Accept Responsibility

Biblical Truth: How do I accept responsibility for my part in a conflict situation?

Evaluate Yourself: Matthew 7:1-5.

[1]  “Do not judge lest you be judged. [2]  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. [3]  And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [4]  Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, and behold, the log is in your own eye? [5]  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.   [NASU]

Evaluate Yourself: Matthew 7:1-5.

Jesus warns against three dangers: not to be judgmental [1-5], not to be undiscriminating [6] and persist in our pursuit of God, exercising childlike trust as we do so [7-11]. He then concludes with the golden rule [12]. Jesus sets forth the principle in verse 1. We will be wise to consider first what this text does not say. It certainly does not command the sons of God, the disciples of Jesus, to be undiscerning people who never under any circumstance whatsoever hold any opinions about right and wrong. The context here argues that the verse means, “Do not be judgmental.” Do not adopt a critical spirit, a condemning attitude. The same verb is found twice, with identical meaning, in Romans 14:10ff. The problem is that the Christian’s responsibility to discern, once granted, is readily warped into justification for harping criticism. What is fundamentally at stake is attitude. If a Christian’s attitude is right, provision is made for him to face another brother with his fault (see Matt. 18:15ff). The point of verses 1-2 is not that we should be moderate in our judging in order that others will be moderate toward us, but rather that we should abolish judgmental attitudes lest we ourselves stand utterly condemned before God. A judgmental attitude excludes us from God’s pardon, for it betrays an unbroken spirit. The thought is akin to 5:7 and 6:14f.

Some rabbis said that God had two measures by which He assessed men, the measure of justice and the measure of mercy. It may be that Jesus in verse 2 is using this belief to drive home His point; the measure we use, of these two, will be applied to us. As we have seen, this does not mean that the disciple of Jesus must never speak against any sin, exercising a sort of insipid, overlooking mercy. Moreover, this passage does not suggest that we can earn God’s mercy by exercising a little mercy ourselves. Mercy by definition cannot be earned. But we may exclude ourselves from mercy by sustained haughtiness and arrogance, by an attitude which reflects the antithesis of true poverty of spirit.

Jesus gives an example in verses 3-5. We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own. We seem to find it impossible, when comparing ourselves with others, to be strictly objective and impartial. On the contrary, we have a rosy view of ourselves and a jaundiced view of others. What we should do is to apply to ourselves at least as strict and critical a standard as we apply to others. The fact that censoriousness and hypocrisy are forbidden us does not relieve us of brotherly responsibility towards one another. Our Christian duty is first to take the log out of our own eye, so that then with the resulting clarity of vision we shall be able to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Again, it is evident that Jesus is not condemning criticism as such, but rather the criticism of others when we exercise no comparable self-criticism; nor correction as such, but rather the correction of others when we have not first corrected ourselves. The standard of Jesus for relationships in the Christian life is high and healthy. In all our attitudes and behavior towards others we are to play neither the judge (becoming harsh, censorious and condemning), nor the hypocrite (blaming others while excusing ourselves), but the brother, caring for others so much that we first blame and correct ourselves and then seek to be constructive in the help we give them. We need to be as critical of ourselves as we often are of others, and as generous to others as we always are to ourselves.

Recognize Conflict’s Source: James 4:1-3.

[1]  What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? [2]  You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. [3]  You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.   [NASU]

[1]  The word here translated pleasures (lusts) is used in three other places in the New Testament besides the opening verses of this chapter, and always in a bad sense [Luke 8:14; Titus 3:3; 1 Peter 2:11]. As long as these pleasures have the upper hand man is prevented from doing what he was originally created to do: acknowledge and render obedience to the will of God. The verb war implies that these pleasures are permanently on active service; and the expression in your members means that there is no part of the human frame which does not afford them a battleground. When we consider the amount of time, energy, money, interest and enthusiasm that men and women give to the satisfaction of this aim we can appreciate the accuracy of James’ diagnosis; and Christians can use it as a reliable yardstick by which to measure the sincerity of their religion.

