James 3:13-4:17 -- Submit to God
Did you know that the chapter and verse divisions, as well as the paragraph headings found in your Bible, are not actually a part of the original text? Paragraph divisions and headings are certainly not wrong or bad, but they might affect how we read the text. As we're heading into James 4, I will show you a perfect example.
Chapter and verse divisions, as well as paragraph headings found in your Bible, were not a part of the original text. Chapters and verses were added so we can easily reference portions of Scripture.
Paragraph headings actually differ from version to version and are supposed to aid the reading flow. However, in some cases, an interpretive decision has been made in placing a heading in a certain spot and titling that paragraph.
At times, we may need to look past the chapter divisions and headings to determine if a new topic has really begun or if the previous one continues. This isn't necessarily a matter of right or wrong, but it may affect the way we read the text.
It helps to remember that James did not place headings into his letter. He did not say, “Here are my thoughts on wisdom.” He isn’t starting a whole new topic in chapter 4. Instead, his explanation of wisdom flows into his command to submit to God and then into his warning about making plans without Him.
To really drive home this lesson, we're going to take a look at a very long portion of the Book of James in this article. If you are following along in the "Awaken Faith" study guide - which I hope you are - be warned that this chapter is really long. The following ones will be much shorter as was the previous one, so hopefully, you are able to continue to track with us through the book of James.
Remember you can always go at your own pace. Don't give up. Keep studying the Word of God.
Promote Peace or Conflict?
Remember that James has just talked to us about behavior unfitting for believers in the first portion of James 3. He focused on the power of our words, warning us that we should not slander people with the same lips that praise the Lord.
James continues to encourage us to live out our faith with the right kind of wisdom. He says that true wisdom shows in our action - something he already told us about faith.
In fact, in James 1:26-27, he addressed those who believe themselves to be religious. He says that our religion is actually worthless if it doesn't show in love and care for those in need.
James makes a similar statement here when he addresses those who think themselves wise but their actions do not show God's values. The world might think a person with ambition and power is wise, but James calls that type of wisdom earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic. He says it is that kind of "wisdom" that leads to disorder and evil.
Instead, James tells us that wisdom from above looks like this: pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. This is the wisdom that leads to peace, and those who practice it will harvest righteousness.
This is where our Bible starts a new chapter, but I want you to see that his flow of thought continues seamlessly.
At the end of chapter 3, James pointed out these two types of wisdom that lead either to peace or disorder. Here, in chapter 4, he starts out asking about the origin of the conflicts among the audience. Conflicts arise because of evil desires within us.
Jealousy, for example, leads to fights and even to murder, he says. Is he talking about literal murder here? Of course, there are some instances in which people become jealous and therefore kill somebody to take what they have. I sure hope that was not the case amongst the believing audience that James is addressing here. However, he may be bringing up the word murder in the spirit of Matthew 5:21-22. There, Jesus says that anyone who is angry with a fellow believer and insults them or calls them names has murdered that person in his heart. I believe that's what James is referring to here.
Jesus clearly warned us not to speak ill of one another or harbor anger and bitterness towards one another. That behavior, in a sense, makes us fall short of God's glory in the same way that murder does. We have already murdered them in our hearts.
This ties directly in with what James told us in the beginning of chapter 3 about the power of our words. He has already warned us that words can be like deadly poison and that our speech needs to reflect the nature of God and our faith in Him.
James also reminds us again what we should do when we really desire something. Instead of being jealous and angry with those who have it, we should ask God.
James already encouraged us to ask God for wisdom when we need it in James 1:5. There, he told us that we should ask in faith and without any doubt. Here, in James 4:3, he tells us that we need to ask with the right motives. We should desire the things that God desires and not ask for things that will only give us more earthly pleasure.
To follow God or to follow the world?
James has a strong word for people who ask only for the earthly pleasures to be increased. He calls them adulterous people. Wow!
Why is he making such a strong statement? Look at his explanation. James points out that when we are focused on friendship with the world we become enemies against God. We have to choose between friendship with the world and friendship with God. If you choose the world and its pleasures over God, you become God's enemy.
Our God is a jealous God. If you've never heard of this, it might seem odd. After all, we shouldn't be jealous, right? We should be trusting and stay away from jealous people. James even just told us not to the envious of people who have more than us. How is God's jealousy different?
We owe God our love and devotion. When we show that devotion, that we owe God, to the world instead, it is in fact like we are cheating on Him.
There is a sense in which I can be righteously jealous in my marriage. Now, I shouldn't be constantly questioning my husband's loyalty and love for me. However, he made a lasting commitment to me and it is my right to demand that he stays faithful to me. If he doesn't, I can be righteously jealous and call his behavior a great offense.
It is the same with our relationship with God. When we choose the world over Him, we do in fact become that adulterous person.
Submit to God, therefore!
What conclusion should we draw then? Here is the resulting command that James gives us: Submit yourselves to God. Choose to worship God, not worldly pleasures.
