Chapter four of the book of James is a divine
commentary on Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes 7:7-9. In those verses Solomon
writes, "Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the
heart. The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is
better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger
resides in the lap of fools." (NIV)
James draws a sharp contrast between the last
verses of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4. Chapter 3 ends speaking
of the character of wisdom. "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is
first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of
mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace
raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:17-18 NIV) Then James asks,
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your
desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You
kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.
You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on
your pleasures. (James 4:1-3 NIV)
The psalmist says, "In his arrogance the
wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles
the LORD. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts
there is no room for God." (Psalms 10:2-4 NIV)
If we are not careful, pride will rob
us of the humble attitude that allows God to impart his wisdom.
The humble man seeks God's wisdom as he listens to God's word and seeks
to do it. James tells us to humble ourselves in the sight of the
Lord so that God can lift us up. (4:10) God's wisdom is designed
to lift us up as we allow his wisdom to direct our lives. The easiest thing
to do in trials is to allow our pride to flare up and begin fighting for
what we believe is rightfully ours. Pride may caus us to start thinking,
"Why should I have to endure this difficulty?" We may even begin praying
for God to give us what we think we rightfully deserve. The motive of a
proud person's prayer is to get their will done in heaven. In prayer they
ask God for their requests, which are usually plans to a selfish end.
Characteristics of Pride
Pride makes its own agenda without any
consideration of God and others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus
connected lustful sexual thoughts with adultery and he connected anger
with murder. Here James connects pride with coveting and coveting with
murder. Pride leads to murder as it causes us to covet what is not ours.
It makes little difference whether it is material possessions or position.
Pride leads us to fight and war, to kill to get what we covet.
The story is told of a rich man in Springfield,
Illinois, who insisted that a certain poor man owed him $2.50. When the
claim was denied, the rich man decided to sue him. He contacted a young
lawyer named Lincoln, who at first hesitated to take the case. On second
thought he agreed-if he'd be paid a fee of $10 cash in advance. The client
readily produced the money, whereupon Lincoln went to the poor man and
offered him $5.00 if he would immediately settle the alleged debt. Thus
Lincoln received $5 for himself, the poor man got $2.50, and the claim
was satisfied. The rich man foolishly paid three times the original debt,
just to gain his rights.
The proud person only considers her or his
own interests; and is usually more than willing to fight for their interests.
The proud are only concerned about their plans for the future without consideration
for others. A proud person's life dwells on what they have done, what they
are doing and what great plans they have for their future.
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow
we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business
and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What
is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and
do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
The proud person sits in judgment on
others. He or she doesn't hesitate to tear others down to build
self up. "Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against
his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you
judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 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?" (James 4:11-12 NIV)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness
and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went
up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that
I am not like other men-- robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like
this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to
heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before
God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
himself will be exalted." (NIV)
This kind of pride closes its ears to God's
wisdom and its eyes to its own reflection in the mirror of God's Word.
When it knows to do good, it refuses to obey.
God Opposes the Proud
Pride cannot give us what we want.
James says, "You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet,
but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have
because you do not ask God." (4:2) The reason pride cannot give us
what we want is because God opposes the proud. (4:6) God will not allow
pride and arrogance to rule. God will not and cannot give a proud person
the desires of their heart.
God's judgement is against the proud
who oppress others to get what they want. The proud are planning
their lives without God. They boast about their plans for the future. (4:13-16)
They fail to realize it is God's judgement, which awaits them in the future.
James pronounces that judgement upon them in the first verses of chapter
Now listen, you rich people, weep and
wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth
has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are
corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like
fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you
failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against
you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened
yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered
innocent men, who were not opposing you. (NIV)
The love of money has a direct correlation
to the pride of life. Our society measures us by the size of our
paychecks. We get much of our self-esteem from the income we can generate.
Just listen to people talk about their money. Most feel they have theirs
and it is up to you to get yours. We never have enough money. We are always
looking for a way to make more. Paul writes, "For the love of money
is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered
from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of
God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
endurance and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:10-11 NIV)
You don’t have to have money for it
to cause problems; you only have to want it. James writes, "You
want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have
what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not
ask God." (James 4:2 NIV) Money doesn’t solve problems. It usually
creates more problems. As our greed for more increases our lives deteriorate.
Our wealth will rust and rot away and the same thing will happen to our
life. Our life will become less and less meaningful and more and more empty.
As this happens we become more and more unhappy and the quarrels and fights
What is gained through pride is always
lost. "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of
the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have
eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion
will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire." (5:1-2)
James says that oppression, wherever it is
found, moves God to action - perhaps not immediately - but He hears the
cries of those who have been oppressed, and judgment is certain. The rich
man fattens himself as he slaughters others to make himself rich. But there
will be a day, when God will slaughter the rich. Josephus, the Jewish historian,
tells us that when Titus, the Roman general, overthrew Jerusalem in A.
D. 70, he picked out the fat citizens and tortured them to death to find
out where their treasures were.
Friendship with the world is enmity
with God. John tells us the world is made up of the pride of life,
the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. (1 John 2:15) We know who
is the prince of the world. Pride makes us friends of the Satan. Paul spoke
of the kind of leaders we should choose to lead the church. "He must not
be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same
judgment as the devil." (1 Tim 3:6 NIV) God opposes those filled with the
pride of life for they are the friends of the devil.
It is pride that makes us lust and covet and
envy and murder and fight and war. Pride is to the life of the flesh what
humility is to the life of the Spirit. It is at the very foundation of
the lifestyle, which displeases God. Pride brings destruction.
