As I have been studying the letter James wrote to his “brothers and sisters” around the world, it has caused me to stop and consider the depth of my faith. Those of us who have been in the “church” for many years may be tempted to automatically conclude that we have a deep, mature faith. We may also feel as though we are “wise in the Lord.” I don’t think James’ letter is accusing his reader of being anything less than faithful and mature. I think he is just pragmatic.
He knows the environments his fellow Christ followers were now calling home would naturally present a wide variety of challenges. They were being immersed into pagan societies. They were most likely isolated from their “church family,” meaning they would not have received the regular encouragement and discipleship they had grown accustomed to in Jerusalem. The bottom line is that their faith was going to be tested.
Such environmental conditions would have motivated James, out of his compassion for his brothers and sisters, to exhort them to continue the growth process that began while they were in Jerusalem and strive for wisdom, wisdom that comes from God. His letter is filled with life situations he KNEW they would face in their new environments. His goal in sending this letter is to provide them with loving pastoral guidance not accusations.
Chapter four begins with another life situation: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want so you quarrel and fight.” (v.1-2a)
James ended chapter three by drawing our attention to two wisdoms, an earthly wisdom and a heavenly one. His has encouraged them to reflect on their relationship with God by: asking them to ask God for wisdom that only God can give; consider both their humble and yet, high position in their relationship with Christ; realizing that God will not tempt them to sin; remembering that every good and perfect gift comes for above; allowing God’s Word to be implanted in their hearts; being doers of the Word, not just hearers of the Word; keeping God’s royal law; allowing God’s character to become the character they demonstrate, etc. Each of those directly speaks to a person’s relationship with God.
However, it is impossible to separate our relationship with God and its impact on our relationships with each other. A clear example is the royal law. Our obedience to God will have a direct impact on our relationship with our neighbors. But James is making a transition in this passage, James is speaking directly to our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Notice, he says “fights and quarrels AMONG YOU.” (emphasis, mine) The reference is clear. These are conflicts that are coming from within the body of Christ. Some translations use the phrase “passions that are at war in your members.” This can be a frightening phrase when one considers the conditions that exist during wars. A war occurs when enemies are focused on defeating each other. It is also associated with death. The enemy has to be defeated at all costs.
I wonder how many people are “dead” spiritually and emotionally because of fights and quarrels they have experienced as a result of being a part of the body of Christ. Unfortunately, I have personally heard the testimony of too many people who were once connected to the body of Christ and now no longer associate with the “family” because of the damage they experienced through fights and quarrels. It is amazing the various things people will fight over.
James’ statement is a very strong one, intended to help his reader understand the horror that exists when there are fights and quarrels within the body of Christ. There is another aspect of war to consider. It becomes even more horrific when one considers “war” is often associated with a continuing state of hostility and fighting. Think about the “cold war” the United States has been engaged in for decades with other countries. It never seems to end. The hostility and attacks are always lurking just around the corner.
We are going to use the first verses of chapter four as our devotion focus for this week because it is such an important topic to consider. Unfortunately, fights and quarrels have occurred too often and have resulted in “destroying” the fellowship and ministry of too many individuals and churches.
It is interesting that James embarks on this topic after spending time challenging his readers to obey the royal law: “love your neighbor as yourself”; after he has spent a significant amount of time challenging us to be humble; after he has shared that a heavenly wisdom is one that is pure, PEACE-LOVING, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, etc. As one reflects on those characteristics, one is also reminded they are the opposite of the characteristics demonstrated when fighting and quarreling are invading the body.
God’s primary “ministry” to us is the ministry of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, not counting people’s sin against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
If God went to that extent to achieve reconciliation with us, we should be as committed in striving to achieving reconciliation with others, especially within the body of Christ!
While we cannot avoid all conflicts, our heart should be to strive for peace. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
What is the opposite of war? Peace!
Tomorrow, we will look at where these fights and quarrels come from.
Have a great day!