Summary: A look at conflict without and within, and a pathway to real peace between a Christian and God.
War and Peace
James begins the fourth chapter of his epistle with the question, “Where do wars and fights come from?” Have you ever stopped to consider that question? I thought about it as well. I read the following statistical data this week regarding national and international wars and their points of origination. A conflict between two cities in France almost a thousand years ago started as the result of a conflict over a water bucket. One Chinese emperor went to war because of a broken teapot. A war broke out between Sweden and Poland in 1654 because of a copyist’s error involving the number of times the words et cetera were listed following one of the king’s names. One of the many conflicts between England and France originated with the spilling of a single glass of water.
As we come to this fourth chapter of James’ epistle, though, there is more at stake than international conflict. James was addressing yet another test of a person’s profession of faith. This time, however, he was interested in the way a person’s faith was lived out with regard to personal desires. He stressed that a person could not please God and at the same time satisfy himself. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s because that’s the same thing Jesus said in the sixth chapter of Matthew. Listen to these words: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). The only way for a person to resolve this conflict, James taught, was to set one’s devotion entirely on God and maintain a humble, contrite relationship with Him.
I see six lessons in these verses today. Like our study last week, they are a contrast between the war produced by our sinful flesh and the peace that can only be found in a right relationship with God. While the outward appearance of the Scripture may seem complex, the message is clear: we must make a choice. Let’s examine these lessons together.
LESSON ONE: War originates in our lustful lives (v.1). I have heard it said that a person “had a lust for life.” This was meant as a compliment, and I can understand why. Thoreau said that too many men “lead lives of quiet desperation.” The world needs more people who go after life with a passion, a zeal. There is virtue in adventurous living. That kind of living gave us men and women like David Livingstone, Lottie Moon, Bertha Smith, William Wallace, and a host of others. This is not what James meant when he said that wars and fights are the result of lusts within us.
The kind of lusts that James was talking about was lusts leading to self-gratification. These lusts are driven by the question, “What’s going to make me feel good?” I have learned the hard way that it is a bad idea to go to the grocery store when I am hungry. James could write of me, “From where do the extra bags of Barbecue Frito’s and Dr. Pepper’s at your house come? Do they not come from your desires that struggle within you?” In a trivial sort of way, this describes the problem. But the matter is greater still than this.
We cannot avoid the struggles within the church in this context. My favorite color is red. I am comfortable with the thermostat on 67 [degrees]. I like to sing loud. But suppose that your favorite color is not red but blue, and you like the thermostat on 70 [degrees] instead of 67, and you like to sing quietly. We have some differences, wouldn’t you say? Could we possibly have a conflict over these things? The answer is obviously yes to both questions.
It ought not be true in the church, but it is. So many of the conflicts in the body of Christ originate in fleshly desires and our selfish determination to have things our way. We like to see our little church kept the way we like it and we will fight to keep it that way come Hell or high water. It reminds me of a story I heard only this week:
A poor farmer came to the large downtown church and presented himself for membership
the first Sunday that he attended. The pastor met him during the invitation and suggested he pray
about his decision for a week to be “absolutely sure.” The farmer agreed. He returned the next
Sunday and presented himself again. A second time, the pastor urged the farmer to pray about his
decision. A little disappointed, the farmer agreed and left the service. Finally, on the third Sunday,
the farmer made his way to the front and greeted the pastor.