"Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi." I was seven years old and learning my books of the Bible in Sunday School. Some sections of the Bible's book list were easy: "Matthew, Mark, Luke, John." I could handle the gospels. But the so-called "minor prophets," tucked away at the end of the Old Testament, were brutal to memorize. I thought I never would be able to remember all of them much less be able to remember all of them in order so that I could get one of those coveted Sunday School gold stars. But I kept walking around the house repeating to myself: "Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah... Obadiah... What comes after Obadiah?!"
Even though it took me a while, I am proud to say that I wrote the listing of minor prophets at the beginning of this blog from memory. I may have had a difficult time memorizing these books, but once I did, I never forgot them.
In our reading for today from James 4, the apostle chastises his readers for their wicked ways:
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? (verses 4-5)
The grammar of verse 5 is quite interesting. The NIV takes this verse to mean that our fallen human spirits envy others, engaging in sinful behavior. The ESV translates this verse, "God yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us," meaning that God is jealous for our spirits, not wanting them to belong to Satan. Either way, James' message is clear: We ought to flee from wickedness, be it the wickedness of envy or otherwise, and flee toward the arms of God who jealously guards our spirits.
How are we to flee from wickedness and flee toward God? James gives us the answer in the following verses:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (verses 7-10)
Notice that James rapidly fires verbs at his readers in a staccato fashion: "Submit, Resist, Come Near, Wash, Purify, Grieve, Mourn, Wail, Change, Humble." Ten verbs in the scope of four verses.
Although memorizing this list of verbs may seem about as appealing as memorizing the final twelve books of the Old Testament, can I appeal to you to commit these ten verbs to memory? For they are invaluable when striving against the allures of sin. Submit to God's perfect will rather than following your own broken will. Resist Satan's temptations. Come near to God and rest in his true joy rather than the cheap thrills of sin. Wash and purify your soul in Jesus' blood of forgiveness. Grieve, mourn, wail, and change when you do fall prey to sin - for you will fall prey to sin - and you will then need this language of repentance. Finally, even as you do resist sin, do not become haughty in your own righteousness; rather, remain humble, relying on God's righteousness. For his righteousness is your one and only hope. This is James' guidance in the face of sin's enticements.
Lest we despair over our inability to memorize this list of ten verbs much less live them, let us not forget how James sets up his verb list: "God gives us more grace" (verse 6). It is grace that undergirds and empowers these verbs. Without God's grace to fuel our actions and forgive us for our rebellion, these verbs stand as impossible ideals. With God's grace, however, these verbs guide us in our Christian lives. I hope these verbs will guide you today... and every day.