So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
This sounds like old-time revival preaching from James, except it was written long before any old-time revival preacher started preaching. James did it first and best, and we can’t read these words without feeling a sting of rebuke. That may not always be what we want from scripture or from preachers, but sometimes it’s just what we need to hear. And of course, we need to remember that these words come to us through the Spirit, carrying the authority of God Almighty, so yes, we need to listen and obey.
Let’s focus on two truths in these verses. First, the exhortation and promise regarding the devil. We are instructed to “resist” Satan, and when we do, we can trust God’s promise that the Enemy will flee. Resisting forces of spiritual darkness requires the purposeful rejection of Satan’s lies and temptations. It’s not enough to ignore evil or to look the other way. It doesn’t help to complain or to wish evil away. Satan is a fierce enemy who doesn’t give up easily, but if we actively resist, pushing back against deception and darkness with God’s truth and in the name of Jesus, the Enemy has no choice but to flee. Jesus is always stronger and always wins. When you feel the influence of spiritual darkness, pray against it. Ask God for strength to stand your ground and pray for his power to overcome evil. There are also times when we need to publicly reject Satan’s lies, speaking out against immorality, idolatry and hate. As we resist the darkness, we not only protect ourselves but we also spread the light of Christ to others.
Second, James warns us against passing judgment on other believers. “Your job,” he writes, is to obey God not to make sure others are doing the same. If we are honest, it’s easier to point out someone else’s shortcomings than to admit our own. We all struggle at times to obey God’s word and to follow Jesus as faithfully as we should. It might be tempting to comfort yourself with the thought that there are worse sinners than you, but that’s just a distraction. Jesus is calling you to moral integrity and spiritual devotion. He’s asking you to honor him with your words and actions. He’s commanding you to love your neighbors in his name. Do your part in obedience and faith, and trust the Spirit to move other believers toward obedience as well.
Father, I love Your word and need Your truth to fill my heart. Correct me when I go astray. Show me when I am being foolish. Give me courage to do what is right, to resist evil and to stand up for Your truth. I pray through Jesus my Lord. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian