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"The Cause of Conflicts"
James 4:1-3

Wednesday AM Bible Study
August 27, 2003

James words follow on the heals of his warning against the danger of a prideful, 'worldly' kind of wisdom (3:3-18; especially verses 14-16) - a sort of wisdom that is characterized, not by a peaceful unity and advancement of godliness, but by "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition". It's natural that he would then ask his readers the following question, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" James' answer constitutes one of the harshest passages in his entire letter. (Read 4:1-10). It teaches us that quarrels and fighting is the product of a kind of spiritual "adultery" - an adultery in which we become unfaithful to the God who loves us and gave Himself for us, and seek satisfaction in that which is in enmity against Him. It's a sin that, once discovered, requires from us an earnest and immediate action, a heart-felt sorrow and repentance, and a deep humility and submission before God.

What a contrast this is to what people typically think about wars and conflicts. Most people think these come from external causes. In fact many people build entire social systems of dealing with conflict around changing and controlling external matters. Such systems, however, ignore the reality of sin in human nature - which is really at the root of the conflicts and struggles, rather than external circumstances. God plainly makes the matter an internal one (Isaiah 57:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). And James here shows us that the cause of quarrels between us as believers is a "lust for pleasures" (vv. 1-3); that the character of that lust for pleasures is love for a system that is in enmity with God and at odds with His gracious purposes for the believer (vv. 4-5); and that the cure of this love for the world (and thus the lust for pleasures, and the quarrels they cause) is for us, as believers, to humble oneself before God in repentance and restoration (vv. 6-10).

Let's concentrate this morning on the first three verses; which teach us the basic cause of quarrels.

"Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?"
A. James calls them "pleasures"; or "desires" in the NIV; and their character is defined by their opposition to the things of God. This is the same word Jesus used in His parable to describe what it is that chokes out the progress of His word in someone's life (Luke 8:14).

B. These destructive "passions" are not just a characteristic of unsaved people, but are a matter of concern to us as Christians (note: "among you").

C. These passions are described by him as "pleasures that wage war (or as the famous expositor William Barcley translated it, 'carry on a constant warring campaign') in your members" (Romans 7:18-24; Galatians 5:16-17).

D. Plato said, "The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires." Cicero said, "From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discords, seductions and wars." Lucian said, "All these things have as their fountain-head the desire for more." But as a redeemed man, Paul said, "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another ..." (Titus 3:3).

"You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war ..."

James here describes the pattern by which we fall into conflicts:

A. First, there is an unsatisfied desire. The word he uses for "lust" means "to set one's heart on something" or "to desire longingly for something". The NIV translates this simply, "You want something . . ." The "desire" may be a normal and natural one; and the object desired may be morally neutral in and of itself. But the problems begin when that "want" or "longing" for something that the heart is set on is unsatisfied.

B. Second, there is a resentful attitude. James uses the word for "zeal" to describe one of the emotions that is felt; also translated "covet" in some of your Bibles. It describes a strong feeling toward something or someone. But he also refers to 'murder' (Matthew 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). "Murder" occurs every time we 'diss-' someone else - whether in thought, or word or deed. And so, there is a sense in which a "resentful attitude" quite easily becomes a "murderous" one.

C. Finally, there is open conflict. And though, so far, all that James has described has been internal; such internal passions boil and bubble in us, and eventually they break out into external acts.

"Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures."

A. This enmity shows itself in the fact that we don't bring our desires before God in prayer in the first place. It's our privilege to find our ultimate satisfaction in God and bring our concerns to Him in prayer (Matthew 6:33; 7:7-8; 1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 73:25-26). How it must break His heart when His own children don't come to Him with their needs. Doesn't it betray in us a lack of confidence in Him - a lack of faith in Him - when we don't bring our desires to Him in the first place; and with contentment with His answer?

B. But James speaks of an enmity in our hearts toward God in a second way . In Matthew 7:9-11, we're taught that our wise Father, who looks into our hearts, knows what our motives are when we ask for something. And He will never give us something that we purpose to squander and waste in a selfish, self-gratifying way. That would be bad for us. God wisely says "no" to such requests.

* * * * * * * * * *

Examine yourself on this for a moment. Are you, right now, in a state of conflict with someone? It may not have come to blows; it's probably been a matter of harsh words or the giving of the 'silent treatment'. But within, you're harboring ill-will, resentment, anger - perhaps even hatred and a desire to get even.

If you, with God's help, look honestly at the matter, you'll be able to trace it to the "pleasures that wage war in your members." It may be that something happened to injure your pride, which thwarted your desire to be thought of highly by others. It may be that you were jilted out of something you wanted, which thwarted your desire to "possess" it as your own. It may be that someone disregarded one of your felt needs, and so thwarted your desire for sensual gratification. Somehow or other, it can be traced back to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (1 John 2:15-16; cf. also Gen. 3:6 and Matthew 4:1-11).

If that's where you are right now, please pay careful attention. You must become alert to the matter and follow God's pattern (described in verses 4-10) for ridding yourself of the cause of such ungodly conflicts.

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