Summary: God’s wisdom gives peace but the churches to which James wrote were experiencing chronic hostility & sharp confrontations. They fought, coveted, quarreled & condemned others to obtain their desires. They were dominated by self-will
JAMES 4: 1-5
THE PASSION OF SELF-GRATIFICATION
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote of a man who was dominated
by the driving desire for self-gratification. To possess land was his
highest pleasure. Someone promised him that he could own all of the land he could walk around between sunrise and sunset on a given day. He began at a leisurely pace. However, driven by his ambition, he began to accelerate. He drove himself, sprinting faster and faster. His body blazed with fever. He stripped off his shirt and abandoned his boots. As the sun set, he flung himself toward his destination. He reached the starting line as the final rays disappeared in the west. Exhausted, he died. The only land he got was a grave, 6 feet by 2 feet.
Tolstoy’s unforgettable story underlines the raging power of the drive for self-gratification. Men and women die for their pleasures. James wrote to churches that were being divided by pleasure-seeking members. God’s wisdom gives peace (3:13-18) but the churches to which James wrote were experiencing chronic hostility and sharp confrontations. They fought, coveted, quarreled and condemned others to obtain their desires. These church members were dominated by a self-will which pursued pleasure, power and prominence rather than the Will of God. Choosing pleasure as the chief end of life is to be given over to the spirit of this world. God wants His people to live with a conscious commitment to follow His divine will.
The Westminster Catechism asserts that the chief end of man is "to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever." There is another philosophy of life which affirms that pleasure is the chief good in life and fulfillment is to be sought in the gratification of pleasure-seeking instincts and dispositions. In other words the chief end of man is the gratification of self, not the glorification of God. The English word for this philosophy is "Hedonism," a term derived from a Greek word used twice in this passage (verses 1,3). The first use in verse 1 is translated pleasures or lusts in the KJV, lets read verse 1.
I. THE SOURCE OF QUARRELS & CONFLICTS, 1.
II. THE MOTIVE BEHIND UNANSWERED PRAYER, 2-3.
III. AN ENEMY OR FRIEND OF GOD, 4-5.
Chapter 4 begins with two rhetorical questions to help us think about the source of struggles and conflicts among Christians. All wars and conflicts grow out of inter-turmoil and struggle. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?"
As PRIVATE LACKEY’S platoon readied for front-line action, the young soldier seemed to come to a moment of truth. Turning to his close friend, he said, "Listen, Joe, if I don’t make it back and you do, would you take this letter and see that Sally gets it? Tell her of my undying devotion and that my last thoughts were of her, and that her name was the last word on my lips. And here’s a letter for Helen. Tell her the same thing."
Private Lackey’s story may be humorous, but he was asking for trouble. In James 4, we learn that conflicts can be traced back to selfishness in the human heart. The selfishness that caused the young soldier to "two-time" Sally and Helen had within it the seeds of war that made Private Lackey more than a participant in military conflict. It made him part of the cause. When selfishness is expanded to national proportions, that conflict often results in the sacrifice of our sons and daughters on the battlefield.
And so it happens. Take a serous look around, you, the world is in turmoil. Terrorists hijack ships and airplanes. Gunmen take hostages. Internal strife plagues nations. Government officials are venomously criticized. What is the underlying cause of all this unrest?
A STUDENT IN WHALES offers an answer to this question. In replying to a statement that the laboring man was responsible for the economic crisis in Great Britain, she said, "no, it’s not just the workers. They get the blame day after day, but others are at fault as well. Everyone is out for himself–the employee, the manager, the politician. The whole world is one big selfish mess!"
Isn’t this exactly what the Bible teaches? The reason for family quarrels, neighborhood feuds, strife between labor and management, and war among nations is the inherent greediness of human beings. Since everybody is seeking his own interests, sooner or later he comes into conflict with the selfish desires of others. Society will show little improvement until individuals experience a change of heart.
It is easy to hate war. But it is also easy to overlook the selfishness in our own hearts, which is the seed of all conflict. For at the heart of all conflict is a selfish heart.