Living Humbly – James 4:11-5:6

bowingI was reminded this week of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Do you remember this story? The story goes that Little Red Riding Hood went to the forest to visit her ill grandmother. Along the way she met a wicked wolf that asked her which path she was taking. She replied: I am taking the path that leads to my grandmas cottage. So, while Little Red Riding Hood was busy picking flowers to take to her grandma, the wolf went to the cottage and swallowed grandma in one gulp. Then the wolf put on grandmas cap, got in her bed, and waited. Little Red Riding Hood arrived at the cottage and came into grandmas bedroom. She said: Grandma what big ears you have. The wolf replied: All the better to hear you with, my dear. And Grandma, what big eyes you have. All the better to see you with, my dear. Little Red Riding Hood then said: And Grandma, what big teeth you have. The wolf said: All the better to eat you with, my dear. The wolf then swallowed Little Red Riding Hood in one gulp and then fell asleep, until a woodsman came and rescued Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood for the wolfs belly.

The wolf was an imposter. Have you ever met an imposter? This is someone who is misrepresenting themselves, trying to be someone else, whether consciously or not. At some level we all are imposters. We promote ourselves unnecessarily. We place ourselves as judge over other people. We act like we know more than we do, and we elevate ourselves above others. And whether we know it or not, as a result we end up acting like God, which ends up leaving us in dis-ease and pressured, b/c being God is a lot of work.

We are in the season of Lent on the church calendar. This is a season where we look upon the work of JC, as we prepare for Good Friday and His crucifixion. So as we look at HIS work, it also makes sense to look at OUR work, How we live. So this Lent we have been asking the question: How shall we live? We have been dialoging w/ the book of James and this question. And today we are looking at James 4:11-5:6. So turn to James 4:11.

 

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How then shall we live? In James 1 we were called to live active, to be doers of Gods word. In James 2:1-3:12, we were called to live congruently in thought, word, and deed. And last week we were called to live rooted in Gods wisdom and kingdom, doing good things w/ humility. So lets look at James 4:11 and see what we find this week.

1st, lets look at James 4:11-12:

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you -who are you to judge your neighbor?

Gods law requires that people love their brothers and sisters in Christ. To speak evil against them violates, what is called, the royal law, which comes from Leviticus 19, to love your neighbor as yourself. To judge others violates this. James says to do so means you are also judging Gods law. If one can judge with respect to the law, one is no longer under the law but a judge. Meaning, when you judge others you take on the attitude that you are above the law, that you are taking the role of God in the situation. And as James points out, there is only one judge. Hebrews 12 says: to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all. God gave the law of love, and only He can rightfully judge others by it.[1] So as judge, God saves and corrects. And knowing the character of God, that He is good and loving, we can trust Him as judge. We can trust Him to do what He does, but we are not to take His judges seat.

Next, lets look at James 4:13-17:

13 Now listen, you who say: Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say: If it is the Lords will, we will live and do this or that. 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and does not do it, it is sin for them.

At 1st reading of this passage, it appears James is telling us not to ever make plans, but that is not what he is saying. The merchants described in this section were making typical plans. They were doing market analysis of new cities, and projecting the profit for the venture. These were wise moves of planning, and nothing unethical was necessarily happening. As one commentator said, the issue is that their plans were FIRM and expectations CERTAIN in their own eyes. What bothers James is the presumption that THEY could so determine their future, and that they were only using human wisdom and concerned w/ human gain and financial profit. So James condemns these business owners for their arrogant self-confidence; he accuses them of acting as though they, not God, controlled their lives.[2] Proverbs 27 says: Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. In this section James calls us to live humbly in our planning and intentions. We are not all knowing, only God is. And that is the good news of this section, that God is all knowing. So as we consider the future and how to navigate it, we can submit to Gods course corrections, and move and plan w/ flexibility and confidence knowing God is in control, but we are not to take on the posture of being in control.

Lastly, lets look at James 5:1-6:

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

When someone prioritizes wealth over everything else, the result is rot and decay. The wealth of the rich is described as testifying in court against those who use their possessions and power to oppress the poor. To maximize profit, these business owners are not caring for their workers, short changing their pay. Deuteronomy 24 says:

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. 15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

Workers expected to be paid following a days work. They probably needed these wages to purchase food for themselves and their families. So Gods law forbade Israelites from withholding wages from workers. James says the cries of these oppressed workers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts, or the Lord of armies. The description of God shows God as a commander of a great army of angels going to war against the rich oppressors. James may have used this phrase to heighten the intensity of the passage.[3] He does so b/c he is calling us to live humbly in our lifestyle, to live ethically and justly w/ our money and relationships. We are not to use what power we have to assert ourselves at the expense of others. The good news of this section is that God is just. He hears the cries of the oppressed. And if we are to reflect who God is, we are to live ethically. WE are not to be glorified and promoted, God is.

Overall, these 3 section invite us to live humbly. We are reminded that God is God and we are not. He is a good and powerful judge, so we can trust Him to do what He does. God is all knowing, so as we move and plan we are invited to stay flexible and confident in Him. And God is just, so we are to live ethically reflecting Hid greatness. The bottom line is that God is powerful, and will make things right. He is God and we are not

 

Today

The problem is that we lose sight of this and end up acting like God. When someone cuts in front of us at the store or on the road, we automatically put on our judges robe, deeming them to be guilty of being a jerk. When we make investments of time or money we speak w/ a certainty of the return. Or when we speak of situations at work or school, we always seem to end up looking better than the others we speak of. The problem is we end up acting like God, blatantly in our judgment, in our intellect and certainty, and in our own glorification. If it is not that blatant, we end up believing that every opinion we have is shared by God. That is why I love the story of Abraham Lincoln.

During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said: Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side. Lincolns response was beautiful He said: No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side. Lincoln reminded those ministers that faith is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants. In other words, we are called to live humbly, acknowledging that God is God and we are not.

The Good news is that God is powerful, and will make things right. When we face difficulty, we may forget this and begin acting like God. We become impostors, and end up living w/ dis-ease. God is powerful, and will make things right. And b/c of this, we can trust Him to do what He does. We can move and plan w/ flexibility and confidence, knowing He is in control. And, we can show Him off by living ethically. In other words, knowing that God is God, and we are not, gives us peace. Peace. Knowing that God is God, and we are not, gives us peace.

How then shall we live? We are called to live in humility, knowing He is in control, not us. So may we live into that reality. And may we find peace as a result.

 

Amen.

[1] Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Jas 4:12). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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