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Pride Promotes Strife

James 4:1-10

by
Alex McPherson

Pride promotes strife with God, strife with others, and strife within. The inspired words of Solomon sum up the subject of this sermon well, "He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife" Proverbs 28:25.  Pride is one of our biggest problems. Humility then, as it is the solution to pride, is what we need to develop. The text can be divided into two halves: 1) Pride (James 4:1-5), 2) Humility (James 4:6-10).

Verse one.  Pride involves lustfulness.  War is a current topic in today's world.  Why do we have wars?  We are told that wars among brethren come from lusts that war in our members.  Most contentions among brethren involve pride. A proud person will not admit error or be willing to repent.  False teachers cause division and strife often because of a proud lust for popularity, attention, personal gain, or freedom to commit evil.  James uses many military sounding terms in our text. Guy N. Woods, in his comments on this verse said: In this impressive passage, the writer represents pleasures as soldiers spread out among the members of the body, and using them as instruments to accomplish their ends. Often the individual is the seat of such conflict, and finds himself a battleground of conflict. [1].  In these first five verses of James chapter four, words associated with lust are prominent "lusts", "lust", "desire", "lusteth". Fleshly lusts "war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11). Sometimes we war within ourselves, with the temptation to do wrong and the desire to do right. Paul describes this " inner battle well, "For the good that I would I do not but the evil that I would not, that I do" (Romans 7:19, cf. 23). And so, in this first verse of chapter four, we see strife with others resulting from strife within.

Verse two.  Pride involves covetousness. Many are not content with that with which the Lord has blessed them, and seek to obtain what others have. Two kings could be used as examples, Ahab and David. Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard and David coveted Uriah's wife. Both were prepared even to kill to satisfy their lusts.  Instead of lusting after what others have we should pray that we receive those things that God wants for us. If we do not pray then we should not expect to receive (Matthew 7:7). Jesus exhorts us to go to the trouble of asking (Luke 11:8-13). Tradition has it that James went to the sanctuary to kneel in prayer so constantly, that his knees became rough and worn like a camel's.

Verse three.  Pride involves selfishness. But even if we do pray, we can pray with wrong selfish motives. Dave Miller says: Pride is the attribute of thinking highly of self (Romans 12:3). Pride is self-centeredness. It is approaching life from the perspective of personal desire - what do I want? What will make me happy? What will bolster my status? What will enhance my condition? Selfishness is the essence of pride. [2]  A proud person is always looking out for number one, self God knows if we are praying for something so that we can consume it upon our lusts. In other words we want things for ourselves and not for the Lord's purposes. David Roper remarks:  The purpose of prayer is not so much to get our will done in heaven as it is to get God's will done on earth. [3]  How often we forget to pray like Christ, seeking the will of the Father and the good of others, and simply focus on ourselves.

Verse four.  Pride involves worldliness. When we are worldly, we in fact commit spiritual adultery, and become an enemy to God. The things that are in the world such as the pride of life (1 John 2: 15-17) will draw us away from the Father. When we become unequally yoked with the world then our spiritual lives will suffer (2 Corinthians 6: 14-18). It is a worldly carnal attitude that causes strife and division (1 Corinthians 3:3; James 3:14-16).  As already noted, the proud person thinks too much of himself, and not enough of God and others. Again David Roper says:  All that is necessary to become a worldly person is to elevate SELF.[4]  Roper also remarks:  James places the world on one side and God on the other. The two are diametrically opposed. You cannot love them both. Satan does not mind a divided loyalty, but God does (Matthew 6:24)! [5]  Guy N. Woods declares:  While it is impossible to probe the hearts of others and to know the innermost motives which influence them, it is nevertheless true that the friends of the world are easily recognized by their disposition and acts. One is an obvious lover of the world who finds greater delight in the association of worldly people than with those who are followers of Christ; who experiences greater pleasure in frequenting those places that are sinful and secular, rather than the assemblies of the saints; and, who promotes those things which are of the world in lavish fashion, while giving a bare pittance of his means into the service of the Lord. [6]  "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5), or in the world. Demas "loved this present world" (2 Timothy 4:10). "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world...the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (1 John 2: 15, 17).

Verse five.  Pride involves enviousness. Not only have we seen covetousness, a desire for what another has, but envy, which is defined as "the feeling of discontent and ill-will caused by another's good fortune, wealth, success, advantages, etc. "[7] Because of pride, we do not want to see someone elevated in any way; we cannot rejoice in another's success; we seek to bring others down. This envying will often cause strife and division in the Church, and is again the result of worldliness (James 3:14-18).  In this verse we see again the inner battle taking place. This does not appear to be a direct quote from Scripture but simply the general teaching of the Bible. For instance we may say, "The Bible says that we should not smoke." This states the overall truth of the Scriptures concerning this subject. The spirit within lusteth to envy and to do evil (James 1:14), but God gives us the strength to overcome (1 Corinthians 10:13). God wants the spirit within to be poor and contrite (Matthew 5:3; Psalm 51:19), not proud and envious. 

