No Pride Of Position

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6).

Christ’s coming to earth is the supreme example to us of humility.

We can usually identify with what someone else has experienced when we have gone through the same thing. Even if we haven’t been through what the other person has, we can perhaps relate because we might someday have a similar experience.


However, it is much harder to comprehend what Christ experienced when He stooped from His lofty position at the right hand of God to come to earth as a man. We’ll never understand the magnitude of that descent because we never were and never will be God. Nevertheless, today’s passage presents, as a pattern for us, Jesus’ attitude in coming to this world.


As a Spirit-filled believer (Eph. 1:3-5, 13), the Lord has lifted you out of your sin and given you the privilege of being His adopted child. He thereby allows you to recognize and appreciate a little more what humility is all about. Like Jesus, you will have to descend from an exalted level when you reach out in humility to those who don’t know Him.


Jesus further set the standard for us when He did not view His high position “a thing to be grasped.” Loftiness of calling should never be something we clench as a prized personal possession to exploit for our own benefit. That is the attitude we would expect to see in worldly people of influence. But it should not characterize those who claim to follow Jesus’ standard.


In contrast, if you are Christ’s disciple you will see more and more of His humility in your life. That will occur as you continually exercise a selfless attitude toward the privileges and possessions He has given you. By not clinging to these benefits, you will truly exemplify Jesus’ attitude and more effectively serve others: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10).


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that, starting today, God would grant you more and more of a Philippians 2:5-6 attitude.


For Further Study
As Ephesians 1 spells out, you have much to be thankful for as a child of God. Read the entire chapter, and list the many spiritual benefits Paul describes. Try memorizing several verses that are particularly striking to you.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Looking Out For Others’ Interest First

“DO NOT MERELY LOOK OUT FOR YOUR OWN PERSONAL INTERESTS, BUT ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS” (PHILIPPIANS 2:4).

The Lord wants us to have a general but sincere concern for the ministry interests of fellow Christians.

We live in a world that is preoccupied with special interests. On the national and international levels, interest groups push for public acceptance of their particular agendas. Likewise, on the local level most people care only about their own personal interests. They’re concerned about their jobs, their families, their hobbies, and perhaps their favorite sports team. In addition to those, if you’re a Christian, you will be concerned about your local church. But even there you can become focused only on your area of ministry.


In today’s verse, the apostle Paul cautions us, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests.” He is warning first of all that we shouldn’t see our personal activities and ministries as our only goals in life. When we become narrowly preoccupied with our own things, it can cause conflicts and other problems with people we know. Instead, God wants us to have a serious, caring involvement in some of the goals others are concerned about. And one way that will happen is if we take our eyes off ourselves and our often excessive concern for self-esteem in everything we do.


You may wonder exactly what Paul meant by the broad term “interests.” It is a nonspecific word that has several meanings and implications. It includes legitimate goals and responsibilities you have as a Christian, but it also extends to the same kinds of concerns others in your church and family will have. Their needs, tasks, gifts, character qualities, and ministries should be considered equal in importance to yours.


Paul, by the Holy Spirit, is calling us to pursue a high standard of Christian living, but the standard is worth pursuing. The more we understand the importance of fellow believers and that they need our prayer and concern, the less our fellowships will be plagued by unscriptural competitiveness and pride of personal interest.


Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to help you order your priorities today, so that you’ll have time for involvement in the concerns of a Christian friend or relative.

For Further Study
Read Luke 10:38-42.
• What was Martha’s attitude regarding the interests of her sister?
• What do Jesus’ words to Martha say about where our ultimate interest should lie?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Placing Others Above Yourself

DO NOTHING FROM SELFISHNESS OR EMPTY CONCEIT, BUT WITH HUMILITY OF MIND LET EACH OF YOU REGARD ONE ANOTHER AS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HIMSELF” (PHILIPPIANS 2:3).

One important way to prevent factionalism in the church is to regard other members as more important than yourself.

