How do we apply scripture: our attitude

In previous posts we have noted that applying scripture seeks to answer two very fundamental questions. When we read a passage, we are seeking to understand: Why does this matter? What do I do now? Let’s consider some thoughts about the subject of our attitude. James 4.1-10 reads:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. 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. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Let’s break this down using the suggestions made previously.

Context

Who are the people in this passage: – James says “what causes fights among you… your passions are at war within you… you covet,… you fight and quarrel,… etc. Who is the ‘you’? The book was written to Christians (1:2), so ‘you’ must be a reference to the collective second person: all the Christians who are reading this. It would thus apply to us today, as we are part of the extended audience that James wrote to. His audience (‘you’) has similar problems to us, because we sometimes have the same problem with selfish attitudes.

What is the setting of this passage: James is pointedly identifying the selfish attitudes of his audience, people who are struggling because of a desire to ‘go with the flow’ of the modern culture. It isn’t hard to figure out what today’s post-modern culture is after: material wealth, fame, notoriety, sensual satisfaction. It’s all around us, bombards daily via a 24-hour media onslaught, and infiltrates every aspect of modern life: home, work, school, etc. The problem of James’ audience was their attitude toward these things. They believed it was sensible to dive right in with the world and be friends with it. But he corrects this notions: “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”

What is happening, what action is there in the text: James calls for a shift in attitude, including:

  • Submit yourself to God – this requires a change of heart. It is very difficult for anyone to surrender their lives to another, but that is what God calls for. In order to stop the senseless rush toward carnal things, change your mind and start listening to what God says is a better way to live.
  • Resist the devil – this is not simply an exhortation to be strong-willed, but rather to understand the nature of temptation, and how to defend against it. This is accomplished, practically, by…
  • Draw near to God – the closer we align our lives with God, the more we surrender our will to his, the less inviting a target we become for Satan. Drawing near to God means making our lives more like Jesus’ life – surrender to God, trust in his design for our life, confidence in his word that it will ultimately bring about what is best for us in this life, and the one to come.
  • Cleanse your hands / purify your hearts – sanctification is part of the process of changing our life from one that seeks selfish gain, to one that seeks godly gain and glory for God. God’s grace helps cleanse us of our sins (something we cannot accomplish ourselves), but then the daily, gradual process of sanctification – of shedding our lives of sinful practices – makes us more like the Savior, and draws us closer to God.
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord – God isn’t much into the “me generation” mindset. He desires a contrite heart, and a humble attitude that recognizes the reality of the desperate situation the world is in. Falling to our knees – both figuratively and literally – is the right start in trying to slay this enemy that turns us into self-centered maniacs who can never be satisfied by anything this world offers.

What is the primary message, what were they supposed to learn, and what can I learn: James puts practical vision to the ancient words of Solomon in Proverbs 14.12:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Is there foundational truth revealed here: Is there ever! This is one of the most devastating elements to mankind – ancient and modern alike: selfishness. It never leads to good things, always destroys, always creates conflict, never satisfies. It is not the way to success in this life, or in the next. Rather, selflessness, is the key to being the kind of servants God would want us to be.

How is this relevant to my situation in the world: Every day, in every place, in every way we encounter encouragement to focus on ourselves and not God or others. Our attitude toward what we have, how we live, the needs of others,… these are the attitudes that go a long way in determining what kind of servants we will be.

What situations in my life could this apply to: How I treat everyone I come in contact with, in every situation. Do I always put others ahead of self? Am I content with what I have? Do I focus on opportunities to serve – God and man? Do I exemplify a life like the Savior’s?

How can I make this adjustment: Attitude adjustments are difficult – mainly because most of us are comfortable in our lives and don’t really want to change. That’s the real issue: we have to want to be different. It is a heart decision, and it can only be made when we come to the realization that God’s love for us is the most undeserved and unwarranted act to ever take place. We must humble ourselves before we can begin to exact change in our life and our attitudes toward this world.

Other Lessons

The Bible presents something of a paradox when it speaks of how we ought to view ourselves. Clearly we should not be arrogant, as Paul writes in Romans 3.12

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

On the other hand, our souls are valuable enough to God that Jesus died for us, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6.20

For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

So while we should not think of ourselves as better than others, God clearly values our souls. And that ought to be a good starting place for us to begin to see exactly how blessed we are, and how God desires that our lives be used to glorify him, not to satisfy us.

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman

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