When I mentioned yesterday that James has some direct commands for us, I wasn’t kidding. Today’s reading lists at least 11 different commands in staccato fashion.
The first three verses talk about the ultimate source of our quarrels and fights (our sinful nature), which I’ve dealt with before. It also deals with the possible reasons why our prayers aren’t being answered, another topic I’ve covered. Verse 4 talks about the dangers of worldliness, another subject I’ve gone over previously.
At the risk of beating this drum too often, I feel I have to remind you that this is a devotional, not a commentary. I don’t feel the need or the calling to necessarily comment on every verse.
Having said that, let’s look at vss. 5-10. Verse 5 sort of continues the theme of friendship with the world vs. friendship with God (being mutually exclusive). Translators and interpreters differ fairly widely on how to handle vs. 5, since the exact meaning is a bit obscure. 1) The NIV officially renders it as “[God] jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us,” meaning he jealously yearns for us to yield our (human) spirit to him who gave it to us. 2) Or it could be “the spirit he caused to dwell in us envies intensely,” which would mean our human spirit is passionate towards the wrong things instead of him. 3) Or it could be “that the Spirit he caused to dwell in us longs jealously.” That would mean that the Holy Spirit that he caused to live inside us longs jealously for our loyal love instead of the fickleness and divided loyalties he so often finds. On a side-note, if this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, it’s the only one in the book of James.
Part of the problem is that all of these are theologically true. There are a lot of teachers with a lot of experience who disagree with me on this, but I tend to lean towards the third interpretation. The O.T. often speaks of our God as a jealous God (in fact, one of his names is “Jealous”), who will not tolerate any rivals for our affections. He looks at sin not just as breaking his law but breaking our marriage vows, harking back to vs. 4. So I’d lean towards either interpretation # 3 or #1. Of course, however you interpret/translate verse 5, the main point’s still the same: He wants all of us, and unfortunately our hearts are so fickle and run after the wrong things.
The rest of the passage isn’t really obscure or difficult to grasp. It’s a series of short commands.
· Submit yourselves to God
· Resist the Devil (notice that this comes after submitting to God)
· Come near to God
· Wash your hands
· Purify your hearts
· Grieve (over your sins)
· Mourn (over the times you’ve failed him)
· Wail (wow, this is getting pretty serious here)
· Change your laughter to mourning
· Change your joy to gloom
· Humble yourselves before the Lord
You might be wondering how stuff like grieving, mourning, wailing, changing laughter to mourning and laughter to gloom, etc., fits into the Christian life. An aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit is joy, right? The Message we proclaim is (literally) the “Good News.” But it doesn’t start out that way. Both in our initial coming to Christ, and in our day-to-day walk with him, we have to deal with the “bad news” before we can pass through it into joy. We have to deal seriously with our sin, a lot more seriously than we normally look at it, to say the least. Then—and only then—he’ll give us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Then--and only then--he showers us--no, deluges--us with grace.
You see, with him, the “bad news” always comes before the good news. Submitting to him comes before victory over the Devil. Grieving, mourning, and wailing (over the right things) come before unspeakable joy and peace. Humbling yourself in front of him comes before his exaltation of you to a place of honor you never dreamed of. The Cross comes before the Crown.
Please keep this in mind, though: It’ll be worth it. More than worth it. Immeasurably more than worth it. Not-even-worth-comparing level of worth it. Just trust him. Please.
Here’s a wonderful video to go along with today’s passage: “Beauty For Ashes” by Crystal Lewis and Ron Kenoly. Enjoy.
Lord Jesus, how many times am I going to have to learn this lesson until I get it right? I submit to you, open my heart to your surgeon’s scalpel, and you heal even as you cut. I trust you. Please help me to do it more.