Humility of mind” is a distinctive New Testament expression. There were similar terms in secular writings, but none that exactly fit the purposes of the New Testament writers. One form of the Greek word was used to describe the mentality of a slave. It was a term of derision, signifying anyone who was considered base, common, shabby, or low. Among pagans before Christ’s time, humility was never a trait to be sought or admired. Thus the New Testament introduced a radically new concept.


In Philippians 2:3 Paul defines “humility of mind” simply as seeing others as more important than yourself. But how often do we really consider others that way? Frequently, even within the church, we think just the opposite of what Paul commands. For example, we are sometimes prone to criticize those with whom we minister. It is naturally easier for us to speak of their faults and failures than it is to refer to our own.


But Paul’s attitude was different. He knew his own heart well enough to call himself the worst of sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15). The apostle was also humble enough to realize that in his own strength he was not worthy of the ministry to which he had been called: “I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9).

Your knowledge of others’ sins and graces is based on their outward words and actions, not on what you can read from their hearts. But you, like Paul, do know your own heart and its sinful shortcomings (cf. Rom. 7). That ought to make it much easier to respect and honor others before yourself. And when you do that, you are helping prevent factionalism in your church and contributing to the edification of fellow believers.


Suggestions for Prayer
Examine your life and ask God to help you turn from anything that would be keeping you from “humility of mind.”


For Further Study
Read Genesis 13, and notice what happened between Abraham and his nephew Lot. How did God reassure Abraham after his graciousness toward Lot?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

The Danger Of Selfishness And Conceit

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself”(Philippians 2:3).

Selfishness and conceit can prevent us from doing God’s will.

Selfishness and conceit are all too common among people today. It seems there is hardly a prominent entertainer or sports figure who doesn’t portray those characteristics to excess. Yet those traits are the very opposite of what should characterize the humble follower of Christ.


“Selfishness” in today’s passage refers to pursuing an enterprise in a factional way. It involves an egotistical, personal desire to push your own agenda in a destructive and disruptive way. “Empty conceit” describes the force behind such overbearing behavior—personal glory. A person driven by such motivation thinks he is always right.


Paul’s opening phrase in Philippians 2:3 has the force of a negative command: believers are never to act out of selfish ambition with the goal of heaping praise upon themselves. To do so inevitably leads to one of the common sin problems in our churches: factionalism, accompanied by jealousy, strife, disharmony, and partisanship. Paul knew what harm factionalism could do within a church. It was the primary problem he addressed in his letter of 1 Corinthians. The apostle summarized the Corinthian church’s condition this way: “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3). It is spiritually immature to be jealous of and to cause strife among fellow Christians, and it reveals a fleshly perspective.


Because our flesh (sinfulness) produces selfishness and conceit, it is vitally important to keep it under control (Gal. 5:16). Plans and agendas by themselves are valid, and they are not necessarily incompatible with humility in the Christian life. But if our goals and objectives are driven by selfishness, they become competitive and harmful. One key of dealing with selfishness is realizing that others also have goals and desires. Such a realization will help you go a long way toward killing the monster of selfishness in your life.


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that God’s Spirit would rid your heart and mind of any attitudes of selfishness and conceit.


For Further Study
• The beginning of 1 Corinthians deals with the subject of factionalism. Read chapter 1. What perspective does Paul have regarding church divisions?
• What does the second half of the chapter offer as a prime reason for divisions within the church?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Threats To Humility: Doctrine And Hypocrisy

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

Avoid pride in your position, intelligence, or spirituality.

Years ago, when my children were young, my son Mark told my youngest child, Melinda, to take something out of the room. She said, “You’re not my boss.” Mark replied, “Dad is the boss of Mom, Mom is the boss of Matt, Matt is the boss of Marcy, Marcy is the boss of me, and I am the boss of you.” So Melinda obeyed. After that, Melinda decided she was the boss of the dog, and the dog was boss of nobody. No one wants to be on the bottom rung of the ladder!


