James 4:7-8 “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.”
The people in the congregations to whom James was writing felt a need to protect their own interests. But their way of going about getting it wasn’t working. The fought and quarreled among each other to get their own way. They were filled with envy for the things that others had, things they couldn’t have themselves. They may have thought they were looking out for themselves, but all their fighting and coveting accomplished was to make them feel miserable. James had a different solution: “Submit yourselves, then, to God.”
James was telling them that in order to go up, they needed to go down. Real joy and peace would return when they stopped pushing themselves forward. Real joy and peace would return when they got their priorities straight and put themselves, their lives, and their desires, in line behind the Lord. They needed a humble approach to God.
This is what “submit” means when it is used in the Bible. Take your place in line behind someone else. Let someone else be first. It’s not an idea that enjoys much favor today. Every special interest group feels it needs to defend its territory and grab for more, whether democrats or republicans, conservatives or liberals, blacks or whites, males or females, labor or management, employees or ownership, one percenters or chronically poor. People in general view submitting as only a sign of weakness and inferiority. This very old, very Christian, very noble idea of putting others before yourself, of living a life of service, sometimes looks like it is disappearing even inside the Church.
But this humble approach to God, putting yourself in line behind him, getting your priorities straight and putting him first, is basic to receiving his lift for your life. To rise higher we must go lower. When we do, the Lord promises his blessing. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Submitting to God turns out to be a wonderful help with temptation. If we try to resist the devil all by ourselves, he has no reason to give in. We can’t stand up to temptation alone. Someone has wisely said of the “lift yourself up by your own bootstraps” approach: “When you try to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, you either break the bootstraps or strain your back.” But when we are living in submission under God, then this promise is true. When we are in line behind the Lord, he is out in front. And when the Lord is out in front, fighting for us and with us, the devil is overmatched. Resist him, and he will flee.
Another blessing is having the Lord near to us. You can’t see what’s behind you very well. It’s so much easier to see what’s up ahead. When we submit to the Lord, when we get in line behind him, then we can see him near. We can realize the promise, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you.”
People who make the Lord number one in their lives want to get close to him every chance they get. They come to hear him speaking to them in his word. They sing about him and receive his own body and blood in his supper. Submitting to the Lord like this is a wonderful thing, because when we come close to him, he comes close to us. We know better and better each day God’s love in Christ, that he didn’t spare his own son, but gave him up for us all. He did it so that MY sins could be forgiven, and MY place in heaven could be sure. Then the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts by faith. Then we can live a life which is truly uplifted, confident that the Lord is near and with us and helping us every step of the way. Shortly before he died, Moses reminded the people of Israel: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” God is near us, listening, answering, blessing when we are under him.
“Submit” may not be a popular idea. But there is no surer way for peace and joy to rise than to find ourselves under God.