Chapter 4:7-10 (ESV) - Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Question to consider: Why do you think the devil flees when we resist him?
In light of the tremendous grace offered to us by God, James encouraged the churches to submit to Him. There would be those who created quarrels among them who were jealous of their fellow Christians or had selfish ambition. The way for them to get beyond these threats to the church was to humbly submit to God and receive the grace that He provides. Of course, the one behind all threats to their faith and the church was the devil. As difficult an adversary the devil can be, he would flee if only they stand firm in their faith, resist him and humble themselves before the Lord. The Lord would exalt them in His good time.
The apostle Peter used similar words in his first epistle to this same group of people, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:6-9)
I’m sure scholars have all kinds of opinions about this. Maybe they both heard the same sermon? Maybe one borrowed from the other? Maybe this means they were written around the same time? Personally, I think Peter wrote his epistle about 30 years after James wrote his. Peter was in Rome and was close enough to the region where he could hear news of these churches and get word to them. Before all of this, Peter served with James in the Jerusalem church. I’m sure they became great friends and that Peter had taken to heart the words of James’ original letter to them.
At the time that James wrote this letter, he was giving wisdom about potential problems these young churches would face. By the time Peter wrote from Rome, these problems had resulted in difficult persecution. I believe Peter used these words as a prophetic reminder that they already knew this persecution was coming and how to deal with it.
We need this reminder in the church today. Persecution is going to come if it has not already. Therefore, we should stand firm in our faith and submit to God. The devil wishes to tear us apart, but he will flee from us if we resist. We should not give in to jealousy or selfish ambition but humble ourselves before the Lord and let Him exalt us at the right time.
Dear heavenly father, we confess that we can be double-minded, with one foot in the world and the other in Your kingdom. Please deliver us from evil and give us Your strength to resist the devil so that he flees from us. Cleanse our hands and purify our hearts that we may do the things that please You. Amen.