[The following was originally posted on 10/30/13. I'm looking back over this as I prepare to teach Sunday school tomorrow morning from James 4:1-10 at Kosmosdale Baptist Church
It is probably safe to say that humility is the one character trait that will enable us to be all that Christ wants us to be. Without humility, we cannot come to God. Without humility, we cannot truly love and serve God. Without humility, we cannot truly love and serve others. A lack
of humility will render us unable to communicate properly and will prevent us from resolving conflicts that are sure to come in our lives. In short, we must understand, embrace, and live out true humility in order to truly live
and to be who God means for us to be for the magnification of His glory.
That is why Scripture says:
God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6b NIV 1984)
Now, let me make this clear at the outset– I am NOT writing this today as someone who is under the delusion that I have somehow ‘mastered humility:' I’m not claiming to be an expert on this subject, as if I perfectly understand and perfectly apply everything God has revealed about being humble. Rather, as C.J. Mahaney has said, “I’m a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God… [I’m] a fellow pilgrim walking with you on the path set for us by our humble Savior.”
As the Apostle Paul
wrote, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me
” (cf. Phil. 3:12 NKJV).
And so I would now like to share with you a story– a parable that Jesus told about humility:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
In this parable, Jesus brought together two individuals that we would consider to be complete opposites- one that would be considered notable and one that would be considered notorious:
- First, we have a Pharisee. Now the Pharisees, as you may know, were the religious leaders of the land during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Many of the Pharisees sought to know God’s Word, to understand it, and to apply it to every aspect of their daily lives. And for the most part the Pharisees held to sound biblical doctrine. For this reason the Apostle Paul, when on trial in Jerusalem, was not ashamed to refer to himself as a Pharisee, as we read in Acts 23:6.
- In stark contrast to this Pharisee the other character that Jesus confronts us with is known as a tax collector– or, to use the old King James Version term– a publican. Now the publicans, as you may or may not remember, were Jewish people who were working for the Roman Empire, which was the tyrannical government that was keeping the Jewish nation in slavery. Publicans were tax collectors for the Roman government, and they were infamous for hiring mercenaries to aid them in their work and to extract much more than their fair share from the taxpayers around them. As Martin Luther noted when preaching on this text, those hearing this parable of Jesus would have known the publicans to be a group of people “living in open sin and vice… [serving] neither God nor man” and making it their business to rob, oppress, and harm, their neighbors.
Now this word “justified” mentioned by Jesus at the end of the parable means that the publican was counted as righteous in God’s sight. God considered this known sinner– this man who had lived in open rebellion against His Law until this time– to be completely free from sin, whereas the Pharisee, who had devoted his life to keeping God’s Law, went home without even having his prayers heard by God.
How can this be?! As Martin Luther asked of this passage, “Will God now speak and decide against his own law, which justly prefers those who live according to it, to those who live opposed to it in open sin? Or does God delight in those who do no good and are nothing but robbers, adulterers and unjust?” No, beloved, but there is a higher Law at work here– a Law that can only be apprehended by faith– a Law that Christ refers to at the end of this passage, when He teaches, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This Law– the Law of humility– is absolutely crucial to your life if you wish for your life to have eternal value and to be accepted by God.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, taught concerning this Law of humility:
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 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 4:4-10 NIV 1984)
If you become familiar with the book of James, it becomes obvious that James immersed himself in his half-brother’s teaching. In the last sentence quoted above James wrote, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up,” which seems to be an echo of the words of Jesus from Luke 18:14, mentioned above, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
James 4:4-10 also contains another statement which is crucial in gaining God's perspective concerning humility, specifically, the phrase,
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble."In the first half of this statement, we are exposed to God’s opposition of the proud. So, the first question here is: what does the word “proud” mean? What is “pride”?
From the very construction of the sentence, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble", it is obvious that the word “proud” is to be understood as the opposite of the word “humble”. And so “pride” is the opposite of “humility”.
According to Strong’s New Testament Greek Lexicon, the word we have translated “proud” is used of one who seeks to be “conspicuous above others” and “pre-eminent” the proud person is one with “an overweening estimate of [his or her own] means or merits,” one who “despis[es] others or even treat[s] them with contempt”.
In the booklet From Pride to Humility pastor and teacher Stuart Scott observes that pride is “the desire to lift up self and serve self.” For “[w]hen someone is proud they are focused on self. This is a form of self-worship.” It is also the inclination of pride to forget about God or [to] want to be above God” as the Puritan Tom Watson said, “Pride seeks to ungod God." And as C.J. Mahaney notes, “The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.”