Everyone holds a certain position in life, and everyone is tempted to take advantage of it. Look at Herod in Acts 12:21-22: “Herod, having put on his royal apparel . . . began delivering an address to them. And the people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’” He loved the attention. What happened? “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died” (v. 23).


Intellectual pride can also be a stumbling block. It’s easy for Christians to think their theology is perfect and they have all the answers. But the more I study the Bible, the more I realize how little I know. I feel like a child who fills a pail in the ocean. My learning is only a small bucket of water compared to the vast sea of knowledge. I know very little, and I’m still learning.


The worst type of pride is external spirituality without internal holiness. Jesus reserved His greatest condemnations for those who had such pride: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28). You may look spiritual on the outside, going to church and acting “Christianly,” but your heart may be full of sin.


Suggestions for Prayer
Examine your heart, and confess any pride in your position, intelligence, or spirituality.


For Further Study
Read in Daniel 5 about what happened to a king who took pride in his position. Notice how God humbled him. Such sin wasn’t trivial to God; it shouldn’t be to us either.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Threats To Humility: Riches And Wealth

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4-1-2).

Our possessions and positions in life are from God; we can’t take credit for them.credit for them.


Many today take pride in their economic status. They boast about their riches and trust their money, thinking they must be great for acquiring all they have. But remember what Moses said to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land: “You may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (Deut. 8:1718). Everything you have, God gave to you. Don’t parade your possessions as if you obtained them through your self-created abilities.


A related area is pride in one’s class, which involves looking down on those in “lower” levels of society. Such people don’t want lower-class people in their neighborhoods and certainly wouldn’t invite them to dinner. If you are guilty of this sort of pride, keep in mind that God loves poor people. Jesus Himself was poor in this world and spent most of His time ministering to the poor.


Sometimes in moving up the social ladder, people may demand a certain kind of treatment. They expect the best of everything and get offended when they don’t receive it. One of the things Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for was this: “They love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi” (Matt. 23:6-7). Resist the temptation to seek worldly honor, glamour, and privileges.


Advertisers today continually entice us to draw attention to ourselves by what we wear. But undue attention to appearance can make people haughty, boastful, and indulgent, trying to show themselves as better than others. God hates that sin (Isa. 3:16-26).


John said, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. . . . The world is passing away, and also its lusts” (1 John 2:15, 17). Don’t let the world tell you what you should seek or value. Remember instead that “the one who does the will of God abides forever” (v. 17).


Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to give you contentment with your present status and to help you reach out to those not so blessed.


For Further Study
Read Luke 14:8-10; 1 Timothy 2:9-10; and James 2:2-8 and see if you are guilty of materialism or social pride.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Threats To Humility: Strength and Boasting

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

Satan will tempt us to be proud of our abilities and accomplishments, but we must remember that every good thing we have is from God.

We’ve just studied three steps to humility. Let’s look at the issue from another angle: What kinds of pride threaten to destroy our humility? Where will we struggle to be humble? There are several areas in which Satan will attack us.


The first area I call ability pride. We’re often tempted to be proud of our strong points, not our weak ones. I’ve never been tempted to boast of my fantastic mathematical ability because I have none. But I am tempted to be proud of my preaching because it is my spiritual gift. Thankfully, the Lord helps me deal with such thoughts. It might come in the form of a letter saying, “I was in your church Sunday, and I violently disagree with everything you said.” Or someone might tell me, “We came to hear you for the first time, but we like our pastor better.” Times like those help me keep the proper perspective.


The key to overcoming ability pride is remembering that every gift you have is from God. All the credit belongs to Him. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
Another temptation is verbal pride, or bragging. There is a tendency in human nature to tell people what good we have done or plan to do. People get into a conversation, and soon they’re trying to top each other with their accomplishments. In contrast, Hannah asserts, “Boast no more so very proudly, do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge; and with Him actions are weighed” (1 Sam. 2:3). God knows the truth about what you have done. Proverbs 27:2 instructs, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.”

As a test, try to get through an entire week without talking about what you’ve done. Perhaps for a starter, try to last an afternoon. When people don’t talk about themselves, the absence of boasting tells volumes about their character.


