James: Letter to the Faithful - Week 4 "Pride Goeth Before..."


Let's say you are driving down the road in your car, listening to Steely Dan and singing passionately about how "Ricky" better not "lose that number," when suddenly you hit a pothole and lose control of your ability to steer.  As a result of this, you discover that Jesus has not taken the wheel, and that it is now spinning wildly in your hands as you careen headlong toward a minivan full of nuns.  

Here's a question for you... 

Is the ensuing accident your fault?  Removing the obvious mortal sin of listening to and enjoying Steely Dan---most people would tend to say, "Absolutely not!  It was the pothole's fault."  And by extension, then we would go on to blame the municipality that allowed said pothole to exist.  

And we would be wrong.  The accident would still be your fault.  Your insurance would increase, you would get the ticket, you would be to blame.  In most states, it is your duty to report potholes when you see them, and it is the municipality's duty to fix them in a reasonable amount of time after they've been informed or are aware. 

But it's still your fault.  As it turns out, potholes are among the leading causes of accidents in the United States...  

Since I knew that I was going to be preaching on pride, I was thinking this week about how pride is like a pothole.  You never know the effects of a pothole until you hit one.  Sometimes the effects can be minor, just a bump in the road.  Sometimes the effects can wreck your world.  And most of us seem to have the mistaken notion that the potholes we hit in life have nothing to do with us, or our pride, and everything to do with the pothole.  

Pride is sneaky.  It starts out like a little crack in the pavement, but over time it grows and grows until it's too deep and wide to avoid when you're barreling down the road of life.  

I've had my fair share of moments when I hit some pride potholes. 

One incident comes to mind---when I was a youth director of a very large church in Chicago.  I took my volunteers and staff of about 10-12 leaders to a youth workers convention in Atlanta.  Our church had resources to pay for everyone to go.  We had roughly three hundred students in our ministry, and I was the leader of one of the largest youth ministries in the city.  

And I wore a cool cowboy hat.  

Yes, I was that youth leader.  At the time of this convention, I had also been working out pretty well, and thought that I was rather buff.  So I had my cool cowboy hat, I had some hip religious t-shirt that was a size too small so I could show off my guns and I thought I had arrived.  

After one of the sessions in the conference we were heading back to the hotel and I said that I needed to make a pit stop in the--and I quote--"little youth pastors room."  My team waited outside as I went into the restroom.  I thought the restroom was a little strangely designed when I went in, but there was some urgency to my visit, so I chose a stall and went inside.  It dawned on me as I sat there that I had indeed gone into the women's bathroom.  

I sat there praying that no one would come into the restroom.  God, as it turns out chose not to hear that prayer.  The door opened and several women came in, chatting to one another.  I gathered myself and decided the only thing to do was to leave with style.  I opened the door to the stall and stood there in front of a room full of women.  Then I tipped my cool cowboy hat to them, and said, "Ma'am" and went out the door... 

Where my entire team sat waiting for me to emerge, upon which they screamed in laughter, pointed, stared and made a spectacle of me---as well they should have.  

The Bible tells us that "Pride goes before a fall..."  I agree.  Pride is a pothole--a pothole that goes before a fall or a wreck... or a mistaken trip into the ladies' restroom.  

Here's what I want you to remember as we journey through our study of James chapter 4 today:  

Pride is the pothole that causes almost every accident on the road of life.  

Let's read James 4:1-12: 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James starts things off with some battle imagery.  There is a sense throughout the text that he's addressing people of "lower" rank--encouraging them to stand and fight for what is right.  But he's also speaking to those of "higher" rank, urging them not to think so highly of themselves if they don't want to be seen as an "enemy" 

I remember years ago reading about General John Sedgwick, of the Union army in the Civil War.  He was inspecting his troops and stood upon a bulwark of the defenses they'd erected to address them.  Some of the men urged him to get down.  "Nonsense!" he shot back at them, "You couldn't shoot an elephant from that dist---" at that moment a Confederate musket ball went right through his head. 

Sometimes it pays to be an enlisted man...  

4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

James is making a sharp contrast here between "highs" and "lows" between earthly wisdom that is false wisdom and true wisdom that comes from God.  As we've learned in earlier sermons about James--he is very concerned with his readers understanding the difference between the colorless reality of the "world" and the colorful reality of the "kingdom" of God.  In other words, when you choose wisely, when you lean toward true wisdom, when you are a friend of God as opposed to being a friend of the world---you will have an incredible life.  

