“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” James 4:6 [NASB]
In reading James 4:1-10, we see three main things. First, we see sins keep us from God. Second, we see how we can reconnect and stay aligned with God. Third, we learn when we rightly relate to God by voluntarily humbling ourselves to Him, He provides everything we need. We say, “Surely I know this.” Yet, if we know this, why don’t we stay humble? Why do we envy other people? Why do we quarrel and fight with people?
James spoke to the Christians in Jerusalem in this letter. In these verses, he broke down his lesson to them into two opposite ways of life-the greedy, envious, and arrogant way and the content, submissive, and humble way. We think we are living humbly, but when we read the first four verses of chapter four, we realize something about ourselves. James told the Jerusalem Christians’ he knew of their quarreling and fighting. He had heard about their disputes. James pointed to the reason for these fights and quarrels. He said they came from their seeking to fill their human desires. James called these desires lust. Lusting means desiring with your heart what you do not have. It is being discontent with what God has given you. Lusting causes the person to give their desire for things a higher priority in their life and thinking than they give God. It is coveting what someone has and wanting one like or better than it. James said we want it so much we willingly murder for it. He could have meant a literal murder by killing someone to get what one wants or a metaphorical murder of running someone’s good name through muck so other people do not consider that person highly. Also, it means murdering your relationship with God so He has a lower priority in your life than the item for which you lust. Quarrels and fights come from lusting or coveting what someone else has, and it causes murder of the person, his or her reputation, or one’s relationship with God.
James added to this and said their envy caused them to fight. All the while, he said, they could have asked for it from God. Still, if they had asked for it with the wrong motive, of which lust, envy, greed, and pride are, then God would not answer. What makes what one asks for a wrong motive? James said when a person asks for something to spend it on their personal pleasures, that shows their lusts and desires. This makes a person an adulterer, he said. When someone puts someone or something higher in their estimation than God, they worship it more than God. This creates hostility toward God because the person wanted something for the wrong reasons and against God’s purposes and plans. The person purposed to go against God’s will and so made him or herself hostile, turn 180 degrees away from God (turn his or her back on God), and walk away from God.
“Surely,” we say to ourselves (because we wouldn’t dare mention this to another person), “we do not turn our backs on God. No way do we lust after and become adulterers, choosing things and people over God.” Let’s not fool ourselves; we each are guilty for choosing things contrary to God’s will. We each envy and strive for things, relationships, power, and influence. Sometimes these are contrary to God’s purposes and plans.
With verse five, James brought the sting of disappointment; we cringe at disappointing God. He said, God jealously desires the Spirit He made to dwell in believers when they became believers. When we turn our backs on God and go our own way, we cut off conversation with God or we only go to Him when we want something. That means we separate the Holy Spirit, who came to dwell in us upon our salvation to guide us in God’s way, from God with our sins. We have chosen not to allow God to guide us. We disappoint God. He jealously loves us, and He jealously desires a relationship with us, a relationship that comes through His indwelling Spirit.
What is the point James made? He painfully made the Jerusalem Christians aware of their greed and adultery that separated them from God. He told them in verse six, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” God doesn’t take His hands off His child because they sinned against Him. He opposes the proud, the one who took his or her own life and desires into his or her own hands. God stands against the ways of His proud child. He jealously goes to combat to gain His child back from Satan’s temptations and sin. If you jealously love your spouse or child, you would go to battle to get them back from captivity. When we sin, we are in captivity and God opposes Satan to get us safely back from the sin that entangled and entrapped us. This is what James meant when he said, God opposed the proud. This is the greater grace God gives. God didn’t initially just give us grace to save us from our sin so we could be called the children of God. He gives and keeps on giving grace. The Lord opposed Satan and keeps on opposing Satan to keep us safe. He jealously loves us and His Spirit within us. God wants a right relationship with each of us. When we realize this while sinning and while in a right relationship with Him, we are humbled before God. This awareness makes us realize our littleness in comparison to almighty God. We then voluntarily submit ourselves to Him and His plans. We receive God’s grace when He rescues us, and we receive it when we have this recognition and voluntarily humble ourselves. God is favorably disposed to giving blessings from His bounty to people. These blessings are grace and can be tangible things, but also include kindness, favor, forgiveness, love, salvation, sanctification, protection, etc. Even though no one deserves God’s grace, He gives it. It’s like our relationship with our parents. Even though we did something wrong, they still love us.
James began this chapter with a list of six things that arrogance caused the Jerusalem Christians to do and be-quarrel and fight, envy, lust, adultery, not asking or asking with the wrong motives, and having a friendship with the world and being an enemy of God. As a juxtaposition to these, in verses seven through nine, He gave six commands that the humble child of God can do to turn back to God and escape arrogance and separation from God.
James told them to submit to God, which is a voluntary personal subjecting of one’s self to God’s plans in heart, mind, actions, and word. James told them to resist the devil which means to do to Satan what they did to God when they envied and lusted. They are to turn their backs completely on Satan by turning 180 degrees from facing him and his temptations. When a person turns 180 degrees from Satan, he or she is facing God. This turning from Satan is opposing him and forcefully declaring one’s personal conviction ardently. The LORD is my Shepherd, or any other Bible verses you have memorized help with this effort.
Next James told the people to draw near to God. The closer you get to God, the farther you get from Satan and His temptations. Nothing unholy can be in God’s presence; therefore, Satan cannot be in God’s presence. So, if you get close to God, Satan cannot still be close to you. A promise comes with this command. He said when you draw near to God, God will draw near to you. What do we need to do to be in God’s presence? James reminded the Jerusalem Christians. He told them to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. Literally, ceremonially, and spiritually clean your hands from the sin you did. Wash them to get the dirt and stains off them. Wash them to ceremonially (mentally and with the heart) remove the sin and guilt from them. Wash their “hands” spiritually and resubmit themselves to God and His purposes. A person cannot be double-minded and be God’s child. By washing, you separate yourself from your past, and dedicate your today and tomorrow for God. The spiritual cleansing is purifying one’s self. It means to take into one’s heart the morals of God and cast away the world’s morals, the morals by which you sinned.
Finally, the last command James gave the Jerusalem Christians was for them to grieve, mourn, and weep over their sins and their intentional separating themselves from God. True contrition according to James occurs with realizing your wretched condition as a sinner who lusted after the world, feeling guilt and lamenting because of those sins, and physically weeping for the grief you caused God and yourself by being opposed to God by sinning. James meant literally to weep. He emphasized this with the second half of verse nine when he told them to turn their laughter into mourning and their joy into gloom. Instead of laughing cry. Instead of experiencing joy for the things you acquired, feel gloom because they caused you to separate from God.
With verse ten, James reiterated for emphasis what he said in verse six. He said, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you.” James spoke about humility again. Verse ten relates humility to the six commands in verses seven through nine. If you rightly relate to God, you will submit to Him, resist the devil, draw near to God, cleanse your hands and heart, and mourn your sins. As James said in verse six, God gives grace to the humble. He gives His favor to those who voluntarily submit to and fully depend on the Lord, and not on one’s self. When a person humbles him or herself, he or she recognizes and exalts the Lord as everything they need and will ever need. When a person humbles him or herself before God, then He will exalt that person in the eyes of other people. People will recognize his or her humility as they watch him or her, and all the while God will receive the glory.
It would be easy to say, “Oh, that was just for the first century. We are beyond that and can decide things for ourselves. After all, we are the ones who advanced society.” Yet, James’ words, learned from his time with Jesus, are for us today. We should be humble. We are mere, finite creatures whom God created, protects, provides for, and loves. Nothing we can do extends our lives indefinitely. More importantly, nothing we do will cleanse us from every wrong thing we’ve done. God’s grace can and does cleanse us, and He gives eternal life to the person who believes in Jesus as Savior. Our getting things for ourselves, we think, is great. “Why do we need God?” Still, we are never satisfied when we get for ourselves. We envy, desire, lust, and allow things to make us adulterers. Only God gives and keeps on giving satisfaction because only what He gives is best, filling, and fulfilling. When He gives, we have no more need. If we submit to God and humble ourselves in relationship to Him, we will have no need because He gives and keeps on giving from His grace. From His bounteous supply, He gives eternally because of His never-ending love and His forgiveness of our sins.
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” John 4:10 [NASB]
God gives and keeps on giving grace to the humble.
Lord, I am a mess of contradictions. I call myself a Christian, but then I want what my co-worker, neighbor, or family member has. Lord, I get so caught up in earning enough money to buy the things I want or getting the perfect spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend then I lose sight of You, forget about You, and don’t remember You are the giver of all good things. Please forgive me, God. Forgive my pride and envy. Forgive my turning my back on You. Help me trust in You more and remember Your Promises and Your past blessings. Help me withstand temptations and stand strong with You. Amen.