3 Characteristics of the Church

photo (4)

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. James 5:13-15

For the last few weeks I have been providing a daily email bible study (sign up here) with a focus on the Letter of St. James.  As the study comes to a close, James makes the point that the church has three characteristics.

  1. The Church is a Singing Church

The early church was always ready to break into song.  Paul describes the meetings of the church at Corinth and finds that singing was an integral part of the meetings (1 Corinthians 14:15, 26). When Paul thinks of the grace of God going out to the Gentiles he is reminded of the joyous saying of the Psalms, “I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name” (Romans 15:9, Psalm 18:49).  There was a joy in the hearts of Christians which came from their lips as songs of praise.  They were celebrating and praising the mercy and grace of God in their lives.

The church has always been a singing church.  When Pliny, governor of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan, the Roman Emperor in A.D. 111 to tell him of this new sect of Christians, he said that his information was that “they are in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before the light, when they sing in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as God.”

In the orthodox Jewish synagogue, since the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there has been no music, for when they would worship they would remember the tragedy of the fall; but for the Christian Church, from its very beginning, there has been music of praise, for the Christian remembers an infinite love of God and enjoys a present glory.

  1. The Church is a Healing Church

This characteristic is inherited from Judaism.  When a Jew was ill, he went to the Rabbi before he went to the doctor.  The Rabbi would anoint him with oil and would pray over him.  Few communities have been as attentive to the sick as the early was.  Justin Martyr writes that many demoniacs were healed by the Christians when all other exorcists had been helpless to cure them.  Irenaeus writes that the sick were healed by having hands laid on them.  Tertullian writes the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus was healed by an anointing at the hands of a Christian named Torpacion and that Torpacion then stayed with the Emperor until his death.

In one of the earlies books about church administration, the Canons of Hippolytus, states that  men who have the gift of healing are to be ordained presbyters (priests) after an investigation has been made to ensure they really do possess the gift that comes from God.

This brings up an interesting issue, the healing comes from God through the person it is not the person who has healed anyone, and to say so, I believe, is heresy.  It is God who heals but God works through us, humanity, to complete his work.  Does he need us for this purpose?  No, but he uses us for the continuation of his kingdom.  I have heard stories of men and woman boasting that they have healed people, I am sure they believe this but their sinful pride is something to be weary of.

For many centuries the Church has used anointing as a means of healing the sick.  During Holy Week in the Orthodox Church, oil is blessed for this purpose and should be used by the faithful in the healing of the sick.  It does not have to be reserved for those who are on deaths door rather it should be used for the healing of all.  Going in for surgery, call the priest and have him anoint you.  It can also be used for spiritual illness, and what some would consider minor illnesses such as a cold.  The anointing was first and foremost used for healing.  It has morphed into the belief that it is the “last rites” this is anything but the truth.  Sure it can be used, and should be used at the time of death, but it is much more than that.

The Church has always cared for the sick; and in the church thee has always resided the gift of healing. The social gospel is not an appendix to Christianity; it is the very essence of the Christian faith and life.

  1. The Church is a Praying Church

This passage points out three basic ideas of the Jewish Religion.

  1. All sickness was due to sin. The Rabbis have said that there is “no death without guilt,” and “no suffering without sin.”  The Rabbis believed that before someone could be healed of their physical illness their sins needed to be forgiven by God.  The Jews always identified suffering and sin.  Although we do not link sin and physical health there is some truth that in order for us to be healed physically we need that spiritual healing as well.
  2. There is the idea that confession of sin has to be made to another person especially the person that was wronged and to God. There is this sense in our Sacramental confession.  The penitent stands before God and the priest is there was witness.  The person, who humbly brings themselves before God, is reunited or reconciled with God, and the priest is there to reconcile us to the community.  So there is a Godly aspect to sin as well as a communal act.  We sin against God and the community and are separated by both and need to be reconciled to both.  We pray, “in peace let us pray to the Lord.”  Well we cannot be at peace to pray to the Lord if we harbor ill feelings towards others.  We must be reconciled to all before we can pray to God.
  3. There is the idea that no limits can be set on the power of prayer. The Jews had a saying that he who prays surrounds his house with a wall stronger than iron. To them prayer was nothing less than contacting the power of God and this power brought them answers to prayer.

The people of God and through them to the Church, needs to be at constant prayer for each one of us and others.  Prayer is central to our spiritual life and we need to pay it more than “lip service” if we want it to be effective in our lives.

