James 4:1-10

The Real Reason We Quarrel

Conflict is an inevitable aspect of life in a broken world.   We can’t get away from it.  It’s on the evening news, it’s in our community, it’s in our homes, it’s in our lives.  As James addresses this topic notice that he does not begin by asking whether or not there is ongoing conflict.  No, he assumes there is conflict and asks what causes these quarrels and fights (v.1)?  Where do they come from?  We will explore his answer to this question under 3 headings.

#1 The Hidden War  (v.1-3)

So what is the reason for our quarrels and fights (v.1)? Why do we have conflict?  First, notice what James does not say.  He does not tell us that conflict in our lives comes from all the messed up people around us.  Nor does he attribute the problem to our inability to apply the right conflict resolution strategies.   James shows us that the reason for battle we have with others is another deeper, more fundamental battle going on beneath the surface.   There is a war beneath the war.  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (v.1)  Our problem, it turns out, is not external but rather internal.   You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have because you do not ask (v.2). There is a hidden war that is going in our hearts and like all wars, it is a war for control.  A simple desire, which may not even be an evil desire, gains control of my heart and leads me to do some very foolish things.  What are some foolish things we do when in a conflict with someone else?  Here’s an incomplete list of things we know we shouldn’t do (but still do anyway):

-1– Fail to see our own sin.  I am perfectly righteous in this situation.  My sin and my spiritual  blindness in no way contributed to this mess!

-2- Blame-shifting.  It’s not my fault.  I only acted this way because of what you did!

-3- Assign hidden motives. Others can’t see into your heart, but I can!  I know the real reason you did what you did.  

-4- Make assumptions.  I don’t have all the facts, but I don’t need them.  I know what was really going on!

-5- Read all of your past hurt into every situation.  Here we go again!  This is exactly what happens every time!  

-6- Stonewalling.  I am not going to raise my voice, I will just kill you with my silence.  I see you in the room but I will pretend you don’t even exist! 

-7- Exaggerate an offense.  No, I don’t need perspective.  This offense committed against me is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone — ever!

-8- Lack empathy for the other side.  I don’t need to understand where you are coming from because I know I am right!


#2 The Verdict from God (v.4-5)

James shows us the seriousness of this battle going on within our hearts.  You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (v.4)  James continues to dig.  Beneath the war with others is a war within our hearts and now James tells us there is a war beneath that war!  It is a war with God.  He calls it spiritual adultery. Adultery is when I take what rightly belongs to one and give it to another. God is the rightful owner of my heart.  Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment is to  “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).” And yet we constantly give the devotion of our hearts to someone or to something besides God.  This is worldliness and James tell us that whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (v.4).

#3 The Way to Victory (v.6-10)

Verse 5 hints at the hope we have.  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?”   God’s jealousy is a good thing.  We are given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.  We are made new creatures in Christ.  God is eager to see us grow in the Spirit he has given us.  He is jealous when this doesn’t happen.  And what is the result when that doesn’t happen?  We stand condemned!? No!  But he gives more grace (v.6).  God’s grace is greater than our sin.

Now remember what James has said so far.  The reason for the battles we have with others is the battle going on within our hearts.  And so what does James tell us to do?  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (v.7 & 8). He directs us to deal with the vertical problem (spiritual adultery) before we deal with the horizontal problem (human conflict). In other words, we need to get below the surface.  We must deal with the heart issue which underlies the sin. This is why James says cleanse your hands and purify your hearts (v.8).

We are to recognize the seriousness of our sin.  Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom (v.9).  We have a tendency to overlook our own failings and amplify the sin of others.  James says that we should not minimize our own sin.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (v.10). Humbling ourselves before God means we are addressing our own sin– our own spiritual adultery.   It means we are acknowledging before God and others our own sin.  It means we know that we need grace as well.  Paul tells Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).”  This should be our attitude.  I am a sinner in need of grace!

Discussion Questions

  1.  How do the “passions [that] are at war within you” explain the existence of quarrels and fights?
  2. Is all conflict bad?  Is it possible to have good conflict?  What is the difference between good conflict and bad conflict?
  3. Can give you an example of a time when a simple desire captured your heart and led you to act foolishly?
  4. Look at the list of 8 things we do to make conflict worse (under the heading #1 The Hidden War).  Which one of these actions hit home for you?
  5. How does James describe our problem in verse 4?  In what way is sin spiritual adultery?
  6. Read verse 5.  Why is the jealousy of God a good thing for us?
  7. What are some practical steps James calls us to take in verses 6 to 10?  Which one of the verses is most applicable for you?
  8. What does it practically look like for you to resist the devil and draw near to God?
  9. What is involved in humbling yourself before the Lord?  In what way will you be exalted as result?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to do as a result of studying this passage?


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