Seminary Viewpoints

A Divine Intervention: More than a Reality Show

Sam Horn | January 19, 2023
Theology Thursday

We all have watched reality-TV shows involving people whose lives and relationships have been ruined by hoarding, alcoholism, substance abuse or another life-enslaving passion. In the episode, a close friend or family member stages an “intervention” — a drastic confrontation to shock the wayward one and interrupt the pattern of self-destruction.

Chapter 4 of James presents a divine, yet real-world intervention. Despite his admonition, instruction and encouragement to follow the way of wisdom, Pastor James’ flock was engaged in mutually destructive favoritism, failure to meet brothers’ and sisters’ needs, jealousy, selfish ambition, and, we learn in the opening words of the chapter, sharp internal division and dissension.

The Intervention for division: A “Shocked Apostle”

James launches his intervention for division with “shock and awe” — exceedingly harsh and direct words to shake his readers from complacency. He points to “quarrels” (πόλεμοι), denoting a prolonged active war, and “fights” (μάχαι), implying verbal assaults: heated disputes, loud arguments and personal defamation. James actually compares their battles to “murder” (φονεύετε) because it was character assassination. The church members were truly at each others’ throats!

But these behaviors were surface issues, and James quickly gets to the dark heart of the matter: the congregants were subject to their own internal “passions” waging relentless, brutal war within them. The word for passions, ἡδονῶν, is the root for hedonism, and it comes from the wrong things they “desire” (ἐπιθυμεῖτε): the same word in James’ warnings about the progression from temptation to sin to death in James 1:13-15. James’ church members had given way to passions and desires so deeply that their prayers were directed to fulfilling them — instead of receiving the wisdom from above promised in James 1:5.

Their indulgence of these selfish, hedonistic desires and ignoring of James’ admonition against double-mindedness (4:8) led the apostle to even more pointed and uncomfortable language: the church had become an “adulterous people” who through “friendship with the world” — alignment with the god of this world — had made themselves the “enemies of God.” James leaves no middle ground for believers, then or now.

The Remedy: A Gracious God

Having gotten his followers’ attention with such biting charges, Pastor James eagerly steers them away from their catastrophic works with the remedy from a loving and faithful God: the proverbial “carrot and stick.”

The stick: “God opposes the proud.” “Oppose” (ἀντιτάσσεται) portrays God arraying Himself in battle against an opponent. More than mere anger, He is actively working against them to frustrate their plans and stymie their efforts. And for good purpose: “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” I am convinced James here refers to God guarding the new spiritual life we received when the Word of truth brought us forth as first fruits of the new creation (James 1:18).

Which brings us to the carrot: “He gives more grace … to the humble” to counter our fleshly, hedonistic desires and to protect and preserve His people. “More” (μείζονα) implies something even greater, more awesome, amazing and jaw-dropping even than that new spiritual life. What could be greater than that? I believe it is the Holy Spirit of God Himself who indwells us, enlightens us, and enables us to do God’s will as revealed by the Word of God graciously implanted in our heart at salvation (James 1:21).

The Believers’ Response: Humble Submission, Bold Resistance

So where will believers get strength to resist temptation, win the war the flesh is waging against them and receive the wisdom offered them? Commands James, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

This humble submission is about:

  • Returning to God (“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”) and to His wisdom, per James’ exhortation to “(p)ut away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls” (1:21).
  • True repentance (“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded”) marked by joyful mourning (“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom”). Rather than mocking sin or sweeping it under the rug, intervention for division should lead to genuine sorrow mixed with Spirit-engendered joy over God’s gracious forgiveness.
  • Confident waiting (“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you”). God has made sinners a promise: He will receive, restore and lift them up from where they have fallen!

And the bold resistance is about realigning ourselves on God’s side and literally “standing against” (ἀντίστητε) the devil. When we do both intentionally, yet dependently as directed by God’s wisdom and empowered by God’s Spirit, Satan will flee.

Humbling ourselves before God is something much bigger and more gripping than a staged “reality-show” intervention: it’s hard, gut-checking, soul-searching business.

My prayer for readers: that God will give you — or equip you to be — a godly friend or family member with the courage, like James’, to bring a gracious but sufficiently attention-getting divine intervention for division designed for deliverance from sin. Along with the willingness to humbly accept a loving God’s remedy of “more grace.”

As discussed by Sam Horn on The Steve Noble Show on January 19