God reveals what happens to those who
are self-indulgent in their luxury.
"Is it a time for you yourselves to be living
in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" Now this is what
the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted
much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink,
but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn
wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." This is what the
LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the
mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take
pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. "You expected much, but
see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?"
declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin,
while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you
the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for
a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine,
the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the
labor of your hands." (NIV)
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. (NIV)
God Is Gracious to the Humble
James says, "God opposes the proud but
gives grace to the humble." (4:6) Solomon said, "A man's pride
brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor." (Proverbs 29:23
NIV) The psalmist writes, "You save the humble but bring low those whose
eyes are haughty." (Psalms 18:27 NIV)
Many successful people have acknowledged in
their memoirs that whenever they came to an impasse in their work and were
completely baffled, they sought wisdom from the Lord.
This was true in the life of the inventor
of the telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse. In an interview, George Hervey inquired,
"Professor Morse, when you were making your experiments at the university,
did you ever come to a standstill, not knowing what to do next?" "Oh, yes,
more than once." "Then what did you do?" "I've never discussed this with
anyone, so the public knows nothing about it. But now that you ask me,
I'll tell you frankly - I prayed for more light." "And did God give you
the wisdom and knowledge you needed?" "Yes, He did," said Morse. "That's
why I never felt I deserved the honors that came to me from America and
Europe because of the invention associated with my name. I had made a valuable
application of the use of electrical power, but it was all through God's
help. It wasn't because I was superior to other scientists. When the Lord
wanted to bestow this gift on mankind, He has to use someone. I'm just
grateful He chose to reveal it to me." In view of these facts, it's not
surprising that the inventor's first message over the telegraph was: "What
hath God wrought!"
What a tremendous difference in attitude of
today. Today we call those who have developed the computer world the icons
of our age.
God's enabling power is available to
those who truly submit themselves to him. Sometimes Christians
may want to slander the proud, "But even the archangel Michael, when
he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to
bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
(Jude 1:9 NIV) When the devil opposed Michael over the body of Moses, Michael
responded, "May the Lord rebuke you." (Jude 1:9) Satan could have cared
less about the body of Moses; he wanted Michael. The dispute was over who
ruled in heaven. Michael submitted himself to God. He fought the devil
in God's power by submitting himself to the will of God.
Submission is not dealing from a position
of weakness but it is a position of power. Later John reveals Michael's
power as he fights the Devil on God terms.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and
his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought
back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.
The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil,
or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth,
and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now
have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the
authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them
before our God day and night, has been hurled down. (NIV)
The battle begins with the decision
about who is in charge of our lives. The proud person wants to
get his or her will done in heaven. The humble person wishes to get God's
will done in his or her life. We cannot be humble without seeking to do
God's will. The only way we can resist Satan in the power of God is by
seeking to allow God’s will to reign in our lives. It would be much easier
to seek God's will if we only truly understood that God opposes those who
opposes those who seek to do his will. This makes it possible to leave
off the fighting and bickering and concentrate on doing his will. We don't
have to spend our time opposing those who oppose us. God is more capable
of doing that than we are.
Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life
is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because
of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I
am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends-- those
who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though
I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander
of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot
to take my life. But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." My
times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who
pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing
love. Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave. Let their
lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly
against the righteous. How great is your goodness, which you have stored
up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those
who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them from
the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing
We must trust in God's power to salvage
our lives. We have a nature within us that loves to envy. (4:5)
It is a spirit that only God's grace can empower us to resist, but we must
submit ourselves to God's grace through Christ. We must clothe ourselves
with humility to receive it before God can impart the enabling power of
1 Peter 5:5-9
Young men, in the same way be submissive
to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward
one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift
you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a
roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in
the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are
undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (NIV)
God opposes the proud, but he fights
the battle for the humble. James writes concerning the rich "You
have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." (5:6)
The picture of a humble person in this verse reveals they are not fighting
for their rights. Those oppressed "were not opposing" those who oppressed
them. God's children are like Michael the archangel; they know God is fighting
The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled
and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that
day. The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty,
for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars
of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering
mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified
wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of
man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will
be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. (NIV)
Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret,
him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
him will I not endure. (NIV)
Humility must turn the joy of our pride
to mourning and gloom. The arrogance of pride results in oppressing
the poor to get what it desires. The arrogant turn around and laugh at
those who end up in less fortunate circumstances because of their envious
greed. James says, "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." (James 4:8-9 NIV) James says they should be
mourning over the evil they have done. They should have been mourning instead
Mourning over sin in our lives is recognition
of our need. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall
be comforted." (Matthew 5:6) The mournful to which Jesus refers are
those who are mourning over their poor spiritual condition -- the sin in
their lives. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, but they
must be meek enough or submissive enough to seek God's will for their lives.
The Lord knows how to humble the proud
person. You must read 2 Kings 21 to appreciate God's willingness
to humble the proud. Manasseh had filled the streets of Jerusalem with
innocent blood. He had even sacrificed his son to the fires of the idol
gods. He had led Israel to do more evil than the nations God had driven
out of the land before them. The chronicler recorded the same story in
the following verses.
2 Chronicles 33:9-13
But Manasseh led Judah and the people of
Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD
had destroyed before the Israelites. The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his
people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the
army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put
a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself
greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him,
the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought
him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD
is God. (NIV)
God's power for living life well is given
to those who humble themselves in his sight.
God's power will be discovered in the lives
of the proud also, but it will only lead to their destruction.
James teaches us that we should act with wisdom
by doing what we know is right, for to do otherwise is sin. (4:17)