God’s Word for You
James 4:7 One little word
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 14, 2020
7 So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Where English has only two voices, active and passive, Greek has a third voice, described by the unromantic but functional term ‘middle.’ The middle voice shows where a person does something for themselves in their own interests or in the interest of others. Here the word “submit” is to be taken in such a middle sense. We place ourselves under God’s authority willingly because he has our very best interests at heart. Nothing that God does for us is done for his own selfish reasons; God has no selfishness at all. When we submit to him, it is natural, first of all, on account of the law. God’s law shows us that he is all-powerful, the Creator and supreme King. We naturally submit to him out of fear and respect. But on the other hand, we also submit to God on account of the gospel. The gospel tells us what God has done for us. Knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus and the perfect rescue he has accomplished for us, what can we do but place ourselves completely under his loving care and concern, submitting out of thanks and love? This is the ideal of submission in marriage as well, spoiled by the sinful natures of husband and wife, but restored in love by daily contrition and repentance, and an attitude of forgiveness and love in both husband and wife. She forgives him for his imperfections and submits in love anyway; he forgives her for similar imperfections, and he is driven to be a better man, a better servant-husband, a man who cares completely for his bride his whole life, which is the idea behind the term ‘bridegroom.’ And what we see in marriage is an illustration of what we want to be as the Bride of Christ in our spiritual lives, submitting joyfully to Christ without the necessity of forgiving anything in him, but asking forgiveness for ourselves.
A person who doesn’t have the assurance of eternal life and doesn’t “wait for the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) can’t submit to God, can’t love God, but only fears and hates the idea of God because he can only imagine punishment and torment. Without the gospel, there is only terror; there is no ‘neutral’ idea of eternity. His mind might try to imagine a nothingness, but in his heart there is still only fear. The Christian, though, whose citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), has the power to be content, happy, and even to rejoice in the greatest troubles.
Coach James also urges us to resist the devil. Luther admires James’ wisdom here, and says: “James says properly in chapter 4:7: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ He does not say: ‘Argue with Satan and with a heretic.’ But resist by saying: ‘The Word of God is there. If you want to believe, fine. But if you do not want to believe, go argue with (someone else). When you deal with heretics in another way and speak with them in a fawning manner, the devil assails you in order that he may remove the Word from your heart. Therefore avoid a heretic after admonishing him once or twice (cf. Titus 3:10).” (LW 30:260)
The devil is powerful in this world. There is no one but God himself who can defeat him, but Christ has done it already on our behalf on the cross. While the devil writhes and spits in his doomed agony, he will lash out at anything that moves out of faith for Jesus trying to crush such a faith. But speak the name of Jesus in faith, the “one little word” that can fell him, and he will run screaming like an unbeliever frightened of a windblown leaf (Leviticus 26:36). The Christian wants to submit to God out of love, and the Christian wants to resist the devil because he opposes everything that has to do with God’s love. We want the devil to flee, the devil who is never our friend, and we want to run to the arms of our Saving God.
A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That has us now o’ertaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.
Though devils all the world should fill
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done.
One little word can fell him. (Christian Worship 200:1,3)
Pastor Timothy Smith