Suggestions for Prayer
Repent of any pride in your own abilities or accomplishments.


For Further Study
• The apostle Paul had tremendous advantages and abilities but refused to boast about them. Read Philippians 3:4-11. What were Paul’s accomplishments?
• How did he consider them?
• What was most important to him?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Understanding Who God Is

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

The more we comprehend the greatness of God, the more humble we will become.

God is not given proper respect today. He is often flippantly referred to as “the man upstairs”—more of a buddy than the eternal God. Many see Him as nothing more than a cosmic Santa Claus or an absent-minded grandfather who winks at sin.


Unfortunately, even Christians can be affected by these views. Such sin dishonors God and undermines the next step to humility: God-awareness. Instead of getting our ideas of God from the world, let’s look at what the biblical writers say about Him.


David said, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens!” (Ps. 8:1). As he contemplated the exalted position of God, it was only natural for him to say, “What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?” (v. 4). We are so minuscule by comparison, it’s a wonder He cares for us at all. But “though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly” (Ps. 138:6).


Isaiah 2:10 says, “Enter the rock and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord and from the splendor of His majesty.” When you compare yourself with God, you’ll want to hide under a rock. Verse 11 gives the crux of the issue: “The proud look of man will be abased, and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.” Pride is the sin of competing with God. It lifts self up and attempts to steal glory from Him. But God says, “My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 48:11). God will judge those who exalt themselves. God alone is worthy of exaltation.


As you seek humility, remember that you won’t obtain it by sitting in a corner wishing for it. Rather, you’ll gain humility by sitting in that same corner and reciting before God your sins, failures, and inadequacies, then opening the Scriptures and seeing God in all His majesty.


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that you would see God for who He really is, not how the world sees Him.


For Further Study
Read Job 38—41. What aspects of His greatness does God emphasize to Job? Make a list of the most prominent ones.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Understanding Who Christ Is

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

We are to walk as Christ walked. Our lack of conformity to His standard ought to make us humble.

What was your most humiliating experience? Life is full of embarrassing moments, but the most truly humbling experience I ever had was preaching through the Gospel of John. For two years—eighty-eight sermons, about one hundred hours of preaching, between two and three thousand hours of study—I was constantly faced with the deity of Jesus Christ. Living with the deity of Christ day after day and comparing yourself continually to Him is one of the healthiest—and most humbling—things you can ever do.


That brings us to another step toward humility: Christ-awareness. When we compare ourselves with ourselves, we get proud. But “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). When you can say, “I’m happy to announce that I now walk as Jesus walked,” then you’ll have a right to be proud. But no one will believe you.


Jesus was the perfect man. He was without sin. He gave all the right answers and had the perfect attitude for every situation. He knew exactly how to help everyone who needed help. Reading the Gospels, we see time after time how Christ handled everything perfectly.
Even seeing His humanness, we realize how small we are. But when we look at His deity, we feel still smaller. He created everything (Col. 1:16). He turned water into wine, calmed storms, cast out demons, healed countless people, and brought the dead to life. After His crucifixion, He rose from the dead and sat at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 1:19-20). Someday He will come back, take His people home, and finally destroy all evil.


Despite Jesus’ perfect deity and perfect humanity, He came to serve (Mark 10:45). How can we be proud if Jesus Christ humbled Himself? What righteous thing have we done that compares to His perfect life?

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that you might know Christ better and increasingly be more like Him.


For Further Study
• Peter got a glimpse of Jesus’ power in Luke 5:1-7. How did Peter’s sudden awareness of who Christ is affect him (v. 8)?
• What did he do next (vv. 9-11)?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Understanding Who We Are

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

The first step to humility is understanding our sinfulness.

I’ll never forget a meeting I had at my house with some seminary students. One student asked me, very seriously, “John, how did you finally overcome pride?” I said jokingly, “Well, it was two years ago when I finally licked it, and it’s never been a problem since then. It’s so wonderful to be constantly humble.” Of course, I have not completely overcome pride; it’s a battle I face every day. Satan makes sure we always struggle with it.


