Summary: The cure for conflict is the grace of God. The good news is that God gives even more grace when the pressure increases, especially to the humble.
The passage from James 4:1-10 attacks worldliness. In particular, it attacks those who have divided Christianity because of selfish ambition. These people are enemies of God. Quarrels and fights are caused by selfish ambition.
Some scholars have translated the phrase “among you” as “in you.” They insist that this verse describes not a struggle between people but a struggle within people. These two ideas; however, can be seen as connected because external conflict is often a symptom of internal conflict. People who are not at peace with themselves are not likely to be at peace with others.
Instead of fighting each other, Christians must ask God for what they are looking for. Without prayer, we won’t receive God’s blessing. Bringing our requests to God purifies them, and in the process our sinful desires are removed. James points out two problems in prayer life; a lack of prayer and praying with the wrong motives. Believers do not receive when they do not ask of if they ask with selfish motives.
James uses marital language to rebuke those who have let their love for the world replace their love for Christ. Their unfaithful behavior has placed their relationship with God in such jeopardy that they are called adulterers and adulteresses. Friendship with the world destroys a person’s fellowship with God.
We can’t please God and man at the same time. If we are friends with the world, we are enemies of God. The expectations of people who don’t believe in Jesus can’t be satisfied as long as their hearts are set on the things of the world instead of the things of God. God is a jealous God because he wants us to serve him and him alone. God will extend his grace to those who are humble before him. He will judge everyone else.
Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because we are praying the wrong prayer. For example, when we ask God to deliver us from a problem we see, the problem we see is often a symptom of a deeper problem or the cause of the problem. We have to learn to pray the right prayer. That is, we have to pray for truth, because as John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…”
Sometimes we don’t pray until we have nowhere else to go. The reason is because admitting to God that we have nowhere else to turn is humiliating. It goes against the idea that we can solve our problems by ourselves. There are some things that we can’t fix, but God can fix anything.
Sometimes when we want something, we take the initiative to get it. Often that involves scheming, stealing or even killing. James describes this as the human solution to the problem of wanting, which in turn leads to more and more fighting. For example, it is difficult to understand how murder was taking place within the church when James wrote. One possibility is that the rich were taking the poor to court and basically stripping them of all they owned. With no resources for food and other necessities, death was the inevitable result.
Pride destroys us. It prevents us from seeing others as God sees them. It holds us back from laying down our rights in order to reach out to those who cross our paths. It erodes the humble spirit God wants to see in us and in our relationships. God’s biggest goal is to destroy our pride. He calls us to live lives that are humble, confident and sacrificial. When we realize that we need God, he will pour out his graced on us. He will forgive us, help us and change our inner lives. Christ’s transformation within us frees us from living for ourselves. Asking for things in Christ’s name means two things. First, our requests must match God’s will. Second, God wants us to glorify him instead of ourselves.
Whenever we face a problem, we must remember that Jesus left footprints in the sand for us to follow. Whatever Satan tempts us with isn’t really what we’re looking for. Whatever he offers may appear to meet a need or solve a problem at the time, but he will just take us further away from God. Following Christ keeps us close to God’s heart.
The consistent message of the New Testament is that God’s grace is available for his people’s deepest needs. The same grace that brings a believer into fellowship with God can sustain that fellowship in spite of the pressures of the world. The only way for us to receive this grace is to walk humbly with God. There are three ways for us to walk humbly with God. First, we must resist the devil through our conduct, pure heart and nature, repentance and pure joy. Second, we must empty ourselves of self and sin and fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. Third, we must speak the written Word of God. Before we can speak the word of God, we must spend time with God and read the Bible. As we spend time with God, we will gain wisdom and strength and understanding. More important, our ability to use the resources God has given us will increase.