On Monday, July 6th I will begin a new series of Study on the Letters of St. Peter.  The study is FREE and you can sign up by clicking this link.

What Motivates Your Life?

carrot-and-stick

In a previous essay I spent some time with the subject of the purpose of our being.  I turned to the book by Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, to pull out some ideas on that subject.  But once we determine what our purpose is we also have to determine what it is that motivates our life.

Rick Warren suggests several things that motivate us and the first one is that we are motivated by guilt.  We spend our lives running away from things like regret and bad memories and sometimes it paralyzes us from moving forward.  Perhaps we have made some mistakes in the past and so it makes us afraid to try again.  Rather than taking charge of our future we are controlled by our past.  I see this in the work of the Church.  We cling to tradition but sometimes tradition can be a drag on us moving forward.

Feelings of guilt about our past can lead us to feelings of anger maybe about our past but also about our future.  Perhaps we recognize that our past is holding us back but we are not sure how to make it right so we get angry about it.  I have learned over the years that anger only hurts us and if we can learn to control our anger then we can move forward.

But putting a positive spin on things we see that if we know our purpose it will give us meaning to our life.  As I mentioned in the previous essay we all have a purpose and we have to find that.  As a pastor it is part of my role to help people discover what that purpose is, to help people find and live to their potential.  The role of the Church and of the spiritual father is to equip the saints if you will, for their lives and then to help them to live it.

If we know our purpose it can really simplify things in our lives.  I am preparing for a trip to Nova Scotia.  I know the destination and now I have to plan how I am going to get there.  I could just head north and hope for the best, but it will be much simpler to have a plan.  It saves a lot of wandering and getting lost.  Our lives are the same way.  Once we discover our purpose then we have to chart the course of how we are going to get there and that is where the spiritual father or mother can help.

Along with the simplification of our lives once we know our purpose it also helps the focus.  For many of the same reasons as simplification, our focus moves from a shot gun approach sort of all over the place to more of a laser beam focus on things.  No longer will we be distracted by the things that come along.  We can deal with them and move on to what is important.

The important thing to remember is that we cannot go it alone we need a trusted friend or a spiritual guide to help us along this path.  We can get lost in our own stuff and maybe not be able to see clearly to find the way out or to find that laser beam focus that we need.  The first step comes with the realization that we want to find that purpose, that our lives have been direction less or maybe we feel stuck in what we are doing and want to make a move.  It starts with prayer and listening to God and the purpose will become clear.

The Healing Power of the Church

 

peace

The Gospel passage for this past Sunday came from the 8th chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel and is the story of Jesus healing the servant of the centurion.  The servant was paralyzed and the centurion approached Jesus to ask him to heal his servant.  Jesus agrees and wants to go to his home to see the man who was in need of healing and the centurion objects saying that he is not worthy to have Jesus come to his home.  And important thing to remember is that if Jesus had gone to his home he would become ritually unclean.  The centurion would have known this and that is what led him to make this statement.

Jesus is so moved by this man’s faith that he heals the servant without going to the man’s house.   This is the first time we see Jesus heal someone through another person.  Jesus tells him to go and that since he believed it would happen it has happened.  The healing power of the church is something that is often over looked in these days.

I think it would be an understatement to say that this past weeks has been historic.  The decision by the United States Supreme Court that legalized same sex marriage has cause a variety of emotions from happiness to fear.  How should the Church react in situations like this?

Keep in mind that nothing really has changed as far as the Church is concerned.  The US Supreme Court does not have the power or authority to change church theology or doctrine.  I am not one that believes the hype that the government will now force clergy to marry folks that our churches will not allow us too.  I live in Massachusetts where same sex marriage has been the law since 2004 and not one clergy person has been forced to marry anyone.  I do not find that type of discussion helpful in moving forward.

The Church can bring her healing power through love and understanding.  Tolerance is a word that most church folks do not like but I believe that Jesus was rather tolerant in his teaching.  He told his apostles that if they went to a town that did not accept them they were to shake the dust off of their shoes ad move on.  Jesus came into contact with all sorts of people that did not agree with him, he did not ask the government to pass a law forbidding their behavior he changed hearts and minds through love and understanding and that is what the Church needs to do.

