Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Our verse today was short … but it has profound theological application for us. Let’s put it in context first:
James 4:1-12 (NIV)
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people (those unfaithful to covenant with God)! Don’t you know that friendship with the world (desiring the things of the world) means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us? 6 But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34) 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a fellow believer or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
When we look at our verse in context, it takes on deeper meaning and challenges us to look at the issues of humility and submission. James begins with our own desires … the desires of our hearts. He exposes the intensity of desire by describing the “carnal” behaviors associated with it … when personal desires exert themselves above what God wants and desires for us. Sometimes our own desires drive us to murder or kill (and that could be with the tongue). Sometimes our own desires drive us to quarrel and fight. Sometimes we believe that God should grant us what we pray for … but we have asked Him with wrong motives in our hearts ~ because what we want is often self-centered and not God-ordained. James describes all of these behaviors as “friendship with the world” because they come from the desires of our flesh … and not from the Spirit of God. And when a believer acts in these ways it creates “enmity with God” and he or she is in opposition to what God has called them to be in Christ Jesus. Such conduct is not of the indwelling Spirit; rather, that person has grieved the Spirit (Cf. Ephesians 4:30), or worse, has quenched the Spirit (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19) within them.
So in Verse 7, James confronts believers who have allowed themselves to be filled with everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— because these come not from the Father but from the world. (Cf. 1 John 2:16) He admonishes us to submit ourselves to God and to resist temptation and to flee from what will destroy intimacy with God. James calls for repentance … a change in direction … a change in our mindset lest the enemy gain a foothold (Cf. Ephesians 4:27) which can then become a stronghold. James advises that if we desire something for ourselves, then we are to humble ourselves before God and allow Him to exalt us … allow Him to grant it according to His will and purposes…. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34)
Our Lord Jesus afforded the greatest example of what humility before the Father should look like; and we examined this in a recent study. I will repeat it here because it is apparent that God wants to address our propensities to exhibit pride and self-exaltation:
Philippians 2:3-11 (NIV)
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; 7 rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Oh what this world would be … what the Body of Christ would be … if we would just submit ourselves to God and humble ourselves before Him. As believers, we have been invited to a great feast … to the marriage supper of the Lamb. We are the wedding guests! But our seats at the table have been determined by the Host according to His own will and counsel. There is plenty of room at the table for everyone to enjoy the celebration! But when we covet the best seats at the banquet … when our own spiritual or religious pride deceives us into thinking we hold a higher position or place of prominence in the Kingdom, God is not pleased. He becomes jealous for His Spirit … who He placed within us. As Jesus taught, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)
Here are a few of the stories that Jesus shared to illustrate the necessity of humility in our walk of faith:
Matthew 11:11 (NIV) – See Also Luke 7:28
1 “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
John 13:3-5; 12-17 (NIV)
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.
12 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Mark 10:35-40 (NIV) – See Also Matthew 20:20-23
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Throughout the Scriptures, God asks His people … those who He called to be His own … to humble themselves! And I believe humility begins with reverence for God; understanding that His Will … His Word … is the final authority over all He created; including us! God is sovereign. Submission to Him means obedience. We are to obey the Lord our God in all that He has commanded us. As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” Likewise, God opposes the proud … those who would exalt themselves. For the proud do not seek God; in their thoughts there is no room for God. (Cf. Psalm 10:4) As King Solomon observed, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Cf. Proverbs 11:2) And, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Cf. Proverbs 16:18) And Solomon advised, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the heart of fools.” (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:8-9)
Lord, I pray that we your people, will humble ourselves under your mighty hand … and allow You to lift us up in due time. For you will not yield your glory to another … and whoever exalts themselves will be humbled. You, Lord, are the potter; and we are the clay in your hands. You, O God, determined in advance the works you have prepared for your people to accomplish. You, O Lord, appointed gifts for your people as you determined. What you chose for one you did not choose for another … so that we might submit ourselves to one another … so that we might serve one another in love as you taught us. So I pray, Lord, that we will respond to this wisdom you have given us … that we, your children, might be meek and lowly in heart … that we might not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. So let us exercise our gifts according to your grace so that YOU and you alone are exalted! In your name, I pray. Amen.