Summary: The disastrous reign of our own desires threatens the health of Christ’s people. James confronts us with the need to address this dreadful malady that contaminates the work of God.
YOUR INTERNAL CONFLICT
JUST SPILLED OVER INTO THE CHURCH
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Every individual involved in a church fight cloaks his or her participation in the conflict with pious statements justifying the fray. One will not have attended services of a church long until he or she either witnesses or participates in a church fight. Such fights tend to be particularly vicious, leaving the field of battle littered with the detritus of the conflict together with broken lives. Unbelievers feel that their distorted perception of Christians is justified by the godless action of the combatants. Seekers become cynical and desert exploration of the Faith.
Christians cease serving God and withdraw from ardent pursuit of the souls of the lost.
Perhaps if we understood the impact of our actions we would avoid such destructive battles, or at the least we would implement measures to avoid such devastation in the future. That seems to be in part James’ motivation in exposing the wickedness of Christians who are intent on pursuing internecine fights within the churches.
THE CONSTANCY OF CONFLICT — “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” If church fights were rare, James would not have needed to address the issue. However, fights within churches are distressingly frequent. Nor should we imagine that this is a novel phenomenon arising only recently among the faithful. James makes it clear that conflict within the churches was a problem from the earliest days of the Faith. When he says that our passions are at war within us, he uses the present tense which implies that this is an ongoing action. In other words, our passions (desires) are constantly at war within us, and with dismaying frequency these internal conflicts spill over into the church.
This is an appropriate time to emphasise a most dismal observation—conflict appears to be disturbingly constant among the people of God. If there were no other evidence for our fallen nature despite God’s grace than the constancy of church fights, this knowledge alone would be sufficient to overwhelm the most vigorous protestations that might be raised by any individual. Tragically, none of us are immune from succumbing to this dreadful malady.
Throughout the years of my service among the churches of our Lord, it is not uncommon that I have received complaints that I speak too far too often about conflict among Christians. Since I endeavour to provide expository messages that follow the verses of a book in a sequential manner, the complaint could certainly reflect the fact that I am simply reflecting the concern of the One who has given us the text
In retrospect, those who voice the objections are usually the ones who promote and participate in ecclesiastical brawls. As I mentally review a list of individuals who registered such complaints, I can only conclude that they were stung by the exposure of their dark character that they struggled unsuccessfully to keep hidden from the view of their fellow church members.
I believe it is important for you to understand why I would risk relationships within the congregation and deliberately increase the difficulty of my service in order to address the issue of conflicts within the churches. I suppose that I could plead that confronting problems is consistent with my nature; but an appeal to character is not sufficient reason to raise unpleasant issues through a sermon. I suppose there are some who imagine that I gain some perverse pleasure through being controversial. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The primary reason I speak so frequently of conflict and point out sinful behaviour among the people of God is that the Bible invests a surprising portion of what is written addressing these very issues. To sidestep these issues, or to attempt to transform pet sins into something more palatable, would be to violate the tenor of Scripture. I can also testify that my deep desire is that the people of God prove pleasing to Him who gives us life through obedience to His Word.
The reason for the biblical emphasis on the destructive nature of conflict arises from God’s desire for His people to reveal His peace through their lives. It is not simply that the Father wants His people to live in peace, but that He wants them to promote peace among all peoples. The will of God is that His people will live in harmony—building one another and making one another strong in the Faith. When we are at war with one another, we cannot build one another. When fighting with one another we dishonour the Father and injure the innocent.