Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. . . . Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:7,9,10
Daniel J. Habben
Looking for something light-hearted to read before bed? The New Testament book of James is probably not the first thing you’d grab. That’s because James had to write stern words to Jewish Christians who acted as if Christianity was nothing more than a Sunday-brunch ritual. They may have been on their best behavior at church, but in private they shrugged off their niceties as easily as kicking off a pair of dress shoes. These Christians were showing favoritism to the rich, cursing, coveting, quarreling, and spending their money on pleasure!
Sin isn’t a laughing matter
Do you go to church with members like that? Of course you do. Wherever Christians gather, sinners meet—including you. Tell me, have you ever caught yourself coveting a pair of shoes that passed your row on the way to Holy Communion? Ever wonder why you can’t afford such a nice pair, as if God never gives you good things? How can it be that we Christians entertain such sinful thoughts at such a sacred time in worship?
It’s true, Christians past and present are far from perfect. But James’ main issue with his readers was their attitude. James’ readers thought that their sins were harmless—funny even, like the tantrum someone else’s three-year-old throws in the middle of the mall. But there’s a time when laughter is not the best medicine. God seeks our eternal happiness but wants us to mourn, wail, and hate our sins.
James came down hard on his readers, but he also encouraged them. He urged them, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” God’s desire is to welcome home his prodigal sons and daughters with a joyous party. That’s not because our sins are inconsequential. God doesn’t brush off our crimes the way we carelessly scrape the crumbs from our supper plates. No, God has severely punished our sins by punishing his own Son. He forgives us because next to us stands Jesus, whose innocent blood shed on the cross is a holy bath that leaves us clean in God’s sight. Jesus does not wish to blame and condemn us. He took the blame for our sins so that we are forgiven. In him, there is no condemnation (cf. Romans 8:1)
God helps us resist sin
So now what? Look again at the opening verse above. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Submitting to God is like falling in line behind a police escort as you flee the dangerous enemies that pursue you. What a sense of relief that brings! You no longer need to throw glances over your shoulder, fearing an ambush.
In the same way, we can eagerly put ourselves under God’s care and direction. The devil may lie in wait, but we can fling God’s Word at him, like a soup can hurled at a sneaking rat. Armed with that Word, we have the power to resist the devil so that he must run from us as fast as his hideous legs can carry him!
Now that’s something to lighten our hearts.
Contributing editor Daniel Habben is pastor at St. Peter, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada.
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Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016
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