Movie quotes are frequently bandied about our house. The Princess Bride is a frequent source of quotes. Anyone who quotes The Princess Bride has to utter the word, “inconceivable.” After kidnapping the Princess, criminal mastermind Vizzini is so assured of the success of his plan he continually assures his henchmen that every problem they foresee is “inconceivable.” Fortunately Wesley, the hero of the story, is able to overcome every obstacle presented by Vizzini, prompting Inigo Montoya (Vizzini’s hired swordsman) to remark, “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
One of my pet peeves with Christianity is a tendency to speak “Christianese” without really understanding the meaning of the words we use. Words lose their power without a grasp of their full meaning. One word that, at times, makes me want to say, “I don’t think it means what you think it means”, is “grace.” The Greek word χάρις (charis) appears in every New Testament book except Matthew, Mark, and 1st and 3rd John. It may be a small word but it has big meaning and implications. There are many facets to grace, I want to focus specifically on one aspect of its definition here.
James 4:6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” [NASB]
Often a good way to get at the meaning of something is to begin by looking at what it is NOT. In this verse James brings two contrasting concepts, proud and humble. Proud and humble are adjectives that are exact opposites of each other. Not surprisingly these two opposite characteristics elicit opposite reactions from God. To the proud, God is opposed. To the humble, God gives grace. Therefore we can conclude that grace is the opposite of opposed, just as humble is the opposite of proud.
If you have ever sat on a board or attended any meeting that followed Robert’s Rules of Order, then you have heard a voice vote where the chair puts a question to the board and then says, “all in favor say aye, opposed say no.” This illustrates that “favor” and “opposed” are diametrically opposite, just as “grace” and “opposed” are opposite. Grace is favor.
There is more to this verse however. When James says that God is opposed to the proud, he uses the word ἀντιτάσσομαι (antitassó) which carries more meaning than simply opposed or against. It is a military term for an organized and active plan and alignment designed to resist an enemy. It is one thing to be opposed to someone in principle. It is something else altogether to actively take steps to thwart and resist the efforts of someone. This is how James tells us God reacts to the proud, by actively resisting.
Since we are making a study in contrasts, think of the implications for grace. If grace stands directly opposite of God’s active resistance, it stands to reason that grace involves not just favor in principle but favor in action. Grace does not mean that God merely approves of you, it means that he actively empowers you. Biblical grace literally is connected to the idea of God leaning in, applying weight or force, in order to provide blessing or benevolence.
A few weeks ago I wrote about being a steward of grace. If you haven’t read that post, please do. It compliments this post and puts it into practice.