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Warning Against Worldliness (v. 1-12)
You are all evil people, and by choosing the evils of the world we are turning our backs to God and turning towards the devil.
That seems to be the essence of this section. I'm definitely not a fan. This is one of those ideas that seems to permeate Christianity which I think is really dangerous. I wrote about this idea recently, my problem with this largely centers on the fact that you are telling people (especially children) that they are evil and deserve to go to hell. (This verse doesn't say you deserve hell, but that seems to be where Christians take it). Children take this to heart, I thought I was a bad person for a long time, that's a tough mindset to grow up in.
v6 "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
I like that. While there is nothing wrong in a little pride for a job well done, I don't think that's what we are talking about here. We are talking about being prideful more in general, which can cause some problems and generally will turn someone into a huge dick. Having a general sense of some humility is preferable.
v9 "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom."
hmm, I'm not even sure what to make of this, it seems to be saying that you are not supposed to be happy. The verse before is talking about getting close to God and purifying yourself and such. I guess perhaps the idea is this section is saying that worldly things are bad, and worldly things make us happy, so by making ourselves unhappy we must be getting closer to God. I really hope I'm misinterpreting this, that is an awful message. I can't wait to see what the christian commentaries have to say about this.
According to Guzik, the idea is that as we draw close to God, we lament our sins from before we were close to God and that is what makes us sad. This seems like a pretty reasonable interpretation to me actually. Everything leading up to this verse is saying that we are pieces of crap, then it says submit to God, and then is the part where we feel bad about ourselves. But then afterwards it says to humble ourselves to God and we will be exalted, so we could feel better then. Good, I'm glad my first impression here was not correct.
v11-12 Don't speak evil against one another. Don't judge each other, only God can judge us.
This is another bit where I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. As a general loose guideline, I like the idea of not judging each other and not speaking against one another. If the first thing in our mind is to give people second chances and try to see their sides of things the world will be a better place. But at some point people need to be judged, and we need to talk poorly about someone if they repeatedly do bad things. If someone is a scam artist for example, we should let everyone know so they won't be a victim. So this seems good as a general guideline that you only go against when it is really deserved would be a good thing, but that isn't what this is. Saying only God can judge makes this a solid rule that applies always. I don't think I can put this in the good column because an honest reading here won't let us ever say anything bad about anyone. In fact, if we really followed it, we wouldn't be allowed to have prisons, because that is judging people. We should instead just trust that God will punish them in his own way.
I looked through a handful of Christian commentaries and they never really address my complaint here. Guzik says that you can't be right with God if you are being evil toward other men, and Gill seems to interpret this as saying bad things about people when they didn't actually do it. Reading the verse again, I really don't see how that could be what it is supposed to mean.
Boasting About Tomorrow (v. 13-16)
If you claim you will do something in the future, you are boasting and this is evil and a sin. You should instead say that you will do this or that if the lord wills it.
Again, I just don't know what to make of this. By making plans for the future I'm boasting and therefore sinning? This is just insanity. The problem isn't even that it is saying boasting is bad, it is claiming that planning for the future is bad. What a horrible message to send to people.
About this section, Guzik says the following "James will not discourage us from planning and doing, only from planning and doing apart from a reliance on God." So he is saying planning is okay, as long as your plans always have God in mind. I guess he is getting that from verse 15 which says "You ought to say 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'" Does that imply that you can plan as long as you are considering God? I suppose that is a possible interpretation, but it feels like quite a stretch to me.
Gill seems to basically say the same thing. So the question now becomes this, am I just having trouble seeing the obvious interpretation, or are they stretching to make this verse reasonable?
I thought about this a little more, and still can't decide where I land on my last question there, but I would like to throw out one piece of evidence for my point of view, Jesus himself said we shouldn't plan for tomorrow at all in Matthew 6.
For the overview post (If you think I should add or remove stuff from this list please let me know, I think it would make good conversation)
4:6 pride is bad, humility is good.
"Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"
4:4 You are evil people (probably should reference whole section)
"You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."