Under the old covenant, the people of God were often guilty of placing their trust in the wisdom of men rather than in the wisdom of God. Time and time again, old covenant Israel worshiped foreign deities alongside Yahweh, figuring that it was wise to pay homage to the gods who supposedly brought fertility to the people of the Near East. When this occurred, God sent prophets to call His people to faith and repentance in order to restore their relationships with Him.
Though the brazen worship of other gods is not as evident in new covenant Israel, the church has been at times double-minded in its claim to be Christ’s disciples while disobeying the wisdom of God. By His grace, God sent prophets like James, the brother of Jesus, in order to remind us that repentance remains the path that leads His people back to fellowship with their Lord. Today’s passage concludes James’ call for the church to lean on God’s wisdom. In 4:9, James commands an audience guilty of not having a single-minded devotion to the Lord to turn their callous laughter into mournful repentance (4:9).
Calvin explains that here James “speaks of that salutary mourning or sorrow which leads us to repentance.” It is not that laughter is inherently evil. It is just that his audience was congratulating themselves on their faithfulness when their cursing and exaltation of one class of believers over another displayed an appalling lack of discernment (2:1–7; 3:1–12). Thus Calvin concludes that in order to “shake off from them this deadly torpor, [James] admonishes them to learn to mourn, that being touched with sorrow of conscience they might cease to flatter themselves and to exult on the verge of destruction.”
In the face of trial, this audience was exalting itself and treating others based on the wisdom of this world. Such, however, is at odds with the wisdom of God, which paradoxically says that the Lord alone can exalt us, but only after we humble ourselves in true repentance and submission to His will (v. 10). If we do not take the path of humble repentance, we display a lack of God’s salvific grace in our lives. Calvin says, “every one who has not his soul fixed deep in humility, exalts himself to his own ruin.”
God promises to exalt us one day and make us to reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4). However, this exaltation does not come as the result of the exertion of our own power, but results from humility. Only those who submit to God humbly, admitting that He alone has authority over us, will enjoy this exaltation. We submit to this authority by repenting of our sin, all of which seeks to usurp God’s rightful rule over us. Therefore, humble yourself in repentance today.