IN HARMONY WITH HEAVEN
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Russell Delany, professor of philosophy and evangelism at the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, has said that our great need today is:
Not for better legislation, but for better legislators.
Not for better business, but for better business men.
Not for better banking, but for better bankers.
Not for better farming, but for better farmers.
Not for better teaching, but for better teachers.
Not for better preaching, but for better preachers.
In other words, he is saying that man's greatest problem is man. He is trying to cut through the thick fog that has blinded man to the real source of discord in the world, which is himself. James has done the same thing for the church. He has diagnosed the problem as secularism. He hasn't pulled any punches. We are compelled to admit that the disease of secularism is a serious threat to our spiritual health. It brings discord into our relationship with God and man.
James has made it clear that the real enemy is the self. The problems in the church have the same origin as all the problems in the world, which is self-centeredness. This is the religion of the world. Self is the idol in secularism, but God warns, and history reveals that those who would put self on the throne will end by being the monarch of a madhouse. Nietzsche, the German philosopher, carried through completely the experiment of rejecting God, and all meaning and purpose of life. He finished his experiment with a very logical conclusion by going mad. Deny God, and life becomes a discord. Someone has said that one of the best proofs for the existence of God is what happens to life when you deny it. If all were to forsake God for self, hell would begin on earth.
Listen to the philosophy that Max Stirner expresses, whose religion is radical egotism. He writes, "My relation to the world is this: I no longer do anything for it for God's sake; I do nothing for man's sake, but what I do I do for my sake." Self is his god. In the book Holy Barbarians a man looks into a mirror and says, "This is the face of God you see. Why don't you relax and enjoy God? God is you you fool." This, of course, is radical self-centeredness, but James has made it clear that a modified and more subtle form of self-worship can enter the church, and bring with it the resulting disharmony and discord, for it is incompatible with agape, or selfless love, and humility.
Pride blinds us to our self-centeredness, and to the reality that we are the problem. A character in modern literature cried out, "It's not my fault! It's not my fault! Nothing in this lousy world is my fault!" He is saying that he has no responsibility, and any change that is needed is not up to him. He is like the boy who said to his father when he was scolded for fighting with his brother, "Well, its his fault. He started it when he hit me back." I trust all of us can recognize that we are a part of the problem, and none of us are faultless. If there is anger, envy, lack of joy, loss of interest in the Bible, and temptation to go after the gods of the world, the problem is not God, the devil, the church, the preacher, or the government, but it is you. The need is not for a better church for you, but a better you for the church. The old Negro spiritual says, "It's not my brother or my sister but its me O Lord standing in the need of prayer."
If we are able to come to this conclusion, and see that the real problem is the self, then we are ready for the answer. James not only describes the sin that leads to discord, but he prescribes the solution that leads to harmony with heaven. The solution to the sins of selfishness, sensuality, and secularism, and all that is anti-spiritual is submission. In verse 7 James says submit yourselves to God. Submission seems to be the key word, for it involves humility, and resistance to the devil, and drawing nigh to God in repentance. It is interesting that James should use this word to describe the solution to God's marriage problem, and of how to be in harmony with heaven. Paul uses the same word to describe the solution for earthly marriages and harmony in the home.
Paul says in Eph. 5:22 and in Col. 3:1, "Wives submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord." This, of course, is followed by the command for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This is in parallel with our relationship to God. It takes two to make a marriage successful against all the forces of secularism. Submission on the part of one, and love on the part of the other are the two primary ingredients for happiness and harmony. The answer is action and not a mere formula you memorize. It is action that you perform over and over again all through life.
God's marriage can only be one that is happy for both partners when the Christian remains in a state of submission to his will. The analogy with husband and wife is not perfect because no husband is equal to God, and always right. But the fact is that earthly marriage is also at its best when there is strong leadership, and submission to that leadership. In many cases the strongest leadership may come from the wife. In God's marriage it is always God who provides the leadership, and man who must submit.
