Trying to plow through James. I read chapters 3 and 4. I also took the time to review the previous two chapters just so I can see it all in context. Putting it in context…..I think that’s the hard part of reading the Bible. People take a verse out here and there and without the context, they can distort and contort its meaning to fit. Plus, there’s that whole piece about it being a translation. Being that I know zilch about Hebrew, Greek, and other ancient languages and cannot read the original text of the Bible, I’m handicapped. I have to read translations and then read commentaries on these translations to help me get a true idea of the intent of the words.
Anyway…..as usual I digress. Chapters 3 and 4…..my focus verses for today were James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways….” and James 4:6, ” ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” The beginning of James 3 really struck a chord with me because it talked about teachers being held to a higher standard than others. Of course, I latch onto this because I am a teacher. However, I don’t really believe this is talking specifically about being a public school teacher. I think it’s talking about all kinds of leaders. Obviously, leaders, when they assume a position of power or authority, are placed in the limelight which leaves them vulnerable to pride but also in danger of lots of criticism. Yikes! That sounds scary. Who would want to be a leader with those possibilities? But it is comforting to see perfection is not the expectation. Nobody expects people –leaders or otherwise — who are perfect.
However, when you are leading, it is tempting to put on a mask and not show others our weaknesses, our temptations, our personal struggles. We lean on pride when we do this because we want others to believe we have it all together. By not admitting or owning or even being willing to examine our faults, we are being arrogant.
In the remainder of James 3, there is much talk about our speech and tongue. My mouth can really get me into trouble. Gossip, criticism, mean-spirited sarcasm…..I tremble to think of how many I may have hurt because I simply would not shut up. But all of that comes from a place of protecting our vulnerable ego and pride. When we gossip, criticize, lie, hurt, we are just holding that mask tighter. We are trying to keep others, again, from seeing our own imperfections. James continues to mention speaking evil in Chapter 4.
In these chapters arrogance is a common theme…..like who am I to say this and do that? Who am I to promise this when I have no authority? Who am I to judge? Who am I to ask for (or pray for) this or that when it is for purely selfish purposes? So I think the real lesson I need to take away is a lesson in humility. Everything I am given that is good or a blessing…..everything that I am……every leadership position I may hold is not by my own power. Any successes I have are from God’s providence. I cannot take the glory and I cannot begin to believe that anything I have gained is by my own hard work, willpower, intelligence, etc. In our Western, capitalistic society I think we run a risk of making hard work an idol because we put such value on it. That’s not to say those things are bad, but I cannot have everything pointed at me. It can’t be about how hard I worked or about earning anything at all. Wouldn’t that be the direct opposite of grace, in fact?
In a nutshell, my takeaway from today’s reading is….. the more arrogant I become, the less I focus on God…..and the less I focus on God, the less I am apt or able to do for and think of others. Humility is the expectation for me….perfection is not.