September 20, 2009
Today’s text gives us a picture of life as it could be lived and as it often is. We can think of these approaches as the gospel menagerie-a series of animal images.
I. “Dog-eat-dog” (3:13-15)
James helps us by holding up a mirror in front of us. “Take a good look,” he says, “See what often passes as ‘wisdom.’ It is a ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality that pushes us to grab for everything we can without any thought for the well-being of others.”
Where does this attitude come from? James tells us: “It is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” And where this attitude reigns, chaos soon follows. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
We are well aware of what this attitude has done to the entire country. The greed of a small number of people has bankrupted good companies and financially ruined the lives of thousands of people. But they seem not to care. If the world is really “dog-eat-dog,” then the best thing to do is to start chomping.
But that does not have to be the case.
II. “Gentle as a Lamb” (3:17-18)
The gospel is good news. Chaos is not inevitable. Faith can give us a very different picture of life that is possible in Christ. When we reject the so-called “wisdom” of the age, a higher and truer wisdom prevails.
Tony Dungy is well known as the former coach of the Super Bowl-winning Indianapolis Colts. He could have continued coaching in the NFL and made enormous amounts of money. But Dungy realized that, as much as he liked coaching, he needed to do something different with his life. He retired from coaching and gives his time now to working with various issues, including
visiting prisons and talking with the inmates about making a new start in life. In early 2009, for example, he went to the Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green, Florida. He spent hours talking to the prisoners about the way to turn their lives around.
Since the average sentence in that prison is 29 years, they will have much to think about and plenty of time to consider Dungy’s words.
Dungy’s life helps us understand the real-life sense of verse 18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” He is physically strong but is “gentle as a lamb.”
III. “Mean as a Snake” (4:1-3)
Another phrase from the animal kingdom seems to sum up not just serpents but also some people: “mean as a snake.” That phrase brings to mind someone who stops at nothing to get what he wants. He or she will run over anyone in the way. We all know people like that.
So what causes someone to act like that? James asks a rhetorical question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Then he gives the answer. They come from “desires that battle within you.” People of faith know this internal battle, too. In fact, we know it better than anyone else. That is because we genuinely want to do right even when we cannot seem to do so.
James is relentless in describing what happens when we give in to animal-like passions. “You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.”
But that is not the final word!
IV. “Wise as a Dove” (4:7-8a)
The final word can be a word of grace and redemption. Instead of living like some animals, caring only about ourselves, we are called into a relationship with Christ. We “submit” to God, we “resist” the devil and we “come near” to God. When we do, we demonstrate the biblical concept of wisdom. We will be “wise as doves.”
Why? Because God “will come near to you.” Do you want to be anywhere else?