say, ‘I don’t want to serve other people; I want them to serve me’ You’ll become a shell of a human being and be more captive to your desires and enslaved to them.
James lists out ten commands in verses 7 to 10. James is showing us the path towards humility. He’s telling us what friendship with God looks like. We can see three simple steps:
Step 1: in verse 7, choose to submit to God
No more games, no more pretenses of loyalty, no more secrets and say to devil, ‘Leave. I don’t want anything to do with your lies’.
Step 2: in verse 8, come near to God and he will come near to you
Surely it is one of the great promises in the bible. Picture the prodigal son, coming up the path, head bowed, dejected, heading back home, while his father sees him from a distance, rushes to him and welcomes him with outstretched arms.
Step 3: in verse 9, ‘Grieve, mourn, and wail, change your laughter to mourning’
It’s an incredible language. James is saying, ‘Beware of superficial repentance’.
Think again about the prodigal son, he said to his father, ‘Father, I have sinned against you.
‘I am no longer worthy to be called your son’, ‘Welcome me back to be one of your servants’. That is a beautiful prayer. His father recognized immediately the humility and honesty of his son and embraced him.
C. The two different judges (Chapter 4:11-12)
In verses 11 and 12, we see two different judges. James comes back again to the problem of conflicts. He says that these people are slandering one another and again, this public problem has a private cause.
When they slander one another, they are setting themselves up against God’s law. They are not only breaking God’s law, while they are breaking it, they are also sitting in judgment over it. Say, when you break God’s law, you’re saying, ‘I know better!’. James says, ‘You’re sitting in judgement over it’ ‘You’ve setting yourselves up as a judge of what you think is best ’,‘You’ve set yourself up as a rival judge to God’. But James says in verse 12, ‘There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?’
In other words, ‘You’re not competent or qualified to be judge’, ‘You don’t have the perfect knowledge to see what’s in someone’s heart’, ‘You don’t have the perfect track record to give wise judgement’. A right view of yourself will lead to a right view of other people,
think for a moment what your relationships would look like if you followed verse 10
to humble yourself before God. So how do we get this kind of humility? The secret is to never stray too far from the cross.
The cross tells us the extent of our sin, that it took the Son of God himself to pay for them,
the cross also tells us of the extent of God’s love for us that he willingly gave us his son, so that we could be forgiven and restored, welcomed and embraced by our Heavenly Father.
The more you contemplate the cross and not stray away from it, the more you’re able to see Jesus and stop concentrating on yourself. You see the incomparable riches of all that you have in Jesus, that makes everything else you could chase after in this world pale in comparison. You build your identity on him and not on other things that you defend and have fight over. You are more willingly and naturally to seek Jesus’ agenda, begin to serve those around you and arrive at the stage of self-forgetfulness.
Humility is always achieved through understanding, believing and marveling at the cross.
Jesus who had everything but he low and humbled himself, He gave up everything, emptied himself at the cross. Never stray too far from the cross, look at Jesus and delight in him.
Lord God, we can’t help but being confronted again to what James is teaching us when we see our relationship with others, we often see conflict, we seek to serve ourselves rather than serving you and good for others. We pursue the wisdom of the world, friendship of the world rather than your wisdom and your friendship. Once again, Lord, we come before your throne of grace asking for forgiveness, would you by your Spirit, show us and convict us of those area in our lives, those relationship that need healing, would you show us those people who we need to seek forgiveness from, seek healing and seek reconciliation. Lord, thank you that you have given us ultimate example of humility and your son who gave up everything for us, and become nothing. Help us to delight in gospel in the one who gave up power to serve others. And Lord help us to walk in humility, in peace and in joy with the one who gave everything for us. We ask all these things in your name. Amen.