If a stranger were to look at your life—how you spend your time, your finances, your conversations, how you treat others—would they be able to tell that you follow Jesus? What about your life is different from the world?
This is the question posed in James chapter 4. It’s a hard question, to be sure; we all want to say that we live a life fully and visibly devoted to God, but when it comes down to it, who are we really serving? Do we, as James writes in verse 3, “want only what gives [us] pleasure”?
Over and over in the Scriptures, we read this idea that we can serve God, or anything else. Our devotion can not be split, not even for our family or our friends or our job, or any other “good” thing in our life. They all have to come second to Jesus.
The priorities we have in our lives will be evident in how we talk to and about others. That’s why, if we are to be different from the way the world operates apart from Christ, we have to be intentional in our speech. And that’s why, in verse 11, James writes, “Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.”
Now, I love the way this is phrased, because it really gets to the heart of the issue: if we criticize other believers, it is not honoring them, but it also reveals a pride in us. Because, if we’re criticizing what Jesus has asked another believer to do, that must mean that we are above the law, right?
Jesus says that anyone who loves him will obey his commandments. And after loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, the next most important commandment is to love others as ourselves. So if we speak negatively of someone, that’s not loving them well, is it?
James closes this chapter with a statement that can make some of us wince: “Remember,” he says, “it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” Ouch. I can think of several times in my own life, embarrassingly recently, where I knew that I should do something but I was too busy taking care of what I thought was important to stop and obey.
If we truly give Jesus control of our lives, as we claim to when we call him Lord, then we will obey what he tells us. And he has already made clear for us many things that he wants his followers to do. James sums it up well here: Care for others above your own needs and wants, be mindful of how you speak, and live your life in a way that leaves space for Jesus to rule.
So today, I encourage you to pause and ask Jesus what he has asked you to do that you haven’t done yet. Allow him to bring those things to your mind, and then, as much as possible, do those things. I guarantee that you will feel his presence more closely when you walk in obedience to him and care for his people.