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.
I want you to think back on a recent argument and conflict you had with someone. It could be your girlfriend or boyfriend, your spouse, your parent, your kid, or someone at work. What was the argument over? What was it about? Money, dishes, trash, music to loud, the TV, supper, or something else. Regardless of what the argument was over, what caused that argument?
That is the question that James wants us to deal with because the answer gives us deeper insight into why we have conflict with others. At the end of James 3 God gave us some incredible insight into what real wisdom looks like in our daily lives. Just because you are walking in wisdom does not mean you will not have conflict. This is why James 4 begins the way it does. Look at 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? 2 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. 3 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)
James just finished a section dealing with God’s wisdom and what it looks like and acts like in our life. When we are living by God’s wisdom, we are told that we will plant seeds of peace in our lives and in our relationships rather than seeds of conflict and division. A natural question then would be, “Why do I get into arguments with others even when I’m trying to walk in God’s wisdom and pursue peace?” God knows that we might have that question, so God has James begin chapter 4 with this, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?”
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?
That is a good question, but before we try to answer the question let’s make sure we understand the question.
- The word “quarrels” (polemos) refers to general prolonged dispute or conflict. It is often translated as war. This can refer to a prolonged quarrel or war between two nations. It can refer to a prolonged argument between a husband and wife. It can refer to a prolonged battle between two groups of people in a church. James is asking, “What is causing you to have these long drawn out disagreements and arguments with the people in your life?” Why do you keep arguing about the same things over and over and over with the same people? That’s a good question, because if you can discover that answer then you are on the road to discovering the solution to the real problem.
- The word “fights” (machai) refers to a specific fight or battle or argument. The word “quarrel” is a broad word meaning, “They quarrel all the time about all kinds of things.” The word “fights” is more specific and is used like this, “Last night they were fighting over the dishes” or “They seem to fight over money a lot.”
- Look at the question one more time, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” So let’s talk about you for a minute. Why are you so mad at the person? Why do you continue to get into an argument with them? What is the real reason you quarrel and fight with those in your life? Why do you get upset so easily?
What you are struggling with is not new. It may be new to you, but it is not new to God. He has been helping His people from one generation to another to deal with the quarreling and fighting in their lives. He knows this is going to be a problem for you and everyone else on the planet. So God addresses this subject over and over again. For example in 1 Corinthians 3:1 God had Paul write to some Christians, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. 2 I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, 3 for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” (NLT).
Look at 2 Corinthians 12:20, “For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior” (NLT).
This is not new. A lot of followers of Jesus struggle with this quarreling and fighting thing. So what is causing the quarrels and fights between you and your spouse? What is causing the quarrels and fights between you and your brother or sister? What is causing the quarrels and fights between you and your parents and between you and your kids?
Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
So, James has asked the question, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” He then begins to answer the question with a question, “Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” That is a very concise answer to a very deep problem. Within that short statement, he actually tells us four things about what is causing these quarrels and fights in your life. It all has to do with what James calls an “evil desire.” Here is what he tells us.
- First, your “evil desires” are pleasure-focused. Your “evil desires” are self-seeking. This little phrase “evil desires” (hedonon) refers to the gratification of sensual, natural, and physical desires apart from God. God gave you natural desires for pleasure, but what happens is those God-given desires get contaminated by our selfishness and they become “evil desires” driven by our own selfishness. Instead of a desire for truth, you want happiness. Instead of a desire for what it right, you want to feel good. Instead of your conversations being about what is true and right, it is about you and your happiness regardless of what is right or true. You start filtering decisions through your “evil desires.”
Look at what 2 Timothy 3:1 says about this, “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. 2 For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. 5 They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (NLT).
This desire for pleasure and happiness outside of the will of God is a dangerous force. It is so powerful that it can cause you to hear the truth and get excited about the truth, but eventually do nothing with it. In Luke 8, Jesus said there will be people who will “hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8:14, NLT).
Why does James say that this kind of thing produces quarrels and fights? The simple answer is that a person can only satisfy all of his or her own self-centered desires by conflicting with the desires of others. In one way or another, this person says, “If you don’t give me what I want we are going to have a problem. If you don’t make me happy then I will look for someone who will.” If you are looking for happiness and pleasure apart from God you are going to go from one relationship to another, from one addiction to another, from one job to another, from one thing to another searching for something that you will never find apart from God. Along the way you will have one conflict after another, one fight after another, and one argument after another because of your selfish desire for pleasure and happiness. This is all because you are living your life on human wisdom and not God’s wisdom.
“What causing the fights and quarrels among you?” Your “evil desires” that cause you to be selfish. You think everyone around should make you happy and do whatever it takes to make your life the way you want it, because you think life is about you.
- Number two, your “evil desires” are persistent. God’s word tells us that our evil desires are “at war” within us. This is military language. Your “evil desires” are engaged in a military campaign against you and what God wants for your life. This is a war and that evil desire is persistent. It may take a break for a while, but it will be back. This is not a game, this is a war that you will fight your whole life. Peter mentioned this when he wrote, “Dear friends, I warn you as temporary residents and foreigners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11, NLT). These evil and worldly desires are persistent, but it is a war worth fighting for! As a soldier of Christ, you have the armor of God and you can walk in victory on a daily basis. Even if you fall, you will get back up and keep on fighting because you are not a quitter and you are not going to give up or give in. You are going to be a prayer warrior. You are going to walk in God’s wisdom. You are going to produce things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit working in your life. Your spouse is going to see a difference. Your kids are going to see a difference and you are going to leave a godly legacy with your grand kids.
Those selfish desires are persistent, but so is your new nature that you were given when you became a new creation in Christ. “Why do you quarrel and fight with others?” Why does it seem like the same argument comes up over and over again? Because your evil desires are persistent. They operate from the stance that this is a prolonged war upon your life.
- Third, your “evil desires” are penetrating. The Bible says that your evil desires are at war “within” If I were to set aside what I know about what God’s Word says and you were to ask me, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” I would say they are. I am not the problem, she is the one always arguing. It’s not me, he is the one that seems to always have an issue. The natural answer, apart from God, is to put the blame and source of the problem on someone else out there.
But notice carefully what James says about the cause of the quarrels and fights in your life when he says, “Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” These evil desires and selfish tendencies are so deep “within” you that there are times you are being selfish, rude, and insensitive and you are creating a quiet conflict and tension in your relationships and you don’t even know it and don’t even recognize it even when someone points it out to you. This thing is deep.
- Fourth, your “evil desires” are personal. God’s word says that your evil desires are at war within “you.” I can already hear it. Someone is saying, “I know I’m selfish at times, but my spouse…. but my boss… but my parents… but my kids… but my boyfriend… but my girlfriend.” They may be more selfish than you, but we are not talking about them. We are talking about “you” and what your evil desires are doing to cause quarrels and conflicts where there doesn’t need to be any.
As we have moved slowly and carefully through this one verse, James has revealed to us the condition of what he calls “quarrels and fights.” We have also discovered the cause of these and James says it “comes from the evil desires at war within [us].” It would be natural for us to expect James to follow the condition and the cause with a cure… but he doesn’t until verse 6 which says, “And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” One of the reasons why you get so angry at others, irritated at them over little things, and are having a hard time finding satisfaction and contentment is because of your evil desires that cause you to be proud instead of humble. This makes you think others to adjust themselves to you.
God is saying, “I know you struggle with this, but the answer is drawing closer to Me. Letting me change you from the inside out. Letting me help you think correctly about you, about others, and about your situation.”