Practical Faith – Humility (James 4:4-17)

Bible Passage: James 4:4-17

In his letter, James is discussing how we work out our faith in practical ways. He makes a contrast between living as a friend of the world and a friend of God, and in this passage he explores how humility is key in developing this friendship with God.

Humbly Receiving Grace (v4-6): James quotes an Old Testament scripture that declares that God opposes the proud. Pride is the sin that lies behind all other sins. It is elevating yourself above everyone else, including God. It is stealing for yourself the glory that belongs to God alone and making yourself the focus, and the ultimate arbitrator of what is right. In choosing the world over God you are saying to him that you know best, that his ways are wrong, outdated or irrelevant. By contrast, we are taught that God gives grace to the humble. It may seem odd to have a ‘condition’ attached to grace, but this is not saying that grace is earned by humility. By its very nature, humility is the willingness to receive grace. God’s grace is on offer to anybody at any time. Those who are proud will not accept the offer as they feel they are already capable of sorting things out their own way. It is humility that enables somebody to accept God’s grace, and so in pursuing friendship with God, humility is crucial.

Humbly Drawing Near to God (v7-8): In these verses there is a parallel drawn between Satan and God, and with both our posture towards them will determine their response to us. The devil will try to attack us through accusation, difficult circumstances, temptation and many other things. We must resist him, and as we do so he will flee. It is not enough just to resist Satan thought, we must also draw near to God. This is not something we can do by our own strength, and we must come humbly through Christ. Because of the death of Jesus we can draw near to God through things like prayer, fasting and reading the Scriptures, and we know that God will also draw near to us as we do..

Humble Lament (v8-10): It may seem strange to encourage tears as part of developing our friendship with God. James tells us to be wretched and to mourn and weep and suggests that we allow our laughter to turn to grief. he has in mind the kind of laughter that can often be associated with worldliness. It is a laughter that can be dishonouring to other people and to God, delighting in sin and belittling those made in God’s image. As we are brought into this kingdom, part of the process is for this kind of laughter to stop and for tears of repentance to accompany it. There is humility in this. Other parts of the Bible discuss Godly joy. James is not saying that to be a Christian is to be miserable, simply that as we pursue friendship with God we are not to laugh in the same way and at the same things that the world does.

Humble Obedience (v11-12): God gave us the law out of grace. It is not there for us to earn his favour, but it does teach us how to live to his pleasure. If we, instead of obeying the law, sit as judges over it, and decide which bits we think are true, good or modern then we are putting ourselves above God and judging him. It is as we humble ourselves to obey what God has said, that we will find our hearts are increasingly aligning with his heart and our friendship with him will grow.

Humility About the Future (v13-17): In the grand scheme of things we are small and finite beings who will not be here for long. We are not in control of the future but God is. As we make plans then it is important to hold them lightly and to recognise both in how we think and how we talk that we are totally dependent on the will of God.

Potential Applications:

  • We are told that ‘God gives more grace’. Have a time of repenting and receiving, and where people have wandered from God create space for them to come back and experience his grace afresh.
  • James says that as we draw near to God he will draw near to us. You could make this a focus for the rest of the service as you draw near through singing, praying, communion and whatever else you will be doing together.
  • Lamentation is a neglected practice in the Western church. Encourage people to take time to get real and raw with God and pour our their tears to him.