This week is a continuation or conclusion of last week’s study of James 4, and it’s a long one or a little longer than usual, so strap in and return your tray table to its full upright and locked position.

As we discovered last week the theme of James 4 is basically “submission to God”. James reminds us in verse 6-10 that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” 

Whether we choose to believe in God or not, we are under His authority and therefore subject to His will. Throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, it is very clear that God is omnipotent or all powerful. Everything about Him is infinite and limitless. However, we are limited or finite in our ability to understand or comprehend God’s awesomeness. So, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. The Apostle Paul refers to this reality in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when he says “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” According to Paul, God cannot be fully known, not in this life. It’s impossible. We wouldn’t be able to handle it, so we can only see reflections, parts, bits, and pieces of the infinite fullness of God.

In Exodus 33:18-33, Moses asks God, “Now show me your glory.” In other words, Moses wanted to see God in all His fullness and glory. God’s response to his request was “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” It’s just too much. Maybe our heads would explode, or we would spontaneously combust from over stimulation or information overload. Maybe it’s like standing too close to the sun, which God is infinitely greater than. God gives us a little more insight into His greatness when her refers to His omniscience or “all knowing” in Isaiah 55:8-9 when He says, 8“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God is “omni” meaning “all or of all things”. He’s everything and everywhere all the time. Mind blown? We have no idea!

However, God in all of His “omni-ness” or awesomeness has graciously revealed himself to us in a way that we can handle. Even though, Moses wasn’t allowed to see the fullness of God’s glory because it would kill him. God said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22When my glory passes by; I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:21-23 NIV) Holy cow! I’ve got goosebumps. How foreboding, ominous, and also terrifying is that? Did you notice how God was protecting Moses from his own curiosity? God knew better than to reveal Himself completely, in spite of Moses’ well intentioned curiosity that could have killed him.

So, since God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing) why would submitting to God be a dumb move? Okay let me put it another way. Read Psalm 139, which is just one description in the Bible of how much God loves and cares for us. It says that God “created our inmost being” and “knit us together in our mother’s womb”. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Verse 15 tells us that our “frame was not hidden from Him when we were made in the secret place, when we were woven together in the depths of the earth. God’s eyes saw our unformed body; all the days ordained for us were written in God’s book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:15 paraphrase)

So, does this sound like God doesn’t love, care for, or know us? Does He sound like a tyrant or a slave master who doesn’t have our best interests at heart? Going back to last week we discovered that we were more than slaves. We are adopted heirs and children of God. He is our heavenly Father that not only knows everything about us, but He is infinitely more powerful and loving than our earthly parents could ever even imagine being. He knows what is best for us. He wants to protect us from all those “evil desires” that entice, tempt, and drag us away to sin, death, and destruction. He’s been trying to protect us all along, but like Adam and Eve we think we “know” better.

I think I’ve shared it before, but it’s been a while, so I’ll briefly repeat the story. I don’t remember exactly how old I was maybe around 9-11, but one of our neighbors asked my father why he was so “hard on me”, which is another way of saying that my father was a disciplinarian. However, my father was neither abusive nor cruel. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but he loved me. My father’s response to her question was “I’m not here to be his buddy right now. My job as a parent is to get him prepared for life, to protect him from harm, and bad decisions that could destroy him”. This didn’t mean that my dad was a tyrant, didn’t care about me, or enjoyed controlling my life. He did it because he loved me and wanted to protect me even if my submission to his authority meant we weren’t going to be buddies all the time. He knew the consequences of letting me run wild or do whatever I wanted, just as God does. God knows what can happen when we step out from under His authority or umbrella of protection. He knows when our curiosity can kill us. So, in reality submitting to God is really the smart play. If He knows everything and is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20), then why aren’t we okay with that and willing to submit to Him?

Of course, we know the answer to that question. We think we know better. Like everyone else, I didn’t always submit or appreciate my father’s instruction when it was being administered. I mean who does when you’re a kid. There were times when I felt like a servant or a slave. I can even remember saying that I hated my father. However, as I grew older and the bigger picture was becoming clearer, I realized just how much my dad loved me and how much I benefited from submitting to his authority. While we may view God’s authority as oppressive, restrictive, or in a negative light, He really is our protector and guardian. Of course, he’s a lot more than just that, but hopefully knowing this gives us a greater understanding of what submission to God really means. We’re more than servants or slaves. We are children of God!

