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"What Goes Up Must First Come Down"
Wednesday AM Bible Study
September 17, 2003
This morning, we look at what might be called "God's law of gravity in
reverse". It's summarized for us in verse 10: "Humble yourselves in the
sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
In this section (James 4:1-10), James presents his readers with the
love and devotion God has toward them. And as a good pastor, it's James'
desire to lead his readers into a full experience of that love. Yet, he
warns of how easily that love is disregarded by us when we seek to love
the Father while, at the same time, loving the world. He compares it with
the wicked adultery of a wayward bride who behaves unfaithfully toward
her glorious groom.
Under the power of the Holy Spirit of God, James doesn't simply raise
up the problem. He also is led by God to tell us what to do. In verses
7-10, James describes the steps that God wants a way-ward, wandering Christian
to follow in order to enjoy a restored fellowship with Him. Who ever would
be exalted by God must first be humbled before Him. Note the process of
that humbling ...
I. SUBMIT TO GOD (v. 7).
A. The word James uses for "submit" means, basically, "to
subordinate oneself to" or "to align oneself under the authority of"
someone else - just like a soldier would subordinate himself to a commanding
1. At the root, sin is a product of the arrogant pride
in us that moves us to say, "I'm not happy with the way God is meeting
my needs. I think I can arrange a better deal than I'm getting from
Him." That's why James makes the point that "God is opposed to the
proud" (v. 6; quoting Proverbs 3:34). And so, the "pleasures that
wage war in our members" move us to the sort of condition James describes
in verses 2-3.
2. And bound up with that pride is (perhaps unwittingly) an alignment
with the devil himself. Satan is the originator of arrogance against
God. We do not become merely "independent" when we act in arrogant
pride; we actually give ourselves over to slavery to the devil (1
Peter 5:9-9; Eph. 4:26-27; 6:10-11; 1 Tim. 3:6-7).
B. Willing submission to God is the only solution to this arrogant
pride. James here tells us that if, by submitting to God, we resist
the devil, then the devil will flee from us. There is no other way
to resist the devil but by submitting to God. This is where the wandering
believer must begin in restoring his or her fellowship with the Lord.
II. DRAW NEAR TO GOD (v. 8).
A. In his classic book, "Enjoying Intimacy with God," J.
Oswald Sanders said, "Both Scripture and experience teach that it is
we, not God, who determine the degree of intimacy with Him that we enjoy.
We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be" (1980,
Moody Press, pp. 13-14). Notice that Pastor James invites us, "draw
near" or "come near" to God; and that he couples this invitation with
a promise; that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. (Read
Luke 10: 38-42 and the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus' responds to
Martha suggests to us that, when we draw near to the Lord, the Lord
Himself is protective of that intimacy.)
B. There is an intended sequence in this. A wandering believer is
invited to draw near to God; but not until he or she has first submitted
to God. While in that proud and arrogant state of flirting with the
things of the world, James says that they have made themselves "enemies"
of God, and placed themselves in a state of "hostility" toward Him.
We dare not approach our holy God while we are still in a state of
arrogant defiance toward Him caused by our love-affair with the things
of the world. We must first "submit" to Him; and then draw near.
III. REPENT OF SIN (v. 8).
A. James says, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify
your hearts, you double- minded." And in saying this, he shows that
repentance must occur in two spheres:
1. It must occur in the sphere of our outward life. He
calls us "sinners" and says we must "clean our hands"; that is, turn
away from the sinful life-style practices and patterns that displease
Him. We must live a pure moral life before Him.
2. And it must occur in the sphere of our inner man. He calls
us "double-minded" or "two-souled", and says that we must "purify
our hearts"; that is, cease from loving something else more than
Him (Matthew 6:22-24; James 1:8).
B. Notice that James places the responsibility for this on us. It
is we who are to 'clean our own hands' and 'purify our own hearts'(1
C. Again, this is a part of a sequence. The wandering Christian
who has been convicted of spiritual unfaithfulness to God and who
would be restored in intimate fellowship with Him, must lay down arms
and draw near to God. And the closer he or she draws to the majestic
holiness of God, the more plainly they see their own sinfulness. And
so, a part of the process is to repent both of outwardly sinful practices
and inwardly divided affections. Such a wandering Christian must,
once again, become God's man or woman - body and soul.
IV. EXPERIENCE SORROW (v. 9).
A. It's true that the Bible does command us to "rejoice always"
(1 Thess.5:16); but its intention in saying that is that we be rejoicing
"in the Lord" (Phil. 4:4). Here, James calls his readers, who have wandered
from the Lord, to feel the sorrow that proceeds His loving acceptance
(Psalm 34:18; Luke 18:10-14).
B. This idea of experiencing sorrow for sin is antithetical to so
much of what modern humanistic psychology and counselling encourages.
In those cases, every effort is expended toward doing the exact opposite
- to rid the 'patient' or 'counselee' of the feelings of guilt and
sorrow, and to do what ever is necessary to feel good and be happy
again. Such approaches are founded on the belief "sorrow" is harmful,
negative and unproductive. But here, we find that we're called upon
by James not only to avoid circumventing these feelings, but to actually,
deliberately 'feel' them. James actually urges us and exhorts us to
"feel bad" about our sin!
C. These words remind us that the Holy Spirit is behind the sense
of guilt and sorrow. His ministry to the world, in part, is to convict
it of sin (John 16:8); and with respect to the believer, He communicates
His own grief over our sin at times (Eph. 4:30; see also James 4:5).
These words remind us that not all sorrowing is bad, but is rather
a part of God's will for our progress toward godliness (2 Cor. 7:8-13;
V. TRUST GOD FOR EXALTATION (v. 10).
A. All that has been said so far falls under the broad category
of "self-humbling" before God (v. 10). In the previous verses, James
has described what such 'humbling' looks like in practice. But he ends
this string of descriptive exhortations with a glorious promise that
God would exalt the one who is humbled. It isn't God's design for us
to be forever miserable, mourning and weeping in sorrow and gloom because
of our sin. Rather, His intention in all this is to forever exalt us!
B. God Himself is the one who must do the exalting, and not ourselves.
Our 'exaltation' - something that in and of itself is good and right,
and that even God expresses that He wishes to bring about. But it
must be exactly that: something that He brings about!
C. The exaltation from God, then, is such that it must be proceeded
by a humbling of ourselves. The Savior Himself sets the example for
us in this (Philippians 2:5-11).
* * * * * * * * * *
Someone once told of how, while once living a disobedient life having
wandered from God, he went to the doctor. He was seeking that the doctor
give him something to relieve him of his depression. After listening to
his story and hearing about the sinful choices the man was making, the
doctor refused to give him anything. The doctor wisely told the man, "Why
should I give you something to relieve you of feelings you ought to be
experiencing?" That refusal was used by God to turn that man's life around.
In James' words, we see that, to experience exaltation from God, we
must (1) end our hostilities toward Him by submitting to Him; (2) commit
ourselves to regaining intimacy with Him by "drawing near" to Him; (3)
repent of sin - both outwardly "cleansing" our hands as guilty sinners,
and inwardly "purifying" our hearts as those who are guilty of double-mindedness;
and (4) allow ourselves to experience genuine sorrow for sin - not trying
to circumvent that sorrow, but permitting it to do its godly work in us.