“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace.”
Isn’t it amazing how prone to conflict we are? We can find an excuse to escalate things to the point of conflict. Just pick up the paper and it doesn’t take long to see that most of the casualties revolve around conflict. There is conflict among nations and conflict within our own nation. Locally we deal conflict in our cities and towns. Even our churches, places that should promote Christ’s peace, are often marked by conflict. Over the last decade how many denominational disputes and divisions have there been? Unfortunately even in the family of God we find fighting. Then there is the issue of the nuclear family which is fraught with hurt feelings, broken relationships and divorce. Without God our default is a destructive one. As we turn to James chapter four James not only raises the question of what causes conflict, he answers the question, giving us both the causes and the cure. Today we will look at the reason for conflict followed later by the peaceful prescription for its remedy.
- The Cause of Conflict
Instead of beating around the bush James comes out and tells us that the cause of conflict is our conflicting desires. You see when my desires conflict with yours and one of us does not get what we want, then the battle begins. Once the fire is lite all it needs is the fuel of unforgiveness and it can rage for years. It’s easy to blame others for the things that rip and tear at the fabric of our relationships, but blame begins because we refuse to take personal responsibility for our people problems. We refuse to forgive because we think we are not at fault. While we might like to find fault in others James confronts us with a hard truth, we need to look within ourselves for the source of conflict. Its time to stop hiding behind the blame and start being honest with ourselves. Pointing to other people as the problem may feel good to our flesh and free us from facing the painful facts but it doesn’t cure our conflict. Within every follower of Jesus Christ is the foul “old man” that dark and selfish side with a very capable capacity for sin. Deep within, in the mud of a man’s heart, lurk the lies that it’s everyone else’s fault. If we are unwilling to dive in and deal with this deceptive deceit we will always see our relationships disintegrating into dust. So why do we keep up the pretense that the problem resides in other people? Pride, because if we admit that we are the problem then we have to change to cure conflict. Its more comfortable and convenient to put change on others doorstep than deal with self. Yet what if we worked as hard at healing as we do harboring hurt feelings? Selfishness, when observed in others is obvious and ugly. Yet the sin of selfishness, that is malignant within us, can be neatly surrounded with rationalizations. It’s easy to make excuses for self’s shortcomings and dismiss our own deficiencies. But James describes us as people who want something, but don’t get it, and therefore we are unhappy. Why are we restless people, dominated by discontented because we are driven by pleasure, the “desires that battle within you.” The more we are driven by the pleasure principle the more likely we are to be participants in quarreling and fighting. Abrasive words and abusive actions are expressed to one another because we are not at peace within ourselves. The word for “fights” is also translated “war” means a continuing state of hostility and “quarrels” are outbursts of active animosity. We tend to think that peace is our natural state, and that conflict is unnatural, yet the reverse is actually true. James brings us face to face with three concepts that lead to conflict.
Converting – This is a carnal craving for more, a sinful, self-indulgent pleasure, driven by our desire to satisfy the flesh. It comes when we choose to pursue pleasure rather than God’s plan. It is driven by the desire to acquire and have, but it can never be satisfied because it is an unquenchable thirst. Covetousness causes conflict because it leads us to lust after life from the perspective of self not serve, taking us to the point that we do whatever we must to get what we want. It the lust for power, popularity, prestige and pleasure. Covetousness leads to fighting because we get frustrated by not getting what we want. Converting consumes us, taking charge and making our goal getting not God. All human conflict is ultimately traced back to the frustrated desire of wanting more than we have, and being resentful of what others have, whether it is position or possessions.
Careless – James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” If you are like me it’s easy to make the mistake of turning to self instead of the Savior. We need to get over our “I’ve got this God” attitude. Until we come to the realization that we are dependent on the Savior we will always default to self. When I try to get it usually leads to sin, but when God gives it always results in success. Even though we are children of God, who have been promised that He hears and helps when we pray we often don’t practice pray. Many times we simply view prayer as a tool to tackle our problem because we are preoccupied with our own plans and have run into a roadblock. We see prayer as a way to detour past the difficulties so we can get on with our walk our way. We are either so busy taking things into our own hands that we fail to pray entirely, or are so greedy that we pray with improper motives. Prayer is the way to experience our hearts’ desires, but real satisfaction is found only when focus on what the Father wants. James reminds us that, “…you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” God will not allow us to use prayer simply as a means to our own selfish ends. Genuine prayer leads us away from preoccupation with ourselves and toward His plan. It aligns us with God’s purpose rather than promoting our own cause. Prayer is not about bending God for your benefit. We have not for two reasons, one, we are seeking the wrong source and second we seek with selfish motives. James reminds us that some of what we desire is good and legitimate, but we don’t receive it because we don’t go to the source we are too busy trusting in self. But James also reminds us that asking is not the only step, we must also ask with the right motives. Many of us are still making it more about our wants than His Will, like the name it claim it approach to prayer. Greedy prayer is not Godly. Yes we are encouraged and entitled to bring any and all request to God, but our prayer must be in the spirit of Jesus’ who prayed in Luke 22:42, “But not my will, but Your will be done.” Next we see that a distorted prayer life leads to a deception spiritual life.
Cheating – The final word that describes what we face is the word adultery. If we are not careful we will become cheating Christians. For many our immediate reaction to this word is to recoil from it because the word brings to mind vivid pictures of sexual adultery. Which selfish, pleasure seeking, covetous, and carless living can lead to. However, at the deepest level, James is talking about spiritual adultery in which we are unfaithful to God. Throughout the Old Testament, God is seen as the husband and Israel is His bride and in the New Testament Jesus is the bridegroom, and the church is His bride. When we are having an affair with the world we are being unfaithful to our heavenly spouse. Instead of prayer there is prostitution, instead of dependency on God there is defilement. Today there are a growing number of American Christians who are embracing their self-indulgent values making them the foundation and center of their faith. Instead of challenging the self-preoccupied living of a secular society, we have accepted and elevated it as the new norm for Christian living. This decision to place self and our egoistic interests at the center of the gospel stands Christianity on its head. We have a perverted and prostituted cultural faith, sleep with the world on Saturday, serving God Sunday then back to the world on Monday. Too many Christians try to live the American dream with a little Jesus overlay, like it all fits together. We are trying to fit the pieces of two different puzzles together, clashing Christ with our culture and trying to be content. We are sprinkling a little Savior into our secular and trying to find satisfaction. But James reminds us of a theme that is ever present in the bible and that is that God is a jealous God. He will not share us with sin. God reacts with holy jealousy and passionate pursuit when we whore after the world because He loves us. The facts are that faith should not flirt with filth. So are you willing to deal with what causes conflict in your life, your unhealthy heart that hungers for the carnal instead of Christ?