[2-3]  In these verses we see five manifestations that the old nature is at the helm. 

(1) Desiring and not having are manifestation number one. This occurs when our desires are not God’s desires. If we are constantly desiring something and not having it, examine the desire. If you are growing desperate, bitter, angry, or anxious because you are not getting what you want, you may well be living under the control of the old nature. The solution? [Matthew 6:33]. Drop your desires at the feet of the master. Seek God first. Ask him to take away your longings and to replace them with His. If you are making serving the Lord the chief goal of your life and the center of your heart, you will receive the desires of your heart because you will be wanting the proper things. 

(2) Murdering and envying. Unsatisfied desire leads to unholy action. As Jesus pointed out, there is more than one way to kill. We murder another’s character through slander, rumor and innuendo [Matthew 5:21-22]. We slay a spirit by criticism, harshness and excessive expectations. 

(3) Quarreling and fighting. Disappointed ambition just about always leads to quarreling and fighting.  Vindictiveness is the bedfellow of bitterness. 

(4) Not having because we are not asking. It indicates an absence of communication with God. We are trying instead to satisfy our own desires ourselves. We are doing it our way. 

(5) Asking and not receiving. We may well be operating in the flesh if we are asking God for things that never come to pass. The key is what we are asking for. If we are living in the flesh, we cannot expect God to answer our prayers in the affirmative. The old nature’s desires are the wrong motives for prayer [Isaiah 55:8-9]. 

Submit to God: James 4:6-12.

[6]  But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [7]  Submit 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]  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. [10]  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. [11]  Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. [12]  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?    [NASU]

[6]  The axiom of the divine working, that the greater His people’s needs the greater is God’s supply of the requisite grace, underlies the quotation from Proverbs 3:34 made in this verse and found also in 1 Peter 5:5. The proud are those whose hearts are turned away from their Creator and who set themselves up against all that is holy or called God. On the contrary the humble are those who recognize their insufficiency, are conscious of their creaturely estate and absolute dependence upon Almighty God, and are willing to receive from Him and Him alone all that is necessary for their salvation. The readiness to submit ourselves to others is a characteristic of humility. We can obey others without any humility, acting either under compulsion or from motives of expediency; but we can only submit ourselves to others when we recognize that they are greater, better, or more worthy of honor than ourselves.

[7-8]  Submission to God and the possession of a truly humble spirit cannot in fact be separated. The devil knows well enough that his greatest hope of drawing Christians away from a whole-hearted and voluntary submission to God lies in appealing to their wounded pride. As Christ resisted the evil one, so too must His subjects; and we are assured here that our very resistance will constitute our victory.  Resistance to the devil, when he approaches the Christian to try and deflect him from serving the Lord, results in the flight of the devil. But, when the Christian wills to come close to God, God comes close to him. Those who approach God most frequently live closest to Him and therefore find it easiest to offer resistance to the devil. We can approach boldly to the throne of grace at any time [Heb. 4:16]. Cleanse your hands under the old covenant was a ritual duty laid especially upon the priests as part of the process by which they were rendered fit to perform their ceremonial duties [Exodus 30:20-21]. This was one of the means by which mankind was taught the great lesson of the holiness of God. In New Testament times the expression came to be applied figuratively to the removal of moral defilement. Christians are constantly stained by such defilement. James reminds his readers to cleanse their hands, i.e. to repent, for he assumes that they know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses them from all sin [1 John 1:7]. Here the word sinners is used of Christians who fail by sins of commission or omission to fulfill the law of Christ. The influence of the world as it organizes itself apart from God presses so strongly upon the Christian that it is very difficult for him to avoid entirely those moral defilements which render him a sinner. Under such influences his mind and affections are torn very often in two different directions. He thus becomes double minded, wavering in his loyalties, undecided in his intentions, divided in his interests, and, as a result, lacks that purity of heart and singleness of purpose which our Lord expects in His disciples. This is a most dangerous condition; and the remedy for it is a rededication of the whole personality to Christ and a fresh submission to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. The word purify often used in the Bible with a ceremonial meaning [John 11:55], is used by Peter to describe the purification of the soul which results from the initial obedience to the truth of the gospel [1 Peter 1:22], and also by James in this verse and by John in 1 John 3:3 to remind their Christian readers that the whole life of the Christian must be one of constant purification under the power of the divine Spirit.

[9]  When the Christian compromises with the world and is double minded, it is a sure sign that his sense of the gravity of sin has become blunted. Accordingly in verse 9 James recalls his readers to that sober earnestness which is the proper demeanor of a Christian when faced with the reality of sin.  So long as sin is active in the believer’s own life and is working its havoc in the lives of others, the mourning of penitence and the sorrow of sympathy must be among the Christian’s most deeply felt emotions. Jesus, sinless Himself, felt so keenly the burden of the world’s sin that there is mention in the Gospels of His weeping [John 11:33-35; Luke 19:41]. How natural, then, that James should remind his readers, many of whom were in danger of becoming friends of the world and double minded, that affliction, mourning, and weeping, all of which are experienced by every man and woman in times of sorrow, pain, disappointment and bereavement, must be in a real sense permanent characteristics of the Christian. James bids his readers of their own accord abandon all light-hearted laughter for the mourning which Jesus describes as an essential ingredient of the blessed life [Matthew 5:4], and to substitute for joy, heaviness or dejection (gloom). This word means, by derivation, a downcast look. Such a look is characteristic of the true penitent, as Jesus taught when He said about the publican in His parable, he “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. The Bible recognizes laughter as one of the great gifts of God [Job 8:21]. But the Bible also recognizes that there is a laughter born of flippancy, scorn and self-satisfaction. Jesus pronounced a woe upon those whose laughter revealed an ignorance of their own true condition and status before God [Luke 6:25]. Only when they accepted the invitation to mourn and weep would they enjoy the blessedness of the kingdom of God and laugh with a holy, guileless laughter in the company of the saints. It is only as we attempt to see ourselves in the sight of the Lord, i.e. as God sees us, that we can view ourselves in true perspective. It is only when we see ourselves by the aid of the Holy Spirit against the background of the revelation of God contained in the Bible that our judgment is right.

[10]  And, when this task is faithfully undertaken, we are forced to acknowledge our littleness and our unworthiness. We are humbled in the sight of God. But such a sense of humiliation, so far from being a cause of despair, is the essential condition of our exaltation. James accordingly ends this present series of exhortations to his readers by the injunction which picks up the dominant thought of verse 6. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord; and he assures that exaltation will most certainly follow. Such exaltation is for the Christian both an immediate and a more distant reality.

[11-12]  The verb speak against literally means “talk another down”. In later Greek the word seems to have had the additional significance of speaking about others behind their backs in a derogatory manner. Backbiting others is a subtle form of self-exaltation. In the process of backbiting, James seems to suggest, the slanderer is in fact passing judgment. Whoever deliberately breaks a law and does not repent of it, thereby speaks evil against it and treats it as a bad law, since it is the essence of a law to require obedience, and he who refuses obedience virtually says it ought not to be law. Man’s duty is to carry out what God commands, and not to sit in judgment upon it; and to obey, even when the full reason for what is commanded may not be clear. When man ceases to be a doer of the law, he becomes a judge, James implies, as God and only God can be, for He alone is not under law.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      What kind of judging is Jesus forbidding in Matthew 7:1? How is this type of judging different from that of Matthew 7:15-20?

2.      What does James indicate is the cause of conflicts in life [4:1-3]? What are the five manifestations that show the old nature is in control?

3.      In order to grow in our humility, we must grow in our dependence upon God for all things. In 4:7-12, how does James tell us to accomplish this task?


Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, D.A. Carson, Global.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, InterVarsity.

James, Don Anderson, Loizeaux.

The General Epistle of James, R.V.G. Tasker, Eerdmans.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts