James 4: The Wars We Wage
James asks the question: Who is wise and understanding among you? Notice he links these two attributes together- wisdom and understanding. The he discusses two types of wisdom here in chapter 3, which really are connected to the disorder we see in chapter 4. The type of wisdom that causes disorder is described in James 3: 15 as – ‘earthly, unspiritual and inspired by the devil.’ This is false wisdom that comes from below. It is based on man’s wisdom according to the world’s standards. It is unspiritual which means it is opposed to God. It is the outgrowth of natural man’s wisdom. This produces envy, jealousy, bitterness and selfish ambition. It produces disorder which causes the fights, wars and quarrels among believers. Wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. It is sincere and impartial. Wisdom from above knows what to do, what is right and what is wrong. Understanding knows why it is wrong and why and when it is right. Wisdom provides the what- understanding knows the why. (I believe we always should start with why- which will then direct our what and how)
Quite often in an argument or quarrel we seek to justify our position. But instead of seeking self-justification, it would be better to direct ourselves to self-examination. What is this fight really about? James will shed light on this very question in chapter 4.
- “What causes fights (wars, KJV) and quarrels among you? “ This evidently is a war we wage against each other.
- “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” We are at war with ourselves.
3.”Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” We are at war with God.
This seems to be the three major battle fronts upon which we wage our wars. When we view this Scripture as a strategy for peace in our lives, (and remember James is writing to Christians) we will see the steps to peace. And as indicated earlier by James- wisdom is ours for the asking and it comes from above. All good gifts come from above from our Heavenly Father. We are all seeking in the most general sense- to be satisfied. To have a sense of well-being and peace within our souls. After all we do love ourselves. We have a desire to be satisfied and only God can satisfy what our soul hungers and thirsts for.
First James sets up the three battle fields upon which we wage war. Let us look at each of these and find the cause of these outbreaks.
WORLD WAR I- The War We Wage Against One Another
The enemy loves to cause fights and quarrels among Christians. As a result, a godless, pagan world looks in the church and sees nothing different than what they see in the world. The first war is among ourselves. I imagine Adam and Eve had quarrels after the fall, don’t you? After all, Adam blamed Eve for all their trouble. And we see the first murder was among family as Cain slew Abel. A quarrel rose among Lot’s herdsmen and Abraham’s herdsmen that ended in Lot moving to Sodom and Gomorrah. Absalom created a war with his own father David. And even the disciples of Jesus argued over their positions of importance in the coming kingdom. James has already pointed out several areas of disagreement: rich and poor; employment wars, we will read in James 5 of the owner and his workmen who are underpaid; slander against one another ( verse 11). Every battle starts within, James tells us. This is a continuous battle we all fight as believers against our old nature which seeks pleasure. We each have a natural craving for pleasure. We want what pleases us. Paul writes about this battle in his own life: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7.)
Pleasure-seeking destroys one’s love for spiritual things. We may keep on doing the spiritual things, but we do them out of duty and not love. Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) When we love Jesus with all our heart, the easiest and most enjoyable thing in the world is to serve Him and obey Him. But when our goal is to obtain our selfish pleasures- obedience to the Lord is a disagreeable duty. WE cannot serve two masters for we will love one and hate the other, devoted to one and despise the other. If I may paraphrase- we cannot serve God and selfish pleasure both.
WORLD WAR II. The War Within Ourselves.
The very essence of sin is selfishness. Every conflict and battle we wage usually starts within our own hearts. James states the reasons is James 4:2: “Don’t they (the quarrels) come from your desires that battle within you?” It was a selfish desire. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife to the king to save his own skin. David took Bathsheba for his own pleasure. Achan took the forbidden loot and caused Israel’s defeat. “We have turned everyone to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)
These situations shed light on the verse which states: you have not because you do not ask God. Abraham decided he would solve his problem his way- do it yourself- no prayer. The prodigal son in Luke 15 thought he knew what life would satisfy him best and took off to engage in a do-it-yourself life of pleasure. How many times have you made a decision without asking God, seeking to solve the problem or get what you wanted by simply depending on your own wisdom? You lacked understanding didn’t you?
What happens to selfish desires, temptations that are not dealt with swiftly and scripturally? They lead to action. James says you – kill and covet- you quarrel and fight. Selfish living leads to selfish actions. Selfish living leads also to selfish praying. Selfish praying will not get you what you want. “You ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4: 3) Selfish living and selfish praying always lead to war. War on the inside of you will spill to war on the outside.
The question may arise- if I am praying for a lost loved one; for a job when unemployed, for health when I am sick, for success in a project- am I praying selfishly? Jesus encouraged perseverance in prayer. (The widow before the judge; the neighbor who wanted bread)Paul said we should pray always and about everything. Praying for the lost is always in God’s will because scripture tells us He is not willing that any should perish but all would come to repentance. Praying for honest work is certainly within God’s will, what one has to be careful about is if our pride keeps us from taking work we think is beneath our qualifications. Health when sick is certainly Scriptural and James even discusses praying for the sick and anointing with oil. Evangelists Ron Dunn said he had enough faith to be healed, he was just not sure he had enough faith to stay sick. Sometimes the Lord decides to leave the thorn in your flesh for greater good. Success can give one a platform to glorify God and we are told to let our good works shine before men to glorify your Father in heaven- just make sure you are not trying to get in the spotlight with Him.
