Wednesday, November 5, 2014


James 4:1-6, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?  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.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people!  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.  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’?  But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

In straightforward manner James identifies the cause of the quarrels and fights that typify human existence on this planet.  The kind of discord of which he speaks is pervasive—in marriages, families, churches, communities, and countries--and even exists amongst those professing faith in God.

What is at the source of the problem?  The word “passions” occurs twice in this passage.  It translates the Greek term hedone which speaks of “the gratification of the nature desire or sinful desire” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).  It is the word from which the English term hedonism is derived.  Hedonism is “the doctrine that pleasure of happiness is the sole or chief good in life” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).  The other especially-relevant words used in this passage are the terms “desire” and “covet”.  The first translates a Greek term which refers to evil desires.  The second speaks to the zealous pursuit of such things.

It is the lusting after things that is at the heart of the problem.  Man was created to find fulfillment and enjoyment in His Creator, but sin deceitfully distorts man’s way of thinking.  “The desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” demand fulfillment (Cf. 1 John 2:16).  The devil and the world would have us to believe that happiness is to be gained through pleasure (the desires of the flesh), profit (the lust of the eyes), or position (pride of life).  These things are zealously pursued by man, though true and lasting fulfillment and true joy can never be found in them.  They represent mere passing pleasures (Cf. Hebrews 11:25).

It is this always-wanting-more aspect of sin that works to put us at odds with one another.  Pleasure needs to be fueled.  Profit needs to be increased.  Pride demands more attention.  These things are oftentimes secured at the expense of others.  This sin borne attitude does not need to be learned, it is ours by nature.  It in in-bred in us through our relationship to Adam (Cf. Romans 5:12).  Adam and Eve sinned.  Then Cain murdered his brother.  Man has been fighting with one another ever since.  It doesn’t take too long for a seemingly innocent child to begin to display a propensity for a selfish behavior.  The word “mine” enters soon into a child’s vocabulary.  Children don’t need to be trained in how to fight over toys.

To live according to the dictates of one’s passions is to be a friend with the world.  The world functions according to “looking out for number one” way of thinking.  Passions are pursued according to a “whatever it takes to get ahead” philosophy.  But to befriend the world and live that way is to be at enmity with God (Cf. James 4:4).  God desires something better for us.  “He yearns jealousy over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5).  He deeply desires that we live according to His better purpose.  The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to mire us in a quagmire of selfish pursuits, but “he gives more grace” (James 4:6).

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  Humility is a sure antidote to the prideful attitudes and passions that give rise to such discord.  In his excellent book, “Humility: True Greatness,” C. H. Mahaney defines humility as “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.”  Such a spirit-borne honest assessment of ourselves is an absolute necessity.  Pride puts us at odds both with God and with others.  But in humility we relate to others according to God’s design.  The various problems addressed in this chapter: quarrels and fighting (James 4:1-4); sinful judgment of others (James 4:11-12); and sinful presumption (James 4:13-17), are all rooted in pride.  Pride and passions lead to discord, but humility bears a better fruit (Cf. Philippians 2:3-8; Ephesians 4:1-3).  James summarizes the matter this way: “Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

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