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Pride Brings Self-destruction

James 4:1-5:6

Jim Davis

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.

James 4:13-16
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. (NIV)

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)

Luke 18:9-14
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 5.

James 5:1-6
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 escalate.

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.

Haggai 1:4-11
"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)

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. (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.

Revelation 12:7-10
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.

Psalms 31:9-20
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 tongues. (NIV)

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 his grace.

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 for them.

Isaiah 2:11-18
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)

Psalms 101:5
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 of laughing.

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. In 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)


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