1. It has been the most disappointing aspect of my ministry. It has at times drained me of my energy and spiritual strength. It has taken away the focus from the actual work of ministry to that of starining to keep peopel working together. It has often taken away the joy of serving God. And I’m not alone. I have heard the same comments from other ministers and I have heard the same from members of the churches I have served or worked with, including some of you. In fact, some of you can look back over the years and see how this has done major damage to the growth and ministry of First Reformed Church.
2. And yet this very problem has been one of the major evidences to me that there is a God and He is gracious and merciful. For I sometimes wonder how the church of Jesus Christ has survived nearly 2,000 years of fighting. Only by the grace of God, only because He will not let it go.
3. This fighting is not with the world or with other forces, although they are involved. The fighting is with one another. Sometimes we look at other churches and think it must be nice that they don’t fight one another. But get close to any church, and soon you will discover that not one is exempt from this problem. Someone once said that the army of God is the only army in the world that shoots each other or as some say, shoots its own wounded.
4. The fights can be over theology, polity, money, the colour of paint to put on the walls, which way the consistory should enter the sanctuary, or many other things - from those of great importance to those of no significance at all.
5. We see quarrels and fights among God’s people in Scripture. Lot quarrelled with Abraham. Absalom fought with His father David. The disciples of Jesus argued over which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And in the churches in Corinth, Galatia and Philippi there were people fighting with each other.
6. Today James tells us why we have these fights and quarrels amongst ourselves.
1. James asks us what causes these fights and quarrels among us. And instead of giving an answer, James suggests the cause and asks us to agree or disagree. Actually he is implying that the answer he provides is the right one. James uses this way of communicating often. Instead of just telling us the cause and going on, he asks us first to decide if we agree. Sometimes we have answers for peoples’ problems and we expound on these answers without first agreeing on what the problem is. People listen much more when they agree with the basic points of what we are trying to present. Also, this is a somewhat more humble way of presenting the truth to another person.
2. James suggests that the fights we have with other believers is caused by another fights or battles that occur within each individual person. The outer conflicts we have with others come from inner conflicts which we have within ourselves. The battle within us is a battle waged by our desires. These desires are translated from the Greek "hedone" from which we get the word hedoism. In each of us we have desires for pleasures or lusts. We talked about the deadly sin of lust this morning.
3. There is something important that James is teaching us that can help us with this battle. These desires or lusts are not a part of who we are but they are in the body and fight to control it. Each one of us struggles with lust - whether for sex, food, drink, recognition. Easy to say that is the way I am. I cannot do anything about it. Remember that as Christians the old sinful nature has been defeated. It no longer controls us. And yet it is still in us. But it is not us. Paul describes this very well:
Rom 7:17-23 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.