James begins by telling us to resist (that is, be insubordinate to) the devil and to draw near (submit) to God. To do this, we must first understand that this is not a metaphorical idea. This command is not some form of allegory or anything else, but rather a command which requires action and willingness on our behalf. And to accomplish this requires that we understand what God commands of us, and in so doing, we can know the passions that we are resisting. James goes on to give us a few examples (for lack of a better word). “Cleanse your hands, you sinners,” he begins. To sin is to literally “miss the mark.” It is an archery term which means to miss the target. And in life, there are only two targets, there is God, and there is the devil. And, when we consider this, each thought that we think, each word that we utter, each action that we perform, makes us more like one of the two. And rest assured, if something doesn’t make you more like one, it makes you more like the other. So with each thought you have, each word you speak, each action you perform, as yourself who it is making you more like. If I speak badly of someone who has “irritated” me, does that make me more like Jesus, or more like the devil? If I refuse to help someone in need because I’m afraid I may not have the money to do something I want, am I submitting to God or am I serving the passions? “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom,” he continues. Where am I finding my contentment? Am I finding my joy, my happiness, my comfort in earthly things, or am I focusing on the eternal?
And he goes even further. He goes on to speak specifically of slandering another. Of criticizing someone else. See, we consider this such an everyday thing, even in jest, to speak badly of someone else, that we don’t really consider this a bad thing. I wonder how many would even consider it something to be repented of. And yet, when we consider the truth of what we are doing, we realize how wickedly sinful it truly is. Slandering another is pride. It is pride made manifest in our words. If we speak ill of another, or “put them down,” even in jest, what we are truly doing is elevating ourselves higher than they are. It could be that we are doing so to point out how much of a “better job” we could have done than that other person. Or, it could even just be that we are elevating ourselves above that person by proclaiming ourselves a judge of that person. But either way, we are elevating ourselves as being above that person in one way or another. It displays not only a lack of humility, but also a lack of true faith, coupled with wicked deeds. Our words become not only a slight to that person, but an offense against God Himself. God’s will is to love others through compassion, humility, and mercy, even if they are truly wrong; which He Himself will be the judge of.
My brethern, our words have power. They have the power to build up, or to tear down, the belief of someone whom God wishes to turn to Him in repentance. If my words push someone away from our God, who desires that all men be saved, then I am in no way becoming more like God, and thus am giving myself over to Satan himself. Our words also reveal what is truly in our hearts. Outward displays of piety are meaningless if by my words I murder my brother or sister. Whatever the actions we perform, whatever reward we may think we are gaining, we immediately nullify them the moment we speak ill of another. The moment we seek pride over compassion, or acclaim over humility. If I strictly keep the forty day fast of great Lent, and yet complain about what I have given up, I have completely lost the meaning of the fast. If I keep the full fast, but instead devour my brother with wicked words, then I have done nothing more than relegate myself to a tasteless diet. Overcoming the passions to draw closer to God is lost if during such time I speak ill of my brother, if I place myself in the judgment seat reserved for Christ, if I complain about this great gift which has been given to me. Overcoming the passions by focusing on God is a great gift, which has been given to us by the Church for the purpose of our salvation, of our spiritual growth, and we immediately absolve that gift when we surrender to other passions.
No, my brethern, let us instead depart from these passions joyfully, by focusing on God and His great love for all of us. Let us do this anxiously awaiting the joys and the pleasures of the Kingdom to come, as we confess daily in our prayers. Let us resist the devil, as James here admonishes us, and in so doing draw closer to our Lord, to whom is do all honor, glory, and worship.
Christ is in our midst.