Hearing these definitions of pride, we naturally shrink away from identifying ourselves as proud or prideful. None of us would like to admit that we wish to be “conspicuous above others," that we treat others with contempt, or that we worship ourselves more than we worship God. But pride is a universal epidemic. This is true to the extent that the Apostle John taught that the entire world system is composed of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life
” (cf. 1 John 2:15-16
). For some reading this, your pride may not be as obvious as in the lives of others, but it is still there all the same. I implore you to examine yourself in the light of God’s Word and see if pride has manifested itself in your life in any of the following ways:
- First, have you ever complained against or passed judgment on God? As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to the molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” If you have complained against God, you are implicitly making the prideful assertion that you know better than He does and that you could run the universe better than God if you only had the power. Similarly, if you clearly understand a ‘hard doctrine’ from the Bible, such as the doctrine of reprobation, or that everyone who fails to believe in Jesus Christ is destined for Hell, and you say, ‘Well, my God would never do that!’ then you are passing judgment on God and are strongly implying that you are better than God.
- Second, have you ever failed to express gratitude toward God for something He has given You? Have You ever failed to express heartfelt thanks to God? The Apostle Paul again teaches in Romans 1:21 that God’s wrath is against those who knew Him, but did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. And in 2 Chronicles 32:25 a direct connection is made between a lack of gratitude and pride.
- Third, do you lack a focus on the practice of biblical prayer in your life? Do you pray very little? When you pray are your prayers self-centered– like the prayer of the Pharisee mentioned earlier from Luke 18:9-14– or do you truly call out for God’s mercy– like in the prayer of the publican?
No matter how free from pride your life may seem, if your life is characterized by complaining against God or judging Him, if you fail to express gratitude toward God on a regular basis, or if your life lacks regular, biblical prayer, then you can be sure that pride has a foothold in your life and you are in danger: danger of the opposition of God.
Paul Stith, pastor of Grace Heritage Church
in Auburn, AL, has noted four ways in which God opposes the proud:
1. By refusing to speak to the proud. (Example: Luke 23:8-9, in which Jesus refuses to speak with Herod while Herod was exalting himself above Christ.)
2. By ridiculing their schemes (Example: Psalm 2:1-4, in which God laughs at those who exalt themselves against Him.)
3. By ruining their success (Example: 2 Chronicles 26, in which God curses King Uzziah’s pride when he taking a priestly job for himself.)
4. By removing their status (Example: Daniel 5, in which Nebuchadnezzar’s loses his sanity and his kingdom due to his pride.)
But there is further way that God opposes the proud, which is more terrifying than all the others: more terrifying than His silence or His ridicule; more terrifying than having Him ruin your success or remove your status. This most terrifying way in which God may come in opposition against you if you persist in pride against Him is for Him to harden your heart against His Word. We see this opposition by God in the life of Pharaoh in the Old Testament book of Exodus. When God’s people were kept in slavery down in Egypt, God sent His servant Moses to deliver the message from Him: “let My people go!” Pridefully, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, refused to listen to the Word of God, though Moses spoke to him several times and the LORD brought numerous plagues against Egypt. The Bible repeatedly says that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” making it clear that God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart in order to bring judgment against Egypt. And this hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, due to his pride, was so severe that Pharaoh would not release God’s people until his firstborn son was killed in a plague from God. And even then, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and having released God’s people from bondage, he led his army to pursue them in order to recapture them, at which time God destroyed Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
And so if you allow pride to go unchecked in your life, you should take care. For the opposition of God may mean that your heart becomes hardened to His Word, and you will not hear God’s message of grace until it is too late, and you are destroyed. This is serious, for if you die in opposition to God, then you will remain in opposition to Him for eternity, a fate that the Bible calls Hell: an existence that is completely devoid of the goodness, love, kindness, and blessing of God, which you have benefited from in this life, and yet you have despised due to your pride. Once you begin to recognize pride in your life and to realize the weight of the opposition of God against pride, it is vital that you do not move ahead too quickly. It is of the utmost importance that you truly see pride for what it is in God’s sight and that that you understand just how deeply it runs in your life. You must be ready to confess your pride before God and to truly repent. You must acknowledge that pride is an offense against God, rightly earning His opposition, and you must humble yourself before God.
It is only once you have been convinced of your own pride that you are prepared to hear the message of grace. Grace is the unearned favor of God. God’s favor must be unearned, for all of our works are tainted with pride. The exaltation of self plays some role in any ‘good’ thing that we do. And so, there is nothing that we can do on our own to earn God’s favor. For if we rely on our own strength, we only earn the opposition of God. And so, if we are to be found acceptable in God’s sight, it has to be by His grace: by His unmerited favor. Martin Luther taught that grace “denotes God's kindness or favor which He has toward us and by which he is disposed to pour Christ and the Spirit with his gifts into us… grace takes us up completely into God's favor for the sake of Christ.” An acrostic that is helpful in understanding God’s grace teaches us that grace is “G-R-A-C-E”: “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. For whereas we cannot do any good work untainted by selfish pride, Jesus Christ truly humbled Himself and was completely submissive to the will of God our Father. Jesus practiced perfect humility, as He stated in Mark 10:45, in that He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came as a ransom on our behalf, for whereas we had earned the opposition of God due to our pride, Jesus took God’s opposition upon Himself, suffering death and Hell on the Cross for our sake, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
James 4:6b proclaims that God gives grace to the humble, and it is only by the Holy Spirit working a realization of the truth of the Cross into our lives that we can have true humility. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:
Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner… that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust… Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.
And the Reverend Doctor John Stott explained:
Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.”
Our pride is only dealt with by God’s grace, benefits us only as we humble ourselves before the Cross of Christ. We must see ourselves on the Cross: for due to our pride, which has earned the opposition of God, we deserve to have borne His holy wrath against sin. And we must see Christ on the Cross, practicing perfect humility, dying in our place, bearing the opposition of God on our behalf, that the Father may regard us as completely righteous if we place our hope in His Son.
In order to make practical application of the statement in James 4:6b, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble," we must continue on to examine James 4:7-10:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 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 4:7-10 NIV 1984)
This passage gives us six actions that we should take in response to the truth that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble:”
- We must submit to God: James 4:7a, “Submit yourselves, then, to God." We must surrender our plans for our lives to the will of the Father, forsaking all of our ungodly desires and acknowledging our dependence upon Him each day.
- As we submit to God, we must resist the Devil: James 4:7b, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” We resist the Devil and cause him to flee through avoiding temptations that are possible to avoid– for example, as the Bible says, “flee from sexual immorality” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18) so that we do not, for instance, view movies that we know will tempt us through the lust of the eyes. If there are temptations that we cannot flee, we must stand firm and refuse to compromise to sin. (Since we can’t flee every temptation: for example, if someone on your job is acting rudely toward you and tempting you to sin by becoming bitter or hateful toward them, you can’t necessarily 'flee temptation' by walking out of your workplace, but you CAN continue to remember that Your heavenly Father is watching and that He is in control, and you can turn your cares over to Him, standing firm through the temptation.)
- As we resist the Devil, causing him to flee from us, we also must draw near to God. James 4:8a, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” As Pastor Stith of Grace Heritage Church pointed out when preaching through this passage, we sometimes fail on this point because we do not 'feel close' to God. But notice the order of this statement. In context of our growth in grace, we first obey the command to draw near to God and then He fulfills His promise of drawing near to us. Drawing on the familiar parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-32, Pastor Stith said, ‘I see the prodigal son sitting in the pigsty and saying to himself, you know, I just don’t feel that close to my father, so I’ll just wait until I feel close to him before I start on the road back to his house.’ But we know that in the actual story, when the prodigal came to the end of his pride and recognized his need for the father, he immediately set out on the road to the father’s house, and the father ran to meet him, to kiss his face and forgive him. So we must draw near to God through the means He has given us– through the regular fellowship of believers on the Lord’s Day, through the ordinances of the Church, through calling out to Him in humble prayer, and through studying His Word.
- Drawing near to God, we must cleanse our hands: James 4:8b, “Wash your hands, you sinners.” This phrase speaks of having unblemished, holy works of service before God. As was stated before, this is absolutely impossible in our own strength, but as we draw near to God, He gives us His grace and the gift of true repentance so that we may please Him, even with our imperfect works.
- Cleansing our hands, we must also purify our hearts: James 4:8c, “and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” We cannot truly serve God, we cannot draw near to Him, or resist the Devil, or even submit to Him if we remain double-minded. In order to grow in God’s grace, we must have a single-minded passion for His glory: we must desire Him above all things, so that our love for God shapes all of our decisions.
- Finally, in purifying our hearts, we must mourn over the sin in our lives: James 4:9, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” We cannot fight against sin– we cannot cast away our pride and our lusts– if we are still content in our pride and entertained by our lusts. We must strive with all of our might to develop holy attitudes so that we see our sin as God sees it– as something that is vile, detestable, and responsible for the death of His Son.
Friend, I implore you now– anyone reading this post– search your heart: if you have never acknowledged your sinfulness before God, if you have never called out for His mercy and submitted your will to Him, then do so right now. Do not delay out of pride and risk having your heart hardened against God’s grace when He is so near to you at this moment. You can call out to Him right where You are, offering your own heart up to God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I plead with you, too. Do not become complacent in God’s grace, but be diligent to search out any areas of pride in your hearts. Meditate on James 4:7-10 and put these verses into practice, submitting to God and drawing near to Him, resisting the Devil, washing your hands and purifying your hearts, mourning over Your sin.
Above all else, I hope that we will all make a regular practice of looking to the Cross and allowing the message of the Cross, the message of perfect humility, to transform our lives. And I would like to close this post with the words of the Apostle Paul from Philippians 2:5-11:
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death--even to death on a cross. For this reason God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow-- of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth-- and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 HCSB)
Labels: Bible study