February 1, 2019
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. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
As with many texts in the bible, there are more than one way to approach its meaning. On the one hand, we could interpret James 3 and 4 very narrowly and appropriate its meaning with a high degree of specificity to the particular teachers in the community he was addressing. Think of it like a map online that can be zoomed in and out. If we zoom all the way down to the “street view” we can look in on these teachers and their unique situation from which James was calling them to repent.
If we zoom out a few clicks we can see how the errant ways of the teachers in the church can seep into the community and cause a wider need for repentance for those who have followed the teachers example. (Again, it’s why such a premium is placed on the responsibility of the teachers of God’s people). The adage holds true: “A person can teach what they know, but they will only reproduce who they are.”
Zooming out a few clicks more we can see a bigger biblical landscape and gain an even larger scope for our understanding of the text at hand. For instance, in light of James assertion that “friendship with the world means enmity against God,” as well as the issues of “rich and poor” James raises, I am drawn to Jesus parable of the sower. He references the seed sown in the thorny ground that springs up and seems to flourish, only to be choked out by the brambles.
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. Matthew 13:22.
We might turn to Jesus instructions as recorded in the Gospel of John where he said,
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19.
Paul’s clarifying instruction also comes to mind.
Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
Then there’s this matter of v.5: Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? A close reading reveals James is not talking about the work of the Holy Spirit here but instead he means the human spirit he has put in us. God is jealous for us—for the animating dynamic of our spirit which he has put within us. I think of this as the “breath of life” God first breathed into Adam and Eve. Yes, he restores our spirit by work of his grace through the Holy Spirit, but we must participate.
It brings us back to: But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” The human spirit, for which God jealously longs, is the seat of our desires. The Holy Spirit stands ready with the power of grace to transform our desires, but our repentance is necessary. Pride, which infects us all, turns the human spirit into a “rogue” force, thwarting the ways and will of God. Our pride is what tells us we can still be friends with the world and with Jesus. Our pride is the source of our self deception.
God, our Father, I want to be a real Christian. I know you oppose the proud, and I know I am prideful, yet I would never consider that you oppose me. Wake me up to the truth that I might be set free. I want to be truly humble. Mold me by your mercy. In Jesus name, amen.
1. Scale yourself. On the left end of the spectrum put the word “humble” and on the right end put the word “proud.” Now distribute the numbers 1 to 10 from left to right. Where do you put yourself? Willing to share that with a close confidant?
2. How does your prideful spirit typically show up in your life? What does “friendship with the world” mean to you?
3. The seduction is to think we can slowly move from right to left (pride to humility) by small adjustments and slow degrees. It requires decisive intervention. What keeps you from getting on your knees (besides bad knees) before God and confessing your prideful spirit and asking for the grace of the Holy Spirit to become truly humble? Why not now? I’m going to ask us again tomorrow. ;0)
For the Awakening,