James 4:1-12 English Standard Version (ESV)
Warning Against Worldliness
4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are at war within you?[b] 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people![c] Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.[d] The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?
Human beings are interesting; we desire peace, but are so natural at fighting and war. I have been watching a documentary covering the Vietnam war, and one of the soldiers being interviewed, said, “Many people think that the army teaches young men to be ruthless killers.” He added, “It doesn’t teach them it is simply a finishing school on how to do it effectively.”
One thing we do well is fight. And unfortunately church, this tendency of hating each other and fighting is at home in the church as it is in the world
This leads us to my first point;
1.The inevitability of fighting
James address the church not saying if there is fighting church, this is the reason, he says what is causing this fighting. In other words church, this is a reality not the exception.
William always reminds us how the peace we have in this church is a gift of the Holy Spirit it is not the norm it is not natural. Church, we as people love to think that we are peace loving and nice. I want to remind you that as long as there has been recorded history, there has been people at war with each other.
Now, the sad thing about war about fighting about quarrelling is that we love to think that is it those on the side of right and good fighting against the side of evil. But unfortunately church it is never that simple. We love to think ourselves as essentially always those who would fight on the side of right but so often we are really just seeking our own self-interest.
James actually in his writing identifies where our fighting comes from. Which leads us to our second point;
2. The cause of fighting
In verse 1 James says;
4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are at war within you?[b]
The word for “passions” is in the Greek is ἡδονή (hēdonē) where we get the word hedonism from. It means lusts but actually means a desire for myself above all else. This is a profound insight into the plight of man. What causes the issues for mankind, what drives our fighting, and quarrels is that we naturally are self-seeking, we are naturally selfish creatures.
And it is this tendency to see myself as more than anyone, that causes the breakdown of community, it causes the fighting and quarrels in church, and indeed in the world.
I have been reading through the autobiography of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones a famous Welsh preacher of the last century he was utterly sold out to the idea of the gospel and the gospel alone being the hope of mankind and so throughout his ministry he would refused to get involved in any forms of political debate. His famous line was there is no political answer to a spiritual problem.
Church like to think of ourselves as objective observers of our world, that we have the views we have because we have weighed up the arguments and arrived at the most logical conclusions. This simply is not the case, we are essentially selfish and communal thinkers.In other words, my community and my selfish desires drive our opinions more than anything else.
This is why with the rise of freely available information on the internet has not seen a more rational world, but an increasingly tribal and ideologically possessed world. You have the flat earth society rising not on the basis of facts, but on the basis of a tribe. People who all affirm each other and therefore there is a place to belong.
What causes the fighting and quarrelling between us, church, is because we have an “I before anyone else” mentality.
George MacDonald, a Scottish writer and effectively the greatest influencer of Tolkien in his writing and style of the Lord of the Ring. He wrote, “the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject.”
The greatest reason there is fighting in the church and the world is not that other people are stupid and wrong, it is that I have to be right.
I can’t get myself into their world their perspective and so lovingly engage them, no they are my enemy, I have to be right and will spend my energy and strength in proving them wrong and ensuring that that wrong is dealt with.
Essentially, church, fighting is natural to man, because man is essentially a selfish being. So the question is, if this is the natural tendency of man, if this inescapable how do we overcome?
This is my third point this morning;
3. The overcoming of fighting
The rest of this verse shares the reality of the healing of our broken selfish hearts. The first thing we see in this passage is that James calls these people who fight in the church adulterous people in verse 4.
The Greek word is in the feminine so it should be translated adulteresses. Why would James call the male and female people in the church adulteresses. There is a reason for this. Throughout the Old Testament and continued to the New Testament God sees His people not so much as King and servant, rather he calls after them and pursues them and loves them as a husband loves his wife.
In the New Testament Christ calls the church his bride. Why because God loves us with a passionate love! The God of this universe church loves you with an intense love; a deep love.And when we fight among ourselves because of our “I am mine attitude”, this James says is more than just toxic to the community of the church, it is more than just hurtful to those who we fight with it is adultery from God’s perspective.
And James justifies this by saying; “Don’t you know friendship with the world is enmity with God?” You see every system and political program and idea in this world is conformed to the sinfulness of man. It is permeated and saturated with the “I-am-mine” mentality.
This is why it is adultery for fighting to be in the church. We have abandoned the love of God, we have effectively cheated on God with other loves, a love for self, a love for power, a love for success etc.
James then says in verse 5;
“The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously.” This is a common phrase used in Scripture, God is a jealous God.
This jealousy church is not envy, it is not selfish, it is righteous jealousy, the righteous jealousy every spouse has for his or her spouse. This is the love God has for His people! He will not be shared, and when we have an “I-am-mine” myself-above-all others attitude we are wrongfully sharing our love, we are cheating! And God’s love will not stand it!
Church, we overcome fighting by loving our God the way He loves us. But how we do this is that we apply the great principle of grace.
You see the next phrase that James uses is “He gives more grace, therefore, God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
The way we engage God’s love for us, is the same way we heal infighting in the church, we humble ourselves. The principle works on both relationships.
You see church the reason people don’t come to God for healing and forgiveness, is the same reason we don’t seek the other and why we fight, we fail to humble ourselves. We are prideful, we want things on our terms, in our way, and this destroys us.
Now humility is not thinking of yourself as less than, it is thinking of yourself less. It is a bold, self-forgetfulness.
James says, humbles yourself to God and the very next this is resist the devil. Someone who can resist the personal force of ultimate evil is not someone who things less of themselves. This is someone who thinks of themselves less.
If we think practically about this it makes sense. The reason we resist the grace of God is not because it is irrational, it is because if it is true then we have to submit ourselves to God and we will not be king over our life anymore. We don’t come to God for healing, for forgiveness of sin, because doing so would take us out of the driving seat of our lives. We think of ourselves too much church.
But the reason we don’t forgive someone who has offended is the same! The reason we don’t say thank you when someone is kind to us, the reason we take offence, the reason we quarrel and fight is the exact same; we don’t want to stop being king of our life.
For example, someone says something that offends you, it hurts. So rather than gently confronting that person out of love and getting to the bottom of the issue; you play a story in your mind how this person obviously has an issue with you; you! How dare they?! You paint yourself as the ultimate victim of this great evil person who has secretly had it out for you for years!
Do you see what is happening; you are justifying your rage, seeing yourself as more important than you are and causing division and pain because of your pride.
James says; God resists the proud!
Generally when I have actually gone to someone and ask them why they have said something that is hurtful, when I strip my pride out of the equation; you discover that they were in a bad place, and they took it out of you.
Church, the hope of us overcoming our fighting, our hope for peace in this community is not us being nice people, it is us humbly embracing grace.
The very thing keeping us from God is the very thing causing chaos and destruction in this world; church it is pride. And the answer to our pride is not be better people; it is embracing the one who humbled himself unto death for the sake of those who hated Him.
Jesus is our hope and our example. As Philippians 2:6-7 reminds us; Our attitudes should be like Christ,
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
Our hope is that through humility we receive the gift of salvation through faith in Christ and as an example Jesus himself humbled himself for that salvation. Church, fighting in the church is the natural course, the gospel helps us overcome that so that the church becomes a reflection of the divine.
As Shakespeare said; to err is human to forgive is divine. Our ability to be at peace is found in the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.