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From hatred to humility

It’s a serious situation that James is dealing with toward the end of his letter, but it shouldn’t shock anyone who’s been paying attention. Throughout the first three chapters, relational issues --- cracks in the Jewish communities he’s writing to, have been identified and addressed. He’s touched upon:

  • the destructive speech they were using (1:19,26,3:9-10),
  • their unhealthy anger (1:19, 2:12-13),
  • the oppression of the poor by the rich (1:27,2:1ff, 6-7,15-17),
  • the envy and cursing/slander of the rich by the poor (1:9-10,3:14-16, 4:1-3,11-13).

The last two more are not only more specific, I believe they are also more significant. If it is the concern of chapter three (as Keener suggests), to call out the teachers who were using their influence to stir up the poor against their rich oppressors in a zealot-like manner (v. 9-10, 5:1-6), then the envy and selfish ambition he speaks of (v. 14-16), would be that of the teachers toward the wealthy. 4:1-3 is then best understood as a continuation of this discussion, particularly focusing on those who would have swayed by such teaching.

There’s no doubt the many of the poor had been oppressed by many of the rich (and he’ll deal with this in 5:1-6). Nonetheless, James doesn’t find them blameless. In their anger at the injustices that have occurred, their attitudes and actions had spiraled out of control. (We see the same thing today when an injustice occurs and the mistreated dwell on it to the point that it defines them, they lose all perspective, and seek to justify bad behavior on the basis of being victims). James refuses to condone this.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? He answers with a scathing exposé of their sinful motives (v. 1- 3). They had slipped into the world’s way of doing things (v. 4), and become proud rather than humble (v. 6). But their condition wasn’t terminal (or at least it didn’t have to be). James prescribes a ten-course treatment to call them from hating to humility. This list is worth looking at, thinking about, and implementing in our lives.

1. Submit (to God) --- Obedience and submission are not the same thing; you can outwardly obey but still be inwardly rebellious. James calls for the submission that flows from humility and comes from the heart.

2. Resist (the devil) – Too many want to submit to God and still entertain the devil when he comes calling (see 1:14-15). For the record, James reminds us that the two are mutually exclusive. More to the point, if we submit to God and resist the devil he will flee from you. Resistance may not be easy, but it carries with it absolute assurance.
3. Comes near to God and He will come near to you. Here’s the counterpart to Satan fleeing. We resist and he flees, we seek God and He will come near to us. The Sovereign Lord of the universe draws near to all who open the door to Him. Paul said it this way to the group gathered at the Areopagus: From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us," (Acts 17:26-27).
4-5. Wash your hands . . . purify your hearts – James’ Jewish audience would immediately recognize these two phrases as coming from old covenant ritual and calling for complete cleansing (Psalm 51:2,7,10).
6-9. Grieve, mourn and wail . . . change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom --- a prophetic call for them to mourn in regard to their sin (Matthew 5:4).
10. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up --- Now he’s back where he started and in the process he has given us a pretty fair definition of what it means to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.
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