- The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 18 focuses on James 4:6-17.
Between last week’s text and James 4:6-17 is a small but powerful discussion on wisdom. Christian maturity shown through good speech also reflects a mature use of God-given wisdom, and this connects well to submission to God.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). If humility comes from wisdom, could submission come from humility? Consider how wisdom itself leads to the commitment of a person to following God’s will.
For us to learn to submit to God and to be wise, we have to listen to God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). As your group prepares to read the first text, ask them to share about how they practice listening to God.
Through Humility (James 4:6-10)
According to James 4:1-5, there is a lot that stands in our way, from evil on the outside to evil on the inside. When left to our own flesh, we are left to argue with ourselves, which is why God “gives us more grace” so we can submit ourselves to God’s way. Why does James emphasize that we need “more” grace?
The truth is we need more than enough fuel to follow God and resist evil. This is a difficult challenge, and it is an everyday challenge. The stakes are high. The cost is simple. So, the author gives us several short sentences of instruction in these verses, which lead to humility’s theme.
What do you make of these cause-and-effect phrases? Especially, look at verse 8 and how our coming near to God triggers God coming nearer to us. Compare verse 8 to verse 10. How do “coming near” and “humbling” relate to one another? All of this is to point us down life’s path with God as our closest companion.
Through Grace (James 4:11-12)
Jesus in his “Sermon on the Mount” gave a clear teaching on judgment; consider reading Matthew 7:1-6, and compare it to these verses. There is a clear difference between making a judgment about someone and casting judgment on someone. The latter is when we cross over the boundary into God’s realm as righteous judge.
Think about how verse 6 reminded us that God gave us more than enough grace. If God, the righteous judge, gave us more than enough grace, should we not also do the same for others? When we humble ourselves, we see our own “logs” more than we see the “specks” of others. So, being humble before God helps us to be givers of grace instead of passers of judgment.
Through Submission (James 4:13-16)
If you thought verses 11-12 were direct, get ready for verses 13-16, because James is going to be abrupt and piercing. Ask your group to share about how they violate verse 13. Even though we may not mean that we are able to guarantee today or tomorrow, the truth is we do take them for granted. Instead, we should submit to God’s will and plan.
Jim Samra made this statement in James-like fashion: “Stop boasting about the future, and submit your plans to God since you cannot control your own life” (Jim Samra, James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude, 63). This ties together everything we have spoken about so far: following God means giving one’s life to God to live one’s life with God.
Through Obedience (James 4:17)
Pause at this statement for a while. Ask your group to sit quietly and ponder what this means to them. What is a sin you have already done today that you knew you should not have done? How does this point to your level of obedience to God?
Perhaps one of the things James is trying to point out is that we naturally fail at all of these things. Obedience is not natural to us because our flesh nature is chaotic. It takes true commitment to God to even consider obedience to God. If this is true, why is being obedient to God worth the work?
Wisdom. Humility. Grace. Submission. Obedience. Is it possible to live these out well altogether? These all seem like “uphill struggles” that take much more effort than living the opposite of these. Our nature is the opposite of these, which is why becoming more and more like God takes commitment and hard work.
One hymn put it this way: “Come, all Christians, be committed to the service of the Lord; make your lives for him more fitted, tune your hearts with one accord. Come into his courts with gladness, each his sacred vows renew, turn away from sin and sadness, be transformed with life anew” (Eva Brown Lloyd, “Come, All Christians, Be Committed”).
A friend of mine from church recently described James as living life with “real shoe leather.” Following God and living for him cannot be fake or imitation leather; it has to be real. And like leather, it is a worn out but worthwhile life. Like the leather, we must submit to the Maker.
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.