By Randy Dillon
James 4: 7-12 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil of one another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, but if thou judge the law, thou are not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another.”
As James moves from the topic of strife within the brotherhood in verses 1-6 of this chapter 4, we see that he is continuing his theme of controversy within the church in the above passage. “Therefore,” he says, if you recognize that evil strivings with Christian brothers come from the lusts of the heart, you must take corrective action. It begins with submitting yourself to God. This entails a humble attitude that places one in a position of subservience to God in all matters. There is no middle ground between genuine submissiveness to God and self-pride. The two cannot co-exist. One will win and one will lose. To avoid strife with fellow believers, one must thoroughly trust God in an attitude of submission.
The result of this obedience is the empowerment by God to resist the temptations of the devil. This cannot occur when we seek to resist Satan on our own power and authority, for such involves pride of self. Satan will not flee from the prideful soul. Rather, that kind of soul is prepared for any suggestion that Satan may make. He will not flee from your pride. He will use it against you. But he will flee from the soul that is in submission to God, because he is powerless against the Almighty. This happens when we draw near to God. As we draw close to Him, He will respond by coming closer to us. This is what Satan fears. Secular psychologists indicate that there are three “domains” by which mankind respond to the world. These are the “cognitive” or mind, “psychomotor” or physical, and the “affective” or attitude.
James was not a psychologist but the Holy Spirit led him two thousand years ago to this “modern” understanding. Notice he tells us to: (1) clean our hands (physical), (2) purify our hearts (attitude), and (3) to not be double-minded (cognitive). We must be close to God in all three respects. This comes only through submission to His word and guidance.
The Christian life should be a joyful experience. But when we are faced with temptation from the devil we are called upon to acknowledge a different set of actions. There are those times when we set aside our desire for the mountain-top experience to seek a deeper understanding of being “nigh” to God. James tells us to be afflicted (both physically and mentally), to mourn and to weep. These are not meant to make us miserable, but rather to bring us to a closer knowledge of what Jesus has done on our behalf. Our laughter (which should be an outward sign of our inward salvation) must at times turn to mourning. Our inherited joy must at times turn to heaviness of heart. This is not only when we may be grief stricken, but also when we may be seriously tempted. It is such times as these that we must acknowledge our weakness and humble ourselves in God’s sight. It is then when He will lift us up in his strength.
James then moves to an ancillary topic: speaking badly about our Christian brother or sister. We are not to speak ill of our Christian family members (recall James’ warning about the tongue!). To do so is to judge our family members. But when we do so, says James, we are really judging the law (or the word of God). We are placing ourselves in a position of being a judge of our brother or sister. If we speak evil of our Christian kin we have removed ourselves from being under the law and have placed ourselves as overseers of the law. As such, we cannot be both obedient to the law or word of God if we are simultaneously trying to be a judge of others. This bears a strikingly similar relationship to Jesus’ general warning in the Sermon on the Mount about judging others found in Matthew 7:1-6: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
There is one lawgiver, and that is God. He has the power to save and He also has the power to destroy. Human beings do not possess such divine power, While many situations call for our judgement in life, we should be particularly reluctant to stand in spiritual judgement of another person. And when we must judge in earthly matters, we should do so as God would have us, with loving kindness and humility. Especially, we should be so in matters which are spiritual involving the law and the word. Here we must be careful not to bring reproach upon our fellow believers by speaking evil about them. Correction must be edifying and wise, never seeking to knowingly belittle a brother or sister.