These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.

One of the signs of dissatisfaction is conflict. When one person is NOT getting what they want, there will usually be conflict. When one person is not doing what another person wants, there is usually going to be conflicts and arguments. In James 4, God’s Word answers the question, “Why do you have arguments and quarrels with other people?”

As we go into this, I want you to think about someone who you recently had an argument with. It could be your spouse, your parent, your children, your brother, someone at work, at school, etc. Do you have that person’s face in your mind? Think about them and your conflict with them over the next few minutes and as we see what God’s Word as to say. I want you to think more about how you handled it, rather than how they handled it. Think about what you said and how you said it. Did it help or escalate the conflict?

James 4:1-3, What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (NLT)

We are answering the question, What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Last time we discovered that the reason you quarrel and fight with others is because of an internal war inside of you. James referred to this internal war as “evil desires.” I want to encourage you to listen to the first lesson in this series if you missed it. It will explain why you get so angry and irritated at people when you do get what you want or when they don’t do what you want.

James calls these desires “evil desires.” These desires cause you to be selfish. These evil desires are selfish desires, that’s why they are evil. Anything described as “evil” in the Bible is driven by selfishness.

  • These selfish desires turn a healthy discussion into an argument or fight. These selfish desires are what causes your conversations with your spouse to become all about you and what you don’t like.
  • It causes you as a parent to discipline your children or correct your children out of your selfishness because they are irritating you, rather than approaching it with loving discipline and helping them.
  • When this selfish desire kicks in, you begin manipulating the conversation or situation in such a way as to get what you want and to make your life happier. It becomes all about you. You yell at them because it makes you feel better. You harshly punish them because you think it brings you power, control, or happiness in some way. It you give people the silent treatment, because you want to punish them. It’s all about you. That’s the evil desire James is talking about.

In verse 2, James takes us from looking at the internal war to the external impact your evil desires can create in your life. James tells us in verse 2 the process that these evil and selfish desires take in our relationships with others. If these evil desires are not controlled or put to death the following will happen in your relationships.

Before we go any further I want to show you something. Take a look at James 4:2 in the English Standard Version. It says, You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (ESV). This verse can be broken down into three sections. The chart on your outline and on the screen behind me will help you see this.




You desire

And do not have

So you murder

You covet

And cannot obtain

So you fight and quarrel

From this, James tells us in verse 2 that selfish conflict involves three things.

Selfish conflict involves a thought –  “You desire” and “You covet”

First, selfish conflict involves a thought. James says, “you desire” and “you covet.” What does that mean?

  • “You desire” – (epithumeite) means “to set your heart on” a thing or person. Having a desire is not a bad thing. It’s okay to desire your spouse, to desire peace, to desire joy, to desire health, or to desire a better income. God gave you the ability to desire. Your Creator made you with desires. The problem is when our desires get contaminated with our selfishness. These selfish desires are the kind of desires James is talking about. James is talking about your misdirected, sinful, and selfish desires. As a result, whatever it is you are wanting becomes more important that the person you are talking to as a result of these selfish desires.

For example, let’s say you want the house clean and if so you will say or do whatever toward the person you think should clean the house or do more regardless of how it makes them feel. Your selfish desire causes you to focus on what you want rather than the relationship with the other person.

But watch this. Look at Psalm 37:4 which says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (ESV). This is NOT saying that you if start enjoying God then God is going to give you whatever you want. This is saying that as you delight yourself in the Lord, as you start growing spiritually, as you start getting into His word, understanding, and applying you will discover that God begins to change your desires to desires that align more and more up with God’s desires. You begin desiring what you should be desiring, rather than what you shouldn’t.

  • “You covet” – (zeloute) this has the idea of being envious, jealous or greedy. Coveting something is more than just wanting something. Mixed in with coveting is resentment, grudge-like attitude, and an unhealthy sense of possessiveness about something or someone that doesn’t belong to you. Once you start coveting something or someone you start compromising your convictions, your values, and what you know is right and true. When coveting kicks in you go crazy. When a spouse cheats on their spouse, often times they think its justified in some way. When you start coveting something or someone else all rational thought goes out the window.

Look carefully at Colossians 3:5 which says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (ESV). Once you start coveting something you have entered into idolatry. Having that person or thing becomes all-consuming to you. She or he becomes an unhealthy obsession to you. That thing you want begins to rule what you say or how you say it or how you spend your time or money. This is coveting.

