In this series of posts, we’ve learned from James 4:1–2 that relational conflict is worse than we think and that resolving conflict is simpler than we think. But James has more wisdom for us: resolving conflict is also easier than we think.
Let’s look at verse 10 and experience the grace present in this verse and promised by this verse:
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:10
In order to really and fully appreciate this verse one must remember the context in which it appears. This chapter began with references to quarrels and fights and coveting and all manner of sinful cravings that do great damage to personal relationships. We are all familiar with this sin and its consequences. And yet in the midst of this sin there appears this verse promising grace.
Verse 10 informs us that grace is greater than our sins! Verse 10 informs us of God’s disposition towards those who are in the midst of quarrels and fights. Verse 10 shows us the disposition of a merciful God: he is eager to give us grace in the midst of the cravings and desires that are worse than we initially thought. Hey, verse 10 gives us hope!
And humbling ourselves before the Lord shouldn’t prove difficult for us once we’ve perceived the specific nature of our sins as revealed in verses 1-2. And this is where resolving relational conflict begins. Always. If we don’t first humble ourselves before the Lord, acknowledging our sinful cravings, then there is no way we will be able to resolve a conflict with someone else. No way. Our conflict with God and sin against God must first be resolved before there can be any hope of resolving conflict with someone else.
So, this is where resolving all relational conflict begins: resolving relational conflict with the Lord. How do I do that? How do I humble myself before God? Well, it’s easier than you think! We humble ourselves before the Lord by confessing our sins to the Lord, the one we have offended first and foremost. Listen to these familiar words from 1 John:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Confession here implies a genuine conviction of sin and includes a forsaking of sin. But if we sincerely confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Doesn’t this appear easy to do? Have you ever wondered, or asked yourself: how can forgiveness possibly be that easy?
When I have offended God by my sin, how can it be this easy to be forgiven by God for my sin? Listen, it can only be this easy because our Savior has done the unimaginably difficult on our behalf. He has resolved the greatest and most serious conflict: the conflict between the holy God and sinners like you and me. He has resolved that more serious conflict through his substitutionary conflict on the cross for our sins. Therefore, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse all our unrighteousness.
And since the most serious conflict has already been addressed by the Savior, there is hope for the resolving of human conflict as a result. But it begins with humbling ourselves before God and asking forgiveness of him where appropriate. And here we discover that grace is greater than our sins. It is amazing.
As we humble ourselves, he exalts us, he forgives us and gives us grace we obviously don’t deserve. So humbling ourselves involves first and foremost, acknowledging our sins to God. But it also involves—where appropriate—acknowledging our sins to others and asking their forgiveness. If you have contributed to a conflict, then the means of humbling your self is sincere confession.
Genuine confession is specific. If it is sincere, it will be specific. And if it is sincere it will also be brief. Be suspicious if your confession to someone you’ve sinned against is lengthy. When mine are lengthy I’ve learned to be suspicious. Here’s why. If it is lengthy, there is a good probability that you are not asking for forgiveness, but instead understanding. You might be in the process of excusing your sin, explaining your sin, requesting understanding of your sin rather than asking forgiveness for your sin. So be suspicious of a lengthy confession. Normally, a genuine confession of sin is evidenced by a sincere, specific, and brief confession of sin.
Resolving relational conflict is easier than you think and only because the Savior has done the unimaginably difficult so that we might humble ourselves before the Lord and receive his forgiveness for our sins and then where necessary ask forgiveness of others.
Sorry to inform you of this but there is a relational conflict awaiting you, and it is not in your distant future. There is certainly the potential for relational conflict in your life this week, even this day. So let’s take this wisdom with us into this day. Let the wisdom from above revealed in this passage serve your soul, so that you might receive the grace that is revealed in this passage. So that you might avoid conflict with others by identifying sinful cravings. And if you initiate or participate in conflict, these verses will help you discern the cause of it so that you can humble yourself before God and acknowledge your sin to him and those you have sinned against.
Passages like this protect us sinful cravings and preserve unity in our churches, families, and friendships. Participation in a church, in a family, or in a friendship, are not “all romance and righteousness.” Therefore, I am grateful for passages like this and the difference they can make. And I am most grateful for the Savior’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins, that we might have hope for the resolving of human conflict.
This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville entitled Cravings and Conflict.