After the shooting took place in Charleston, the families of those killed, or should I say martyred, publically forgave the shooter for what he had done.  The world has a hard time understanding how anyone could forgive someone who did something like this but for those of un is the Church this is an example of what we are supposed to do.  I believe it was their example that defused the situation rather than spark riots and what not the city remained calm.  The healing power of love, love for the man who killed their family, brought healing to a city, at state, and perhaps a nation.  Do we have more work to do?  Yes, but this is a good start.

We stand at the point of a new reformation in the church and we can either ride the wave or be washed into irrelevancy and we do this we need to be the calm voice that brings people together rather than the irrational voice yelling from the sidelines.  The word needs to hear our message but they will not hear the message if the world believes we are hypocritical and judgmental.  The woman never would have approached Jesus at the well if he yelled at her as she approached and called her a sinner, in face he never called her a sinner.  Our theology does not have to change but our message and our methods do.

Some Thoughts on the Confederate Flag Issue

Take Down the Flag

I am a living historian and portray a Federal Chaplain assigned to the 28th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment of the famed Irish Brigade.  I do not glorify war but study the past to help influence the future.  We must understand the past, not the past we want to believe, but the past as it happened.  The American Civil War is a stain on the history of the United States, but we cannot deny that it happened or the reasons why it happened.

The reasons for the war are a varied as the people who fought it, but I think we can all agree that the first reason was the issue of slavery in the South.  Slavery was part of the fabric of British North America and continued to be woven into the fabric of the United States.  I am of the opinion that if the framers of the Constitution had tried to outlaw slavery, or restrict it in any way, it would never have passed.  So we began the great history of the United States with a compromise, and it was that compromise that eventually led to the Civil War.

The first thing to remember is that the flag that is the center of the controversy is the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and adopted by this army in 1861.  It was NOT, as has been depicted in various media outlets, the flag of the Confederacy.  Yes, the battle flag became part of the official flag of the #Confederacy in 1863 the flag was used primarily in battle.

When the war ended, the flag was folded and put away.  It would make an appearance every now and again at reunions or a parade, but it was not in use.  It was used as a symbol of heritage, much like the Scottish flag that I fly from time to time, but it become more than that and that is what has led us to the discussion we find ourselves in today.

In 1948, there was a revolt in the Democrat party against the desegregation of the military and anti-lynching bills that were authored by President Harry Truman.  Beginning in Mississippi that same year when Southern Democrats began waving the Confederate Battle Flag and shouting the “rebel yell.”  This spilled over to the Democratic National Convention in July of that year when nine Southern States backed Georgia’s Senator Richard Russell over Truman.  His supporters paraded around the convention floor carrying the flag and singing Dixie.

A breakaway party known as the #Dixiecrats and headed by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurman convened in Birmingham Alabama and nominated Thurman as President.  Sales of the flag skyrocketed, and shopkeepers could not keep them on the shelves.  The sentiment of the flag had switched from that of heritage to that of segregation.  Over the next two decades, the Klan had begun to use the flag, and other “white pride” organizations started to use it.  It’s meaning, in the political context was now clear.

When Dylan Roof walked into the Bible Study at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in #Charleston South Carolina, the flag once again became a symbol of #racism and hate.  Not long after the heinous act, a picture of roof festooned with the flag began to emerge.  The flags located at the Capitol Building and grounds in Columbia were lowered to half-staff except for the #Confederate Battle Flag, and it became a lightning rod for racism in America.  The cry has now gone out to remove the flag and place it where it belongs, in a museum.

Just as a side note, Although South Carolina flies the Battle Flag on the grounds of the capitol it does not use it as part of the state flag.  Six other states; Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee use portions of the “stars and bars” as symbols on their state flags.  Recently the governor of Mississippi has called for the removal of these symbols from the state flag.

Longtime Charleston South Carolina Mayor Joseph P. Riley said, “It sends, at best, mixed messages and, at worst, for hateful people like Roof, it’s an affirmation because they have appropriated something and used it as a symbol of hatred. So I think that it needs to go into a museum, and I think it will.”  It is not so much what it was it is now about what it has become, and that is a symbol of hate.

Yes, the flag can be used to honor a proud heritage but the flag has become a symbol for all that wrong in America.  It has become a symbol of hatred and racism, and it continues to divide people and because of all of that the flag should be lowered and placed in a museum where its proper context can be maintained.

