This chapter is striking to me because there appears to be a great deal of business logic and sense for the individual in these verses. There are also plenty of gospel paradoxes in my mind that are introduced in these verses.
Topics of Study:
- Ask and Ye Shall Receive.
- Making Friends with Mammon or the World.
- Submission to God
- Pride vs. Grace and Humility
- Doers of the Law vs. Judges (Making Ourselves as God)
Ye Ask, and Receive Not, Because Ye Ask Amiss;
A footnote to Heleman 10:4-6 reminds me of the intimate communion and power that the prophet Nephi had with God. He wasn’t afraid to do the Lord’s will and be obedient to His commands, which were extremely specific to his present circumstances.
What is more compelling about this passage in James is the reality that lust, or greed, is what is keeping me from connecting with God. The irony of the situation is real. Lust creates a chasm or void which cannot be filled. Action taken based upon lust is fruitless, meaning that we will expend energy and effort without meaningful or substantial results. Lust-based actions harm others: murders, war, fighting. Envyings and whoredoms should be added to the list of lust-based action. They are fruitless in their application and utterly destructive to the souls that engage in them.
The interesting thing about this comparison of productivity models is that often times money can be awarded to both types of effort, thus blurring the lines between what is right and what is wrong. Thus money is a through-line and neither an ends nor a means to wickedness or righteousness exclusively. The wicked will do wickedly with money. The righteous will do righteously with what money is available to them.
Friends with the World
James states, talking to adulterers and adulteresses, that friendship of the world is emnity or opposition to God (vs. 4). Jesus taught, talking to his disciples, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9)
It is not intended that in making friends of the ‘mammon of unrighteousness’ that the brethren were to partake with them in their sins; to receive them to their bosoms, intermarry with them and otherwise come down to their level. They were to so live that peace with their enemies might be assured. They were to treat them kindly, be friendly with them as far as correct and virtuous principles would permit, but never to swear with them or drink and carouse with them. If they could allay prejudice and show a willingness to trade with and show a kindly spirit, it might help to turn them away from their bitterness. Judgment was to be left with the Lord.President Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. , 1:323 (emphasis added)
Worldly-minded men do not neglect provision for their future years, … while the “children of light,” or those who believe spiritual wealth to be above all earthly possessions, are less energetic, prudent, or wise. …
… Emulate the unjust steward and the lovers of mammon [money], not in their dishonesty, cupidity, and miserly hoarding of the wealth that is at best transitory, but in their zeal, forethought, and provision for the future.James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. (1916), 463–64.
See also Psalm 37. This is good counsel not to react against wickedness, but rather to persist in righteousness, and let the wicked come to naught in their own time. The principles upon which the wicked ride do not support them long term.
Submission to God
(I’m at a difficult personal junction this morning, having made the evening deliberately more difficult for myself and my family than it needed to be.)
…Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.1 Samuel 24:17
I like the above scripture as a good working definition of righteousness: to do good to your enemies.
I am reminded in prayer that submission to God is not the false image that the adversary often paints in my mind of “duty.” Now I’m not saying that attending to one’s duties is bad, but failure to seek the will of the Father, in favor of rote compliance, is not good. There is no life in this thing, and therefore our works will be dead before we start.
Verses 7-11 give a very detailed listing of what submission to God looks like. I really wanted to point to the adversary the other night as the cause for me mucking up the evening’s activities. But that would then 1) give him more power than he actually has, and 2) remove my accountability for my actions and what I actually did.
The whole crux of the matter is submission to God and His Holy will.
Pride vs. Grace and Humility
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. This is a very interesting contrast. If I am proud and if God is resisting me, how am I able to pray to Him for guidance, direction, or answers to prayers? It will be like sounds bouncing off of a glass ceiling: no connection. And oh how real that rejection can feel, and it is not because God is rejecting us, but rather in our pride, we expect an answer. We demand a response, and get nothing but silence.
But then to the humble, the story looks quite different. It feels different, for it is different. God is not resisting them, and so grace fills their cups to overflowing. Feelings of peace are plentiful and profound. And so the humble progress from grace to grace; meanwhile, the proud increase in skepticism, disbelief, and jealousy. This division very much coincides with the final point:
Doers of the Law vs. Judges
(or rather, self-appointed judges of the law)
The obvious take away from the text here is the observation that those who judge are more preoccupied with their view of the situation, than their efforts to be in compliance with the Law of the Lord. There is a segregation between those who are doing based on the requirements of God’s law and those who refuse to engage and rather sit on the sidelines mocking, pointing fingers, but never entering into the path.
Then there is a business application to the delineation between doers and judges that James takes pains to spell out. Verses 13 & 14 describes the business attitudes of those who judge the law:
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
There are parallels between false judgment, pride, boasting, and the greed of the business attitude that says buy and sell and get gain. I guess that it is the thought that the end is gain, and thus the attempt to circumvent the plan of God, the law of God with money. As if, that were the end of it all.
The proper response is to turn it over into the Lord’s hands. To say, thy will be done. “Sufficient is the day to the evil there of.”
Here is what I’ve learned about business in regards to discipleship:
- Christ expects us to be as wise in our business transactions as are “the children of this world” which includes planning for the future and being a wise steward of the resources made available to us.
- Attitude is everything in so far as our first priority is to seek the will of God, to know and execute according to His law as best we can. To judge the law is to be prideful and lustful.
- In parallel with this gospel study, I’ve taken time to reflect upon different forms of business structure. Profit vs. non-profit, for example, are not strictly equated with gain vs. charity, which is where this all gets very confusing. Business activities should be decoupled from personal righteousness, kind of. It’s actually hard for me to articulate in words the delineation and the paradox of all this.
- However, I think a key take away from this study has been to understand that Christ would have us to be as wise as the wisest in business, and yet as humble and teachable in our ability to follow Him.