When I was little, growing up on our farm, I remember one of my least favorite days was the day we slaughtered chickens. Not a fun time.
Of course, I can't complain too much...the chickens had a much harder time of it than I did.
Imagine for a moment that you could talk to the chickens, and they could understand you. So the week before it's time to do the slaughtering, you go into the chicken coop and say to the chickens, "Next week I'm going to start slaughtering some of you guys so we can have tasty fried chicken!"
Now, with this piece of information, what would a smart chicken do? A smart chicken would say to itself, "I'm going to starve myself for the next seven days, so when he comes back, I'll be the most sickly, unappetizing-looking bird he's ever seen!"
But a stupid chicken would look at his neighbor and say, "Hey! No fair! That bird is fatter than me...he's gonna get picked for sure! I better stuff myself silly for the next seven days, so the axe-man will be sure to pick me!"
It seems silly, but that's just what James is talking about in chapter five. He says:
Essentially, he says that people who spend their lives hoarding wealth are as foolish as a chicken who deliberately fattens himself up for the slaughter.
Remember what Jesus says: life is more than the pursuit of material posessions. The person who spends his life chasing after the material posessions of this world will never be satisfied.
A while back I was visiting my parents, and as we were sitting at their diningroom table, my father said, "Look at that bird out there by your car!"
I looked out the window, and there was a bird, perched on the windowsill of my passenger-side front door. But where he was, that wasn't half so interesting as what he was doing.
The bird was very studiously examining itself in the side-view mirror! I chuckled a bit, and then turned back to the conversation. About five minutes later, my father said, "You know, that bird is still there!"
Sure enough, the bird hadn't budged from that spot, but was still preening in front of the mirror.
I immediately thought of Philippians 2:3, which speaks about behaving based on "selfish ambition or conceit." Selfish ambition, of course, is when we are seeking personal gain. But conceit is something altogether different (although it is still based in selfishness). It is when we act based on an exalted view of ourselves and our own importance.
What does conceit cause us to do? It causes us to gaze endlessly at our own self, admiring who we are, and generally being impressed with ourselves.
But what does Paul say? Get your attention off yourself! You're not the most important being in the universe! In fact, you should consider each of the people around you as more important than yourself.
This mentality is at the root of Christian character. Paul says, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ..." and then he goes on to describe how Jesus put aside his own self, making himself "nothing" for us.
Can we, then, follow His example, and instead of gazing endlessly in our own reflection, take our eyes off our own selves, to see those around us? I don't know about you, but I don't want to go through life gazing endlessly into my own reflection, when there are so many more important things to do...