- Submission to God.
- Fighting the devil.
- Going to God.
- Brokenness before God.
- Personal initiation to be humble.
Well, good morning, Saylorville. We are so glad you’re here! When I got here this morning, I wanted to say, ‘Would all 14 of you please move to the center here?’ This is one of those cold days where only the old and decrepit can make it out to church. That’s not what Paul told me a little earlier. Paul told me it’s so cold out there, the politicians have their hands in their own pockets. (laughter) He didn’t make that up. We do want to greet all of you and those of you watching online. We had almost 1700 people watching online in the last service and we have hundreds more that are watching online. We welcome you and those of you that are visiting because your church wasn’t running today and it makes sense. I mean, if you’re watching from Florida, you should know that it was like 18 below zero when I got up this morning! And I don’t think it’s much warmer now. That makes for humbling circumstances preaching to a smaller group, but I expect you to be sort of reactionary today. I’m going to need all the encouragement I can get! That’s what we’re talking about. Randy, over there, keep it up, all right?
But speaking of humbling, that is the subject of our message today. We’re in James chapter 4. If you’d open your Bibles there, we’re going to pick it up where we left off.
I once had a friend who in reply to the challenge, ‘You should humble yourself,’ said something like this to me, he said, ‘Define humble.’ I mean, just the very fact that you would ask that question, means you’re not very humble. I wanna say right out of the shoot that real humility is not just the avenue of grace. It’s the byproduct of grace, and I think that this passage that we’re looking at today will affirm that. Where we left off, if you were with us last week, was the very end of verse six where we’re told,
James 4:6, ”…God opposes the proud, but gives grace to (what?) to the humble.”
And this is not a new thought. James isn’t introducing a new thought. In fact, Peter in 1Peter 5:5b says almost… identically what James says, but it’s not a new thought because Solomon, 1,000 years earlier, said it in Proverbs chapter 3:34 [“Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.] This is a little thought I want you to grasp about real humility. Real humility never makes demands. It never negotiates, and it won’t resist God given authority, and you can judge yourself by that. Overlay that over what happens when you’re confronted in your sin, when you’re confronted in your stubbornness, when you’re confronted in your pride and ask yourself the question, ‘Do you start making demands, do you negotiate, do you resist the authorities that God has placed in your life?’ Real humility never makes demands, never negotiates and it won’t resist God given authority.
Now some of you might be wondering why I have to modify the word “humility.” Why are you calling it “real humility?” Why don’t you just call it what it is, humility? And I did that on purpose, because in our psychologically driven culture that we live in, fake humility is just as real and harder to detect. I mean books and seminars on leadership are often given that make humility a strategy rather than a character trait that you should actually possess from the inside. But let’s look at the text and I want you to note that James is going to bracket the subject of humility with what I’m going to call the guts of humility because we’re going to spend most of our time with the guts, the internal, what humility looks like. But James chapter four, beginning at the end of verse six, (that’s kind of where we left off last time,) where it says
James 4:6-10, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (There’s the first book end.) “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (And here’s the other part of the bookend.) “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
So if you’ll notice that James has bracketed the guts of this section with the subject of humility at the end of verse 6 and 10. So if you… just take those verses out, this is what you have for the brackets.
James 4:6b“…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
I say that because in between that is where we’re going to be focusing this morning. So, James 4:7-9 are the guts, the expressions, (okay?) the inward and the outward demonstrations of real humility.
When I read the Old Testament, I often envision expressive, emotive, explosive even praise when the Jewish people praise. They know how to praise! I mean, you look at the very last Psalm. He goes,
Psalm 150:3-5, ”Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!“
Have you ever read that? That doesn’t sound like a real subtle praise service. But I also envision when real repentance is taking place, I also envision expressive, emotive, explosive humility that occurs in those times; people ripping their clothes, pulling their hair out, throwing ashes up in the air… They’re just very demonstrative!