Symbols in America are strong.  I wrote an essay about symbols in America not long ago. We enshrine the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution behind bullet proof glass in a building designed to look like a Greek Temple.  As if the loss of these documents would somehow change America.  Some hold the flag of our country more sacred than the bible and other religious icons.  Because of this we cannot simply say it is a piece of cloth with no meaning, it has deep meaning for many and for many more that meaning is despicable and a reminder of a time when oppression and slavery were part of the fabric of America.

We cannot deny history and we must always study our history.  We must also be willing to accept the not so pleasant parts of our history and learn from them.  I join my voice to those who have already weighed in on this issue in calling for the flag to be taken down.  Place it in a museum and let the healing begin.

The Purpose of our Being

 

vision

One of the question I hear most as a spiritual director is, “What is my purpose in life?”  Finding our meaning can be a struggle, and it may take us a lifetime to figure out but, as a Christian, our purpose all starts with God.

I should rephrase that and say that God is not just the pace where we start for God is not merely the starting point God is the source and summit of our lives.  We live and move and have our meaning not apart from God but God and with God.  As you can see, God is central to this discovery of our purpose.

I have begun to reread the book Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  I read it years ago, and it helped me to define, and redefine, what my purpose is.  However, we need to check that plan along the way.  I like this analogy: The captain of the ship charts the course and orders the one at the wheel to set the boat on course.  If the one at the wheel did not make slight corrections as the ship moved along in the water the ship would eventually go off course.  It is not noticeable, but minor corrections are made all along the way.  Our life is the same.  We set the course; we get directions from God, but we still have to make slight course corrections along the way.  Purpose Driven Life was an excellent book for me, and it may not be a right book for you, so you need to find what works.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. Ephesians 1:11

Rick Warren uses this passage and says that there are three things we can learn about our purpose from it.

  1. We come to the knowledge of our purpose in life through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Whatever you want to call it, I like to think of it as a personal relationship.  This is a relationship where I can say anything, scream, act out my frustrations, and seek help.  And if I listen carefully, the answer will come.  I am not always happy with the answer, but it is an answer.  If you are not in spiritual direction, and you wish to improve your spiritual life, then I suggest you find a good spiritual director that will help you with this relationship.  For me, it all starts with this relationship.
  2. God was thinking of us and continues to think of us, long before we ever thought of him. God purpose for our lives predates us, and he planned this without our input. We may choose the things in our lives, our job, our partner, and other things, but it is God who determines that purpose.  We need to seek his guidance in all aspects of our lives to ensure that we are in fact living in his will.  I always like to remind myself of Jesus in the garden prior to his crucifixion.  In the end, it was God’s will and not his that he followed.  I think God is a better judge of what is right for us than we are.
  3. Our purpose fits into a much larger story we are part of a big cosmic thing, there is not a better word for it. I try not to dwell on this part because, for me, it is incomprehensible how large this “thing” really is.

Finding our purpose is not easy but it starts with the desire to find it and the willingness to let go of our will for that of God’s will.  Our will should be God’s will, and when they work together, we find our purpose.

Some Thoughts in the Aftermath of Charleston

Trying to Make Sense out of the Senseless

Charleston

How do you begin to try and make sense out of something that is so senseless?  Where do you start?  I usually begin with prayer but today I am finding the words difficult to form.  I am trying not to get mad or depressed, but it is extremely difficult, sometimes I feel like God is not with us but at the same time I feel the presence of God in an overwhelming way.

We are once again, witnesses to a shooting and the taking of innocent lives in a church in Charleston South Carolina.  I will not speculate about the motive but the man was white and the victims we all black.  It is not a race issue, but it is.  It is not a gun control issue, but it is.  It is not a mental health problem, but it is.  It is all of these things wrapped together into one package, and it all stems from one place, lack of respect for human life.

The Christian tradition I am from teaches that all human life is sacred from its creation to its natural finish and yes, that includes the person who pulled the trigger.  This comes in part from the theology that all of humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, and we are all given that divine spark at our creation.

We are living in a society that holds nothing sacred from cemeteries to worship spaces to human life.  Once we have no further use for something, we only throw it away as if it means nothing because we can just get another one.  The taking of a human life, in a manner such as we saw in Charleston, is the same.  Those lives meant nothing to the shooter, he did not see them as God creation, even though he sat in Church with them for reportedly more than an hour, he saw them as things and as things they can be disposed of.

Violence entered a place of worship last night.  The place that brings forth light has been transformed into a tomb of darkness, but that will not last long.  Our hearts break but soon the light will shine again, if the light stops shining then the enemy wins, and we simply cannot let that happen.

