Humble Yourselves before the Lord
We live in an age when people want to be uplifted, where a sermon is judged on how good it makes people feel about themselves, where the music is supposed to be upbeat, many “worship services” imitating rock concerts. Churches look not to Scripture but to the culture for how to organize themselves, their worship services, and their buildings, looking to the culture to tell them how to be and do church. The rationale is that it does not matter how we package things as long as the gospel is preached. The fallacy here is that packaging does not impact the message, that the message can be separated from packaging. This is ridiculous! There is some truth in the saying, “The medium is the message.” And any scientist will tell you that the way an experiment is conceived and constructed will have a direct impact on the results of that experiment.
The words of James are in direct opposition to our culture of “feel good” worship and preaching. There is no way that James’ sermon would fly in most evangelical churches today: “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.” What? Be not happy and gay? I sense that James had read the prophets who painstakingly warned the people with coming judgment if they did not change their ways. Oh, there was always the word of forgiveness and grace, but that word was predicated upon the people’s repentance. Where there was no repentance, there was judgment—and in horrific forms including the sword, famine, and death. I suppose living in America makes us foolishly think that we are immune such trials. But let us never forget, it is eternal death that is the real punishment.
James calls for purity and single-mindedness. God will not allow us to have our sins and Him, as well. He comes to save us from our sins, not in them. So, He calls us to take up the cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). But this requires humility, the humility it takes to confess our sins, not in some off-handed way, but with tears and groaning. “But I’ve been saved,” you retort. “My sins are forgiven past, present, and future!” Yes, and such a response though true manifests your lack of seriousness concerning discipleship. “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.” We are to let Him exalt us upon mourning and weeping, not to exalt ourselves with feel-good platitudes that circumvent daily repentance and cross-bearing. Preach it, James. We so need to hear it again.