WISDOM & SUCCESSFUL LIVING:Life Lessons from Hard Times – Studies in James
Have you ever noticed that life is something about avoiding extremes? The pendulum swings between self-loving and self-loathing. The social sciences are of limited help in understanding ourselves. The Scriptures affirm the need to judge ourselves, but it also is clear about cautioning against pride. Genuine humility – not phony humility – is rooted in understanding our basic nature and the overlay of Grace in our lives.
The book of James is divided into three parts, using the hinge verse of chapter 1. James 1:19 19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, *Quick to Listen – James chapters 1 and 2.
*Slow to Speak – James chapter 3
*Slow to Become Angry – James chapters 4 and 5.
James 3:1-2 1Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
- Life Humbles Everyone. James establishes a baseline for these believers, and it firmly confirms what know from the Old Testament. The Law provided a perfect standard of God’s kingdom such that everyone needed the sacrifices and forgiveness that covers sin and failure. Again, apart from the remarkable Job, you can’t find a leader in either of the testaments that did not fail, sometimes in a colossal fashion. And as a double emphasis, we not only stumble, but we stumble in many ways. In other words, a normal reading of this text leads us to conclude that this is a common human experience! Therefore, the risks of assuming leadership in the church – as a teacher or elder – incurs a double scrutiny, hence a double judgment.
- Perfect Living is Impossible. Again, James states what should be obvious. The hypothetical person who refuses to assume blame or take fault would have to be perfect, and that is not possible. The point of being ‘quick to listen’ seems to be that, in any human experience or interaction, we should be working twice as hard on self-assessment and expectation that we have not handled a situation perfectly, as what we assume might be the fault of others. And the sequel: ask questions and listen carefully. Less talking, more listening. In my profession as a lawyer, I am regularly impressed at the professional listening skills of the judges, who do a remarkable job of understanding issues and fact patterns from careful listening.
- Bodily Discipline is Critical to Humble Living. Your first thought might be your tongue, and what you say. And you are right in that, and we will cover that subject in more detail next week. But here it is broader – keeping our body in check means all that we do is monitored by a genuinely humble spirit.
C.S. Lewis was correct: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. This is a great starting point to our studies in being slow to speak.
– John Moore