QUARRELS AND CONFLICTS
Sources & Solutions
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9).
There is a painting in an art museum in Europe. It pictures a dark, storm tossed seascape. There are great, roaring waves crashing on a ragged and rocky shore. Lightening splits the sky, tearing holes in the night. The title of the painting is Peace. Most people think it is horribly misnamed and walk away scratching their heads. But they fail to notice something; in the bottom right corner, nestled in a hollow of one of the rocks on the shore is a small bird. It is safe, warm, and secure in the cleft of the rock. Our world is in turmoil. It seems the storms of life are crashing on many of our heads. Yet we can be safe and secure in the peace of the Prince of peace, the Rock of our salvation, Jesus.
The last verse of chapter 3 ended on a note of peace: And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:18). Who are those who make peace? It is the church!. It is to be in us.
Here is our opening premise. The only place where conflicts ought not to occur is within the church. That is because the church is a body. It is a single organism. For the church to fight against itself is like having my hands rebel against my fight. And yet it is exactly such a condition that James describes in this chapter.
THE PROBLEM DEFINED
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious 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 with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 3:1-6).
Notice how James opens this section. It is with a question. It is a question as to the source of quarrels and conflicts among you. The fact that he asks this question assumes that there are conflicts within the church.
Let me make this clear. There are conflicts within the church. If you haven’t seen any conflicts within the church, then you haven’t spent much time within the church.
From where do these conflicts come? If we are all one body and we all have the same Spirit and we all serve the same Lord, then why do we fight? James lists several reasons.
1. Conflicts come from the Quest for Pleasure: What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? (4:1).
The Greek word translated “pleasure” is hdonwn -- it is from this word that we derive our term “Hedonism.” In Greek thought, this described the system which sought to gratify the flesh.
It is similar to our word “amuse.” To muse is to think. The letter “a” before a word negates it. Therefore an amusement park is by definition a place where you go to experience the absence of thought.
Pleasure in and of itself is not bad. It is only bad when it becomes an overriding priority. Such pleasures can easily get out of hand so that they declare open war on our souls. James says that these pleasures wage war in your members. There is a war going on. The battleground is inside you. And to make matters worse, it does not stay inside you. It spills out of you and it results in outward conflicts.
What is the opposite of making your pleasure a priority? It is in making the needs of others a priority. It is in the humility of mind in which you do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It is that outlook wherein you regard one another as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3).
2. Conflicts come from Wanting what you Cannot Have: You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. (4:2).
It is not that these Christians were actually committing literal murder. But Jesus said that if you hate your brother and refuse to forgive him, you have committed murder within your heart. Why do you do that? One reason is because you don’t have the things that you want. James gives two reasons why this is the case:
a. You do not have because you do not ask (4:2).
Often the issue is not that we pray poorly, but that we do not pray at all. We treat prayer as a last resort. It is like the sign on the parachute harness: “First pull the primary cord: if that doesn’t work, pull the secondary cord; if that doesn’t work, pray.”
I am convinced that if we really believed in the power of prayer, we would pray a lot more.
b. You ask with the wrong motives: You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (4:3).
When we do pray, we don’t do a very good job of it. We pray selfishly. We ask for what WE want. We ought to be praying for what GOD wants.
Instead of praying, “Lord, change my circumstances,” I’ve learned to pray, “Lord, change me!”
There is a lesson here. It is that God does not answer prayers that are only designed to fulfill our pleasures. He acts in accordance with His own pleasure. And that is the way He wants us to pray. He wants us to pray according to His pleasure. When we begin praying the way we ought to pray, then we will find our prayers being answered.
There is a challenge here. It is a challenge to check out your desires. God promises to grant all proper desires. It could well be that the reason God has not answered your prayers is because of His mercy toward you.
3. Conflicts come from Taking the Wrong Side: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4).
Why does James use the word “adulteresses” to describe his readers? Adultery is the breaking of the marital vow. It involves unfaithfulness to that vow.
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was viewed as having been bound to the Lord through a marriage vow.
For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the LORD of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5).
This same figure is seen of the church in the New Testament. You have been betrothed to Jesus. You are to be His bride. The marriage ceremony hasn’t taken place yet. It awaits the return of the Groom at the Second Coming of Christ. In the meanwhile, you are called to be a faithful bride.
Can I tell you something about my wife? She is on my side. And I am on her side. That is how it is supposed to be. And it is how it is supposed to be with the Lord.
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3).
Those words are echoed here in James: Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (4:5).
Don’t be led astray! Don’t be seduced! When your desires move you away from God and turn you toward the world, you are being unfaithful in your relationship.
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
You must make a decision. It is a daily decision. You cannot be married to the Lord and continue to date the devil.
There is a war going on. It is a spiritual war and you have been called to take sides. You cannot remain neutral in this war. You are either actively working for the Lord or else you are actively working for the world. The question is which side you are on.
4. Conflicts come from a Lack of Humility: But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6).
Somewhere along the line we picked up the idea that God blesses the person that seems the closest to perfection, the one who does the most for God and who has studied the most theology and who knows the most doctrine. It simply is not true. We saw in the last chapter that those who are teachers of the Word, rather than being more blessed, are held to a higher standard of judgment. Those who teach are that much more vulnerable to pride and God is opposed to the proud. Instead He blesses the humble.
James is not teaching anything new when he says that God blesses the humble. It is a message that flows throughout the Scriptures.
For though the LORD is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly;
But the haughty He knows from afar. (Psalm 138:6).
Though He scoffs at the scoffers,
Yet He gives grace to the afflicted (Proverbs 3:34).
For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15).
God does not bless the proud. He blesses the one who comes admitting his own need. He blesses the humble.
It is this lack of humility that is one of the causative factors for conflict within the church today. As we each elevate ourselves within our own minds, we become like little gods, each wanting to be worshiped.
THE SOLUTION SUPPLIED FROM GOD
Submit 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 miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:7-10).
The solution that James gives to the problem of quarrels and conflicts is given in the form of ten commands. They are given in rapid-fire succession. They are ten imperatives given with military-like precision.
(1) Submit therefore to God (4:7).
(2) Resist the devil (4:7).
(3) Draw near to God (4:8).
(4) Cleanse your hands (4:8).
(5) Purify your hearts (4:8).
(6) Be miserable (4:9).
(7) Mourn (4:9).
(8) Weep (4:9).
(9) Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom (4:9).
(10) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord (4:10).
Each of these commands is given in the aorist tense. The aorist is a tense peculiar to Greek that views the action of the verb as punctiliar -- point action. When it is used with a command, the aorist indicates an action that is called to begin.
James is saying, “I want you to start to do each of these things!” They are a call to move away from the double-mindedness that was described back in chapter one and to return to the Lord. They are a call for repentance. They are the solution to the problem that James presented in the first six verses of this chapter.
The Problem (4:1-6)
The Solution (4:7-10)
Quarrels and conflicts from focusing on your pleasures (4:1).
Submit therefore to God, resist the devil, draw near to God (4:8).
Spiritual murder (4:2).
Cleanse your hands (4:8).
Problems in prayer (4:3).
Purify your hearts (4:8).
Spiritual adultery (4:4-5).
Be miserable, mourn and weep (4:9).
God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (4:6).
Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord (4:10).
Repentance isn’t very popular these days. Our post-modern generation doesn’t like the idea that we have anything from which to repent. We would rather hold onto our dignity and our pride and approach God as an equal. It is a problem of pride. And that is where James begins.
1. Submit therefore to God (4:7).
Submission speaks of recognizing that we are under the authority of God. We are already there, whether we recognize it or not. But we are called to submit ourselves willingly to that authority. That is what a Christian is. He is one who has recognized Jesus Christ as Lord and who has accepted Him as his master.
You will find that you always submit to something. The opposite of submitting to God is not freedom, but merely a submission to a different master. If you are not submitting to God, then you are submitting to Satan. That brings us to the next point.
2. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (4:7).
How do you resist the devil? You do it by submitting to God. You do it by letting go of your pride and by taking a spirit of humility. When you are proud, you are following in Satan’s footsteps. He is the prince of pride.
I hear a lot of people claiming this promise that if you resist the devil, he will flee from you. But that only takes place as you have made the first part of this verse operational. It will only take place as you have first submitted to God.
Do you recall Disney’s movie, “The Lion King?” There is a scene in the movie where the little lion cub is being threatened by several large, hungry hyenas who are going to eat him for lunch. He makes a little baby cub growl of resistance and they merely laugh their hyena laugh and continue their advance. But suddenly they stop and their eyes grow wide and they slink away. What changed? They have realized that the Father is standing behind His cub and He is big and He is strong and He is not to be trifled with.
Our resistance to the devil is like that. It is the Lord who has defeated Satan. He defeated Satan when He went to the cross and died for our sins and then rose from the dead. He conquered sin and death and then He arose from the dead with a roar.
Satan is a defeated enemy. But he is only defeated when you are with the One who is Satan’s Conqueror. It is only then that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah stands behind you. It is for this reason that James tells you to draw near to God.
3. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (4:8).
Do you see the movement? The Christian life is not static. You are always moving. Either you are moving toward God or you are moving away from Him.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? The younger son had taken his inheritance and had left his home and his father. He moved out into the world and lot it all. In sorrow over his lost condition, he decided to return home and to throw himself on his father’s mercy. He planned how he would come and knock at the father’s door and plead with a position as a servant.
But it didn’t happen that way. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and ran out to meet him. That is what the Lord does with us. You draw near to God and He will draw near to you. It has been said that if you feel as though you aren’t as close to God as you used to be, it wasn’t He who moved. And yet, if you come back to God, you find that it was He who initiated it.
Here is the principle. You take the first step. The Lord will take the second step. And when you get to the third step, you will find that it was the Lord who took the first step.
4. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (4:8)
Cleansings and purifyings were familiar themes to the recipients of this epistle. This epistle was written to the Jews -- to the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad. Their religious background was full of ritual cleansings and ritual purifyings. But James is speaking about more than mere ritualism. There is both an inward and an outward aspect to this command.
Cleanse your hand
Purify your hearts
“Sinners” focuses on the outward sins that are committed. “Double-minded” (the Greek text reads “double-souled”) looks to the attitude of the heart.
5. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom (4:9).
This is the language of repentance. When I was a lot younger, I was taught that repentance has nothing to do with a sorrowful emotion. It was presented as though you only needed to make a mental adjustment in your thinking regarding Christ.
But this is not Biblical repentance. The repentance that the Bible describes affects the entire man -- body, emotions and mind.
Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed (Matthew 5:4). This is not just mourning over the general hardships of life. It is not mourning over a flat tire or a stubbed toe or even over a personal tragedy like the loss of a loved one. Repentance involves a mourning over your own spiritual condition. It is seeing your sinful state the way that God sees it and hating your sin and being sorry for it with a genuine sorrow. Jesus said that if you mourn in such a way, you will be blessed by being comforted. You will find that God is able to justify the unrighteous.
6. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you (4:10).
This command is given with a passive voice. Instead of humbling yourself, you are to “be humbled.” How can you “be humbled?” You do it by seeing yourself as you really are and by seeing God as He really is and by realizing that there is no comparison.
The world says, “Toot your own horn because no one else will.” The Scripture says, “Don’t toot your own horn and the Lord will do it for you.”
THE SOLUTION APPLIED TOWARD MEN
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12).
Up to this point, we’ve been speaking of the problem of quarrels and conflicts and the solution to that problem. But we don’t want to leave that solution as mere theory. James takes the principles that he has stated and applies them to the problems in the church. We need to do the same.
Looks at the believer’s relationship with God
Looks at the believer’s relationship with other men
Commands given in the aorist tense
Command given in the present tense
James began this chapter by asking about the quarrels and conflicts within the church. He now returns to that issue.
Do not speak against one another, brethren (4:11).
In verses 7-10 we saw ten commands being given in the aorist tense. The force of that tense was that you begin to do these things.
Now there is a change. The command here is given in the present tense. Furthermore it is a negative command. In the Greek language, when a negative command is given in the present tense, it carries the force of, “STOP doing that!”
When James is saying, “Stop speaking against one another,” he is indicating that they had previously been guilty of this activity. We are not to speak against one another; rather we are to use our words to build up one another.
He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it (4:11).
The word “law” appears four times in this verse. Some commentators have noted the absence of the definite article and have concluded that this is not a reference to the Mosaic Law but is rather merely the Royal Law that was spoken of in chapter 2. But such a suggestion ignores the identity of the recipients of this epistle. They were Jews. When you spoke of Law to a Jew, he thought in terms of Torah. This is not a denial of the relevance of the Royal Law of chapter 2. It is an either/or question. The Royal Law is merely the New Covenant ramifications of the Law. It is what the Law was all about.
Note the flow of James’ argument. A person who speaks against his brother is not showing the kind of love demanded by the law and is therefore making himself a judge of that law. If you try to judge the law, you are in effect trying to do something that only God can do, for he is the only Lawgiver and Judge and you are taking for yourself a prerogative that rightly belongs to Him.
It is one thing to set yourself up against another person. It is quite another thing to set yourself up against the One who holds your eternal destiny in His hands.
But who are you who judge your neighbor? (4:12).
God is able to judge your neighbor, for He is the Judge and Lawgiver. But you are not God and you do not have that prerogative.
Jesus once told a story of a man who was in debt to the king. He worked and saved up and he tried to pay off his debt, but it was no use. The more he tried, the deeper he fell. Finally he was forced to sell himself into slavery.
As a slave, he was called before his king to stand trial on his delinquent debt. In a show of tremendous grace, the king completely forgave the slave his debt and then even went on to purchase him out of his slavery and set him free.
The freed slave was speechless. He pledged his devotion to his king and then, after thanking him, started home.
On his way home, the freed slave happened upon another of the king’s slaves who owed him several dollars. He demanded the slave repay him at once. When the slave explained that he had no money and this time, the former slave became angry and beat him.
News of the incident reached the palace and the king called for the man who had been freed. He came before the throne and the king called for an accounting.
Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
The man was speechless before his king. And you will be, too, if you do not forgive others in the same way you have been forgiven.