In a Nutshell
James reminds his readers that they are not the judges of their own condition; this grants them great freedom, a solidarity with all their neighbours.
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What place does self-examination have in our lives? How does this speak of our emancipation? From what?
Or are you suggesting that the scripture says: the spirit that dwells in you yearns in envious rivalry?
But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 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. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?
The people to whom James was writing, like ourselves, know what it is to be part of ongoing conflict and struggle, even among those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Fights and wars seem to be the common lot of the people of the Lord. Not only are they sometimes hounded by the enemies of God Himself, they often find themselves tragically at odds with each other. When they are preserved, and able to gather themselves together in some kind of coherent body, they seem bent on generating factions, murderous intrigues, friendship with the way of the world. Who would ever believe that they were the spiritual heirs, partakers of the bequest of friendship which God Almighty bequeathed to those who followed in the way of His Son (John 8). They have been emancipated - they know the truth. By the words of the Messiah Himself, they have been freed. And yet…
Our account of this letter has assumed that it is written by one who was among the first of the disciples to be directly confronted by Jesus for an inner inability to wrest himself free from competitive rivalry. This was simply a bitter desire that had members of Jesus' school mimicking the "way of the gentiles" (Matthew 20:20-28 and Luke 22:24-30), or as James puts it "friendship with the world" (4:4).
So here comes the Gospel! God's grace is freely available in abundance! Face up to your situation, James says. Submit. Draw near. This is no time for play acting. This is no time for trying to mimic or try to go "one up". Humble yourself before the Lord and find yourselves bound together in ways that He alone can unfold in your lives. Desist from presumptive posturing, quit trying to put each other in the frame, reckon with your duty to do what the law commands! Since you have been declared a free person before the face of the Lord, find in that Lord's law the way to bind yourself to all your neighbours. And be thankful. That indeed is something to write and sing about!