Why do Christians sometimes fight, bicker, and quarrel? Who is to blame, and what are we to do about it? James, Jesus’ half-brother, addresses that very question in James 4:1-10. James asserts that quarrels are sourced in wrong desires. We all have desires, many of which are perfectly legitimate. But at times, when God or anyone else blocks our goal, we rebel. Frustrated desire leads to conflict: “You want something but don’t get it, so you kill and covet. You cannot have what you want, so you quarrel and fight” (v. 2). If we are honest, all of us have either done or said something in anger that we would be embarrassed for anyone here to know about, whether by cutting remarks, gossip, slander, or unwholesome speech.
Why don’t we get what we want? Interestingly, James links frustrated desire to our prayer life. He says that improper prayer leads to frustrated desire: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (v. 2). Does that mean that we get whatever we pray for? James anticipated that question: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3). There is a very simple reason why some of our prayers go unanswered. We are praying for things God does not want us to have! He knows that were he to give us those things, they would lead to our ruin. In verse 4, James goes us to tell us the source of these wrong desires. They’re sourced in the world’s value system, or to use James’ terminology, in our love for the world (vs. 4-6). Taking a cue from the Old Testament, James compares spiritual compromise with adultery. Essentially he is saying that when we adopt the world’s values we are cheating on God!
But it is so easy to get wrapped up in the allurements of the world, isn’t it? As powerful as those allurements can be, James wants us to know that God’s grace is sufficient, both to restore us when we do stumble, and to strengthen us so that we won’t! Look at verse 6: “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” “Grace” here refers to “divine enablement”. God gives grace sufficient to match the attractions of the world, grace sufficient to resist the devil, and grace sufficient to overcome the flesh. God’s enabling grace is available only to the humble. He gives grace to those who are willing to admit their need, to those who are willing to renounce selfish ambition, and who will allow God’s wisdom to guide them in their decision-making.
In verses 7-10, James gives us the solution for quarrels. They are contained in a series of exhortations that all flow out of a humble heart. First, we are told that a truly humble person submits to God. In other words, peace with people comes as a byproduct of being at peace with God. As long as you reject God’s authority over your life, you will have personal battles. If we want relational peace, we need to cease fighting and start surrendering! We do that by ordering our lives after the truths of God’s Word. That’s why it is so important to make Bible reading a priority in your week.
The first imperative James gave us was to submit to God. The second is to resist the devil. If we are to avoid the quarrels and fighting to which we are all so easily prone, we need to be aware of the spiritual warfare that rages around us. James gives us a third exhortation that will help us avoid conflicts and quarrels. In verse 8 he says, Come near to God and he will come near to you. How do we do that? He goes on to command: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” (v. 9-10). This is a picture of repentance. To repent means to have a change of mind about something. The context here would suggest a change of mind about quarrels and the worldly desires which cause them. What we need is a radical change of mind that leads to a change of attitude and behavior. If we think differently, we will act differently. It all begins by humbling ourselves before God. In verse 10, God promises that if we will humble ourselves before him, he will lift us up. In other words, he will bless us and reward us, and we will experience much greater degree of peace in our relationships.
Application / Challenge
Avoid quarrels by humbling yourself before God and adopting His value system:
- Think about some recent quarrel. Ask yourself, “What frustrated desire led to this conflict? Then ask, “Is this desire, something God wants me to have, or just something that I selfishly want?”
- Ask God to reveal areas in your life where you have adopted worldly values. (1 John 2:16)
- Humble yourself before God by submitting to Him, resisting the devil, and coming near to God.