Overcoming pride in even one area is difficult, but Ephesians 4:2 requires “all humility.” Having some humility isn’t enough. We must have total, complete humility in every relationship, every attitude, and every act.

So we all have a lot of work to do. But where do we start? How can we become humble?


Humility begins with self-awareness. We need to look at ourselves honestly. We can mask who we really are and convince ourselves that we’re something wonderful. But we are sinners and need to confess our sins daily before God (cf. 1 John 1:9). Even Paul called himself the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and realized he had not yet reached the goal of Christlikeness (Phil. 3:12-14). Whenever you’re tempted to be proud, remember you haven’t arrived yet spiritually.

And don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Paul said, “We are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). If we’re to be honest with ourselves and with God, we need to evaluate ourselves by an outside standard—God’s standard. Humility starts when we take off the rose-colored glasses of self-love so we can see ourselves as unworthy sinners. We must recognize our faults and confess our sins daily.


Suggestions for Prayer
• Confess any known sins to God, and ask for help in overcoming them.
• Ask God to keep you from comparing yourself to others instead of to His perfect standard.


For Further Study
• Many consider Paul to be the greatest Christian who ever lived, but he viewed himself very differently. Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17. How did he see himself?
• As he saw his sinfulness, what was his response to God?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Humility On Display

“Walk . . . with all humility” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

Christ showed us humility by becoming a man and living as a servant.

Humility is not a very popular concept in our society, is it? We are taught to pursue honor and recognition from a young age. When my children were young, they stacked up trophies to the point of absurdity. Award shows are commonplace on television. We seem to have prizes for everything.


Humility is an elusive quality. The moment you think you are humble is the moment you forfeit it. But humility is the heart of the worthy walk; that’s why Paul listed it here first. No matter how elusive it is, we must keep striving for it.


The Greek word for humility is a compound word. The first part means “low.” In a metaphorical sense it was used to mean “poor” or “unimportant.” The second part of the word means “to think” or “to judge.” The combined meaning is to think of yourself as lowly or unimportant.


Did you know this word never appears in classical Greek? It had to be coined by Christians. The Greeks and Romans had no word for humility because they despised that attitude. They mocked and looked down on anyone who thought of himself as lowly.


In contrast, Christ taught the importance of humility and was our greatest example of that virtue. The exalted Lord Jesus was born in a stable. During His ministry He never had a place to lay His head. He owned only the garments on His body. He washed His disciples’ feet, doing the job of a slave (John 13:3-11). When He died, He was buried in a borrowed tomb.


When the evangelical Moravian Brethren of Germany heard about slavery in the West Indies, they were told it was impossible to reach the slave population there because the slaves were separated from the ruling classes. In 1732 two Moravians offered to go and be slaves on the plantations and teach other slaves about Christ. They toiled at the sides of their fellow slaves, and the slaves listened because the two Moravians had humbled themselves. In a small way, that illustrates what Christ did for us: He humbled Himself by becoming a man so we could be saved.


Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to help you walk in Christlike humility.


For Further Study
Read about Christ’s example of humility in Philippians 2:5-11. What was His attitude toward Himself, and how can you emulate His humility?

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Honor For The Humble

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:10).

God graciously bestows every spiritual blessing on the humble.

Those who are scripturally humble will recognize their unworthiness when they come before God. They will be like the prophet Isaiah who, in seeing God, cursed himself: “Woe is me, for I am ruined [damned]! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Whenever you see who God really is—infinitely holy, sovereign, mighty, majestic, and glorious—all you can see about yourself is your own sin.


Every time Isaiah or any other person in the Old Testament came face to face with the reality of God’s holy presence, he was overwhelmed with fear. A sinner in the presence of a holy God is overpowered by his sense of exposed sinfulness and has every reason to fear. It was the same in the New Testament, such as when the disciples were afraid after Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee: “And they became very much afraid and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:41). If we are humble before the true God, we’ll have the same response.


But God does not leave us bowed down in awe or cowering in fear. James promises us that the Lord will exalt the humble. And if we are humble in spirit and saved by grace, we will be sanctified and ultimately glorified. The apostle Paul summarizes this so well in Ephesians 2:4-7, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”


Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God today for His holiness and His sovereign control over all things, especially how He is leading you to spiritual maturity.


For Further Study
Read Isaiah 6.
• What is the focal point of God’s nature in this chapter?
• What could help you to be as willing as Isaiah was to serve God (v. 8)?

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Realizing The Need For Seriousness

“Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9b).

The humble individual will come to see that sin is not a laughing matter.

Humor has always had a place in popular culture. But in recent decades a more worldly side to humor has emerged. Situation comedies dominate the list of top-rated TV shows, but many are far from what’s really best for people to view. The shows’ contents so often pander to the immoral and tend to put down scriptural values. Meanwhile, the world also runs headlong after activities that stress fun and self-indulgence. Most people just want to enjoy life and not take anything too seriously.


God’s Word acknowledges that there is a proper time and place for joy and laughter: “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4). The psalmist tells of one appropriate time for laughter and happiness: “When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting” (Ps. 126:1-2).


But the Lord requires that anyone who would have a relationship with Him must begin on a sober, serious, humble note. In today’s Scripture, James urges sinners to exchange worldly laughter and frivolity for godly mourning and gloom over their sin. The laughter spoken of here is the kind that indicates a leisurely indulging in human desires and pleasures. It pictures people who give no serious thought to God, to life, death, sin, judgment, or God’s demands for holiness. Without mincing words, it is the laughter of fools who reject God, not that of the humble who pursue Him.


James’s message is that saving faith and proper humility consist of a serious, heartfelt separation from the folly of worldliness as well as a genuine sorrow over sin. If these characteristics are present in your life, it is fairly safe evidence that you are one of the humble (see 1 John 2:15-17).


Suggestions for Prayer
Seek forgiveness for any thoughts and actions that have kept you from a serious attitude in your walk with God.


For Further Study
Read 1 John 2:15-17.
• Think of several examples under each of the categories of worldliness in verse 16. Which of these are problems for you?
• What steps can you take, with God’s help, to overcome them?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Having True Sorrow For Sin

“Be miserable and mourn and weep” (James 4:9a).

Spiritual humility will be marked by a true sorrow over sin.

Spiritual humility will be marked by a true sorrow over sin.
Modern culture does everything possible to avoid pain, to put off thinking about unpleasant subjects, to maximize comfort, and to feel good about circumstances.


That philosophy is the reflection of a proud and self-centered attitude, not the humble and God-centered attitude we have been examining during the past week. Today we continue our look at humility in the Epistle of James. The apostle urges people to “be miserable” concerning their sin. The demands of the gospel begin at this point. James is not denying the joy that will come when the gospel is sincerely received. He is simply saying that sinners have to feel bad before they can feel good. The word misery in this sense refers to the inner feelings of shame over sin, the deep sorrow it causes, and the spirit of penitence the humbled sinner will have as a result.


The humble person will also mourn over his sin. This reminds us of what the Lord Jesus says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). Mourning is a brokenness of spirit that will cause the humble person’s heart to ache when he realizes his total spiritual bankruptcy because of sin.
The word James uses for “mourn” is closely related to the concept of sorrow. But this sorrow is not just any ordinary sorrow or sadness that all people feel during the course of life. James uses a strong word that usually referred to the grieving over a loved one’s death. James thus urges the humble sinner to have a funeral mourner’s lament or grief regarding his sinfulness.


Weeping is often the physical response that the sincerely humble mourner will have to his circumstances. Tears are God’s gift to us that allow release for our aching hearts, as Peter discovered after he betrayed the Lord (Mark 14:72).


Misery, mourning, and weeping all point to a genuine sorrow over sin, what Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10-11). If you are among the humble, this attitude will be yours as you enter God’s kingdom (James 4:9) and as you live the Christian life (Matt. 5:3-4).