What is the purpose of prayer? When you pray Jesus said pray that your Heavenly Father’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Prayer is not to get you will done but God’s will done. John wrote: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know He hears us, whatever we ask – we know that we have what we have asked of Him.” (I John 5: 14, 15)
People who are at war with themselves because of selfish desires they cannot have or enjoy are always unhappy. Instead of being thankful for what they do have, they complain about the blessings they do not have. It does not seem to matter how much we have, we always desire something we do not have. Unhappy people in your midst are like the one bad apple that spoils the whole barrel. (Wonder if that saying comes from the apple Eve and Adam ate? It sure did spoil everything.) It also underscores what we have just been talking about. They had everything and could eat from every tree in the garden, but one. The one thing they did not have is the one thing they desired. Also the enemy who uses this to tempt us by telling us if we have this or that- we will be happy and by now I hope you know- he has never delivered what he promised.
What we want is to be satisfied. Bring your desire to God for satisfaction. It is in a relationship with our Heavenly Father we will find satisfaction. As we walk with Him in obedience, we will discover that for which we have searched. If we do not bring our desire for satisfaction to God, then we will by default bring it to the devil and this fallen world. We have not- because we do not ask God to supply us with what will satisfy- but believe the world has what we want.
Here is the truth: “Jesus said, ‘For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again.” (Matthew 16:25) Live to please yourself or live to please God. If you live to please yourself, you will be on a never ending search for that external happiness that quenches your thirst. But your thirst will never be quenched. The things of the world cannot satisfy you – they are temporary, not eternal. Look in your attic, your garage , your closet at all the thing we have worked for, bought and enjoyed for a season, only to have the grow old, worn, and no longer satisfy.
WORLD WAR III. The War with God.
Are you beginning to see a pattern? Every war we have from the wars with each other to the war within ourselves has a root cause. The root cause of these wars is rebellion against God. Sin is rebellion against God. When one lets the world, the pagan society, conform one to its pattern, we will desire those things our old nature desires and the pagans run after.
How did we come to declare war against Almighty God? What were we thinking? It comes gradually and over time as we become friendly with the world. We have three enemies and we must not fraternize with the enemy. Of course you know these three enemies well: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The ‘world ‘we speak of here is the society and culture in which we live that is anti-Christ, anti-God. It has become more so in our lifetime that America has moved from a pre-dominantly Christian nation to an agnostic one. Our president told us the truth when he said, “America is no longer just a Christian nation.” James said this of Abraham- ‘Abraham was called a friend of God.” (James 2:23b) Abraham was a friend of God. Lot was friend of the world. Lot ended up in a war; Uncle Abraham had to rescue him.
James can be painfully, but truthfully blunt sometimes as he tells us: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James compares friendship with the world to adultery. The world wants to conform us to its pattern. It wants us to be ruled and satisfied by obtaining those things which appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. John tells us ‘the whole world is under the control of the evil one.’ (I John 5:19) James is saying to be on good terms with the world is to be on good terms with God’s enemy. James said this is what we are doing when we ‘choose to be a friend of the world.’
God gave us the desire for satisfaction. God also supplied everything we need to have our desires satisfied. James told us every good and perfect gift comes for our Heavenly Father. All I have needed His hand has provided. These three enemies conspire to deceive us into believing what Eve believed which was God had not supplied everything they needed and in fact was withholding what was good for them. It was a lie.
Friends with God. My best friend is Jesus, Jesus, we sing. Is He your best friend? Friendship speaks of closeness. One of the wonders of technology is the smart phone that offers face time. Isn’t it a wonder to behold the face of a loved one, though separated by distance on your smart phone and hear and behold their faces at the same time. As believers we can have face time with the Lord Jesus. “ But we all with open face ( unveiled) beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are changed, into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” What eye could not see and ear could not hear nor enter into the mind of man- is true of the natural man who has not received the Spirit of God. But we have received the Spirit of God that enables us to see Him with the eyes of our heart. To hear His Words and understand He is speaking to us.
Friendship with God will humble one. What a privilege to carry everything to Him in prayer. The very thought that Almighty God, Creator of everything- is not only willing to listen to me and talk to me- He looks forward to it. Loves me unconditionally and wants the best for me and mine.
The ‘flesh’ in Scripture refers to our old nature. It is the nature we inherited from Adam and is prone to sin. The Spirit of God can use our bodies to glorify God or the flesh may use the body to serve sin. Thus the war within – the flesh lusts against the Spirit. And the world conspires with the flesh and the devil to tempt us day and night. A Christian who is involved in ongoing sin is carnal. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8.6)
Last but not least is the devil. The world is in conflict against God. The flesh is against the Holy Spirit. And the Devil opposes the Son of God.
How do we overcome these enemies? James gives us instructions to follow if we would enjoy peace instead of war. Remember all sin comes from selfishness. Pride is the enemy of God.
Here is the first step in winning these wars. The KJV says: “But He gives more grace. Wherefore he says- God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Verse 6) As I am preparing this lesson Monday morning, we are under a winter storm watch. Snow, freezing rain are all occurring as I prepare. I have concerns about my schedule this week. As always we have our ongoing concerns for our family- each with their own special needs and problems. The news that comes at us 24-7 from around the world is enough to make you want to go back to bed and put the covers over your head—-but He gives more grace. God is enough. Do you believe that in your heart of hearts when trouble seems to come at you from every direction? When your woes are great- His grace is greater. My needs can never exceed His supply.
The question is how do we overcome temptation in our lives. Next lesson we will see James’ step-by-step process for dealing with temptation and resisting the devil.