Today we’ll begin out study of James, chapter four. In this passage, James pinpoints the source of conflicts among believers.
Jam 4.:1-3 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (2) Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. (3) Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Wars and Fightings
James declared that his readers were fighting. He doesn’t tell us how he knew, like Paul did (1Co. 11:1). There is no way to know if James wrote this passage because of specific problems he knew about, or if he wrote out of a general knowledge of human nature. But he leaves no doubt that they were fighting.
God’s people disagree sometimes. Paul mentioned the disagreement between Euodias and Syntyche:
Phi. 4:2-3 I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. (3) And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.
Even Paul got caught up in controversy:
Act. 15:37-40 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. (38) But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. (39) And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; (40) And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
It’s not shocking that a congregation of sinners should have conflicts, but God’s people need to live above our sin nature by His grace.
What’s the source of these conflicts? The word “lusts” doesn’t just refer to sexual desire. The Old English word means any strong desire. It’s usually bad in the Bible, but it isn’t always about sex. The external conflicts are a result of internal conflicts. Paul described that war in his letter to the Romans:
Rom. 7:22-23 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: (23) But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
He echoed this idea in his letter to the Galatians:
Gal. 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
James said in chapter one that our sins are the result of being drawn away by our lusts and enticed (1:14). Lust is a factor in our disagreements, too.
Ye Ask Not
Their desires led them to “fight.” The Greek word means to quarrel. I take this to be on a personal level, in contrast to “war,” where more people were involved. When they couldn’t get their way, they fought with each other personally. When they still couldn’t get their way, they tried to get others to take their side, and the discord spread.
Next, James said they would “kill.” I don’t take this to mean that these believers were literally killing each other. I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it. James might have been using hyperbole – deliberate and obvious exaggeration used for effect. He could have been pointing to the ultimate destination of their unchecked lusts and fighting. (Cain’s murder of Abel comes to mind here.) But I think he is saying that he is referring to their hatred Christians for their brothers in Christ.
1Jo. 3:15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
James’ readers were trying everything under the sun to get what they wanted, everything but praying. “Ye have not,” he said, “because ye ask not.” It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Yet how many times have we fallen into the same foolish trap? Lust, struggle, fight, war, and still do without, but don’t pray. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (1:17) and gives generously to those who ask. Are you praying for the things you desire?
Mat. 7:7-11 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: (8) For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (9) Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? (10) Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? (11) If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Ye Ask Amiss
Some of their prayers were going unanswered though, and James knew it. “We tried that,” they said, “but it didn’t work.” Something was “amiss” with their prayers, though. They were praying badly, selfishly. If it’s right to want, it’s right to pray for.
How Are You Doing?
- Are you at war with another Christian? Can you identify any lusts that might be behind the conflict?
- Have you prayed, sincerely and consistently, for God to fulfill your desire?
Read James 4:4-5. Examine yourself prayerfully to see if you’re seeking the world’s friendship, or God’s?