Summary: 10th message in James series. James identifies two spheres of life as yardsticks for humility. The first is the relationship we have with other people, especially in what we say about them. The second is the goal or plans we have for the future.
Shirley MacLaine, the Oscar-winning actress, is a spokeswoman for the self-consumed philosophy of our day. The Los Angeles Times reported an interview in which she said:
The most pleasurable journey you take is through yourself…the only sustaining love is with yourself. When you look back on your life and try to figure out where you’ve been and where you’re going, when you look at your work, your marriages, your children, your pain, your happiness, what you really find out is that the only person you really go to bed with is yourself…. The only thing you have is working to the consummation of your own identity. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do all my life.
Ms. MacLaine’s heresy is so common that much of the public unthinkingly nods assent to her silly comments. A world governed by such selfish beliefs would be nothing less than chaotic. The mastery of an arrogant, self-centered life is a major concern of James in this short epistle.
Jim Dobson tells a classic story about human conflict. Ten-year-old Robert was an obnoxious terror creating tumult wherever his passive mother took him. One day, this mother along with Robert, kept an appointment with an older dentist who understood children and was not about to be intimidated by the boy. Dobson recounts the event:
Robert arrived in the dental office prepared for battle.
“Get in the chair, young man,” said the doctor.
“No chance!” replied the boy.
“Son, I told you to climb onto the chair, and that’s what I intend for you to do,” said the dentist.
Robert stared at his opponent for a moment and then replied, “If you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.”
The dentist calmly said, “Son, take ‘em off.”
The boy forthwith removed his shirt, undershirt, shoes, and socks, and then looked up in defiance.
“All right, son,” said the dentist, “Now get in the chair.”
“You didn’t hear me,” sputtered Robert. “I said if you make me get on that chair, I will take off all my clothes.”
“Son, take ‘em off,” replied the man.
Robert proceeded to remove his pants and shorts, standing totally naked before the dentist and his assistant.
“Now, son, get in the chair,” said the doctor.
Robert did as he was told, and sat cooperatively through the entire procedure.
When the cavities were drilled and filled, he was instructed to step down from the chair.
“Give me my clothes now,” said the boy.
“I’m sorry,” replied the dentist. “Tell your mother that we’re going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow.
Can you comprehend the shock Robert’s mother received when the door to the waiting room opened, and there stood her pink son, as naked as the day he was born? The room was filled with patients, but Robert and his mom walked past them and into the hall. They went down a public elevator and into the parking lot, ignoring the snickers of onlookers.
The next day, Robert’s mother returned to retrieve the clothes, and asked to have a word with the dentist. However, she did not come to protest. These were her sentiments: “You don’t know how much I appreciate what happened here yesterday. You see, Robert has been blackmailing me about his clothes for years. Whenever we are in a public place, such as a grocery store, he makes unreasonable demands of me. If I don’t immediately buy him what he wants, he threatens to take off all his clothes. You are the first person to call his bluff, Doctor, and the impact on Robert has been incredible!”
The first 10 verses of this chapter indicate that selfish desires are the source of all human conflict. Peace comes from a quiet submission to a God who will supply our needs in His own time. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (v. 10).
An ugly self-assertiveness raises its head in each of our lives apart from such humility. James identifies two spheres of life as yardsticks for humility. The first is the relationship we have with other people, especially in what we say about them. The second is the goal or plans we have for the future.
I. HUMILITY IS MEASURED BY YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD OTHERS — RESIST JUDGMENT…vv. 11-12
James literally says, “Stop speaking against your brother.” He uses a verb tense that implies such speech was ongoing, and even habitual. They continually “ran down” others. The NIV accurately describes this sin as “slander.” It is cruel, critical, sarcastic speech.
Any attitude that disdains or discredits another reflects an arrogant pride attitude. At times we need honest discussion and constructive criticism in any body of believers. James would probably even applaud the ouster of those who are deliberately destructive with their tongues. His point however, is that angry and debasing slander has no place in the church.