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James 4:1-3:  The War Within

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet[a] you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3 NKJV).

“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way” (James 4:1-3 MSG).

You understand that James is not writing about world wars and conflicts, although the principle certainly applies. He is writing to the church. Now I could go on for days about the church fights I have seen. Usually over something petty that has nothing to do with theology. Every church I have ever pastored had its “againers,” those who were against everything from the pastor’s wife’s dress to what color carpet to purchase for the pastor’s study. We have fought the “contemporary music” wars several times. Remember the story about the church that was getting electricity for the first time. They were having a business meeting about what type of chandelier would be appropriate, when one deacon, the church’s “againer,” came in late. He immediately protested about the chandelier, saying, “In the first place, if we got one of them chandelier’s, ain’t a soul in this church who knows how to play it, and besides that we need to get some lights in this place!”

James returns to the subject of “jealousy and selfish ambition” (James 3:16 NLT) that leads to “wars and fights” and eats like gangrene into the heart of the church. The congregations which the apostles themselves formed were tainted with the same impurities which are still prevalent in the Church in our own time.

“The fighting among Christians which James is addressing is an outrageous evil. Yet I have seen it accepted complacently; one church member who saw a church breaking into factions even commented cheerfully, ‘Oh, I love a church fight!’ In reality it is a tragedy which can cripple a church's internal ministries and external witness for years before a measure of healing and purification becomes evident. James is not talking about disagreements--the healthy conflicts that should be expected in a church whose ministries are expanding. He is writing about fighting, which is earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil in origin, and he will call its perpetrators ‘adulterous people’ (4:4). So serious a crime calls for a serious response. When we Christians find ourselves embroiled in fights with each other, we should examine what we are doing in the light of this paragraph. James gives us great help by answering three questions that are hard for us to face.” –Bible Gateway Commentary

Verse 1a: “Where do wars and fights come from among you?”

Thomas Rainer compiled Twenty-five silly things church members fight over – Here are just a few of them.

•Argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard.

•A church dispute of whether or not to install restroom stall dividers in the women’s restroom.

•A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers.

•Business meeting arguments about whether the church should purchase a weed eater or not. It took two business meetings to resolve.

•Arguments over what type of green beans the church should serve.

•Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee. In one of the churches, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks brand. In the other church, they simply moved to a stronger blend. Members left the church in the latter example.

•Major conflict when the youth borrowed a crockpot that had not been used for years.

•An argument on whether the church should allow deviled eggs at the church meal.

•An argument in church over who has access to the copy machine.

•Some church members left the church because one church member hid the vacuum cleaner from them. It resulted in a major fight and split

We had a family leave the church because our worship leader grew a beard. They tried to raise the issue in a meeting saying, “Jesus didn’t have a beard and we don’t think it’s right for David (worship leader) to have one.” I reminded them that they pulled out Jesus’ beard (Isaiah 50:6). How could they do that if He didn’t have a beard. They said, “oh, we never thought of that!”

One family objected to an overhead projector, saying, “We would never go to a church with an overhead projector.”

This verse is in closely connected to what he wrote earlier, the importance of avoiding strife: “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:14-16). He’s writing about conflicts in the church.

“James is setting before his people a basic question--whether their aim in life is to submit to the will of God or to gratify their own desires for the pleasures of this world? He warns that, if pleasure is the policy of life, nothing but strife and hatred and division can possibly follow. He says that the result of the over-mastering search for pleasure is polemoi (Greek) “wars” and machai (Greek) “battles.” He means that the feverish search for pleasure issues in long-drawn-out resentments which are like wars, and sudden explosions of enmity which are like battles. The ancient moralists would have thoroughly agreed with him.” –Barclay

It is interesting to note that James refers to disputes and arguments among church members as “wars and fights,” but is this not actually the nature of them? This is referring to needless and endless strife and contentions. The Greek word polemoi, “wars” signifies a war, battle, or strife. quarrels that can cause much misery and damage.

Verse 1b: “Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”

The main enemy isn’t the other person! The main enemy is your own sinful, selfish flesh. If you do not defeat it, it will destroy you!

Plato said, “The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires.”

Cicero said, “From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discords, seductions and wars.”

Lucian said, “All these things have as their fountain-head the desire for more.”

But as a redeemed man, Paul says, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

The source of “wars and fights” among Christians is always the same. There is some root of carnality, an internal war within the believer regarding the lusts of the flesh. No two believers who are both walking in the Spirit of God can live with wars and fights among themselves.

“He considers their wars and their squabbling and their belligerence with each other. From where, he asks, do they come? And then he answers his own question. They are the consequence of the wars within themselves, their wanting more and more of the pleasures and desires of the world, which, once having tasted, they cannot bear to be without. For those very pleasures are at war within every part of their bodies (‘their members’) pressing them on into further conflict. We can compare here the fleshly desires that war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). They want satisfaction at all costs as the battle rages within them. The picture is of people in turmoil within because of their determination to have their pleasures, as each one battles with everyone else in order to get what he himself wants. The language is that of the battlefield, but in most cases what is in mind is probably the local ‘battlefield’ at work and in the household. For those who live like this there can be no peace.” –Peter Pett

“James seems to be bothered more by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints.” –Douglas Moo)

“Almost all who have such a critical and contentious attitude claim they are prompted and supported by the Spirit of God. James makes it clear that this contentious manner comes from your desires. "It is self-evident that the Spirit of God does not create desire which issues in envying.” G.C. Morgan (Adapted from David Guzik’s Bible Commentary)

Verse 2a: “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war…”

The word for “lust” means to passionately and greedily desire, to set one's heart on something or to desire longingly for something. The NIV translates this simply, “You want something…” The desire may be a normal and natural one; and the object desired may be morally neutral in and of itself. But the problems begin when that want or longing for something that the heart is set on is unsatisfied.

