As some of the more faithful cross-shaped readers might recall, the last post blew you away with my artistic creativity and ingenuity. Perhaps a quick reminder will refresh your memories and impress you anew.
Now let’s move from picture world to Bible world and make this all come together.
James emphasizes what I tried to draw using the metaphor of wealth in his letter. This is a metaphor that likely hit close to home for his audience and does for us today. Wealth isn’t in and of itself sinful, but it is very dangerous. To whom much is given, much is expected. And James takes note of this pointing out that in God’s Kingdom:
(a) the poor are given a high position while the rich are humiliated (1:9-11);
(b) the poor are honored by God while the rich are honored on earth (2:1-5);
(c) the poor will be avenged while the rich will be punished (5:1-6).
James’ rhetorical strategy here is to use power as a uniting concept. He believes that it is the pursuit of power and wealth (aka stuff) that results in evil (4:1-2). Think about it – why do people seek power (money, possessions, authority, influence, rank, prestige, etc.) to begin with? Rarely is it for good ends, but rather this pursuit stems from one of two things: (1) envy and/or (2) selfish ambition (3:14). It’s like everyone is racing to the top because everyone wants to be on top!
Envy is such a poison. When it courses through your veins and takes hold of your heart, it has the effect of making you resent God’s goodness in the lives of other people and ignore God’s goodness in your own life.
Don’t resent all of this, rejoice over it!
Selfish ambition is not much better. This poison cultivates a spirit of entitlement as you climb higher and higher up the ladder and get closer and closer to the top. But fact is, you cannot be grateful for what you feel entitled to.
So the people of God should reject this way of the world (3:13-16) and seek God’s pure and peaceable wisdom instead (3:17-18). This wisdom makes abundantly clear the misguidedness behind envy and selfish ambition. As a result, God gives grace to these people (4:6) because they position themselves in a place of humility and dependence, the only position that allows you to draw near to God (4:7-8). It is a position that cries out in repentance (4:9) and acknowledges that God alone decides who is “on top” (4:10).
So in other words, our lives should be a race to the bottom, not the top. Right?
Because in the eyes of God, those who race to the bottom, understanding that they are spiritually marginal, are able to do two things: (1) they are able to love those on the margins of society because they identify with their weaknesses and needs and (2) they are able to receive God’s blessing and help because they know that it isn’t stuff that pleases God, but rather your whole-hearted dependence upon him (1:27).