Final thoughts on James 4:1-6
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” NKJV
In our passage the Lord addresses the issue of conflict within the church, which ought not to happen. I Corinthians 1:10 says, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Sadly this is not always the case. In our text we see three causes of conflict within the church.
First, conflict within the church comes from promoting our personal desires above God’s will. The terms desires and pleasures (v.1), lust and covet (v.2), and asking amiss and pleasures (v. 3) are all expressions of our personal desires which lead to conflict within the church. While murder (v.2) is unlikely (but not impossible) to happen physically between church members, the scriptures state clearly that hating a brother or sister makes us a murderer in our hearts (Matt. 5:22, I Jn. 3:15). Adultery (v.4) does sometimes physically occur within the church, but more commonly church members are guilty of spiritual adultery. It may take the form of lust for the opposite sex which is adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:28), but often it is giving one’s affection to other things more than to the Lord (v.4). In Hosea 3:1, the Lord refers to Israel as an adulteress for looking to other gods and loving the raisin cakes of the pagans. A god can be anything in our lives that we give more importance to than the true God. As Christians we are the bride of Christ and when we place our affections on other things ahead of Him, we are guilty of committing spiritual adultery. In verse five, we learn that our prayers are not answered because they are based on our own selfish pleasures. The Holy Spirit jealously desires for us to walk in His ways and the Lord promises us that He gives us the grace to overcome our covetousness and have victory over our lusts (v.6).
Second, conflict within the church comes from having unbelievers within the church—enemies of God rather than children of God (v.4). As shepherds in the body of Christ, we try to prevent this from happening with statements of faith and personal interviews with candidates for church membership, but no matter how careful we are, pretenders still sometimes slip into the church and they do so in every church. Satan makes it his business to sow tares (false Christians) among the wheat (true Christians) and inevitably these infiltrators will cause conflict within the congregation (Matt. 13:24-30, Jude 4).
Third, conflict within the church comes from pride among its members (v.6). Our pride can keep us from admitting when we are wrong, or cause us not to seek forgiveness from those whom we have offended, or else it can keep us from giving forgiveness and restoration to those who have offended us. Our pride can cause us to be offended because someone else is getting more praise or public exposure we are or because we did not get our way in some matter. Pride is such a foolish sin. God does not value our position, or our talents, or our education, or our intelligence, or our opinions (I Cor. 1:26-29). God values our humility (v.6). In Matthew 20:16, Jesus informed His disciples that the last will be first and the first will be last. The kingdom of heaven will belong to those who are humble, and those who are submissive, willing to put themselves under authority, will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:3, 5). It is not leadership abilities that God values, but rather it is a servant’s heart that He values.