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Entries in James (2)


What is our motive?

Why are you quarreling? What makes you fight?

These are the questions James opens chapter 4 with. I remember asking my children that when they were younger. Why are you bickering? Why is it that every time you are in a room together, something must erupt? 

The answer is in verse 2-3:

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have have, because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.

We want what is not ours. We cannot get what we want. We have wrong motives, namely to serve ourselves.

So much quarreling comes from the motive of self, whether it is competition, comparison, or jockeying to get ourselves in a better position. Frustration arises because we can't get what we want, but we see someone else getting it, so we push. It's like a bunch of kids all lining up at the drinking fountain after receess to be first. Sometimes, people get pushed, or knocked down. The first people we criticize are the ones we'd like to see knocked off their place of privilege. They may take exception to us and push back. And a quarrel is born.

In whatever venue we're working in, we may have selfish motives. Whether it is within the family, a job, or on a church committee, we are so convinced that what we want is the right thing that we may not see our own motives.

Later in the chapter (v. 6, 10), James talks about humility. Humility is the crucial element for having right motives. We are reminded that God is the one exalts, not us. And he exalts the one who is not exalting himself: "Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you." We may not get what we want, but better to be lifted up in our humility than brought down in our pride.

Craig Blomberg, in his commentary on James says this:

People who are humble do not seek their own "rights" to postions of leadership, but allow God to encourage and lift them up as he sees fit. Thus, humility comprises an essential attribute for community.

It's about being willing to be small. It's about being content not to be noticed. It's about maybe being silent on a matter. It may mean anonymity. 

Blomberg also reminds us what humility is not, quoting another commentator:

"Humility is not passivity, but receptivity. It is certainly not groveling before God or others; it is simply accepting truth, learning from every situation, growing in simplicity and wisdom."

Often, our motives are most clearly exposed by our unwillingness to be receptive. That is a good heart-check when we evaluate our motives about why we're doing what we do. Are we willing to listen to others? Or do we want to have the first and last word? How willing am I to learn from every situation? Or am I assuming that I'm the one teaching every moment? 

Good questions to ponder.


Fire, poison, and beasts

This past week, I have been studying James chapter 3 in preparation for Sunday's lesson. Ah yes, James chapter 3, that chapter people often cringe at because of what it says about our speech.

Words like fire, blaze, unrighteousness, and phrases like set on fire by hell. Comparisons to unruly beasts, and being relegated to a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

God created with word. God left his revelation in word. Christ is the final word. As creations of God, we have this power of speech, this power that has both life and death in it (Prov. 18:21).

In the past few days, I have seen this reality online. This post does not intend to summarize the gory details. Feel free to partake of the drama elsewhere if you dare. This past week, I saw someone on Twitter be demeaning and belittling towards another's simple question. I left that exchange convinced that I'll never follow, interact, or pay much heed to that guy.

Who would dare say God's word is not relevant? Or outdated? Really? Poison is a good way to describe some of the words I have seen the past few days. This week, James's words repeat in my head:

My brothers, these things ought not to be.

Yes, dialogue is necessary, but reducing our discussion to playground tactics is not fitting for adults. How many people who behave this way online go home and reprimand their children for doing the same thing? And if we lack a good vocabulary, bookstores still sell dictionaries, and surely there must be an app for that.

In preparation for Sunday, I am compiling a list of negative ways of using speech as compared to positive ways. My list of negatives so far: 

Groundless accusation
Cruel sarcasm
Bitter words
Angry words

And each one of these can be preserved forever when we put them online.

Sometimes, what's funny in person isn't funny online, and while we can't tip toe around everyone all the time, we should remember that a comment that sounds like a great one-liner face to face can come across as curt online. We don't know what the person on the receiving end is going through. Years ago, someone made a very innocent comment to me in a comment thread, but it happened at a time when I was going through some really difficult times. It left me in tears. Yes, I guess I shouldn't be such a baby, but it was a good lesson for me to strive to think about the humanity of the other side of the screen.

I have been guilty of every one of those abuses of the tongue, and then some. It is my greatest downfall. The combination of having emotions too close to the surface and a quick reaction time is often disastrous. But I want to be better, and I suspect (I would hope, anyway) others would be on board with this. How can we on one hand use our words to show praise and thanksgiving to God, and then turn around and use them to tear an individual down? 

God's word diagnoses the human heart most succinctly. It may be uncomfortable to honestly evaluate whether or not we are guilty of these things. But it is necessary. I have been on the receiving end of cruel, careless remarks, and I've given them to others. No, these things ought not to be.