Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Whom Do We Submit To?

This is my personal summary of expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 4:6-10 on 19th March 2006

In the last session, we learn that God has more grace to give us. James 4:6 says He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This means that often times the grace we could have received from God is constrained because of our arrogance.

When we count our losses, we often only count from what we have already gained. But the wise would think of losses in terms of what he has not gained but could have gained. This brings us to learn to have an attitude of responsibility towards the invisible world, which is a greater reality. This is the difference between how the Scriptures measure losses and how we measure losses. We think of time wasted as the amount of time that has passed. But the wise will think of time wasted based on whether over the years they live, they have received the grace they could have received, and whether the grace received have been applied as they could have applied. The things they ought to have received but not received, would be counted as loss.

The Scriptures says God gives us more grace. Yet we do not receive them often because of our arrogance. We should have gotten more grace but due to our pride we do not gain them. So we live our lives with significant losses that we never even realize. This is a very sad state. God's Word to Joshua is that he is already old but many lands are yet to be conquered. This means that those lands are promised to him and ought to have become his possession. God indeed has promised more than what we have received and the reason of our not receiving lies in ourselves. We need to learn to think in depth what we could have achieved in God which have been blocked by our unteachable spirit, arrogance, laziness and unbelief. However, we are extremely slow to such spiritual understanding hence we never quite know clearly what we ought to have achieved.

Yet we are extremely sensitive to our losses in material things. In material things, we are never satisfied. We always want more. But in spiritual things, our attitude is just the reverse. We are very satisfied with our poor spiritual state and are not very concerned to think of what God would want us to reach spiritually. So the things we do not need to seek, we spend all our life and effort pursuing while our spiritual state stay stagnant. We think just like the lawyers of the world that define ‘living right’ as simply not committing offence. However, the Scriptures say that if we miss the mark, we have sinned. God judges our sins not only from what we have committed wrong, but also from “hamartia”, that is, what we have not done.

Would God be satisfied with what we have achieved? Never. True contentment and self-satisfaction are two different things. When we are happy because we have achieved our own defined standard, we are self-satisfied. This is not a right attitude. God gives grace to the humble. The ‘humble’ here describes those who are never satisfied with their state. They never think they are perfect so they keep seeking and pursuing perfection. This is the attitude of perfection, like Paul who did not consider he has attained perfection so he kept pursuing (Phil.2:12-13). Humility is not the same as simply following the commands of others or having the attitude of a slave. It is a response toward God's infinite grace so there is no end to progress and all our lives we continue to be teachable.

In verse 7, James said, “Submit yourselves THEN, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” This word “THEN” means that the previous sentence is the basis for the current sentence. How is submission related to grace and humility mentioned previously? It seems like a twist where it is not immediately obvious how humility is linked to our submission to God and resistance to the devil.

However, this verse tells us that the nature of our humility is revealed from whom we submit to and whom we resist. People who keep saying “No, no” to God are also those who always say “Yes, yes” to the devil. This is one aspect where we can see that the psychologies of the world cannot discern spiritual things. To illustrate, we can categorize people into two kinds, the intellectual and the unlearned.

The intellectuals tend to reject God. The basis of their rejection is not because of rationality, but because they are arrogant and treat all religions with contempt. Therefore they make the mistakes of treating faith as superstition.

The unlearned tend to accept when you share about God. But they receive more easily not because they are more humble, but because they are open to just about anything. Therefore they make the mistake of treating superstition as faith.

Faith however, is not superstition. It is not against reason, but it transcends reason. Many intellectuals fall into the trap of lumping the trans-rational realm together with irrational things. Yet they live very inconsistently because while on one hand they use their rationality specially to oppose God, on the other hand they never use their rationality to avoid many unwise decisions they make in life. They would carelessly walk into all kinds of traps and eagerly do illogical things although by basic reason they should not have done many things they do. Therefore rationality is not the reason they cannot receive God, but their arrogance is.

