Since about the 2nd grade, being cool has always been a very high value of mine. And a lot about being cool is conveying an absolute aloofness about being cool…like it is the last thing on my mind or that I’d ever care even notice. You can trip in the lunch room and still be totally cool, or wear your hair awkwardly or laugh with a snort because the key isn’t exactly in what you do or say but in being so confident before the eyes of others that they can be convinced the fall, the awkwardness and the snort were actually all on purpose. On purpose is big, which maybe has something to do with always being right. For example, “Oh, you thought I fell down because clumsiness, but the joke is on you because I did it to make other people laugh, you tool.” Ok, so sometimes it gets a little harsh like when it is far better to humiliate the person who wrongly assumed they caught you being humiliated.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:4-12
The law of the land, then, was to mock others before they could mock you, or at least better. Judge them for being awkward or foolish as a way to prove one’s own authority on not-awkwardness and coolness. If you can spot the weakness, it is one step closer to being above critique. Isn’t that why we give a million disclaimers when people come to our homes? “Oh, we’re getting that recovered and isn’t that gross? We’re going to re-do that and then we plan to…” But curiously, this wasn’t how Jesus interacted with His people. He saw the brokenness and grossness, He knew how everyone needed to be restored and that He had come to do it. But He didn’t spend His time protecting His image from the perceptions of others. His job approval ratings from the people He came to serve and for whom He would die had no bearing on what He would do. He was actually serving His Father, not them. He had His Father’s full and exhaustive approval without fear of loss…except on the cross. What did public opinion know about the intricate details of how each and every aspect of creation’s restoration was to take place? He is God and He knew every bit of the work that had been started would be completed successfully and lavishly.
Those verses in James used to puzzle me because I thought we were supposed to love others and care for others and this seemed to be saying otherwise. But in context of the whole passage, and in the context of redemptive history, it is shining a spotlight into my heart. Being proud is connected to the kind of friendship with the world being discussed. An obsession with personal dignity and honor begins to supersede the focus of those things on God alone.
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. James 2:23
Abraham’s friendship with God compelled him to believe and to do what no outsider looking in could have supported or applauded. But those same friends to whom Abraham might have bowed, could never provide the life Abraham needed, which was then extended on to generations ever afterward.
In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me? Psalm 56:10-11
No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. Psalm 75:6-7
I genuinely and deeply fear ridicule and the judgment of others. A judgment is so authoritative and final. Disapproving opinions not only sting, but they can have the power to shut me down. I want to exalt myself and fiercely protect my exalted social status. I’m assuming more power of others and myself than we actually have. There is only One who approves or disapproves, who exalts or lays low, who opens doors and shuts them.
He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 2 Peter 1:17 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal. 3:26-29 How might my decision making change or my countenance change or my love for others increase if I began to really believe that as I am covered and clothed in Christ, God is well pleased with me and all else is irrelevant? How might giving myself away bring more life to others than my fierce commitment to protecting my image before the eyes of others? What if I took more delight and comfort in His exaltation than my own – even if that simply means within my own heart? “But He gives us more grace!” What very good news that even as I struggle with these things and their implications for big decisions ahead, my approval rating with Him and His fulfillment of His promises of restoration, are unchanging and eternally reliable because they are based solely on the person and work of Jesus which covers my weakness. Hallelujah what a savior, hallelujah what a Lord!