By Shawn McMullen
James ends the third chapter of his letter on a positive note: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (v. 18). However, he begins chapter four with a different tone: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (v. 1).
Recognizing the lack of chapter and verse divisions in the original Greek manuscripts, it seems James is saying, “Instead of pursuing peace and righteousness, you’ve descended into conflict and turmoil.” In other words, “Your actions are the very antithesis of my instructions.”
Have you ever felt this way about your church? Does it seem like the very people who should be promoting peace are creating conflict? That righteousness has given way to worldliness? James shows us that such inconsistencies are as old as the New Testament church, and that they call for a radical response.
What’s the solution? “Submit yourselves, then, to God” James says. This is the first of 10 commands in this passage, each designed to call God’s people from worldliness to righteousness. In the original Greek text, each of the 10 commands appears in the aorist imperative tense. One writer describes it as “a pointed and forceful way to demand action.” Aorist imperative verbs should be read as strong and urgent commands.
So with a deep sense of urgency, James commands his readers—and us—to draw near to God and live in ways that honor him.
Submit to God. This is the starting point. As the apostle Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) and, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). With that perspective, we give our lives completely over to God to use as he pleases, wanting only to bring him the glory he deserves.
Resist the devil. Perhaps we fear Satan too much. While he may be crafty and influential, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). When you resist him in the power of the indwelling Spirit, “he will flee from you.”
Come near to God. Other translations say, “Draw near to God.” We draw near to God when we spend time in his Word and in prayer, gaining the perspective we need to make the necessary changes in our lives. When we do, he draws near to us.
Wash your hands. Cleanse your actions. Live pure and righteous lives.
Purify your hearts. Cleanse your thoughts and your motives. With the Spirit’s help, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Grieve, mourn, wail, and change. These four commands call us to genuine repentance. We must see our sin in the light of God’s holiness and turn away from it, never to go back.
Humble yourselves. When we draw near to God in a spirit of submission, he will lift us up in due time.