Be humble rather than judgmental, 4:7-12
In the passage before us James encourages his readers to foster a humble approach toward God. Such an approach is shaped by a willingness to submit to God, to resist the devil, to cultivate our relationship with God, to change our actions and attitudes, and with heartfelt sorrow, to face the extent of our sin. James then goes on to speak about defamation and censure, encouraging a non-judgmental approach toward our fellow believers.
v7. In verse six, quoting from Proverbs 3:34, James underlines the point that God "gives grace to the humble." In the following verses James exposes the substance of humility in a series of imperatives, instructions that lead to diving grace and favor. In the verse before us James calls on his readers to submit themselves to God and to resist the devil. Rather than submitting to the authority of a world corrupted by sin, let us submit to the authority of God; let us stand firm against temptation and allow God to work his will within us through Jesus Christ.
v8. Another aspect of humility is found in the way we relate to God in Christ. "The Christian is invited, as a child in God's family, to draw near to God, to draw strength and comfort from the sense of his nearness. And if we come to God, we shall never be turned away (cf. John 6:37). Rather, God will draw near to us", C. Leslie Mitton. James notes a further aspect of humility, namely, a willingness to purify our actions and attitudes; James is calling for purity in both outward deeds and inward disposition.
v9. A fifth and final aspect of humility, noted by James, is that of heartfelt sorrow, a repentant heart. James is not being a kill-joy here, suggesting that we make our way through life burdened with sadness. What he is addressing is a deep awareness of our sinfulness. In submitting to God, standing against temptation, enhancing our relationship with God in Christ, and striving to act morally both in action and thought, let us be constantly be aware of the corruption we carry with us to the grave. In ourselves we are broken before God, and can only be otherwise in Christ. Bill Junkins nicely paraphrases this verse; "Go ahead and be miserable! Go into mourning! Cry your eyes out! Turn your laughter into mourning and your happiness into a burden of sadness, as evidence that you, at last, have come to terms with your wretched spiritual condition."
v10. Having defined the substance of humility, James calls on his readers to be humble.
v11-12. Moving from the subject of humility, James has something to say on defamation and censure. Speaking evil against someone, in the sense of slandering them, or judging them, in the sense of expressing a judgement about them, maligning them, shows a total disregard for God's revealed word, particularly the royal law of love. When we express a judgment about another person we usurp the role of God; he is the ultimate lawgiver and judge, both with the power to save and to destroy. It is not our place to meddle in the destiny of others.
It's hard not to cringe when someone tells us that they are a humble person - "I'm only an umble man." At this point, humility is the least applicable description. It just seems illogical for a humble person to claim humility. But then, what do we mean by humility? Do I mean unpretentious, modest, even inferior? When we use the word we could mean all these things, but when Jesus uses the word it is unlikely he means any of these things.
In Matthew chapter five verse five, Jesus uses the word to describe his disciples. The text is "blessed are the humble for they will inherit the earth." We can see from when Jesus applies the beatitudes that the sense is "blessed are you humble, for you will inherit the earth." The disciples are the humble ones and because of this they will inherit the earth. They are the poor in spirit and so theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But just think for a moment, Peter, humble? Really?
When James uses the word he is using it in the same way Jesus used it. Thankfully, James goes into some detail explaining the nature of humility and so we can easily understand why a person like Peter, who is anything other than unpretentious, modest, or inferior, is a humble person in Jesus' eyes. Let's consider James' explanation of humility:
First, humility involves a willing submission to God. In the world today most people, even if they say they believe in God, are subjective thinkers; "I think and it is true." Believers, on the other hand, are objective thinkers; truth is derived from God. Believers are theists, rather than humanists, and so we hold to values increasingly rejected by secular society
Second, humility involves a daily struggle against temptation, against dark powers; we wrestle "against authorities, against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms", Eph.6:12. As Dan McCartney puts it, we wrestle against a power "who fosters jealousy and ambition, offers a false wisdom and a false faith, and brews a broth of discord and contention and murderous envy to sap the church's vitality and undermine its integrity." Although we often succumb to temptation, the humble person never gives up the fight.
Third, humility entails the cultivation of a relationship with God in Christ; "what a friend we have in Jesus." To a believer, God is not some amorphous idea, a father image, but rather a loving, moral, all powerful being who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. The humble person views their relationship with God as that of a friend rather than a subject.
Fourth, humility is expressed in changed actions and attitudes. There is a sense where a believer is constantly reviewing and tweaking both their outward deeds and their inward disposition. The humble person is not someone who has never failed, who has never fallen on their face, but rather is the person who strives not to go down that path again, strives, where possible, to make amends.
Fifth, humility expresses itself in heartfelt sorrow, or as we might commonly call it, unhappy memories. A humble person does not try to hide them, deny them, or forget them, but does know that they are forgiven. Thomas Cranmer's English, beautifully preserved in the Anglican Prayer Book, brims full of truth; "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us." A humble person carries with them a repentant heart - "Lord have mercy on me."
So there we have it; humility. Be the person you are in Christ.
1. Discuss the five elements of humility touched on by James.
2. Examine the issue of slander. When does gossip become sin?
Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes
Index of studies: Resource library
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons