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The Pressure of Conflict


James 4:1-10
Bible Studies for Life, Sept. 29


James 4:1-10 addresses worldliness in the church and the natural result of conflict. James begins with a question in verse one, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?”

Evidently, conflict existed in the first century church to the point that James publicly identifies the quarrels and fights. The reason for the conflict was passions at war within the believer. The NIV says, “Don’t they come from desires that battle within you” (ESV).


What we think we want

James tells us that conflict is a result of conflicting desires. Conflict occurs within a church, family, marriage, or any relationship when my desires begin to conflict with your desires. Conflict occurs within the church when people’s desires conflict.

There is a difference on how to utilize church resources, worship preferences, the types of programming the church will have, and on and on I could go. The point is conflict occurs in the church when conflicting desires conflict.

Conflict occurs within a family when people’s desires conflict. A husband wants to watch ESPN, the wife wants to watch a chick-flick, and the children want to watch Disney Channel! Seriously, all families have conflict because people have differing desires. Remember, conflict occurs when conflicting desires conflict.

The first reason for conflict in verse 2 is the desire for possessions. He seems to use “murder” as a hyperbole for hate. The idea is their hatred led to covetousness. People in the first century church had a lustful desire for things.

1 Timothy 6:17 says, “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” God created things so that we, as His image-bearers, might enjoy them. God’s plan is that we would use things and love people, but what we end up doing is using people and loving things.

We fall in love with possessions and we manipulate and use people to get things. Some people think the Declaration of Independence says, “Life, liberty, and the purchase of happiness.” The eccentric millionaire, Howard Hughes, was once asked, “How much is enough?” He replied, “Just a little more, just a little more.”

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Solomon says that chasing after possessions is vanity or meaningless in the NIV. This is a poignant reminder to all believers that things will not satisfy.


Where lack of wisdom takes us

The second reason for conflict is the desire for pleasure. “The end of verse 2 therefore goes with verse 3, as James explains why his readers’ desire to “have” has met with failure rather than success. You do not have because you do not ask God.

What is it that James’ readers want to have? He nowhere says in these verses, but the context suggests an answer: the kind of wisdom that will enable them to gain recognition as leaders in the community.

“James has rebuked his readers for wanting to become teachers … they apparently want to lead the church, but don’t have the right kind of wisdom” (Pillar New Testament Commentary, Douglass J. Moo).

James tells them they have not received the wisdom of God because they have not asked and when they do ask, they ask wrongly desiring “passions” (ESV) or “pleasures” (NIV). James is addressing the person whose life becomes centered around his pleasure. Pleasure (Hedonism) becomes the #1 goal in life.

Please see the connection between pleasure and conflict. When my pleasure takes precedent over what is needful conflict is created. As God’s children we must be careful to not elevate our pleasure above others’ needs.


Friends and enemies

The third reason for conflict is the desire for pride. Verse 4 is powerful and pointed, “You adulterous people…” When we become friends with the world, we are enemies of God. Our desire for possessions and pleasure become greater than our desire for God.

As we filter the causes of conflict through our “gospel-grid,” we are reminded that only Jesus can satisfy us. JD Greear, in his book, “Gospel,” gives a gospel prayer. The first part declares, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make you love me more and nothing I have done that makes you love me less. Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”

Wow! What a reminder of what Jesus has done for us. Through his finished work on the cross and his resulting resurrection, God has given us all we need for fulfillment and complete joy.

In verses 6-10 we are given a few steps to help us cure conflict.

First, submit to God. Moment by moment the Christian is called to submit to the kingship of Jesus over their lives.

Second, resist the devil. The word “resist” is a war term. When the devil whispers his lies in your ear, declare who you are in Jesus Christ. Do not allow him to deceive you. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Third, draw near to God. The more time I spend with God will result in a Christ-like attitude toward people. Remember, the more we are transformed by the glory of God, the more like Jesus we will become.