Have you ever presumed things and in doing that been embarrassed or worse? Jesus had plenty to say about presumptuousness, most famous was his advice regarding seating at banquets. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus says:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In 4:6 James says the thrust of scripture is that “God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble.” Now he continues to further inveigh against presumption and hubris on our part. If you don’t know the word hubris Webster defines it as “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence.” It comes from a Greek word and Greek tragedy, hubris lead to nemesis or destruction by the Gods or by some other invincible force. Its the pride that comes before the fall.
James takes up the ultimate in presumption or hubris in two cases; 1) setting our own judgement above God’s and 2) presuming to know what is to come (which only God knows).
In the first case he says that speaking against other brothers or sisters in Christ is to be sitting in judgement against them. He says that you can’t be a judge and a doer of the Law at the same time and that speaking against a believer is tantamount to judging the law. Instead God is the one and only Lawgiver and Judge, and (by the way) just who are you anyway?
Now this is all very confusing, not in terms of what it says, that’s clear enough, but in terms of what it might mean in the whole context of scripture. There are numerous points in scripture where we are called upon to confront sin in people (always in the context of love and redemption) and to have nothing to do with people who are preaching false doctrine. Paul not only condemned false teaching, loving the world and quarreling, he named names. Here are some he pointed out as doing wrong:
- 2 Timothy 1:20 – Hymenaeus and Alexander, handed over to Satan.
- 2 Timothy 2:17-18 – Hymenaeus and Philetus, gone astray from the truth.
- 2 Timothy 4:10 – Demas, loves the world too much.
- Philippians 4:2 – Euodia and Syntyche – arguing and causing dissension.
- Col. 4:17 – Archippus – “Take heed to your ministry”.
Even John gets in on the act calling Diotrephes someone who loves to be first and does not listen in 3 John 9:10.
Steven J. Cole (from whom the list above also came) has an excellent article on the sin of judging others. He suggests some things judging is and is not. (I don’t necessarily agree with his list, but it is a starting point for discussion). Per Cole:
Judging wrongly is not:
- Being discerning with regard to a person’s character or teaching.
- Speaking to someone about their false teaching or sin.
- Advising a person who is considering following someone who’s doctrine is wrong.
Judging wrongly is:
- Judging out of some sinful motive (jealousy, bitterness, ambition, etc.).
- Assuming we know all the pertinent facts and motives.
- Judging according to human religious standards rather than the standards of God’s word.
- Judging without also judging yourself first. “He [Jesus] does not say that it is wrong to help your brother get the speck out of his eye, but rather, before you try to do so, deal with the log in your own eye.”
- Sharing confidential information with the wrong intent.
- Criticizing over a minor matter out of a self righteous spirit.
- Making an authoritative pronouncement about someone’s eternal destiny.
James’ prescription for this problem is to submit ourselves to the One True Judge and Lawgiver and to His word as revealed through His Son and Scripture and to each other in love. That’s sort of in the same category as “be ye therefore perfect…” Right? But think about it, if we are busy doing the word instead of only hearing it, if it becomes something we have internalized as truth rather than merely giving mental assent to its correctness, how will we act toward each other?
In the second case of presumption James talks about boasting of things that will be, about our achievements yet to come. He talks about a business man who says he will go to a city, trade there and make money and reminds us that we do not know what will happen tomorrow and that our life is just a mist (compare to hebel, vapor from Ecclesiastes).
Here today, gone tomorrow, unnoticed in the great stream of time and history. How presumptuous of us to boast of the future. Does this mean that James is opposed to planning, to setting goals? I don’t think so, but I do think he is opposed to considering that it is our desires or will alone that shapes the future and giving no consideration to God’s will. God holds the future in his hands, but not in some deterministic/fatalistic sense, in the sense of mercy and grace, God’s will will be done and be seen to be done. If our will is aligned with His what happens then?
Relying on our own efforts only to shape the future is hubris, surrendering to God’s will and to what James calls the Royal Law, ensures our future.
Presuming to put ourselves in God’s place is not just a sin in itself, it is the root of all sin. The serpent in Eden told Adam and Eve that they knew better than God and should put themselves in His place. It was the ultimate temptation, the one that lies below all others, ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” To be our own God, that’s what we really want if we are honest with ourselves, and submitting to Him is something we can only do through His grace in our lives. Humans are all about hubris, but God says there is a way out.