This comes to the issue of submission. To whom do we submit? We must submit to God. We are created in God's image so we have value system inside of us. We are beings capable of value. Whatever we value determine what we submit to. The Chinese have a way to express different levels of values.

敬佩 (jing pei) – to admire
敬爱 (jing ai) – to love
敬畏 (jing wei) – to revere
敬拜 (jing bai) – to worship

We can admire things that are good, but at a higher level of value, we love them. There are things so great that we come close to revere. Finally, when we reach to the highest level, we worship. This worship belongs to God alone. We can do this when we come to the realization of the qualitative difference between God and everything else that we cannot even compare Him with anything, but just to worship Him as the highest.

Kiekegaard came up with 3 kinds of important qualitative differences:

- Let God be God and let men be men
- Let Heaven be Heaven and let earth be earth
- Let Eternity be Eternity and let time be time

Things of qualitative difference are not the things we can compare quantitatively. Therefore we are making mistakes when we try to compare God with other precious things. He is the final Judge of all values and He is the ultimate Value Himself. We can only acknowledge Him as God.

Yet many logical errors are committed by intellectuals. They take science as the Truth while history shows that science is not the Truth. Many scientific theorems have been disproved and overwritten. But they despise God and submit their reasoning to the things that are changeable. Hence the Bible does not say without reason that God hides His will from the wise of the world and reveal it to the little children.

All reasoning from the devil is fake but all the words from God are true. There are two kinds of worlds. One is the world where things seem right but they are actually wrong. The leader of this world is Satan. The other one is the world where things seem wrong but they are actually right. The leader of this world is our Lord.

Since the beginning in the garden of Eden, Satan told Eve, “if you eat of the fruit you shall not die but your eyes would be open.” God told man, “on the day you eat you shall surely die.”

From the account it seems that Satan is right and God is wrong. Adam and Eve did have their eyes open and they did not die physical death immediately. God's Word speak of things spiritual and eternal which are hard to comprehend while Satan speaks of things of the flesh and temporal which are easier to comprehend, and therefore Satan's words seem more attractive to us. This is how we make absolute things relative and relative things absolute since the beginning. The battle between these two worlds (right seems wrong and wrong seems right) will continue until the Last Day when our Lord shall come again to separate the wheat from the tares.

We truly need to ask God for wisdom to discern true values and to segregate absolute from relative and to treat them accordingly. God is absolute, so we have to approach Him with an absolute attitude of submission. The name Satan means the Opposer, for he is the one who oppose God. So likewise, as he has resisted God, we have to approach Satan with the same resistance. When he uses skepticism, we should respond to his skepticism with skepticism. So we should approach the absolute absolutely and the relative relatively.

However, often times we do just the reverse. We use our humility to submit to Satan and use our arrogance to oppose God. Hence in this verse 7 alone, James tells us the direction of the cosmos war. We ought to submit to God and resist the devil. We need to rebuild our humility and our resistance on the right foundation.

If we have truly knelt before God, we will resist the devil. The key to spiritual power is a true knowing of before whom you kneel and before whom you stand in opposition. Our ministry has no power today because we are serving two masters. On one hand we claim to worship God but on the other hand we are serving many idols in our lives. The Scriptures teach us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Therefore if we have truly resisted him, we are no longer trapped in fear but he flees in fear from us.

But a lot of us live as though our faith confession and our lives have no relationship with each other. Christians truly need to learn to connect all things together so that the Word of God is what we believe, and what we believe is what we think, what we think is what we say, and what we say is what we do. If we live this way, we have power.

Verse 8 is another absolute promise. It says that if we come near to God, He will come near to us. In James 1:5, James says that if we ask for wisdom it will be granted to us. Here is another promise that God will come near those who come to Him. How do we come to God? The following verses 8-10 teach us to humble ourselves before Him and to grieve for our sins.

The direction of humility is important. To whom are we humble? To the rich? To the powerful? To the clever? We need to be humble before God.

God will not forsake us when we humble ourselves before Him and He will lift us up. We ourselves are the reason for our weaknesses, not others or our circumstances.


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