On the other hand, the prophets of the Old Testament weren’t dummies. They understood that outward actions did not always reflect the internal condition of the heart. There were fakes out there, like the ones… remember the religious leaders that confronted Jesus at His trial before they crucified Him? They said,
Matthew 26:63b, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Remember that? He basically said, ‘Yeah, I am,’ and they… they tore their garments. Remember that? It wasn’t real. That wasn’t real humility. And even the great prophet Joel said,
[Joel 2:13,] ”Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God.”
Now that’s what real humility looks like. So we’re going to take some time here in [James 4] verses 7-9 to look at the guts of real humility. What does real humility look like? It comes right out of the text. There are about ten commands, but I’m going to sort of squish them into five points here, if I may. The first one is submission to God, pretty simple. Submit yourselves, therefore to God, verse 7. James comes out swinging with our favorite word in the English vocabulary… Submit. Don’t you just love that word? It’s a military term. It means “to rank under.” So you guys that are involved in the armed forces, you know what it means to rank under. It literally means “to arrange yourself underneath.” That’s the idea of this word. And more important than the meaning of the word itself is the fact that it’s in the passive voice which means that you are voluntarily submitting yourself to God. It’s not being forced on you. Has anybody ever been forced to submit if you’re in the military go like this. Well, you’d like to say, ‘Oh yeah, well, I’m happy to submit.’ You’re not always happy, but you submit, right? That’s the idea in this word. This is a glad submission, not a sad submission. We’ve all seen people who have submitted, but you just realize they’re just doing this, they’re gritting their teeth the whole time, right? That’s not the idea here. And so how do we do this? To submit yourselves, therefore to God, is sort of the very first in the guts of humility. And this is a daily thing.
So for instance, when I spend time with God each morning, and no matter how much time, whether it’s a lot of time or a little time, I usually spend about an hour, give or take. When I’m done, I usually take my Bible and I push it aside and I just sit there before God. I don’t even necessarily have a prayer. I just sit there and submit myself to God the best I know how. ‘Lord, I know you’re in charge. I’m not in charge. You’re in control. I’m not in control. I have a plan. I’m giving it to you. I’m submitting myself to you.’ That’s the idea here in submitting yourselves to God. All right? So submission to God first and foremost.
Secondly, by fighting the devil. What does the guts of humility look like? It means submission to God. It means fighting the devil. Notice what it says in the very next line,
James 4:7b, “Resist the devil…”
The word “resist” is also a military term, by the way, and it carries the idea of stiff-harming, opposing, resisting with great strength. It calls to mind
Ephesians 6:11-12 where the Apostle Paul says, ‘We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the spiritual host of wickedness in heavenly places. So put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wilds of the devil.’
That’s the idea here. And this is… listen, this is more than just “Get behind me Satan!” Okay? This isn’t just, ‘Oh, when the devil comes after me, I just say, ‘Get behind me.’ That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! Don’t do that! Well, you can do that. It’s not wrong to do that. But there’s so much more to resisting the devil. And the point here is this is an onward going thing. This isn’t a ‘one and done’ deal. You say, ‘Well, I fought with the devil back, you know, when I was 25, you know. I whipped him!’ That’s the second dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! Okay?
I was thinking about this a little bit, about resisting the devil, and all of those, and I don’t know, the Lord brought to my mind a Siberian Husky that I had when I was first married. I was young, we had this Siberian Husky. He was so spirited, we put up a wooden fence all around the backyard. It had pointy picket like, so… man, if he ever tried to jump over, he’d get impaled! But that dog did everything it could to get over… especially when my brother-in-law would show up. My brother-in-law, every time he showed up, he’d take that dog out to the woods and go run. So that dog knew his car. So as soon as my brother-in-law drove up, he just went insanely crazy. Jumping up and down. I seriously thought he was gonna jump the fence! He didn’t, thankfully, because the fence did its job. It held him in! However, if the door to that fence was ever opened, even a crack, it didn’t take much. That dog was gone, and it was quite an ordeal trying to get him back.
