Humility and Exaltation – James 4:1-12

James     In last week’s passage we looked at the natures of false wisdom and true wisdom. James pointed out the bitter jealousy and selfish ambition that is characteristic of those who practice false wisdom. In contrast, he pointed to the beautiful lifestyle of those who live a truly wise existence that is “pure…peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (v. 17).

Following that thread of reasoning, James asks, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (4:1). James does not indicate what the quarrels and fights are about. He is less concerned with the external strife and more focused on the core issue of their hearts. He writes that it is their passions that are at war within them. They have strong desires for something that they have not received or acquired, so they murder (or treat each other with an appalling anger). They covet what others have but they do not get what they want, so they fight and quarrel. They do not ask God for what they want, or when they do they do not receive it because they are only after their own glory, rather than God’s glory and the good of others. The bitter jealousy and selfish ambition of the unwise, which were evident in James’ day, still create strife and wars among us today.

James went on to write that such a condition of the heart shows us to be adulteresses. We are
called to singular, covenantal faithfulness to God in Christ Jesus, but we are double-minded. We want God and the world. We are, too often, functionally polytheistic. This cannot be. Such friendship with the world makes us enemies of God. He will not abide this. He yearns jealously for us because He is the one who has given us the spirit that dwells within us. He is our everything and He has a right claim upon our lives.  We are not our own. Praise be to Him, His response to our unfaithfulness is “more grace”! That is an amazing statement. In the midst of all of James’ appropriate, yet wearisome, chastisement is this lightning bolt of the grace of God that cuts through to speak a word of hope to us. Grace abounds. Like Hosea taking back Gomer despite her adulterous ways, so too does God give us grace to forgive us and receive us back. Even better, God’s grace is also an enabling grace to equip us to overcome our sinful ways and to live out a beautiful life of true wisdom. That life of true wisdom is one of humility before God and others.

The humble Christian will submit to the Lord. Douglas Moo writes, “The essence of unbelief is the failure to ‘submit’ to God’s law and His righteousness.” If you do not submit to God then you place yourself above Him. You sit as judge above the sovereign Lord. This is the height of foolishness. The humble Christian will also resist the devil. Satan tempted Eve with his promises that she would be just like God.  What would have happened had she and Adam trusted the Lord and resisted the serpent? He would have fled, just as he did when Jesus resisted him in the wilderness. In Christ, we too can resist the devil and his forked-tongued temptations.

The humble Christian will also draw near to God, knowing that in doing so He draws near to us. Like a child being disciplined comes near her father for she knows that he can be trusted to love her despite her rebellion, so too can we draw near to God. Yes, correction and rebuke may sting in the short term, but they are always followed by the blessings of His fatherly love.

The humble Christian is repentant of his external sins and his internal transgressions, so he will look to Jesus to cleanse his hands and purify his heart (v. 8, see also Psalm 24:3-4). It is not enough to merely confess the obvious, visible sins we commit. We must also search our hearts to see what is driving us to speak a harsh word, or to lie, or to take what is not ours, etc. We must put the internal sins to death by God’s enabling grace.

The humble Christian will grieve her sin. She will mourn over her failings. No doubt sin has its temporary and fleeting joys, but the joy of the sin we celebrated in the night will bring us pain in the light of God’s glory. By God’s grace He has given us His word to see the truth of sin’s fleeting joy. That grace enables us to see that rather than foolishly laughing with pleasure over our sinful ways, we should grieve and mourn with godly sorrow and gloom.

In our pride, we are seeking self-exaltation. We want to be made much of, so we boast of our greatness. We want to be important so we demean others. We want to be considered as valuable, so we acquire all of the necessary status symbols by whatever means necessary. This is the world’s wisdom. It is the way of destruction. The Gospel truth is that the way to exaltation is through humiliation (v. 10, see also Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 5:5-9). By laying down our lives for His glory and the good of others we participate in the way of Christ. The way that led Him to the right hand of God in glory.

Discuss and Pray – James 4:1-12

      1. Humility is a repeated call in the Scriptures. Why is it so hard to live a humble life?
      2. How does Christ’s way of humility (Philippians 2:5-11) give you hope and encouragement to walk this path toward exaltation with him?
      3. James spends time talking about the humble life’s resistance of the devil, drawing near to God, cleansing of the hands, purifying of the heart, and mourning over our sinfulness. How has the grace of Christ enabled you to do this? Is there a specific area in your life where He has given you victory over sin through a similar pattern? Is there an area of your life where He is calling you to walk this path?