“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
The world has many ways to resolve conflict, but invariably, they leave God out. God tells us that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). His ways are much higher than our ways. If we want true and lasting peace in our relationships, then we need to resolve conflicts God’s way.
His way for resolving conflicts is primarily our heart relationship with Him. When our ways please Him, then we have a foundation for resolving conflicts with others (Proverbs 16:7).
In James 4:1, he asks, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” He goes on to show that the source is selfishness. So to resolve conflicts we must repent of our sinful selfishness and humble ourselves before God. Therefore, we need to:
- Judge our selfish motives (4:1-3).
- Turn from all spiritual adultery and humbly entreat God’s grace (4:4-6).
- Submit to God, resist the devil, and repent of all sin (4:7-10).
- Stop judging others and submit to God’s Word (4:11-12).
James focuses especially on submitting to God, resist the devil, and repent of all sin. Proverbs 3:34 tells us, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. We are not to forsake God’s wisdom because it will protect us (Proverbs 4:6) and James continues by saying: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)
The overall context of James 4:7-10 is about resolving conflicts and we learn from him on how to resolve conflicts God’s way, which deals with our hearts before Him. Our conflict with God is most often behind conflicts with others. Therefore the first and foremost action we need to take in any conflict is that we must get right with God.
James tells us to submit to God unconditionally (James 4:7); to draw near to God (James 4:8); and, to humble ourselves before God (James 4:10).
We need to submit humbly and unconditionally to God’s Holy Word and accept His discipline upon us. God’s discipline can be very intense upon people; it is always based on how rebellious and proud they remain; even when confronted by God’s anointed teachers.
There are many things in our lives that happen to us that are not especially pleasant or to our liking. It may be the untimely death of a loved one. It could be unfair treatment at work or at school, or perhaps we had abusive parents. In the context of James 4, it may be a difficult person in our life who is always trying to stir up conflict. The potential list is endless.
Pride is at the heart of all disobedience to God and of almost all relational conflicts. If God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6), then we want to make sure we are not making ourselves God’s opponent! – Pride will always divide.
The theme of God humbling the proud, but exalting the humble, runs throughout Scripture (1 Samuel 2:4-8; Job 42:6, 42:10-17; Psalms 34:18; Proverbs 3:34; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; Matthew 23:12; Luke 18:14; 1 Peter 5:6). In the context of dealing with relational conflicts, the apostle Paul tells us to imitate the Lord Jesus, the supreme example of one who humbled Himself and was exalted by God (Philippians 2:8-9).
The key to developing biblical humility is in the phrase, “before the Lord” (James 4:10). Only those with hardened hearts could be proud in the presence of the Lord! Therefore, the first step in resolving relational conflicts is to submit to God, which includes drawing near to Him and humbling ourselves before Him. There is no such thing as “proud holiness.”
The next step to resolve conflicts is to resist the devil (James 4:7). While often Satan does not need to involve himself, his demonic forces many times help in stirring our conflicts and our flesh seems to incite them without any extra help! While it would be presumptuous to see a demon behind every quarrel, it is also out of line and naïve to think that demons are never involved. Many quarrels are fomented by demon possession, and they are founded in pride. Proud, demonically influenced people always insist that they are right and every demon in hell is eager to reinforce their proud thinking.
The devil, Satan, which means “adversary.” is an evil fallen angel who stands against God and His people, always ready to accuse or slander them (Zechariah 3:1-2; Revelation 12:10). While we are no match for Satan in our own strength we can ask the Lord for help like the mighty Archangel Michael did “The Lord rebuke you!” Because, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
To resolve conflicts we need to repent of all sin. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:8-9). James is talking about thorough, heartfelt repentance.
Those whom James confronted had become friends with the world and many were children of the devil. And the world finds joy and pleasure in things other than God, or while disregarding and disobeying God.
James’ words show that there is an emotional element to genuine repentance. It is not just a lame excuse, “I’m sorry that I offended you.” Or, “I’m sorry that you’re upset” – implying, “it’s your fault!” When we are truly repentant, we accept full responsibility for our sin and the damage that we have done. We don’t excuse it as a shortcoming or oversight. We mourn over how we have offended God, disgraced His name, and hurt our brother or sister in Christ.
To truly experience the joy of forgiven sins, we first have to feel the grief of the sins. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
We cannot sit passively and wait for resolution in a conflict to happen spontaneously. James gives ten active commands: Submit to God! Resist the devil! Draw near to God! Cleanse your hands! Purify your heart! Be miserable! Mourn! Weep! Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into gloom! Humble yourself!
God’s way to resolve conflicts is to submit to Him, resist the devil, repent of all sin and make sincere restitution to all of our victims and everyone whom we have hurt.