Have you ever watched the TV show Family Feud? Last year TV Guide ranked it third on its list of the top sixty game shows of all time. Why is this show so popular and enduring? My guess is because its funny, tests peoples’ knowledge of popular opinions and involves competition among families.
So it’s true: many of us like watching a good feud. However, I guarantee there’s at least one person who doesn’t: I am talking about the Apostle James, the brother of Jesus. James wrote a letter to Jewish Christians who were experiencing persecution. He noticed many Christians were responding to their circumstances poorly because instead of banding together, they were breaking apart with quarreling, fighting and slandering. Needless to say, James didn’t like the way his Christian family was feuding: there were no laughs or prize money involved. So in James 3:13—4:12 he challenged his friends to make a choice. To paraphrase he said “choose heavenly wisdom over earthly wisdom” (3:13—18) and “choose friendship with God over friendship with the world” (4:4—5).
Now that would seem to be an easy choice, but the problem is we struggle with sinful desires: namely coveting and sensual pleasure (4:2-3).
What’s scary is that if our sinful desires are left unchecked, they lead anarchy, wickedness and slander (3:16, 4:11). That’s a sobering thought: our desires can cause revolution and anarchy in the church. They lead people to speak evil instead of good, to speak curses instead of blessings. These behaviors tear at the fabric of Christian community.
So then, how do we overcome our evil desires to have healthy churches (and marriages, families, etc.)? First, James says repent: “Wash your hands…purify your hearts…Grieve, mourn and wail” (4:8-9). To repent means to confess sin and to change the direction of your life.
Second, James says, “humble yourselves” (4:10). This means to lower ourselves; to place ourselves beneath the authority of God.
Let me give you an illustration. The World Series started on Tuesday, Oct. 21. Most avid baseball fans have heard the name Albert Pujols (whose Angels lost in the ALDS). He grew up poor in the Dominican Republic where the average salary is $5000 American per year. The story goes that Pujols learned baseball using limes for balls and a milk carton as a glove. Because Albert’s father was an alcoholic he was raised by his grandmother. Eventually his family immigrated to America. Pujols has since become one of the best players in league history: he’s a two-time world series champion, a three-time MVP and holds numerous hitting records. Playing baseball has made him incredibly rich. His net worth is estimated at $90 million. But his money and career are not what define him as a person. A few years ago Albert gave a speech at a public high school in Missouri. Here is a snippet of what he said: “As a Christian, I am called to live a holy life. My standard for living is set by God, not by the world. I am responsible for growing and sharing the gospel…one way for me to stay satisfied in Jesus is for me to stay humble. Humility is getting on your knees and staying in God’s will—what he wants for me, not what the world wants.”
If one of the wealthiest and most successful athletes in professional sports stays humble by literally getting on his knees and surrendering his life to God on a regular basis, then perhaps we too can do the same.