Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
If you are any kind of Civil War buff at all, you are aware of the controversy surrounding Confederate General J.E.B Stuart’s fateful ride around the Union Army at Gettysburg. Whether you tend to sympathize with the South or (like me) the North, both sides will agree that Stuart’s actions left General Lee blind at a time when he most needed the “eyes” of his cavalry. This resulted in the disastrous Picket’s Charge, the loss of the battle, and, arguably, the loss of the war. The controversy revolves around whether Stuart was insubordinate, or just made foolish choices. Either way, he was not doing what his commanding general wanted him to do, and the result was defeat.
There is a parallel to today’s verse in this historical anecdote – one which I hope will become clear as we move along (perhaps it is already). Before we go there, however, let’s “open the hood” and examine the text.
If you remember from our previous study, after spending considerable time exposing our flaws, James has introduced a new and refreshing theme:
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
For the next four verses, he is going to expound on that theme. There will be a series of actions that we are to take, paired with the positive results those actions will have. This verse is the first in that series.
Action: Submit to God.
Result: The devil will flee when you resist.
Now, admittedly, this may be a different reading than what you are used to. Indeed, the phrase “resist the devil and he will flee from you” may rank right up there with “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in the category of verses divorced from their contexts.
Based on how James has organized his text, I am convinced that “resist the devil” cannot be separated from the phrase which immediately precedes it: “Submit to God” – which brings us to the key point:
Successful resistance against the Devil requires submission to God.
In a sense, this is a continuation of James’s earlier condemnation of double-mindedness. You cannot hope to defeat the devil if there is a part of you that is still in league with him. And make no mistake – non-submission to God is allegiance with the devil. You would think this would be a no-brainer, but it is actually one of the areas Christians seem to struggle with the most.
It is quite easy for people to be convinced of the negative aspects of sin in their lives, and to recognize – quite correctly – the influence of the deceiver. Many people have asked me to pray for victory over specific destructive sins in their lives – and yet at the same time are unwilling to fully submit to God as revealed in His word. Thus, they open themselves up to to continuous attacks by the evil one. They lament and mourn the defeated lives they live, but are not willing to live the life of obedience required for victory.
General Lee’s meeting with J.E.B Stuart after his extra-curricular – possibly even insubordinate – ride around the Union Army was, by all accounts, awkward. His lack of following orders had cost many lives, would cost the South the battle of Gettysburg, and eventually the war itself. In a similar manner, victory over the devil requires submission to our Commander. The consequences of insubordination in our lives are disastrous.
Banner image: detail of the painting Jeb Stuart’s Return by G. Harvey.
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