The James 3 Filter

It’s great to be back on the blog. I really appreciate the feedback and I am working on some future posts to answer your questions and share some resources for pastors. Today, let’s look at a brief passage that I have used in training pastors and elders.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” James 3:13-16

James chapter three is an excellent filter for evaluating behavior, and motives, as well as, the origin of abuse by contrasting them with humility and wisdom. While it is impossible to be exhaustive in the simple blog post, notice the detailed contrast between the two ways of living in these three verses.

The wise and understanding man will be known by his good life. That lifestyle will be recognized through good works marked by a humble attitude. According to James this first man is easily identifiable through his humble heart, wise choices, and exceptional life. By contrast the second man is known by the disorder (confusion/misdirection) that accompany him, as well as, the evil he practices (actions). James informs his readers that this fruit of disorder and evil are the results of pride (selfish ambition), entitlement (envy), and anger (bitterness) which are by their very nature unspiritual, and demonic.

One Observation:

Often times pastors struggle with identifying the heart of abuse if they do not see the direct/physical, evidence. Obviously James chapter three calls attention to “the evil he practices” as a means of identification but James also cites disorder as a mark of the demonic and unspiritual man.

It is hard to deny that this man’s behaviors mirror that of disorder or evil practice. It is also true that the man in our story is driven by selfish ambition. As we inquire further as to what he wanted his language is filled with selfish answers.

  1. “I wanted her to pay!”
  2. “I wanted her to respect me.”
  3. “I wanted her family to butt out.”
  4. “I wanted her to listen.”
  5. “I wanted her to shut up.”

Again this man uses a variety of tactics to “get his way.” David Powlison states this point well when he speaks of violent men. He says, “Violent people play god and so act like the devil rather than serve God. They must repent of these vertical sins that fuel the horizontal sins. Both the motives and behaviors of hostility must be laid bare.”[1] As we question him we find that it is becoming clearer that this man has more going on than explosive anger, or loving his unborn child too much. In fact it appears that he is concerned with getting what he wants and having things go his way. If Dr. Powlison is correct and this man is in fact playing God he faces a great deal more discomfort than sitting and talking with a Biblical counselor.[2] Again that is why true repentance is so important.

Final Thought

What do you think? Does James 3:13-16 accurately describe your experience with a destructive spouse? Do you see yourself or your own behavior in James 3:13-16? Should pastors and ministry leaders freely equate abusive behavior with the “demonic?”

[1] Powlsin, Tripp, Welch: Domestic Abuse How to Help. Phillpsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002.

[2] Isaiah 14:12-15

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8 Responses to The James 3 Filter

  1. I believe Powlison, Tripp, and Welch’s booklet “Domestic Abuse How to Help” is not worth recommending. While it says some things are helpful, it also contains much that is harmful – stuff that helps maintain the many victim-blaming myths that are still around.

    For my critique of Ed Welch’s section of that booklet, see the post at A Cry For Justice titled “Ed Welch Has Abuse All Wrong, and so does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)”.

    I haven’t yet had the time to write a critique of the Powlison/Tripp section of the booklet, but my concerns are similar to the ones I expressed about Ed Welch.

  2. I’ve been outspoken in the past about how incomplete the booklet is and I’ve talked with one of the authors about my concerns. I did not intend to endorse all its content, just liked that quote by Powelison because I believe the assessment of ‘playing God’ is helpful.

  3. Chris, may I ask where you have spoken about how incomplete the booklet is?
    And I’m glad you think it is incomplete.

    I believe it would have been better if you had stated your opinion of the booklet clearly in your post, rather than only stating it here after I brought it up.

    IMO there are way too many church people who think that whatever Tomlison, Welch and Tripp and CCEF have said is all hunkey dorey. I believe that for the sake of the abused, we need to do what we can to shift this mindset in the church.

    btw readers, for those who don’t know, Tripp left CCEF some time ago and now has his own ‘ministry’.

  4. Mostly at conferences or in conversation. I think I mentioned it in a paper once. It was one of the only resources in biblical counseling for a long time attempting to address the issue. I appreciate the folks at CCEF but like most Counselors (biblical, Xtian, secular, whatever) they’ve had little training or exposure to the dynamics of abuse. I spoke with one of the authors 5 years ago (or so) about my concerns, in particular regarding the section he wrote) and he was gracious to receive my feedback. I have no idea if he’s thought about revisions or if he’s even able to revise the work. In the meantime when I speak it will sometimes be on a book list offered by the church or sponsoring group and if so I try to highlight some concerns, and hope that if someone hears me speak and reads the booklet they’ll see some contrast.

    • Thanks for that, Chris.

      Why don’t you write a blog post articulating in detail your concerns about the booklet?

      • I’ve got a few things I probably need to write about. I just don’t feel that’s one of them. I’m sure there is need for critique but I’m not sure I could do it well. I’m just more comfortable, at this point, sitting down with someone in the movement who’s engaged and saying, “can’t we say this better” or “have you thought about what it would be like to read this if you were a victim?” then to have them read it in a post. Maybe I’ll grow into that. Thanks, Peace

      • I am very disappointed to hear you say that, Chris.

  5. Teresa says:

    I’m so glad to see you back at blogging, Chris, and appreciate the unique perspective you bring to the table. Thanks for all you do!

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