I ask all of you who might read this to join me as I try to find the words of prayer to pray for the victims and all of those involved in this heinous act.

Peace between neighbors, peace between kindred, peace between lovers, in love of the King of Life.

Peace between person and person, Peace between wife and husband, Peace between woman and children, the peace of Christ above all peace.

Bless, O Christ, my face, let my face bless everything; bless, O Christ, mine eye, let mine eye bless all it sees.

Celtic Prayer for Peace, Carmina Gadelica

The Destructive Nature of Gossip

Advice from the Letter of St. James

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? James 4:11-12

 

140228155048-whispering-gossip-story-top

Gossip is one of the most insidious problems that exist in any community, church or otherwise.  It can often start without malice but very often, and very quickly, turns in that direction and that can bring down an entire community.  As one engaged in the art of spiritual direction and as well as one who often hears confession, gossip comes up on many occasions.  It is my opinion that most people have no idea what gossip is and how destructive it can be.

In my Daily Meditation Email (you can subscribe here) the focus has been on the Letter of St. James.  This is a very practical letter that gives the reader an idea of what one needs to do to live a Christian life.  Recently, the focus turned towards gossip, and I thought it would be instructive to include that meditation.

The word that James uses for to speak harshly of, or, to slander is katalalein. Usually, this verb means to slander someone when he is not present to defend them.  This sin slander is condemned all through Scripture. “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son” (Psalm 50:20).  Katalia is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential information that destroys the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves.

Some are slow to realize that there are few sins which Scripture condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip.  There are few activities in which the average person finds more delight than this; to tell and to listen to the slanderous story. James condemns it for two fundamental reasons.

  1. It is a breach of the royal law that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (James 2:8, Leviticus 19:18). Obviously we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves and speak slanderously of him. If a person breaks a law knowingly, they set themselves above the law. But our job is not to judge the law, but to obey the law. So if a person speaks evil of his neighbor they have appointed themselves a judge of the law and taken upon themselves the right to break the law, and, therefore, stands condemned.
  2. It is an infringement of the prerogative of God. To slander another human is to judge that person. No human being has any right to judge any other person; the right of judgment belongs to God alone.

It is God alone who can save and to destroy. To judge another is to take to ourselves a right to do what God alone has the right to do, and he is a reckless man who deliberately infringes the prerogatives of God.

We might think that to speak evil of our neighbors is not a severe sin. But Scripture would say that it is one of the worst of all because it is a breach of the royal law and an infringement of the rights of God.

Summer Challenge: USS Constitution

Last summer I gave myself a challenge to visit some local historical sites that I had never visited or that it had been a while since I visited them.  I was able to visit a few local ones and some that were not so local that I visited during my vacation in Florida.  Since I did not complete the list, you can find the list by clicking here; I decided to continue the challenge this summer.

I have had a long interest in the USS Constitution.  This comes partly because she is the oldest commissioned warship in the United States and the fact that she is berthed right here in Boston.  But my interest is deeper than these two as one of my relatives, okay a very distant relative, was once Commodore on the ship.

CDR Preble

Commodore Edward Preble entered the Massachusetts State Navy in 1779 and was appointed an officer in the 26 gun ship Protector.  He became a British prisoner when the ship was captured in 1781.  After his release he served on board the Massachusetts ship Winthrop.  After the Revolutionary war he saw 15 years of merchant service and in 1798 was commissioned a lieutenant in the United States Navy.  Fast forwarding a bit in 1803 he was promoted, over many senior officers, to Commodore and given command of the Constitution.  He sailed her to the Mediterranean where he established a blockade off Tripoli.  He retired from naval service in 1804 and died in 1807.

Today the Constitution has entered dry dock for the every 20 years’ service.  As the oldest commissioned warship, and made of wood, the ship requires a lot of maintenance.  Once of the tasks is to remove the copper plates on her hull and replace them with new ones.  If you have an opportunity to visit her and head into the museum, you will have an opportunity to sign your name on the copper plates that will be attached to her hull.  See her in dry dock is amazing as you get a chance to see her all the way down to her keel.  Although the tops of her masts have been removed she is still a magnificent sight to see perches as she is.  The ship has reopened for tours however only the top deck is available at this time to tour but it are worth it.

Constitution

The museum, right next door to the ship, is also worth taking the time to visit.  Run by the National Park Service it is open to the public for a donation.  The museum traces the history of the Constitution and the role she has played in the history of the United States.