Summary: The conflict starts with a thought. You selfishly desire something. You begin resenting others because of what you don’t have. You want peace in the home, but you start resenting the fact your spouse or children are messing or loud or inconsiderate. From your “evil desire” or selfish thought you treat them in an unhealthy and unloving manner in order to get what you want. It all begins with a thought.

Selfish conflict involves an object – “you don’t have” and “cannot obtain”

Number two, selfish conflict involves an object. James is reminding us that your God-given desires have been contaminated with selfishness and you now desire things “you don’t have” and “cannot obtain.” When your God-given desires become “evil desires” you begin wanting things “you don’t have” or wanting things you “cannot obtain.” Your satisfaction in life begins to turn to dissatisfaction.

You start coveting what others have. You become envious and jealous of others. This is such a common struggle that put it in the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:17 says this, “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (NLT). There are five major categories mentioned here.

  • God says don’t covet your “neighbor’s house” – that’s his possessions. He’s got a pool in the back yard, He’s got an AC that works, a man cave, a she-shed, motorcycle and the list could go on and on.
  • God says don’t covet your “neighbor’s wife” – that’s his relationships. I wish my spouse was more like her or more like him. They are so funny, they are so kind, and they seem to love Jesus. I wish I could be married to them rather than who I’m married too.
  • God says don’t covet someone else’s “male and female servant” – That’s his status. He’s got someone to mow his yard for him. She’s got someone to cook and clean the house for her. They have someone who helps with their children every day. He’s got a great job and has all those people under his leadership and authority.
  • God says don’t covet someone else’s “ox or donkey” – that’s his productivity. The ox and donkey represented work, productivity, and determination. I wish I had the kind of resources they had in order to get as much done as they.
  • Then just to make sure everything else is covered, God says don’t covet “anything else” – that’s everything else.

Jesus mentioned all this in Luke 12:15 when He said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (ESV). You need to be on guard. It’s easy to slip into coveting someone else’s life. If you are not careful, you will start resenting your spouse for not being like your friend’s spouse. You will start resenting your parents for not being like your friend’s parents. You will start feeling bitter because you don’t have what other’s have. You will take it out on yourself, your family or other’s in your life because you are blaming them for getting in your way of happiness.

Selfish conflict involves an outcome – “so you murder” and “you fight and quarrel”

Number three, selfish conflict involves an unwanted outcome. James tells us that we will struggle with selfish desires that covet and are jealous and envious regarding things or people that we don’t have and cannot obtain. If those desires go unguarded and unchecked it can lead you to “murder” and “fights and quarrels.”

  • When James says “murder” he is reminding us that ungaurded selfish desires knows no limits. There is a channel on TV called the ID channel. All they show are true cases of how someone’s desire got out of control and they either killed their spouse, killed their lover, or killed someone that they thought was in their way of happiness. Hopefully, most of us will not go that far with it.

What James is doing is warning you and me about how far selfish desires can take us. Our selfish desires have no limits. Our unchecked selfish desires can and will do anything to achieve whatever it wants. One spouse will physically or verbally abuse their spouse to get what they want. Parents hurt children because they are not getting what they want.

A classic example of selfish desire leading to murder in the Bible is David’s desire for Bethsheba. He had her husband intentionally placed on the front lines of a war in the hopes of having him killed in battle, which did happen. He did this simply so he could have Bethsheba to himself. That is a good illustration of where a selfish desire and coveting can take you.

  • These selfish desires and coveting can also lead to “fights and quarrels.” Most of us will probably end up producing this as a result of our selfish desires. Selfish desires produce tension, strife, and irrational actions.

So, when it comes to our selfish desires James has already brought this subject up once before back in James 1. Look at James 1:14-15 which says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (ESV). When our selfish desire takes over the only thing to follow after that will be some type of sin and that’s followed by some type of hurt, pain, division, separation, or death of some kind.


The reason you fight and argue is because of your own selfish desires. You and I are told what to do about this in verse 6. James says, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you” (NLT). We are going to talk about this is detail later in the series, but this means as you get closer to God through prayer, worship, thinking about what He says in His Word, and applying what He says you will find yourself becoming more content, less aggravated, and your concerns to begin to change effecting your relationships in a good way. You will find your desires changing to align with God’s desire. His will becomes your will.

The same truth is stated in Galatians 5:16-17, but is stated this way, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (ESV). Drawing close to God and walking by the Spirit are the same thing. If you pay attention to your desires, you will notice a desire that doesn’t honor God and a desire that wants to honor God and others. Those two desires are opposed to each other. If you walk by the Spirit, choose to live your life for God through the power of the Holy Spirit you will find yourself living by God’s desires more often.