Saint of Contradiction

By David Baumann

A Reading from James 3:13-4:12

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?


James has the insight, courage, and bluntness continually to set forth the sharp contrast between the ways of the world and the ways of God. That’s not very popular in our time. That makes it all the more important that we listen to him. In G. K. Chesterton’s book, St. Thomas Aquinas, he writes, “Each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need… It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.”

In yesterday’s lesson, James contrasted fresh and salt water. In today’s lesson, he contrasts “wisdom that comes from heaven” and deceptive wisdom which is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Then he writes, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” He urges, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He writes to believers, and names sins to which they are subject: fighting, quarreling, coveting, praying with wrong motives, slandering others, sitting in judgment on the law. These are common sins in our own Church, in our own lives. They are so common that most of us cannot even recognize them for what they are. Fighting and quarreling can masquerade as defending the faith, coveting can masquerade as standing up for yourself, praying with wrong motives can masquerade as sacrificial devotion, slandering another can masquerade as enacting justice, sitting in judgment on the law can masquerade as being scholarly. To such comfortable falsehood, James cries out, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Few in the audience will say, “Thank you, James!” At least not at first. Chesterton probably would. Shall we?

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

To receive a TLC Daily Devotional in your inbox each morning, click here.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland
The Diocese of Eldoret (Anglican Church of Kenya)


Online Archives