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that God would give you the proper sense of sorrow over all sin in your life—even over that which seems insignificant.


For Further Study
Read Hebrews 12:15-17. What was lacking in Esau’s response (v. 17)? (Read Gen. 25:27-34 and 27:30-38 for background.)


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Cleansing Our Hands And Hearts

Cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts” (James 4:8).

Clean hands and a pure heart will always characterize the humble.

Hands represent our behavior, the pattern of our outward actions. Scripture uses that symbol when it encourages people to abandon their sinful behavior: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of bloodshed” (Isa. 1:15).


Today’s verse uses “hands” in reference to the Jewish ceremonial requirements. The priests were required to wash their hands before they entered the presence of God in the tabernacle and temple (Ex. 30:19-21). Therefore, a call to have clean hands was not just a strange figure of speech for James’s audience. As Jews, they would know that a person needed to go through a cleansing process and have a clean life if he wanted to be close to the Lord.


This cleansing process, however, includes more than correcting the outward behavior and lifestyle represented by the hands. The inward dimension of the heart must also be involved, which is why James 4:8 says, “Purify your hearts.” The heart is what’s inside a person—his thoughts, motives, and desires—the essence of his being. The apostle James is telling anyone who would be genuinely humble and want to be right with God that he must deal with his real self, the heart that is so corrupted and deceived by sin. The humble sinner will hear and obey words such as Ezekiel’s: “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezek. 18:31).


Clean hands and a pure heart are essential traits for anyone who would be counted among the humble. If you have not submitted yourself to God, you won’t have these traits, and you need to heed James’s commands. If you are one of the humble, you will want to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. For you, therefore, it is crucial to remember what the apostle John promises in 1 John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that all your thoughts and actions today would be pure and pleasing to the Lord.


For Further Study
Read Isaiah 55.
• What does it say about the transformed heart and life?
• Commit verses 6-7 to memory.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Cleansing Our Hands And Hearts

Cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts” (James 4:8).

Clean hands and a pure heart will always characterize the humble.

Hands represent our behavior, the pattern of our outward actions. Scripture uses that symbol when it encourages people to abandon their sinful behavior: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of bloodshed” (Isa. 1:15).


Today’s verse uses “hands” in reference to the Jewish ceremonial requirements. The priests were required to wash their hands before they entered the presence of God in the tabernacle and temple (Ex. 30:19-21). Therefore, a call to have clean hands was not just a strange figure of speech for James’s audience. As Jews, they would know that a person needed to go through a cleansing process and have a clean life if he wanted to be close to the Lord.


This cleansing process, however, includes more than correcting the outward behavior and lifestyle represented by the hands. The inward dimension of the heart must also be involved, which is why James 4:8 says, “Purify your hearts.” The heart is what’s inside a person—his thoughts, motives, and desires—the essence of his being. The apostle James is telling anyone who would be genuinely humble and want to be right with God that he must deal with his real self, the heart that is so corrupted and deceived by sin. The humble sinner will hear and obey words such as Ezekiel’s: “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezek. 18:31).


Clean hands and a pure heart are essential traits for anyone who would be counted among the humble. If you have not submitted yourself to God, you won’t have these traits, and you need to heed James’s commands. If you are one of the humble, you will want to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. For you, therefore, it is crucial to remember what the apostle John promises in 1 John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that all your thoughts and actions today would be pure and pleasing to the Lord.


For Further Study
Read Isaiah 55.
• What does it say about the transformed heart and life?
• Commit verses 6-7 to memory.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

The Nearness Of God

“He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

God will come near to the truly humble, who have by faith sought to be close to Him.

One of the greatest promises in the Bible is that God responds to the humble and draws near to them. Such people will yearn for a closeness to God by which they can know Him, love Him, learn His Word, praise Him, pray to Him, and fellowship with Him. In summary, the humble will be true worshipers, those who “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).