There is nothing wrong with having buddies. There were times when my dad was a buddy. We did have fun together. However, buddies don’t always tell us what we need to hear. A true friend or parent who loves us is willing to tell us the truth even when it hurts because the truth will bring us the best possible outcome and even set us free.

In John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Greek word for “hold” in verse 31 is μένω (menó) and it means to “continue, stay, remain, or abide”. To some people this sounds like captivity, that someone else is trying to control us, or hold us hostage, but Jesus is telling us that His teaching, instruction, or His truth is going to set us free to be ”immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. As good as we try to be, our best will never equal God’s best for us. By calling our own shots, we are actually missing out on “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17 NIV). So, when we refuse to submit to God’s authority and protection, we are actually sabotaging our own futures.

How many of us have heard our parents say something along these lines? “If you’re going to remain under my roof, you will do as I say!” No matter how it was said, there was an understanding that in order to stay, remain, abide, or continue living in their house or under their roof, we had to not only listen to their teaching or instruction but also obey it on a consistent basis.

There was only one time I really got the “it’s my way or the highway” speech from my dad. I was in my early 20’s feeling a little full of myself and thought I knew better. I would make sarcastic comments or wise cracks to my mom. Nothing horrible just being a jerk. I guess I felt that since I was an “adult” I had a little more latitude being so mature and all. Uh, no. I was very much mistaken, and my dad brought all that to a screeching halt on the front porch of our log cabin. However, my dad didn’t yell at me. He was calm and said, “Robby, I love you, but I love your mother more. If you don’t stop being disrespectful to her, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” 

Well, as I sat there trying to collect myself, a wave of shame washed over me. Tears began to well up in my eyes. My shame was a realization and confirmation that I was wrong and that this isn’t how I was raised to behave. How could I treat her or them that way after all they had done for me? I immediately told my dad that I was sorry and quickly walked into the house to hug and apologize to my mom. The reason I could do that instead of being angry and storming out the house was due to the fact that living under their roof or authority was not oppressive at all in hindsight. Far from it. Under their roof I found a freedom, joy, love, comfort, safety, and protection that to be honest I haven’t felt since I left home for good. Not a day goes by that I don’t look back and long for that sanctuary. I had it made in the shade and didn’t really “know it” until that moment.

Sure, as I said earlier there were days when I didn’t experience pure joy, but again I wasn’t seeing the big picture. That day on the porch was my first real look at the big picture and the grand scheme of things. From that day forward my dad became my best friend, my best bud. He was my best man at my wedding. His truth ultimately was setting me free to be a better man. As great as that is it infinitely pales in comparison to what God’s truth can do for us. So, again instead of enslavement and captivity submission to God’s truth sets us free to be ”immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. By abiding, remaining, submitting, and holding to Jesus’ teaching and God’s authority we are being set free to be the best version of ourselves according to the will of God.

So, does that sound as “passe”, “obtuse”, or “holy depressing” as Cardinal Glick describes in the movie Dogma? Does God need a “more inspiring sigil” or symbol? Do we need a magic show? Something that “pops”? Is a “buddy Christ”, “buddy heavenly father”, or cosmic Santa Claus all we really want or need?

Okay it’s time to wind this down before I write a book.

“Too late!” 

James 4 ends with this: 13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:13-17 NIV)

If you’ll notice in James 4:17, our series theme of “doing” comes back into play. Romans 1:19 says, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” I encourage you to read the whole chapter for context, but this verse is basically telling us that we already “know the good we ought to do” because God put it there. He made it known, plain, obvious, or abundantly clear to us when He created us. The Greek word for “plain” in this verse is φανερόν (phaneron) and it means “apparent, clear, visible, and manifest”. Another form of the word “phaino” means “shinning”. It’s so bright we can’t ignore it. It’s as plain as the nose on our face. Remember we are made in God’s image. “Knowing the good” or God’s good-truth has been imprinted or preloaded into our consciousness when God “created our inmost being” and “knit us together in our mother’s womb”. (Psalm 139) We can deny or suppress it all we want but it’s still “in there”.

Ok, that’s it. Whew! James 4 was definitely a challenge and I know I only scratched the surface of God’s infinite awesomeness which is really all we can do considering our finite limitations. We can spend the rest of our lives studying God’s truth and still won’t be able to consume or fathom it all. It’s that huge, that awesome. So it really is in our best interests to submit to God and immerse ourselves in His truth. I know to some that may not sound very exciting, but I guess I’m just one of those weird ones that thinks the Bible or word of God really “pops”.

Have a great weekend! Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC