June 9, 2019

God Gives Grace to the Humble (James 4:6-12)

Today’s sermon is the second part of what we began to look at last week. In the first part, we looked at the root of conflict. You might recall that James’s question was, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” And the answer was that the root of such conflict is found not primarily in the other person, but in the spiritual war going on inside of YOU.

In fact, this is so important that James is going to reiterate this idea once again at the end of this passage. But he does it in a slightly different way. I actually want to look at that first before we focus on the heart of the passage in verses 6-10. So look at verses 11-12 with me.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

The connection might not be clear at first, but I think this is just another way of saying the same thing he said in verse 1-5. We speak evil against one another, judging our brother or sister, precisely because we are primarily concerned about their sin, and not our own!

So in the closing of this passage on the theme of relational conflict, James shows us once more that fights and quarrels arise from looking first at the sin of the other person, that is, judging the other person, and not looking primarily to the war going on inside of our own hearts. The hurtful words so often involved in fights and quarrels are evidence of a judgmental approach to conflict and not the introspective, spiritual approach he has already called us to.

And speaking evil against one another in this way simply has no place among believers in Christ. On the contrary, when Christ reigns in our hearts, we entrust ourselves and others fully to God. Yes, there are times that we should speak directly, in love, to those who have wronged us. But if we speak hurtfully about them or to them, we are, in essence, acting as their judge, putting ourselves in the place of God, and ignoring the plank in our own eyes.

So again, the closing verses of this section are just another way of saying that the root of conflict is found not primarily in the other person, but in the spiritual war going on inside of YOU.

And thankfully, James began to give us some hope in last week’s passage when he said that in His love, God yearns jealously over us! He reminded us that God’s grace is completely adequate to meet the requirements imposed on us by that jealousy. God is merciful, gracious, all loving, and willingly supplies all that we need to help us deal with the war waging in our hearts. But this grace is not merely theoretical or theological. It is immensely practical. And James wants us to take hold of it. So look, now, at verses 6-10.

But he gives more grace. Those are wonderful words. He gives more grace. More grace! He yearns jealously over us and therefore, he gives more grace. Remember that just a few verses ago, James just called us adulterers! And that’s true. It is important that we understand the rottenness in our hearts. But that is always as a gateway to the grace of God. But he gives more grace!

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

If you have been at this church longer than five minutes, you have heard me quote verse 6 before, right?! We’ve done a marriage retreat on this theme. I preached on it when we worked through 1 Peter, because Peter quotes this same Proverb. And I’ve said it 3.4 million times in other sermons and contexts. I’m starting to think that God really wants one of us to understand this proverb (I don't know if it's you or me!).

But if God thinks it is worth repeating, who am I to disagree! God opposes the proud. Let that truth sink into your heart once again. Can you think of anything worse on this planet than having the omnipotent God of the universe actively opposed to you at any given moment? Not simply disappointed with you or sad with you or even frustrated with you, but actively opposed to you.

God hates pride. Proverbs 8:13, “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” Or take the example of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 5:20-21: But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. Does that sound like the opposition of God?

God opposes the proud. That is the kind of opposition I do not want. But I am also thankful that that there is the other side of this coin. While he opposes the proud, He gives grace to the humble. There is really not much I can add to this. Remember, James just said, “But he gives more grace!” But to whom does he give more grace!? To the humble.

Church, do you want the grace of God in your life? Clothe yourself with humility. Do you want the grace of God to meet you at your work? Clothe yourself with humility. Do you want the grace of God to meet you at church, in your relationships, in your families, in your conflicts? Clothe yourself with humility. Do you want the grace of God in your marriage? Clothe yourself with humility.

To clothe yourself with humility is to effectively place yourself beneath the fountain of God’s grace - in every area of your life. While God is actively opposed to the proud, he loves to pour out his grace on the humble. We have seen this over and over again. Humility is the fertile soil for the outpouring of God’s grace. But how? How do we humble ourselves in this way? James gives us four very practical ways. First:

1.    Submit yourselves therefore to God.

I don’t have a lot to add to this one because this is really not different than one of my main points from last week. This submission relates to the question: What rules in your heart? James has shown us that we humble ourselves when we replace whatever worldly desires are ruling our hearts with the rightful King of kings and Lord of lords who yearns jealously over us. This is what it means to submit to God. And this is one of the first steps toward humbling ourselves before him. Secondly:

2.    Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

There is no doubt that we are ultimately responsible for our own sin. But, it would be both wrong and stupid to ignore the fact that there is a demonic element underlying all human rebellion. While Adam and Eve were entirely responsible for their own sinful choices, the external temptation of the devil was very real and very much a part of the story.

In fact, in Ephesians, Paul tells us to take up the whole armor of God precisely because of this truth. He says, We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Humbling ourselves before God necessarily entails resisting the devil. “Resist” means to stand against or oppose. And the promise is that he will flee. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. We are assured by James that whatever power Satan may have, our power in Christ is greater.

Spiritual warfare is not a horizontal tug of war between two equal powers, one evil and one good. It is a vertical chain of command. God reigns! The victory has already been one. Satan is a puppet in the hands of a sovereign God. Just read the book of Job. Therefore, the promise to us is: Resist him and he will flee. So what does it mean to “resist” or to “stand against” Satan?

James doesn’t tell us explicitly. But I thing we have a clue in other places of the Bible, especially 1 Peter 5 and Ephesians 6. 1 Peter 5:8-9: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith. The first hint is found here in verse 9. Resist him. How? Firm in your faith. That’s a good start. Faith is a clear ingredient. Let’s look at Ephesians 6:16, then.

In all circumstances take up the shield of [what?] faith (!), with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. This is so important. What is Satan trying to destroy? Your faith! The devil wants to devour you by devouring your faith.

And here’s the thing: If you think about the context here in James of fights and quarrels, there is no circumstance in which the devil is more skilled at launching darts of doubt and unbelief and bitterness and sadness at our hearts than interpersonal conflict. There is nothing that can make the devil appear stronger or his roar sound louder and more intimidating than our suffering and quarrels and sin.

Is it not in these situations that we tend to shake our fists at God, question God and his goodness, even his love for us? And nothing could bring greater satisfaction to the enemy. So we humble ourselves by standing firm in our faith, by putting up the shield of faith. Because faith, by nature, looks away from ourselves to God. That’s what faith is — a looking away from ourselves to God.

You cannot be prideful or boastful while simultaneously trusting God in faith. It is literally impossible.“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? … By the law of faith” (Romans 3:27). Faith and pride are polar opposites. So resist the devil, firm in your faith!

Thirdly, we humble ourselves by drawing near to God.

3.    Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Isn’t it ironic that in our sin, in our conflicts, in our turmoil, our tendency is usually to slowly drift away from God? In fact, isn’t this our nature in all relationships? My natural instinct when Jessica and I are in conflict is to go into a corner, turn the TV on, or do anything to escape facing the issues head on. I don’t want to draw near to her. I want to run away. How much more so with God!

And I think James is entirely aware of this. So he reminds us to do the opposite. It is precisely in the mire of our brokenness and sin that we are called to humble ourselves by running to God and not away from him. And the promise is, He WILL draw near to you. What a beautiful promise! I mentioned the parable of the prodigal son last week. But is this not at the heart of that parable? I think it is worth reading the entire narrative. Luke 15:11-24:

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The son drew near to the father. And while the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. In other words, while the son was still a long way off, the father drew near to him. Church, Jesus paid for this very thing. We do not draw near to God based on some merit of ours. We draw near to God based on the merits of Christ!

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God....Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Don’t follow your natural inclinations to drift away from God in sin or conflicts or brokenness. But draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, and he will draw near to you.

And lastly, verses 8-9, we humble ourselves with genuine repentance.

4.    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.

Genuine repentance involves a change both in inner disposition (“purify your hearts”) and in outward behavior tied to that new disposition (“cleanse your hands”). This is a call for drastic and genuine repentance. And I realize that the second part of the verse sounds harsh and abrasive to modern ears. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Wow, what a happy ending! But I think it is a reminder entirely needed in our generation. Because we have developed such a casual attitude toward sin. We presume too much on God’s merciful nature and ignore the seriousness of sin before a holy God. And James wants us to see sin for what it is, and thus to deal with it accordingly.

And listen, once again, he's talking abour your sin. Not the sin of those around you or of the world; your sin. Not the general corruption in Brazil or in politics; but the corruption in your own heart. This is not generic sin he's telling us to be broken over. This is part of what it means to humble ourselves before the Lord. Genuine sorrow and mourning over our own sin, over the ways that we have rejected the rule and reign of Christ in favor of our own desires.

And for this, God gives more grace, church! Don’t forget that. That’s the very basis of everything we’ve been saying. God gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So, maybe God is calling some of us to humility this morning. To a humility that submits to the lordship of Christ, resists the devil and draws near to God by faith, and then genuinely repents before him.

If so, remember the promise in verse 10. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. And I cannot read this verse without thinking of the example of Jesus himself. So I want to close by looking at that example in Philippians 2.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)

Jesus’ road to glory necessarily passed through the humility of emptying himself, taking on humanity, and dying the dreadful death of a Roman cross. But nevertheless, at the proper time, he was exalted! Whatever situation of conflict or sin or despair you find yourself in, there is an unshakeable promise for you here in James: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

And listen, I’m not promising the victorious life here. I’m promising what the Bible promises - grace! Grace to sustain you through it all, whether that means to sustain you in victory or to sustain you through suffering!

And the fact is that Jesus not only exemplified the way of humility, he purchased it for us, enabling us to follow him along this road. There is no greater pathway to grace, whether in conflict, or in any other area of our lives. So in whatever situation you find yourself this morning, Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Let’s pray.