And so I was thinking about this ’cause our sinful desires, your sinful desires, my sinful desires, are a little bit like my Husky. They’re alive. Can I get an ‘amen?’ They’re energetic. They’re ready to jump that God-given fence given the opportunity! But here’s the good news… They can’t. Not when the fence of Holy Spirit empowered self-control, (Galatians 5) is up and working. Those desires can’t jump that fence. But you open that door and that dog’s gonna get out, even a crack, because it’ll be energized by Satan to get out. But here’s the difference. The devil isn’t the dog trying to get out. He’s the dog trying to get in. The fence is your submission, your arranging under, your ranking yourself under your submission to God. You open the door though to Satan, (watch this) when you quit fighting. That’s when you open it up. He’s telling us to resist the devil here. When you do, he flees, right? So this is not a fight that is a ‘one and done’ deal.
Remember when Jesus was tempted 40 days in the wilderness? Remember that? The devil comes, tempts Him and He withstands Him. He resists him, and the Bible says he went away never to return. Amen? I’m glad I didn’t hear any ‘amens,’ because Luke chapter 4 verse 13 says he did leave, but waited for an opportune time to return.
[Luke 4:13, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”]
And that’s the way it is in our life. If you want to understand the guts of humility, the guts of humility is not just submission to God, but the ongoing resistance to evil. That’s why we’re told when we pray, you should pray, “…deliver us from evil.” “Keep me from temptation.” [Matthew 6:13] These are daily things we should be putting before God in our effort to live a humble life, real humble life.
Thirdly, the guts of humility involves going to God. This is beautiful!
James 4:8, “Draw near to God…”
What a beautiful thought. But notice, it’s a command. Stop waiting for God to come to you! Go to Him! We know that God initiate salvation, but this passage is all about our initiation and, even more beautiful, when we draw near to God, (Look at what the rest of the verse says) it says, He does the same. He comes to us. This is beautifully pictured in the parable of the Prodigal Son, isn’t it? Remember what happens? The Prodigal Son runs out, wastes his entire life, comes to the end of himself, in the pigsty, has a conversation with himself, says, “You know what I’ll do? I’ll go back and say, ‘Father, you know what? I’m not worthy to be called your son. Just make me like one of your servants, you know?” And so he does. He goes back to his father, and as he draws near to his father, his father, (what?) comes near to him! He runs to him! And this is what happens. This is the command. It’s beautifully illustrated. “Draw near to God,” and you can do that and should do that every single… there’s not one day that you can afford to not draw near to God!
I got a good friend, (He’s in this room, but I’m not gonna embarrass him.) and he told me recently that sometimes they’ll go several days without reading and then they’ll read for like two or three hours. And we had a great conversation about that. Am I glad they read the Bible for two or three hours? Of course, but I asked him if he ate every day. ‘Well, yeah, of course.’ “Well, why don’t you go like five or six days without eating and then just eat for five or three or four hours?” Well, he got the point, and it was a great conversation. But here it is, we must draw near to God regularly. And that’s how we’ll stay really humble.
By the way, if it’s real humility, not only will God be drawn to you, others will as well. Others will be drawn to you.
I’m speaking at a counseling conference soon, and the theme is “Counseling with Humble Confidence.” And I’m going to share with them, ‘Your degree might be your calling card, but your humility is your drawing card.’ You want others to be drawn to you, and some of you just long to be liked. And if you’re not, it may have something to do with your humility or lack thereof. Draw near to God. He’ll draw near to you. Others will too. It’s the humble thing to do.
Fourthly, the fourth part of the guts of humility is brokenness before God. And there’s a lot of commands here. But this is where James really starts coming down. He pummels, and I read it that way. Remember,
James 4:8b, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.“
“Clean your hands…” that’s external. “Purify your hearts…” that’s internal. But then notice… “…you sinners, you double-minded.” The word double-minded means “two-souled.” Remember James… started off in his fourth chapter by saying that “friendship with the world is” (what?) “enmity with God.” [James 4:4b] You make yourself a friend of the world, you’re an enemy of God. He’s talking to those who have the proverbial one foot in the world, the other foot… in the realm of spirituality, and you’re a mess! You’re an absolute mess! We have to live in this world, and we have all the temptations from outside coming up on us in this world, but we don’t have to succumb to this world. If you are broken before God, God will fix… (What’s the old line?) God will take the broken Christian as long as he has all the pieces. “Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
By the way, thus far…we have assumed that he’s been preaching to Christians, these Messianic Jews. But John MacArthur has pointed out that if that’s true, then this is the only time in all of the New Testament where the designation “sinners” is given to born again Christians, which has led him to think that at this point, James is saying, ‘No, he’s talking to those who are lost. He’s talking to you who are so stuck in the world you never got out of it to begin with! You need to cleanse your hands, you sinners. You need to purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Just the other day I talked with a friend of mine who was working with a guy who has made multiple decisions over the years. He comes in, falls apart. Comes in, falls apart. Comes in, falls apart. Goes away for eons of time, and then shows up again. He showed up again recently and said, ‘Help me out, I’m really a mess. My life’s a mess. I’ll do this, I’ll do that.’ They set up a time to get together… no show!
That’s the person that James is talking to. And if that’s you… you’ve made lots of commitments and you don’t follow through, it’s probably because you’re not a Christian. You’ve never really repented, You’ve never experienced the real humility that requires brokenness before God. Look what he says in verse nine.
James 4:9, “Be wretched.” (The word means “to be wrecked,”) “Be wrecked and mourn and weep.” (That’s right out of the Prophet Joel’s words, [Joel 2:12]) “Let your laughter be turned to mourning.”
Look, James isn’t telling you to be a prude. I’m not a prude. I love a good sense of humor. I love a good joke. I wish I was better at telling them. But I have to admit, I have laughed at jokes I should never have laughed at. James isn’t attacking your sense of humor. He’s attacking your sense of seriousness when it comes to coming before the living God.
James 4:9b, “Let your joy be turned to gloom.”
This is really a powerful word. This word “gloom,” it’s the only time it’s ever used in the Bible. It literally means “have your eyes cast downward.” As soon as I saw this, I thought of something that happened to us when we were in the Czech Republic where my wife’s brother is a missionary. Many years ago, we were in Prague, a beautiful city, and I came to find out this is very typical of beggars in Prague. If you’re a beggar in the city of Prague, you don’t come with … hat in hand… asking for money. Every beggar in Prague,… is on their knees with they’re head down, and they don’t even look up. When you put money in their hat, they’ll just go like this and say, “Dekuji,” that’s the Czech word for “thank you.” They won’t even look at you. And that’s exactly what James is saying. And by the way, isn’t this what Jesus told us in
Luke’s gospel, [Luke 18:13] when he talked about the two people in the parable? The two went to the temple, a Pharisee, bragging about all that he’s done, then you got the tax collector, he’s beating his chest, (he won’t even look up) and he says “God, be merciful to me. I’m broken. I’m a sinner.” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” [Matthew 5:4] You see the word “mourn” there? The irony is, it’s only when we mourn over our sin that we find joy in the Lord.
Spurgeon said, “A dry-eyed faith will never see the kingdom of God.”
Have you been broken?
One more on the guts of humility. It’s the personal initiation to be humble. Please look at it. It’s the last verse.
James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Humble what? Yourselves.
