Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
As I write this, Pride Month, 2023 has just wrapped up, and as Pride Months go, it has been particularly spectacular. It began with the free online release of Matt Walsh’s What is a Woman documentary, and ended with the Supreme Court protecting Christian business owners against aggressive LGBTQ+ litigation. It’s not often that the fall comes so quickly on the heels of the Pride.
But as Christians (correctly) rejoice at these and other recent victories, it is instructive to remember that pride is not limited to one particularly vocal demographic. Indeed, pride is deeply rooted in all of our hearts and, left unchecked, will be devastatingly destructive. This is what James wants to tell us in these verses, along with a message of hope for everybody caught in its clutches (which is everybody).
Let’s take a look.
In our study so far, James has ruthlessly exposed many of our most entrenched sinful habits: unbelief, impatience, double-mindedness, partiality, hypocrisy, malicious speech – and it is impossible for us, if we’re honest, to fail to see ourselves reflected back from the pages of scripture in all our disobedient squalor.
This is very uncomfortable reading indeed. There can be no getting around the fact that, if we call ourselves servants of Christ, changes need to be made. Fortunately, James is here to speak of Grace and Power to effect those changes. To do so, he gives us a road map consisting of three actions we can take, and the results of those actions. The first two are as follows:
1) Action: Submit to God. Result: The Devil will flee when we resist.
2. Action: Draw near to God. Result: He will draw near to you.
Now we come to the final pairing, which is perhaps the most challenging of all, for it takes aim at our most securely guarded of our sinful treasures: namely, our own pride.
This is not the first time James has touched on this subject. In fact, he began this section by telling us (in what is probably a reference to Proverbs 3:34):
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Then he finishes with Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
So it could be said that this whole section he is giving us an antidote to sin by offering up a “humble sandwich.” But here at the end, James puts more meat onto the concept of humility. What does it look like? Check out the words he uses to describe it. First, three verbs: lament, mourn, and weep. Then two nouns: mourning, gloom. All summarized immediately by “humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord…”
Thus the meaning becomes clear. True humility in God’s eyes (versus performance-based humility to be seen by men) begins with genuine sorrow over sin and our ultimate powerlessness to do anything about it.
Where do I get that last part from? Well, from the final phrase: “and He will lift you up.” James is not proposing some do-it-yourself, lift-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, solution. No, he recognizes that, for us to be lifted up from this Slough of Despond, God must do the lifting. And victory begins with our recognition of that fact.
Of the three paired concepts, this last is certainly the most crucial. If we had stopped at the first two we would have a system of works that would ultimately lead to our despair. But now we have promise: if we are truly grieved over our sin, that is, truly humbled in God’s sight, God will lift us up. And if it is God who is lifting us up, we will have the power to resist the Devil, and the ability to draw near to Him. If we hang on to our pride, and say “no God, I’ve got this” or “these sins really aren’t that bad” we put ourselves in the unfortunate category of those whom God resists.
And let it be clearly noted that the hope offered here is for those whose pride is of the rainbow variety, as well as those whose pride is of a more conventional sort. God’s uplifting hand is outstretched to all who are truly grieved by their sin.
Banner Image: An illustration of the “Slough of Despond” from John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.
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