• John Lenschow

Back to Humility

James 4:7-10


1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 4:4-6 James’ tone has changed from a warning to rebuke. The background for this word adulterous people is found in the Old Testament, specifically the prophets (Hosea 3:1). God’s people were considered adulterous and unfaithful to him when they worshipped the gods of foreign nations. This was a violation of the covenant he established with them, and it was never tolerated.


Not surprisingly, James follows this admonition with a rhetorical question, demanding an affirmative response. The question contains contrasting concepts friendship with the world = enmity with God

When writers of the New Testament use the term “world” in this way, it represents everything that is contrary to God. James communicated this when he discussed false wisdom (3:15). Things of this world are “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.” Affinity for anything the world offers will create hostility with God. This naturally results in becoming an enemy of God. Obviously, the preferred position is to be friends with God (2:23).


In verse 5, James uses scriptural support for his claims in verse 4, since the content of Scripture is not there without purpose or reason. He states, “He (God) jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us. This does not appear to be a specific Scripture reference, but a combination of several scriptural ideas summarizing God’s jealousy (Ex. 20:5, 34:14) and the life-giving spirit from God (Gen. 2:7, Gen. 6:17, 7:15, Ps 104:29-30). James’ point-God longs for humans to serve him and be in a relationship with him. He becomes jealous when humans long for the things of this world.

While God is jealous for his human creation, he also gives grace (his unearned favor) to those who humble themselves, repent, and turn to him (Prov. 3:34, Matt. 23:12). 2. Read the Scripture: James 4:7-10

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

3. Reflect on the Scripture: God’s response to the humble in verse 6 is followed by a series of ten imperatives for living the humble life in verses 7-10. 1. Submit-To be subject to another.

This first command sets the stage for the following imperatives. The concept of submission was (and is) essential to the Christian life. However, in our 21st-century Western world, submission is counterintuitive and violates the modern “virtues” of autonomy and individualism.


2. Resist-To set oneself against.

There is a real enemy against the believer, the devil, who must be resisted (Eph 6:11-12, 1 Pet 5:8-9). When he is resisted, he will flee (Matt. 4:1-11).


There is a 2nd-century church document entitled the Shepherd of Hermas. Reflecting on this verse, the author writes, “He (the devil) cannot overmaster the servants of God, who set their hope on Him with their whole heart. The devil can wrestle with them, but he cannot overthrow them. If then you resist him, he will be vanquished, and will flee from you disgraced.”

3. Come near

Verse 8 states, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you.” The concept of God drawing near those who draw near to him is found in the Old Testament (Zech. 1:3, Mal. 3:7) and the New Testament (Heb. 4:16). See also the famous Parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32). (Perhaps a better title is the Parable of “The Two Lost Sons and the Merciful Father.”)


4. Wash “The washing of one’s hands” was a term used in preparation for worship in the Old Testament (Ex. 30:19-21, Isa. 1:16-17). This physical exterior act became a symbol of moral purity in one’s actions. Those instructed to wash are identified as “sinners.” This is another strong term, much like “adulterous people” (4:4).

5. Purify Purification was also mentioned in preparation for worship (Num 8:21). It came to symbolize the cleansing of the inner thoughts and motives. Psalm 24:4 mentions both “clean hands and pure heart," as in verse 8 above. See also in the New Testament (Matt. 5:8, Matt. 23:25-28, John 11:55, 1 Pet 1:22).


Calling them double-minded is another strong reference. He used this term in 1:8, but here it has a slightly different usage. Here it refers to those struggling between living for God and living for the world versus those wavering between faith and unbelief (1:6-8).


6. Grieve- To be miserable

New Testament writer Peter Davids calls this the "What have I done!" feeling.


7. Mourn-Sadness as the result of a condition or situation. See Matt 5:4.


8. Wail-weeping, an outward expression of grief.

See Psalm 69:10-11. Mourn and wail are used together in Luke 6:25.


9. Change Verse 9 states, “Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” This command is not to be taken as an instruction for daily Christian life as if joy is contrary to living as a believer. Rather, the verse must be taken within the context of repentance. See James 1:2, Luke 6:21, Phil. 4:4.


10. Humble We have come full circle back to the need for humility before God, and he will lift the humble up (James 4:6, Matt. 23:12, 1 Pet 5:5-6).


Dale Allison, another New Testament writer, summarizes this section well- "subjection to God (v. 7a) involves opposing the devil (v. 7b), striving for moral purity (v. 8), mourning for sins (v. 9), becoming humble (v. 10), and not judging others (vv. 11–12).”

4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:

There are several significant themes from this short passage to consider. So have a conversation with God about any of the following: -Submitting to God -Resisting the devil -Drawing near to God (in worship) -Purifying actions and motives -Be grieved by sin and repentance -Humility


To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).

Read and study the passages listed above.

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