(These notes are substantially based on teaching notes on the Book of James prepared by Rob Mahon and made available to Connection Class teachers at Hoffmantown Church).
Last week, we wrapped up James' teaching about our need to gain and depend on the wisdom of God. In James 1:5 he told us that God's wisdom is ours for the asking, but apparently he knew that we would not ask as a general rule. He knew it was not human nature.
He taught us that we need to seek Godly wisdom and compared
He then told us what we were missing if we were using the wrong book of wisdom. God has offered us wisdom which leads to purity, a peaceable, gentle and reasonable nature, and that we could be full of mercy and producing good in the people around us. The choice is up to us. We can do it our way, the hard and unpleasant way, or his way, the pleasant way.
This morning - Winning the War Within us: (James 4:1-10)
James 4:1 says:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? --James 4:1Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."
Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?James teaches us that there's a battle that's going on inside of each of us. And it's that inner battle that determines our outer behavior. Jesus agrees with James. That is a good thing. Jesus emphasized this truth over and over again:
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. --Matthew 5:28How do we avoid adultery? Jesus said the key is to avoid committing adultery first in our hearts; in other words, within us.
You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. --Matthew 12:34What determines whether what we say is evil or good? Jesus told us that the answer lies within us.
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. --Matthew 15:19Where do all these wrong behaviors come from? What is the source? The answer is that they spring up from within us. Jesus made it very clear. Jesus wants us to understand that the only way we can see our behavior change is if we first see our hearts change. The outside (our action, our life) won't change until we change inside.
After the shootings at Columbine High School, a number of the Columbine students testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing that was looking into ways to prevent further incidents like this. One of those who testified was Adam Campbell, a senior from Columbine High School. His input put was wiser than most. Here's what he said:
"If a person has a bad heart, you cannot change it; only God can change a bad heart."
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. --Proverbs 4:23The New Living Translation says:
Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.We are going to study our internal wars by seeing that we need to be:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious 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 with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. --James 4:1-3The first key to winning the war within is to decide who it is I'm seeking to please, what motivates me, what drives me.
Principle #1: Problems among us are rooted within us.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? --James 4:1That's a great question. One of God's greatest desires for His people is for unity. There are many verses that emphasize this truth in the New Testament, but consider what Jesus prayed on the night before His crucifixion:
I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. ... (I pray) that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. --John 17:11,21-23Jesus' great and final prayer in John 17 is 26 verses long. Four times in this prayer, Jesus prays for the oneness, the unity of His followers. In fact, Jesus repeats this request more than anything else that He prays.
Unity (oneness) is important to Jesus - Ask yourself, how important is it to you?
Quarrels - is from the Greek word polemos [pol·em·os]. It's a strong word that is more often translated "war" or "battle" in the New Testament:
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. --Matthew 24:6Conflicts - is from the Greek word mache [makh·ay] and is also translated "fight, conflict, dispute".
The wording of this question indicates that "quarrels and conflicts" are taking place in churches. I suspect that this is even more true today than when James wrote his letter. In fact, at least in America, Christians have a greater reputation for conflict than for cooperation:
Mark Twain used to say he put a dog and cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along. They did fine. So then he put in a bird, pig, and goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic; soon there was not a living thing left.
In Chuck Colson's book The Body, there is a chapter entitled "Extending The Right Fist Of Fellowship." It is built around an event that took place in the Emmanuel Baptist Church of Newton, Massachusetts, when a church conflict actually broke out in a fistfight at the altar of the church. Here is Colson's description of that incident:
"It was the right hook that got him. Pastor Waite might have stood in front of the Communion table trading punches with head deacon Ray Bryson all morning, had not Ray's fist caught him on the chin two minutes and fifteen seconds into the fight. Waite went down for the count at the altar where most members of Emmanuel Baptist had first declared their commitment to Christ ... Within an instant the majority of the congregation converged on the Communion table, punching or shoving. . . .The melee soon spilled over to an open space beside the organ. ... Mary Dahl, the director of the Dorcas Society, threw a hymnal. ... The missile sailed high and wide and splashed down in the baptistry behind the choir... When Ray's right hook finally took the pastor down, someone grabbed the spring flower arrangement from the altar and threw it high in the air in Ray's direction. Water sprinkled everyone in the first two rows on the right side, and a visiting Presbyterian experienced complete immersion when the vase shattered against the wall next to his seat. ... The fight ended when the police arrived on the scene."What are some wrong ideas that people have about unity?
As I said earlier, this is a great question. And one reason it's a great question is because it focuses on the root issues causing conflict among believers. It's like getting rid of weeds in your yard - if you don't get rid of the roots, you haven't really gotten rid of the problem.
The good news is that, through James, God first asks this question and then answers it for us:
Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?Pleasures - from the Greek word hedone [hay·don·ay]. This word is used only five times in the New Testament, and always as a negative quality:
The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. --Luke 8:14In Luke 8:14, the "seed" is God's Word. We're told that our sinful pleasures "choke" the influence of God's Word and prevent us from maturing spiritually.
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. --Titus 3:3
There's an English word that comes from this same Greek root - hedonism. Hedonism is the philosophy that the primary focus in life should be the pursuit of physical pleasures.
Wage war in your members:
The real conflict is not among Christians, it's within Christians. The only way we'll ever experience the kind of unity that Jesus desires is when we stop serving our own selfish, sinful desires and commit unconditionally to serving Him.
James identifies two of these sinful desires that we can all relate to:
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. --James 4:2Principle #2: Problems among us come from wrong desires within us.
What are the two sinful desires James highlights here?
There are at least two ways that passion becomes a sinful desire, a lust:
(1) when I have an excessive desire for something;
(2) when I have a strong desire for the wrong thing.
We look at what others have - position, possessions, whatever - and we become unhappy with our own situation. We want to know why we can't have what they have.
Principle #3: Wrong desires within us are changed by looking above us.
You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. --James 4:2-3Remember the quote from the introduction? "Only God can change a bad heart." That's right, isn't it? We can't change ourselves. Other people can't change us. Only God can change us. That's one reason why prayer is so important. Prayer is like opening the door and inviting God to do whatever work is needed within us, on our hearts. We think the purpose of prayer is to change the world. But another purpose of prayer is to change us.
Let's look at some truths about prayer that we can learn from these verses:
What do we do with our needs, our fears, our desires? Do we look to the world to meet these or to God? How's your prayer life? Are you praying about your family, your work? Are you talking to God about the wrong desires that you struggle with?
The Greek word here for "ask" is aiteo [ahee·teh·o]. It can also be translated "to beg, to make a request". When we pray, we ask God to provide but we don't demand. Prayer is not a way we get God to do what we want.
Something else James points out is that God will not honor wrong motives when we pray. When we pray, we need to consider what we're praying for and why we're praying for it.
We started this section by breaking it down into:
To prepare, reread James 4, focusing on verses 1-10.