James 1: 9-11: Good Tools Used for Bad Purposes
Something is disgusting about good tools used for bad purposes.
We sense this disgust, for instance, when we hear stories of people using authority for manipulation. Authority is good, manipulation is bad. We sense this disgust, also, when we hear stories of people using alcohol to destroy the very fabric of their families. Alcohol is good, alcoholism is bad. We sense this disgust when we experience people who use boasting for their own glory. Boasting in God is good, boasting in self is bad.
Sense this with me in James’ text:
“ Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
The burden of the text comes through clearly in a simple reading: to boast rightly we need to be humbled rightly. To boast rightly, we need to boast in our weakness: the rich man should boast in his humiliation, for God is greater than God’s provisions. The poor man should boast in his exaltation, for even when he provides little, God is a sufficient provider.
Then, and this is the turn in the article to prepare yourself to go dark, to be humbled rightly we need to consider death. You don’t need to consider death as poetically as James does (with imagery of flowers passing away, grass withering, beauty perishing). But you do need to consider death.
Earnestly now, step away from the screen, consider death.
The enemy does not want you to consider death. What he wants for you is mindfulness’ opposite: distraction. He wants for you be so distracted by modern medication, digital screens, and clothing trends that not one flicker of mindfulness on your mortality wiggles into your mind’s life. To be surprised by death, this is the enemy’s prayer for you.
Worse yet, the very flesh that tightens itself around your soul does not want you to consider death. Mortality’s smallest evidence, a zit, pimple, or colony of acne, we rush to destroy the evidence with makeup.
Consider death, friends, because considering death is a Christ-inspired, Christ-exalting, Christ- infused spiritual practice.
To spend time meditating on your own mortality, that you are grass that withers, means something extraordinary happens in your soul. Your soul will become capable of imagining your money being eaten by moths, your flesh being eaten by worms, your things being eaten by rust. To say this differently, you will develop the ability to see yourself and your things outside of time and space, not as they currently appear to be but as they truly are, like the Lord sees them.
This unmasks our boasting, it hollows out everything, it grants us the closest perspective to omniscience this side of God’s nature: we understand ourselves no longer as boasting in cash, but as boasting in moth food. We understand ourselves no longer as boasting in beauty, but as boasting in worm food. We understand ourselves as no longer boasting in things, but as boasting in iron oxide food.
In fact, the desire to boast itself decomposes until we can only profess along the writers in the Bible: “let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Christian, this ought to be the end towards which you contemplate your own death. Properly experienced, your meditation should lead you ultimately to the Lord and his immortality.
God’s face will never develop wrinkles, his hair will neither fall out nor gray, his cells are not programmed by death to age, his cartilage will not fail his joints and leave him immobile. And yet, as we continue to meditate, we ought to also be reminded that he did die.
The gospel is the story of Jesus Christ taking on the very nature that James describes in this text. For us, Jesus became a flower that passed on the cross. For us, Jesus became grass that withered on the cross. For us, Jesus became beauty that perished on the cross. The cross is the meeting place of immortal spirit and mortal flesh that it could be the exchanging place of our life of dust for a life of eternity.
Boast in him.
And as you seek to turn this theology of God’s immortality into a practical theology, here are three helps for you along the way.
Be mindful: Sometime this week, perhaps even by this article’s end, you will hear from within yourself a boast. Perhaps it’s a glance in the mirror, a positive performance review, an accomplishment at the gym. The boast may not be flamboyant, it may just be a subtle boast. Be mindful enough to mark the boast, and then plan a field trip.
Take a field trip: Where is the text of James on most obvious display? Take a field trip to the cemetery. Ask the Lord to use the carved marble of the tombstones to show you the folly of boasting in your self, money, or anything but him who dug himself out from the grave.
Watch this sermon: Articles are good, but take one moment to hear this heartbeat of this article in this sermon.