Summary: 9th in James series. The history of the world is a war history. James brings it even closer home when he makes it clear that our personal stories are war stories as well, James shows how we can acheive victory over the world!
World War II had ended. On September 2, 1945 General Douglas MacArthur spoke to a waiting world from the Battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay, “Today the guns are silent...the skies no longer rain death...the seas bear only commerce...men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace....”
That long war cost sixty million lives, and an estimated $1 trillion. It came only one generation after what President Woodrow Wilson called “the war to end all wars.” Since World War II we have been engaged in Korea and Viet Nam, Iraq twice, not to speak of limited wars, political assassinations, personal revolts, rebellions and social revolutions.
The history of the world is a war history. James brings it even closer home when he makes it clear that our personal stories are war stories as well, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (v.1). What a penetrating question! Why can’t we get along? Why do we rub each other the wrong way?
I. THE REASONS FOR OUR WARFARE ... vv. 1-5
We have problems with people and problems with God, and James addresses the reasons in the first five verses. The first reason for our fighting and quarreling is “desires that battle within you.” Abrasive words and abusive actions are expressed to one another because we are not a peace within ourselves. So we take it out on one another.
The word for “fights” is also translated “war” and means a continuing state of hostility. “Quarrels” are outbursts of active animosity. We tend to think that peace is our natural state, and that conflict is unnatural. The reverse is actually true.
We have constant battles because of our “desires” or passions. Lust for power, popularity, prestige and pleasure create strife. Desires is from the word hedone, a term for pleasure, with the usual negative connotation of sinful, self-indulgent pleasure. The word “hedonism” comes from hedone. It consistently has this negative meaning in the New Testament. Paul uses it when he says, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Peter also uses hedone to describe sensual self-seekers, “Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you” (2 Pet. 2:13).
Tom Sine wrote in an article in World Christian magazine,
Fifteen years ago the dominant value among college freshmen was “finding a meaningful philosophy of life.” Today that value has dropped to number eight on the list. Predictably, “being well off financially” has soared to the top of the list of 70 percent of all freshmen.
What these college freshmen are likely unaware of is the hidden cost of trying to “have it all.” Pollster Lou Harris tells us that 86 percent of the American public is chronically stressed out and 68 percent of that group is stressed out and doing nothing about it [Tom Sine, “Life with a Difference,” World Christian (U Section, September/October, 1988) 5].
Selfish indulgence is responsible for discord. This is the pursuit of personal pleasure without regard for God or other people. “Desires” is really a morally neutral word. God is not a cosmic killjoy who allows us no pleasure, in fact, He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Ti 6:17). Pleasure is a good goal, but if its pursuit becomes an ultimate aim with no concern for others, it is perverted.
When such desires are frustrated violence often erupts. The words James uses are ominous: “kill and covet.” We are capable of relentless rage and even murder when sufficiently frustrated. Most murders are not cold-blooded and premeditated. Deeply regretted later, they are crimes of passion.
The Minnesota Crime Commission reported on the growth of crime and reached a startling conclusion:
Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it — his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch. Deny him these once, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty, he has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. This means that all children — not just certain children — are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal — a thief, a killer, or a rapist.
All human conflict is ultimately traced back to the frustrated desire of wanting more than we have, and being resentful of what others have, whether it is position or possessions.