How many of you played “mercy” growing up? It’s a game where two people face each other and join hands left to right-right to left with fingers interlocked. The objective is to bend and contort your opponent’s hands-fingers in such a way that it causes physical pain to the point where your opponent submits or says “mercy”. If it sounds stupid, it is. It’s one of those stupid games’ that kids played back in the day, especially boys, as well as other games that caused physical pain and suffering like “king of the mountain” or “kill the man with the ball” which actually had another name that is no longer politically correct to say and rightly so.
In “MMA” or “mixed martial arts” competitions, one of the objectives is to get your opponent to submit or “tap out”, which is the equivalent of getting your opponent to say “uncle”. This may sound familiar to some of you especially those who are older and can remember someone twisting your arm behind your back or inflicting pain in some way so that you would say “uncle”. If you need a visual reference just watch the movie “A Christmas Story” and look for the scene where Farkus, the bully wearing a coon skinned cap, twists Flick’s arm behind his back.
“Tapping out” is where an MMA competitor taps their hand vigorously on the floor, mat, or on their opponent to tell them that they give up, quit, or submit because they can’t endure the pain any longer. This usually occurs when one competitor gets their opponent in a hold like an “arm bar”, “wrist lock”, various “choke” holds, or other “submissions” designed to inflict pain causing their opponent to submit, give in, or “tap out”.
While you may not relate to the examples I’ve given, you do understand submission or “accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person”. But submission is not just limited to humans. Animals experience it too. Dogs for example roll over on their backs to reveal their bellies exposing their vital organs to submit to a more dominant or superior force whether it’s another animal or human to avoid being harmed or worse.
James 4:1-12 is all about submission, submission to God. Before we examine this section of James, we need to acknowledge that we don’t like to submit to anything. Humans are naturally stubborn and wired to rebel or resist. We don’t like to be told what to do or how to do it. As Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way”. We also don’t always like to share. It starts when we’re very young. As babies-children we cry and pitch fits when we don’t get what we want, our way, or have to share our toys. We will even fight over things that we feel we’re entitled to, own, or desire. While many grow out of the “crying fit stage”, we never really get rid of our desire to get our own way. Desire or more specifically our own desires are a key element in this conversation, so hold on to it.
The theme verses for this section are James 4:7-10. James tells us to “7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-10 NIV
By submitting to God, we are surrendering our will, wants, or desires to God. Just as Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”, we are declaring that God’s will comes first even before our own. For many this makes God sound like a tyrant or a bully. It may sound that way, but that’s not what it means or what God has intended. God isn’t trying to dominate us from tyrannical way. God loves us. He created us in His image, but he’s not trying to remove our uniqueness. He just wants to remove those evil desires and actions that are sinful, corrupt, destructive, and ultimately lead to death or our own destruction. (James 1:14-15) These are desires that are ultimately harmful to us and to others. So, while it may sound tyrannical to submit or surrender our will and desires to God, it is actually for our protection and survival in this world and the next.
James 4:1 begins with a great question. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? The answer illustrates what we’re capable of when we don’t get what we want. James 4:2a says, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. This is what God wants us to avoid. At the end of verse 2 James alludes to an alternative to fighting, quarreling, and even killing to get what we want. He says, “You do not have because you do not ask God”.
I don’t know about you but asking for things from others is difficult. We value independence or the ability to do things for ourselves and make our own decision. This is a position of strength because I’m not relying on anyone else for my survival. I can do it myself. Asking for help or money for example represents our “dependence” on others. Dependence is a position of weakness. In other words, we’re not strong enough to provide for ourselves, so we are relying on someone who is stronger, wealthier, greater, or more dominant. To ask for help can be humiliating and embarrassing, which is what it feels like when you lose, “tap out”, or submit. You’re admitting that you can’t do it.
This whole topic of submission is really about God’s desire for us to depend on Him. Remember James 1:17 which says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. God wants to provide for us. He wants to give us good and perfect gifts, to “have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), but in order to get that we have to submit or surrender to God. So, I guess the question is who is the better provider? God or me? Who ultimately knows what is best for me? God or me? We all know that what we need and want are two different things. God knows what we need, but that doesn’t mean that He isn’t willing to give us what we want or desire. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your hearts” (Psalm 37:4). We can ask God for anything as long as we ask with the right motives, and that those desires aren’t in opposition to His will or what He deems best for us.
Let’s go back to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22. Understandably Jesus, who knew His purpose and why God sent Him to this planet. He wasn’t thrilled or excited about being arrested, tried, tortured, and crucified. Who would be? He prayed 3 times that God would remove that “cup” from Him or get him out of this mess, and yet He submitted to God His heavenly Father saying, ”yet not my will, but yours be done.” To use a Star Trek quote, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of few or the one.” Jesus did that for us. His sacrifice met the greatest need in human history. Often, we forget that Jesus didn’t do this alone. God the Father also sacrificed a part of himself so that we could “have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). This is just an example of what submission to God can produce. When we “come near to God he will come near to us” (James 4:8). Through submission and surrender our relationship with God and everyone else only gets better. So, submission and surrender lead to greater peace, joy, contentment, acceptance, and freedom not the other way around.
There is a lot more to talk about in this chapter, but it might take several pages to unpack it, so I’ll try to finish with this. Go back to James 4:10. It says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” This is just another way of saying what Jesus said in Matthew 16:25. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” I realize this sounds counterintuitive, especially in a me first culture of entitlement, but submission to God really does bring greater freedom in spite of what the world says. When we lose, we win. Really.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC