It is often difficult to discern pride, envy, and even gossip or slander. There are always qualifications and there are other more public sins to point out. It is true that we can be oblivious of the sins that manifest themselves through our speech. Our apologies are often, “I’m sorry if I offended you” or “I didn’t mean to demean or belittle you”. Ignorance covers a multitude of sins (if only).
James tells us that the cause of such “little” sins are the “passions that are at war within [us]” (4:1). As a Christian, I can testify to the reality of this war. So discernable is this struggle that, though I may be sometimes oblivious to its manifestations, I am gripped by the reality of the battle.
The English Standard Version of the Bible includes the heading “Warning Against Worldliness” at the start of chapter four. This is an editorial addition, but it is a helpful one. Life is often a game of comparison; and regardless of where you live, comparison is the thief of joy.
When I first moved to Birmingham someone said to me, “Well, you’ll start out in Crestline when the children are little, then when they get to high school you’ll get a larger home closer to the heart of Mountain Brook, and when the kids leave for college you’ll move to Redmont Park (the right zip code without the taxes).”
It was a joke, but there is a gravitational pull that lends truth to the observation. It is no sin to follow this game plan, but if it is an attempt at social acceptance, you know what the war within feels like. (I won’t get started on interior design.)
The hard part in all of this is that we Christians know that it is ridiculous. James shows us how little our thinking is in 4:13-17. When we know that our lives are in the Lord’s hands, it gives us the perspective we need in a world of strong gravitational pulls. Instead of boastfulness or envy, our conversation is marked by humility. “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chron. 29:14).