The word that James uses here for a "proud" person is huperephanos which means "the one who shows himself above other people. 

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.

This is a choice between allegiances/a choice between worlds.  Your choice demonstrates your allegiance, your friendship.  And in the Greek mindset, "friendship" meant that you have the same mind as whatever/whoever you are friends with...  

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[d] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

I love how James just throws all kinds of warnings to the proud in at the last bit of this passage.  

Essentially this whole passage comes down to this:  Pride in your own accomplishments, your own effort, your own acquisition---all of that comes from the wisdom of the world and God actively resists that kind of wisdom. He pushes it away.  But humility, submission, lowliness, truth, goodness--all of which comes from true wisdom of the kingdom brings a life full of the gifts of God. Not the least of which is an incredible measure of his grace. 

I've been working on my Joel Osteenisms lately.  An Osteenism is when you say something that may or may not be profound--and may or may not be entirely from Scripture, but you make it rhyme, so it sounds awesome... and you sell a million books.    

So here goes:  If you're proud and arrogant, God resists; If you're lowly and humble God assists.  

Booyakisha. 

Actually, this is the pattern James is establishing:  If you are "high" you will be brought "low," if/when you are low, you will be brought high.  The proud and arrogant will be humbled.  Those who submit to humility and lowliness will be lifted up.  High/Low/Low/High.  This is an important pattern for us to remember when we think ab out the way pride works.  

The kind of pride we are talking about isn't the good kind of pride that you feel at the accomplishments of your children or grandchildren, when you see the American flag raised at the Olympics, when someone you love does something awesome...  That's pride that is focused outwardly. 

The kind of pride I'm talking about--pothole pride--is grounded in something far more insidious.  Our culture, our earthly reality is the source of the kind of pride that causes potholes.  In our culture your identity is found in what can be acquired or obtained.  To have more is to be more real--to have more power, more money, more youth, more stuff, more ability...  

But in God's kingdom in the heavenly reality that James is pleading with us to embrace--your identity is found in what you let go of in order to receive the Spirit.  And here's the really awesome part about this----people get this.  Despite the way our culture tries desperately to tell us otherwise--we all get this.  

And I know this because of the ice-bucket challenge.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you couldn't help but see video, read stories, or see a million facebook entries showing people participating in the icebucket challenge to raise awareness and money to find a cure for ALS, Lou Gherig's disease.  

The icebucket challenge is simply this.  You take a bucket full of icewater and you dump it on your head, while the cameras are rolling.  In the video you call out several friends who you challenge to take the icebucket challenge or if they don't want to dump ice on their head, they can write a check for $100 to fight ALS.  Even if you dump icewater on your head, you still have to donate money. Millions of people have done this.  Celebrities included.  Athletes, movie stars, and even politicians---George W. Bush took the challenge, and former first lady Laura dumped the water.  He then in turn called out Bill Clinton.  

Why is this so compelling?  

I think it has something to do with the fact that people are willing to do something humiliating in order to do good.  Glamorous stars appear without makeup in their workout clothes--and then are seen screaming when cold water hits them.  A former president of the United States is willing to be un-presidential...  

They become less, and in so doing accomplish so much more.  Donations to ALS research are up 1000%  Millions of people who had no idea about the disease are now becoming informed.  

This speaks to us--because it resonates with something deep inside of us:  The desire to embrace a different reality than the one we've been sold by "this world." 

Jesus taught his disciples, "In the kingdom of God, the first shall be last and the last shall be first."  

God doesn't want your life to be defined by what you can do--what you can accomplish--but by what God has done for you through Jesus.  

God will push back against the kind of pride that acquires, grasps, lusts and envies...  But he will shower grace upon those who give up their life in order to find it.  

The choice in the end is up to you.  You can embrace the wisdom of this world or the truth of the kingdom.  One road is full of potholes, the other is not.  One road will lead you to wreck and ruin, the other will lead you to unbelievable life.

And when all is said and done, we truly know the difference know the difference.  

It's time to start giving away the "high" acquisitions of this world in exchange for the "lowly" grace and peace of God's kingdom.  It's time to start filling in the holes of our pride with the abundant life we find in Jesus.

Because pride is the pothole that causes almost every accident on the road of life. 

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