Greetings Summit Family,
We have been taking a close look at the beginning of chapter four of James’ letter to his brothers and sisters scattered throughout the world. He has been very specific in sharing some of the challenges they would face in their home environments. Those challenges would not always come from outside the body of Christ. Some of their most difficult challenges come from within!
If you are tempted to think too much time is being spent evaluating so few verses, allow me to share with you the unfortunate truth that more churches have experienced the trauma that developed through fights and quarrels from within the body of Christ than just about any other destructive events.
Here is the passage again: “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. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (v.1-3)
James is addressing two problems in these verses. The first problem is what is motivating our fights and quarrels. We know they come from the desires that battle within us. When we are demonstrating earthly wisdom, the result is a manifestation of selfish ambition and envy. This is ambition that is so self-centered it does not consider others. Envy is always an indication of selfishness. James has made it clear that neither is a demonstration of God’s wisdom.
The second problem is that a highly developed attitude of selfishness will impact our relationship with God.
James simply states: “you covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” The very definition of “covet” suggests an improper attitude towards another individual, in this case a brother or sister in Christ. Exodus 20 records the commandment God gave to the nation of Israel about coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (20:17)
To covet is to wish to have the possessions of another. It always includes envy which is resenting the fact that someone else has something the covetous person does not have. Paul also referenced the tenth commandment. “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would have not known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produces in me every kind of coveting.” In the process of talking about sin and the law, Paul draws his reader’s attention to the fact that coveting is a sin.
James is also suggesting that the natural response to the sin of coveting is acting on our own initiative without the guidance of the Holy Spirit (God). It is as if we have already decided what the outcome needs to be: satisfying our desires. Notice the first failure is refusing to take the matter to God. I have had the misfortunate of hearing people say: “I don’t have to ask God about this. I already know what needs to happen.” That seems to be a statement born out of pride not humility! It is as if we aren’t willing to consider any other optional conclusion except the satisfaction of our personal desires.
James goes on to say that when we do ask, we ask with the wrong motives. There is an extreme difference between asking for OUR will to be done and asking for God’s will to be done. Lee shared a message a few weeks ago based on a powerful verse of scripture that addresses this issue: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) The point – our prayers should be offered from a pure and humble heart as opposed to a prideful, selfish heart.
This passage speaks directly to the prayers offered during periods of fighting and quarrelling. Are our prayers focused on the result we want to experience? Are they based on satisfy our selfish desires or are they focused on God’s will being accomplished?
The determining factor regarding the nature of our prayers in these instances will be the condition of our heart. I wonder how many church families have been irreparably damaged because of fights and quarrels!