Loving God. Loving our neighbor.

A Neck Problem

Stan Gale

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

I have a neck problem. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve encountered a number of medical maladies, but my neck problem is something I’ve wrestled with since my early 20s.

My neck problem is not the one diagnosed by doctors in my 40s related to arthritis. Rather, it’s the one diagnosed by the Great Physician as a stiff neck.

Evidently, it’s a pretty serious problem, one that leads to all sorts of complications. It’s prone to discontentment, rebellion against God, stubbornness, blatant disobedience, hardening of the heart, and even idolatry.

We find being stiff necked mentioned in all three sections of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets, and Psalms), and in the New Testament – so throughout the Bible.

My stiff neck was diagnosed when I first came to Christ in my early 20s. I’m not sure it’s gotten worse over the years, but I have certainly become more aware of it. One hymn captures the progression: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”

The presence and progression of stiff neck is detected by the x-ray of God’s Word. Stephen, one of the first deacons, speaks of the condition affecting heart and eyes and is characterized by resisting the Holy Spirit. In other words, being stiff-necked makes for a bad patient, a refusal to listen to the doctor.

What is the treatment? Stiff neck cannot be cured in this life, but it can be managed under the care of the Holy Spirit. The primary treatment is a regimen of humility. Humility counters the malignancy of pride that is the chief contributor to the condition.

Humility is a conduit for grace. James puts it this way: “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:5–6).

Humility restores our appetite to hunger after righteousness and thirst for the knowledge of God. It drives us to prayer in continual dependence. It leads to teachability, obedience, and spiritual vigor. It stimulates love for God and neighbor. Pride is a poison to the soul and a steroid to an unforgiving spirit.

The grace of humility counters selfish ambition and vain conceit, adopting the mind of Christ.

Just as the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms attest to the condition of being stiff-necked, so they lead us to the remedy, from the lips of the Great Physician Himself.

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”

And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44–46).

As we abide in Him who humbled Himself for us, we will find freedom from sin’s scourge and healing power for new life.