If our present day were personified into a single person, he would be excommunicated from the church for being quarrelsome and divisive. To be fair, while I know enough history to know that I’m not a historian, I also know enough history to know that the Preacher was right when he wrote 3000 years ago: “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Ever since Adam threw Eve under the bus when God came asking questions and Cain murdered his own brother, quarrels, fights, and divisions are often, sadly, the norm.
But why do we fight?
Why can’t we just get along and sing Kumbaya around a campfire?
(Note to self: research whether or not the world needs more campfires.)
But most importantly, what does this have to do with our present study on what the Bible has to say about pride and humility?
That’s where James comes in.
James 4 begins with the brother of Jesus asking a perennially important question: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” He comes to this question after having just discussed heavenly wisdom and “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom or, as Proverbs simply called it, foolishness, even though it may masquerade as true wisdom (3:15). Demonic wisdom is marked by “jealousy and selfish ambition,” and where it prevails, “there will be disorder and every vile practice” (3:16). True, godly wisdom, however, “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (v.17).
Given this context, we should already be able to answer James’ question. A pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, impartial, and sincere wisdom is not going to make someone prone to quarrels and fights. A wisdom that cares mores of self-interests and is jealous of others is a natural kindling for sparks of conflict. Someone who is merciful, gentle, and reasonable will always be more peaceable than one whose chief concern is self. When spelled out before us, it makes complete sense. The problem is that when moments of conflict actually arrive, defaulting to self-preservation is far easier than turning the other cheek. Thus, James only dives deeper into the matter rather than just letting it be.
“Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (vv. 1-2). Here James drives into the heart of what fuels jealousy and selfish ambition: desires. We long for things that we do not have, and when others either have what we want or stand in opposition to it, we fight.
It should be noted that while James’ audience are believers, his point is certainly true of humanity as a whole. In fact, it is perhaps even more applicable toward the world. All who are indwelt by the Spirit should indeed be at war against their internal passions, perpetually battling against the desires of the flesh. We strive, after all, to follow our Lord who came not to be served but to serve, imitating Him who emptied rather than preserved Himself. The world, on the other hand, is often more than happy to promote selfish ambition as a worthwhile pursuit. This is visible in the token wisdom dispensed in our day.
Be true to you.
You do you.
Love yourself first.
The message is always the importance of self. Interestingly, the chief command of Satanism is an apt description of the world’s values: “Do what thou wilt.” That is no accident. Remember, James called the wisdom of the world demonic for good reason.
Christ and Christianity, it should be noted, do elevate self by imbuing every individual with worth and dignity as bearers of the image of God. Nevertheless, the Bible revolts against the primacy of self. Indeed, the chief command of Scripture reflects the subordination of self:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.Deuteronomy 6:4-5
And as Jesus said, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).
While these commands are obviously meant to be obeyed by individuals, their movement is away from self and toward others. We should first rightly set our gaze upon the Other, the Creator of heaven and earth; however, we should then imitate our God by counting “others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Self-interest or love of others?
Which leads to peace and which to quarrels?
Again, James is writing to Christians who were still quarreling because they continued to act out of their own selfish ambition, so this is not an argument about the conduct of Christians versus the conduct of the world. Worship of self is the default human state, which is why our passions ought to be at war within us. Beyond conduct, this is a conflict of ideas, which of course reflect reality. Is it greater to serve or to be served, to love self most or to love God and others most? One produces peace; the other only fosters conflict.
But where do pride and humility come in (that’s what this series is supposed to be about, right)? In verse 4, James asks us “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” Since worldly wisdom is demonic, it makes sense that to be of the world is to be in opposition to God. Of course, the problem here is that we are all worldly. We all default toward selfishness. Yet James breaks in with good news: “But he gives more grace” (v. 6).
More grace than what?
More than our sin.
More than our selfishness.
More than demonic, worldly wisdom.
However, His grace only goes to the humble. Conversely, the proud are left in enmity and opposition to Him. He then issues a series of commands that expound upon this principle:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.vv. 7-10
Notice that these are simply James’ explanation for how to walk in humility before God. First and foremost, humility means submitting to God. Submission, of course, is a dirty word today because it expressly violates our greatest commandment: do what you want. It is fundamentally a humble act, since it runs contrary to our normal tendency to pridefully chase our own passions and wants.
James, however, also paints submission to God as an act of resistance to the devil. In Romans 6:16, Paul asks the rhetorical question: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” In other words, we cannot escape servitude (indeed we are not meant to); the only matter of importance is regarding whom we serve. This is the great irony of our day. Many have, so they say, cast off the shackles of the past, of God, and of the “patriarchal” society. They have resolved not to bow down before any system that condemns their passions and desires as sinful. And they think that they have been set free. The reality is that by resisting God’s divine order of the cosmos, they have erected a new one in its place that they are now bound to.
They refuse to serve God and are left serving only themselves, which is a far crueler master. After all, I often battle intensely to practice basic self-discipline that will certainly pay off in the long run for me. But while instant gratification proves to be an obstacle for how I am able to best serve myself, Jesus endured with unparalleled humility both His incarnation and the crucifixion, and He did it for my sake! Why should I submit to my own passions and desires when He clearly loves me far better than I love myself?
Indeed, notice that humility ultimately ends in exaltation: “humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (v. 10). We are paradoxically most glorified whenever we cease our attempts at being glorious and cast our glory upon the Glorious One. The proud, however, elect the path of Satan, a stubborn refusal to submit at all costs.
And they will be brought low. Soon, the attempts to rewrite gender, marriage, the family, and society as a whole will be exposed as the imitation of Babel that it is. As it was with Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, the French Revolution’s reordering of the cosmos, Satan’s own rebellion, and countless other efforts, so shall this attempted revolt amount to nothing. They will meet the opposition of the Creator because they have explicitly opposed Him.
Although the doctrine of hell is by no means a pleasant thought, this reality makes it more understandable: He will not coerce anyone into eternal submission to Him. In the words of Aslan, “All get what they want; they do not always like it.” All who proudly refuse to draw near to the LORD will be eternally cast off. All who desire their passions more than the living God will be left to them for all time. Paradise with Him is only granted by acknowledging and serving Him as God through humble submission.
Yet even in the present, submission to God tends to gradually create a more peaceful and pleasant existence. Prideful rebellion always results in destruction and death. Indeed, all satanic cults demand sacrifices. The streets ran red with the blood of sacrifices to the new order during the French Revolution. So far, today’s sacrifices are of those who cannot speak for themselves: the slaughter of the unborn at the desire of the mother, the genital and hormonal mutilation of children, and the deprivation of God-designed structure for the family during the most formative years of one’s life. While pride is fundamentally a sin of self, it never only effects oneself. It always erects an altar and demands a sacrifice. Quarrels and fights are the natural fruit.
On the other hand, if we would have peace with one another, let us submit ourselves to the command of Scripture and example of Christ:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:3-8