If you find yourself in Boston take the time to cross the bridge to Charlestown and visit the Constitution at the Charlestown Navy Yard.  You will not be disappointed.

10 Things to do on Vacation

Now that summer is almost here and we start to think about taking a little time off here are some suggestions that come to us from the Blog, Orthodoxy Around the World.

1. Make every effort to improve your health: try to get enough sleep; go for walks in the fresh air as often as you can; put your daily regime in order. Having a bad time off and not restoring your strength can lead to difficulty in doing your work with proper concentration over the course of the year.
2. Expand your prayer rule by adding something that you do not normally have time to read: prayers, psalms, or a chapter from the Gospels. Or read your usual rule with greater attention and concentration.
3. Read at least one book about the faith: something by one of the Holy Fathers (for instance, St. John Chrysostom) or by a contemporary theologian.
4. Try to visit a monastery and venerate its sacred objects. Do not allow yourself to miss the Sunday Liturgy, justifying yourself by saying you are on vacation.
5. An information break is also essential. Put aside a few days of your vacation time that will be entirely free from the Internet, social networks, and frequent text messaging. Reduce the amount of time you spend reading the news or watching television. Hold out for as long as possible!
6. Communicate on a serious and deep level with members of your family – wife, husband, parents – without hurrying and without being distracted every five minutes by the telephone. Talk about life, joys, problems, and plans; rejoice in one another’s company.
7. As our children grow up, we often stop teaching them anything new in the same way we did when they were little. Read aloud to them an interesting but serious work that will open up something new to them. Watch a good, meaningful film with them. Teach them to listen to silence or to understand the beauty of poetry.
8. Think of something that members of your household have been asking you to do for some time, but that you have kept putting off. Take the children to the zoo, repair something, or sew up something – fulfill what was requested of you.
9. Complete an act of charity that you have long been putting off.
10. Visit your godparents, godchildren, or old family friends whom you have not seen for a long time.

The Problem with Pride

pride

As someone involved in the spiritual direction and guiding others along the spiritual path, I often get the question about pride.  We hear that pride is dangerous and that pride led to the first sin, and although all of that is true not all pride is bad, in fact, some pride is good for us.

For the past several weeks, I have been engaged in a virtual bible study using the Letter of St. James. (You can sign up here if you want to jump in)  This letter, in my opinion, is often overlooked for its many nuggets of wisdom.  There is much that can be learned from this letter, and some of the ones that follow it, that I believe a further study indeed is needed by all.

One of the verses this past week was from the 4th chapter and verses 4-7 and reads thus:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James meets what is an inevitable reaction to this picture of God as the jealous lover. If God is like that, how can anyone give to him the devotion he demands?  James’ answer is that, if God makes a high demand, he gives great grace to fulfill it, and the greater the demand, the greater the grace God gives.

But the problem is that a man cannot receive this grace until he has realized he needs it and has approached God in humility asking for help.  It must always remain faithful that God sets himself against the proud and gives his grace to the humble. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34) and (1 Peter 5:5).

But what is the destructive pride?  The word for proud is huperephanos which means one who shows himself above other people. It’s real terror is that it is a thing of the heart. It means haughtiness, but the man who suffers from it might well appear to be walking in downcast humility while all the time there is in his heart a vast contempt for all his fellow man.

This type of pride shuts itself off from God for three reasons.

  1. It does not know its need. It so admires itself that recognizes no need to be supplied.
  2. It cherishes its independence. It will be beholden to no man and not even to God.
  3. It does not recognize its sin. It is occupied thinking of its goodness and never realizes that has any sin from which it needs to be saved. Pride like this cannot receive help because it does not know that it needs aid and, therefore, it cannot ask.

James is pleading for a sense of humility that has two characteristics.

  1. It knows that if a man takes a resolute stand against the devil, he will prove him a coward. The great example of this is in Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In this, we see that the Devil is not invincible when confronted with the word of God.  With the word of God, the devil can be put to flight. The Christian has the humility that knows we must fight our battles with the tempter but not with our power but with the power of God.
  2. It knows that it has the greatest privilege of all, access to God. No longer is it only the priest who can have access to God. Through the work of Jesus Christ, anyone can come before the throne of God, confident that they will find mercy and grace to help us in the time of need.

The Christian must have humility, but a humility that gives us the dauntless courage and knows that the way to God is open to the most fearful saint.