How do we do that? Here are James's tips for this little personal revolution:
Resist the devil. There's such power in resisting the devil that you will notice he will flee from you. The more you resist temptation, the more you will show the devil that your commitment is firm and his efforts are useless. Exhaust the devil! Make him flee from you in realization that your commitment is so firm, nothing will pierce it.
Come near to God. The counter piece to resisting the devil is to come near to God. You say no to the world, and you say yes to God. When you draw close to God, He will meet you. He will be with you and close to you as you seek Him.
Come humbly before the Lord, confessing your sin and purifying your hearts. Come with a humble heart that grieves the sins you have committed and the attention you have given to the world's pleasures. Kneel before the Lord physically and bow your head, if you must. As you humble yourself before the Lord, admitting your sin, He will forgive you, wash you clean, and lift you up.
Remember that we are still working on fully grasping this concept that chapters and paragraph headings were simply not a part of James's original letter. So notice that he is bringing all of this teaching back around to our words once again. He is still bringing home his point that he began in chapter 3.
Let's not slander one another! Here, James specifically talks about not judging each other. What's the problem with judging one another?
James explains that when we judge our brother and sister in Christ, we're speaking against the law and judging it. When you judge the law you're not keeping it. What in the world is he talking about?
James continues to explain that there is only one Lawgiver and Judge. Of course, that is God! He is the One who can save and destroy. We, as His followers, do not have that power. Only God can ultimately judge.
So let's back up and understand this full point. Only God can judge. If we judge others, we are actually lacking the acknowledgment that God is the only true Judge. We are in that sense judging the law that says we shouldn't judge. We are breaking the law that says we shouldn't judge. Instead of following the law, we are breaking it and, in a sense, calling our way better than God's way. We are "sitting in judgment of this law" that tells us not to judge.
Are you following? You may be wondering how is this different from other Scriptures that tell us to call one another out on our sin. I think it goes back to our motivation. Are we approaching someone else's sin with the desire to lead them back to a right relationship with God? Are we approaching them with mercy and gentle words? That's the right way to address another believer's sin.
However, when we gossip or speak out of jealousy or even self-righteousness, we're doing nothing but judge our brother or sister in Christ. We are not seeking to restore them back to a relationship with God. We're simply seeking to speak judgment on them. That's the behavior that James condemns.
The world today really struggles to understand this. Unbelievers often point fingers at Christians who call worldly behavior sin. They ask, "Doesn't your Bible say you shouldn't judge?"
Friends, this is a legitimate question. Instead of getting angry at these unbelievers, I think it is time to educate them. And we ourselves as believers should know the answer to this question.
Yes, the Bible says we shouldn't judge - this James passage is one example. However, there's a difference between condemning with selfish motives and desiring to lead fellow believers back to a right relationship with God. We have to see the difference!
Don't judge, but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater either. When you see a fellow believer in sin, desire to lead them back to the Lord with gentleness and truth. Don't use the "don't judge” excuse to avoid the hard work of confronting in love.
James brings up one more issue. It is that of making plans in our human wisdom rather than in God's. He points out the sheer stupidity of relying solely on the success of your own plans. He points out that we have no clue what will happen tomorrow.
So is he telling us to stop planning? I'm sure some of you are about to break into a happy dance because you hate planning, and others are starting to panic because you love it. It's not that we shouldn't make plans, but we have to realize that our lives are solely in God's hands.
Here are the three tips James gives us about making plans:
Keep an eternal perspective. Our lives on earth are so short. We are here for a moment, and then it's over. In light of eternity, even the sum total of what we do during the span of our life is like a mist that vanishes as soon as it appears.
Stay depending on God. Don't arrogantly boast in your goals like you know they're going to happen just as you planned. Rather, plan in a spirit of "if the Lord wills, this and that will happen”. Realize that you need God's help to put your plans into motion and His help to see results.
Do what you know is right
This last verse in chapter 4 seems so random at first glance. We have just talked about plans, and suddenly, James says we should do what we know is right.
I propose this last verse in chapter 4 is a summary statement or a conclusion of what we have read so far in the book of James.
I believe that because the statement sums up and encourages us one more time to take everything we have just learned and put it into action. That, of course, is James's main message: Put your faith into action.
Secondly, the tone of the letter, especially in the original language, is about to change in chapter 5. In this last chapter, James is going to quickly address the oppressors and the oppressed before making his closing statements. More on that next week.
So let's look at this, James 4:17, as a summary to all we have read so far.
James has told us to continue in our faith through trial, to put our faith into action, to not show favoritism to the rich, to watch our words, to focus on true wisdom and submission to God, and to plan with God and mine.
Now, ladies, put what you have learned into practice, because James says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin to them.”
Thanks to our detailed time in the Book of James, you now know what you should do. So, let's go and do.
Thank you for sticking with me through this very long passage in the Book of James. I hope it was helpful to truly understand what it means to submit to God. Tell me, what has been the most challenging command in the Book of James so far? I look forward to reading your comments.
May God help us all to continue to live out our faith in Him.