I wrote a book a year ago that was predicated on what one does after they’ve been humiliated, after they’ve screwed up, after they’ve bungled something, after they’ve sin. But James’ point here is that we address the matter when it’s still in our hands. Humble yourselves before you have to get called out. Now if you have to get called out, you have to get called out. But if God shows you your pride, your resistance, your stiff arming of Him, you’re giving in to the devil. You’re stepping in to worldliness when He shows this to you and you humble yourself! God… then… picks… you… up! It’s a beautiful thing! Humble yourself before the Lord. This is where true humility needs to begin before the face of God. And again, this can start every morning before the living God. You spend time with God. Again, I know the exercise I have is very simple. I just put it all aside and I just sit there. You wanna get on your knees, get on your knees. I don’t care. So I just sit there and envision myself before God, “…And he will exalt you,” which by the way, lines up with what James’ half brother said, right? Remember what he said in
Luke 18:14, “He who exalts himself will be humbled. The one who humbles himself, (what?) is exalted.”
And by the way, the word humble (this is where we’ll wrap it up) literally means, (I love this!) it literally means “to make low.” That’s what it means. It means to make low. But to make low, you have to get low… from your heart.
Anybody ever heard of a movie called Get Low? It came out about 14 years ago. Robert Duvall was the star of the movie. It’s actually based on a true story. In 1938, in a little Baptist church in Newport, Tennessee, they conducted a funeral for a guy whose nickname was “Bush.” The uniqueness of the funeral, Bush was still alive. Literally, he came, he straggled into town, He was bearded, disheveled… went into the church and he said, “You know I’ve been thinking about my life and it’s time for me to get low.” What he meant by that is I need to plan for my death. And plan he did. He planned a funeral while he was alive. ‘I want to have the funeral while I’m alive with a eulogy and everything.’ This is 1938. This thing got major legs to it! The AP took it up, the United Press took it up, Life magazine did an article on it. He was interviewed on radio stations. Radio was like television, for all intents and purposes. It didn’t even exist. Eight to 12,000 people showed up for the funeral… and he was alive! He died about five years later, but what an idea to get low before you go! What a novel idea.
After all, isn’t that what Jesus did? He got low… by going!
2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
That’s what the Bible says.
‘And He, being in the form of God, did not think of it as something that he needed to grasp’
[Philippians 2:5b-6, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…] because he already was God, made Himself of no reputation. Got low. Is it any wonder that that same passage in
Philippians 2:9 says, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, things in heaven, things on earth, things under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The principal has never changed! The way up is down. It always has been. Learn to get low. Have you gotten low?
Some of you watching online, you’ve never gotten low. Some of you in this room, you’ve never gotten low, and your life is still a confusing mess. The guts of humility demands that each of us get low, and when we do get low, God lifts us up.
Will you pray with me?
Our Father in heaven, thank you for this great passage of Scripture, for this great practitioner of truth, James, how you led this half-brother of Yours, Lord Jesus, to write this powerful book. And remind us what real humility looks like, not just an avenue of grace. It’s the very byproduct of it, a humble life. Not one that’s making demands or negotiating whether we should obey or not, coming under the authorities you’ve granted to us. God, I pray that we would experience the guts of real humility, genuine submission to you, ongoing resistance to the evil one who wants to trip us up. He can’t take our salvation away, those of us who know Jesus, but he can make life miserable if we don’t resist him. Help us, Lord, to come draw near to you, knowing you’ll do the same toward us. Be broken. Some of us here just need to be broken Lord. They’ve never been broken. We’ve been reminded from the great man of God’s, Spurgeon himself, that ‘a dry-eyed faith will never see the kingdom of God.’ And by the way, dear friend, if that’s you, would you just humble yourself now in the sight of God? Acknowledge your sin and believe that Jesus died for you. Ask Him really and from your heart, out of your brokenness, to forgive you of your sins and be your Savior. And God, for those of us who do know you, that we would take the initiative to humble ourselves, lest we be humbled. Either way, Lord, help us to be humble people… real humility… getting low… knowing that when we do, just as You did for Your Son, Jesus, You’ll lift us up too. We pray all these things in His name. And all the God’s people said, “Amen.” Let’s stand. [Music]