John 4:23 concludes with the statement, “for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” This strongly implies that God wants to have a relationship with the humble, which means He will respond to us. This idea of the Lord reaching out to us and responding to our humble obedience is also found in the Old Testament, when David instructed Solomon: “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever” (1 Chron. 28:9).


The principle of God’s drawing near to the humble is illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). First, the prodigal son manifests humility and repentance: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (vv. 18-19). Next, his behavior pictures a longing to draw near to God: “he got up and came to his father” (v. 20). Finally, there is the picture of God drawing near to us: “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him” (v. 20).


You might not find yourself in the same predicament as the prodigal son did, but you will experience the same response from God if you have humbly drawn near to Him in faith and worshiped Him in spirit and in truth.


Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that God would help you be a true worshiper of Him.

For Further Study
Read and meditate on Psalm 40. What things did David find true about God’s nearness?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Seeking A Closeness To God

“Draw near to God” (James 4:8).

The sincerely humble will want a closer relationship with God.

The expression “draw near” was originally associated with the priesthood in Israel. Under the regulations of the Old Covenant, the priests represented the people before God. Prior to coming near God’s presence, the priest had to be washed physically and be ceremonially clean. That meant he had to bathe, wear the proper garments, and offer sacrifices that made his own heart right with God. Then he could draw near to God on the people’s behalf.


Eventually the Hebrew word for drawing near meant anyone who approached the presence of God in worship and prayer. The term became synonymous even of those whose hearts were far from God when they “worshiped” Him. For example, Isaiah 29:13 says, “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”


But the sincere believer, one who has truly humbled himself before God, knows that God wants worshipers to draw near with true and pure hearts: “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). This applies the language of the Old Testament ceremonial system to us and says that as the priests prepared themselves to be near God, we also should prepare ourselves spiritually to worship Him.


So far this month we have seen that the humble person will come to God for salvation, submit to Him as Lord, and take a stand against the Devil. But the truly humble person will see that his relationship to God is inherently more than those actions. If you claim to be one of the humble, one who has a saving relationship to the Father through the Son, be sure you can also agree with the psalmist Asaph: “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works” (Ps. 73:28).


Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for His grace and mercy in salvation that make it possible for us to have a close relationship with Him.


For Further Study
Read Hebrews 4.
• What sort of rest is the writer referring to?
• How does it compare to the rest that the people of Israel sought during Joshua’s time?


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Standing Against The Devil

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b)

Anyone who possesses scriptural humility will take an uncompromising stand against Satan.

The successful diplomat or politician is quite adept at the art of compromise and finding the middle ground on various issues. But such skill is a hindrance when it comes to determining your position before God. If you humbly, by faith and repentance, submit yourself to God’s authority, you will immediately find yourself the enemy of Satan. You are either in God’s kingdom and under His lordship, or you are in Satan’s kingdom and under his lordship. It is impossible to have one foot in each kingdom and to be serving both kingdoms’ rulers.


To “resist the devil” gives us insight into what it means to be an enemy of Satan. “Resist” means “to take a stand against” the person of Satan and his entire system, which includes everything he does and represents. Such resistance is the complete opposite of the position you had before you submitted to God. Ephesians 2:1-2 reminds us of what that position was: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan].” At that time, you had no power to resist the Devil and no desire to serve God, because you were slaves to Satan and his system (Heb. 2:14-15).


But all of that can and will change if you humbly switch your allegiance from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom. In today’s verse the apostle James is promising you that as a part of that changed loyalty, you will automatically be in a position to take a stand against Satan. The minute you forsake Satan’s mastery he will flee from you.

Many Christians wrongly assume that Satan is much more powerful than he really is. But if you understand James’s promise you will know you have abundant spiritual resources to handle Satan’s empty threats. Being humble before God doesn’t mean being weak before Satan. God enables you to stand firm and resist.


Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the wealth of spiritual resources He provides for you to stand against the Devil.


For Further Study
Read Ephesians 6:10-18.
• Make a list of the spiritual weapons God has given us.
• Pick one of these, and do some additional reading and study to improve your application of it.


From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.