It is amazing what people will give up to satisfy their desires. Adultery (sex outside of marriage) is a good example. If a pastor succumbs to this sin he gives up his: standing before God, self-respect, family and marriage, ministry and faces God’s judgment. All for a few moments of pleasure! It is not worth it! And yet, literally hundreds of God’s leaders fall prey to this desire every year!

I’m reminded of a pastor years ago in Kansas who was having an affair with his secretary, a married mother of four, he would not divorce his wife for fear it would hurt his chances for advancement in his denomination, so he killed his wife, and his lover had her husband killed. Too sad! That’s lust!

King David’s son Amnon, so desired his beautiful half-sister Tamar that he feigned sickness to lure her to his bedroom, then raped her.

Samson, so desired Delilah that he gave up his standing before God just to have her. His lust cost him his strength and eventually his life.

“Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14,15 NLT).

Verse 2b: “Yet you do not have because you do not ask.”

The focus of the person who does not pray is toward self, not toward God.

The needy soul is unsatisfied, though God has promised: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7,8).

“What happens to our prayer-life when we are placing ourselves first? The craving for pleasure in the end shuts the door of prayer….The true end of prayer is to say to God, ‘Thy will be done.’ The prayer of the man who is pleasure-dominated is: My desires be satisfied.” –William Barclay

“When we are selfish, prayer is viewed as a weak, useless and silly practice. Rather, we turn to worldly ways of getting what we want, threats, manipulation, scheming, plotting, etc.” –Mark Dunagan

Believers fail to obtain their heart’s desire because they do not go to the One Who alone can satisfy the heart. You do not ask the One who is infinitely able to give you your heart’s desire. “Yet you do not have because you do not ask” of God, whose blessing makes us rich! Instead of all this worldly stir and bustle, and these “wars and fights” with one another, it would be much more advisable to pray to God for a blessing on your life; and to ask of Him to “supply all your according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Verse 3: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

The Greek word for “amiss” is atopos, meaning, out of place, unusual, unbecoming, improper, unrighteous, perverse. In this context it can mean, “wrong motives.”

That’s selfish praying! That’s trying to use God as a Genie, to pull Him off the shelf when you need Him, rub Him the right way, and then put Him back until the next time. That’s using God as an umbrella, getting Him out when it’s raining and put Him away after the storm. God is not a cosmic vending machine!

There’s the story of a ship that was sinking in the middle of a storm, and the captain called out to the crew and said “Does anyone here know how to pray?” One man stepped forward and said, “Yes sir, I know how to pray.” The captain said, “Wonderful, you pray while the rest of us put on life jackets, we're one life jacket short.”

Does God answer every prayer? Yes! The answer may be “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” However, there are conditions to answered prayer:

James 1:5-7 NLT, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

Psalm 86:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear”

Proverbs 28:9, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”

The Bible reveals exactly whose prayers are answered. He hears the cry of the righteous (Psalms 34:15); He hears those who call upon Him in truth (Psalms 145:18); and He hears the penitent (Luke 18:14), and those who ask “in His name” (John 14:13).

1 John 5:4,15, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

David Wilkerson gives, “Six reasons prayers are not answered.” I will just list the six reasons without including his comments. –

Reason one: Our prayers are aborted when they are not according to God's will.

Reason two: Our prayers are aborted when they are designed to fulfill an inner lust, dreams, or illusions.

Reason three: Our prayers can be denied when we show no diligence

to assist God in the answer.

Reason four: Our prayers are aborted by a secret grudge lodged

in the heart against another.

Reason five: Our prayers are aborted by not expecting much to

come of them.

Reason six: Our prayers are aborted when we ourselves attempt to

prescribe how God should answer.

God answers prayer!

Prayer in its simplest form is simply talking with God as you would talk with a loving father. It is touching the heart of God. Does this sound like prayer? “Daddy, I’m hungry, may I have something to eat?” Or is it more like a child asking his father for something that he needs? God invited us to come to Him like children! It is as simple as saying, “Daddy, I need You.”

God holds the key to all of our longings, needs and wants: Provision, protection, belonging, comfort, compassion, companionship and forgiveness, God wants to provide all of these for you, just ask Him.

God acts powerfully through the prayer of His people. Prayer is the key that unlocks all of the storehouses of God’s grace and power. All that God is and all that God has is at the disposal of the one who prays. Prayer has the power to do anything that God can do, and since there is nothing that God cannot do, prayer is omnipotent.

Prayer can do what political action cannot do; what education cannot do; what military might cannot do; what City Planning Commissions and City Counsel’s cannot do; and what Federal Governments cannot do! All of these are impotent by comparison.

Prayer can move mountains. Prayer can change human hearts. Prayer can change families, neighborhoods, cities and nations. It is the ultimate source of power, because it is the power of almighty God! God expects the church to be radical in its witness of the power of God. The church must make a radical impact to make a difference in our communities, our nation and our world.

“This is what the Lord says—the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord: Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come” (Jeremiah 33:2,3).

“Prayer is the mightiest agent to advance God’s work. Only praying hearts and hands do God’s work. Prayer succeeds when all else fails. Prayer has won great victories and rescued, with notable triumph, God’s saints when every hope was gone. Men who knew how to pray are the greatest boon God can give to Earth. They are the richest gift Earth can offer Heaven. Men who know how to use this weapon of prayer are God’s best soldiers, His mightiest leaders. –Edward McKendree Bounds, “The Prophet of Prayer” (1835-1913)

When all else fails, PRAY!

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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