Verse six.  Humility involves blessedness. Truly the greatest of all blessings is a freedom from sin, a perfect blessedness to the Christian covered by the grace of God. In Romans 6:6-8, Paul quotes David, describing this blessed state:  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Sometimes we may try to get too much money out of our account at the bank and the machine will tell us there are insufficient funds for our request. God's grace however, is all-sufficient to those requesting to draw on such in humility and truth. "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). But if we are proud and wilfully sin then we will find "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26). We see again that pride puts us at odds with God - "God resisteth the proud." Again military wording is used:  "Resisteth" is from antitasso, a military term which means to set in battle array; and, "proud," from the preposition huper, and the verb phainomai, literally to show oneself above others...God is against those who conceitedly show themselves above others. God accepts the challenge and arrays himself in battle against them. [8] Notice the condition that God places on giving grace. We must have humility to receive grace. It is because of pride that many do not believe, repent, confess (John 12:42-42), and are not baptized, or converted (Matthew 18: 1-4). It is because of pride that many fall from the faith (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Verse seven.  Humility involves submissiveness. There are many who refuse to submit, to God, to laws, to authority, to husbands, to parents. These people will always be involved in strife and discontent.  Again militarily speaking: The word "submit" comes from a military term meaning "to stand in rank," to recognize one's rank and act accordingly. [9]  We are to be good soldiers and not involve ourselves in worldly things (2 Timothy 2:3-4).  The devil will appeal to our pride, as he did with Eve, but we must resist. To resist the devil also has a military meaning:  This, too, has a military connotation, and was frequently used of those who placed themselves in battle array against an enemy and held their ground...Man must resist (stand against) Satan, or be taken captive by him. [10]  Woods also comments:  The devil is by no means as brave as he would like to appear to be. In a confrontation by the saints of God, he takes to his heels in flight, and abandons his effort, at least, for the time.[11]  God has given us the appropriate armour to fight the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18). When we lose the battle within, Satan has won.

Verse eight.  Humility involves cleanliness. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is a well known secular saying, and in this case is applicable as in order to draw close to God we must be cleansed. Initially we are cleansed and draw near to God in the waters of baptism (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; cf Hebrews 10:22), and then we must continue to humbly confess our sins so that we may be cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7-9).  David Roper makes a pertinent comment:  We have noticed military tonus in our text. We are not suggesting, however, that there should be the distance between ourselves and God that would normally exist between a private and a five-star general.  Rather there is to be a closeness between ourselves and God.[12]  Those who drew near to God in the Old Testament needed to cleanse their hands. We must do this figuratively and make sure that our heart is pure (Psalm 26:6; 24:3-4).  The heart is the spring of evil: the hands are (figuratively) the instruments by which the purposes of the sinful heart are accomplished. Thus, both the source and the means of sin are to be purged... [13]  We also draw near to God by studying and obeying His Word, prayer and worship. We can draw near to God with full assurance of faith and boldly (Hebrews 10:22; 4:16). God, in fact, is "not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27). To try to draw nigh to God while still trying to draw close to the world and seeking to elevate ourselves will only drag us down. The double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1 :8). Let us not try to have a foot in both camps. Guy N. Woods notes:  It is noteworthy that the more common "brethren," by which James usually addressed his readers, gives way to this sharp term of reproach in this instance. This was doubtless done to impress them with the seriousness of the situation, and to shock them into action to remedy it. It was brought on by their friendship with the world... [14]  And:  The man with two minds is one who prays to God, yet has such a regard for the world that he is disposed to divide his attentions. He would, if he could, love the world, and live with God hereafter. Such is, of course, impossible; but, alas, how very many of us often appear to be trying to accomplish just this! [15]  We are to "come out from among them" and "touch not the unclean thing" (2 Corinthians 6: 17), and "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Verse nine.  Humility involves contriteness. Contrition is "repentance; penitence; sincere sorrow for sin."[16] "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart: and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit" (Psalm 34: 18). God hates pride (Proverbs 6: 17). Many are so proud that they do not want to even admit that they have sins, let alone mourn over them. God will bless those that are poor in spirit and have this proper mourning for sin (Matthew 5:3-4). In contrast, those that laugh at sin will find themselves weeping hereafter (Luke 6:25). The forgiven Christian then, should be the happiest of all men.

Verse ten.  Humility involves selflessness. As opposed to proud selfishness, Christians must be selfless people, denying ourselves (Matthew 16:24). This takes real humility, and of this type of selflessness, Christ was the perfect example (Philippians 2:3-5). The proud, those that seek to exalt themselves, will be abased (Matthew 23:12), but those that humble themselves will be exalted by the Lord. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18), but "by humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honour, and life" (Proverbs 22:4). When we are lifted up with pride we "fall into the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:6).  One poet puts it well:

He that is down needs fear no fall, He that is low, no pride; He that is humble, ever shall Have God to be his guide. [17]

Humility is a noticeable characteristic in those that are approved of God - Abraham (Genesis 13:5-11; Sarah (1 Peter 3:6); Moses (Numbers 12:3); David (Psalm 40:17; 1 Samuel 18:23; 1 Chronicles 17:16); Paul (Eph. 3:8); and the Lord (John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:6-8).  Do not let pride hinder you from obeying the truth (Acts 8:36; Galatians 5:7).

ENDNOTES:

[l] Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on The Epistle of James, Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, Tenn., 1978, p.199-200.  
[2] Dave Miller, Piloting The Strait, Sain Publications, Pulaski, Tenn., 1996, p. 394.
[3] David L. Roper, Practical Christianity Studies in the Book of James, Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, Tenn., 1987, p. 82.
[4] Roper, p. 82
[5] Roper, p. 83.
[6] Woods, p. 212.
[7] A Learner's Dictionary of Current English, General Editor: AS Hornsby, Oxford University Press, London, 1948.
[8] Woods, p. 222.
[9] Roper, p. 86.
[10] Woods, p. 224.
[11] Woods, p. 226.
[12] Roper, p. 87.
[13] Woods, p.231.
[14] Woods, p. 230.
[15] Woods, p. 231.
[16] A Learners Dictionary of Current English, Op. cit.
[17] John Bunyan (1628"1688), The Pilgrim's Progress, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1910, p. 237.

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