Let us not assume, however, that having the answer is the end, for it is only the beginning. The answer is worthless without application. It is one thing to know that submission is essential to a harmonious Christian life, but it is another thing to submit. Pride is a persistent pest, and often the Christian is as rebellious over triviality as were the Lilliputians in Gulliver's Travels. One of them was explaining to Gulliver that the primitive way of breaking eggs before they were eaten was at the large end. The present kings grandfather was going to break an egg in the traditional way, and happen to cut his finger. Whereupon the Emperor, his father, published and edict commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs.
The people so highly resented this law that since then, said the Lilliputian, there have been 6 rebellions, wherein one Emperor lost his life, and another is crowned, and 11 thousand persons have suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end, and many hundred large volumes have been published on this controversy. This, of course, is a mockery of the triviality over which men fight, but the picture is true in man's relation to God as well. What can be more foolish than for a man to refuse to submit to God, when to do so would gain for him all the blessings of God? Man has always had the suspicion that he will lose something if he submits to God. Satan deceived Adam and Eve into thinking God was denying them something they could gain by picking the forbidden fruit. Don't submit to God, but take things into your own hands, and you will be like God. This is the deception that leads men into rebellion all through history.
James is saying that the highway to harmony with heaven is reached only by going through the tunnel of submission. Many Christians refuse to take it because they think they can get there by a cheaper route. In reality they pay exorbitant fees, and still never arrive, for the price they pay for any other route is futility. Emile Durkheim has described the pursuit of happiness and harmony which characterizes the world, and which the non-submissive Christian can get caught up in.
"From top to bottom of the social scale, violent but indefinite
and unfocused desires are aroused. Nothing could possibly
appease them. Men thirst for novelty, for unknown delights,
for nameless sensations which nevertheless lose all their zest
as soon as they are experienced. Then, let the slightest reverse
occur and men are powerless to bear it. They discover how
futile the whole uproar was and realize that any number of
these novel experiences piled up indefinitely has not succeeded
in accumulating a solid capital of happiness on which they might
live in time of trial."
Everyone knows this is true, and yet even Christians will often refuse to admit it in their heart, and go ahead acting on it as a philosophy of life. They might agree with the poet who wrote-
This world is all a fleeting show,
For man's illusion given.
The smiles of joy, the tears of woe,
Deceitful shine, deceitful flow,
There's nothing true but heaven.
But when it comes right down to actual practice, they choose the world and its way, and refuse to submit to God. It is no wonder that Simone Weil has said, "It is easier for a non-Christian to become a Christian than for a Christian to become one. What he means is that the Christian often will not recognize his pride and repent, but will go on in perpetual resistance to submission. He goes on seeking happiness as an end in itself not realizing that it is only attained by the pursuit of holiness.
Happiness is a by product of a life in harmony with God. If you seek it as an end in itself, you inevitably fall into the deception of the world that says self-indulgence is the proper path. James says to wake up Christians, for God is opposed to the world, and to the pride that determines its whole system of values. God's grace is only given to the humble. If you submit to God, and resist Satan, he will flea as a defeated foe. He cannot stand against one who has placed God's will above self-indulgence and pride. Satan's power is gone when there is nothing to appeal to in us because we are committed to God's will.
Submission to God gives a power that cannot be obtained in any other way. It is a paradox, but submission of self is the way to self-fulfillment. He who does not submit is denying himself the power of God to resist Satan. He is denying himself the joy of perfect harmony with God. This is an enormous sacrifice to make, and all for no good purpose. It is like thousands dying over which end of the egg to break. On the other hand, he who submits to God gains everything needed for true happiness, and the self gains on every count.
The conclusion then is this. The battle within the Christian life to become a fully committed servant of God is as great, if not greater, than the battle within the lost sinner to become a child of God. This explains the often seen poor quality of Christian character. It explains why you and I are so often what we should not be, and are too often not what we should be. The problem lies in the lack of submission. In one or more areas of our character or conduct we are not submitting to God. In one or more aspects of life we are self-centered, self-willed, and to that degree there is discord in our Christian life. We have the prescription now, but its up to us to swallow it and say with the poet-
I'll trust my great Physician's skill,
What He prescribes can ne'er be ill;
For each disease He knows what's fit;
He's wise and good, and I'll submit.
Until we do we can never be completely in harmony with heaven.