They had wrong desires. James wrote, “You covet but you cannot get what you want.” (James 4:2) These unfulfilled desires fuelled their conflicts. Among the ten commandments we are told not to covet. Covetousness, is a form of materialism, an intense desire for things we do not own. The lust of the flesh drives our physical desires, the lust of the eyes attracts us to that new fashion, car or trinket we see advertised, while the pride of life increases our hunger for status, wealth or fame.
They had wrong motives. They prayed, but were motivated by selfishness, seeking their own will, rather than seeking God’s will. In essence they were praying, MY kingdom come, rather than, Thy kingdom come. In verses 13-17 James highlights their get rich quick schemes; I will go to this city, spend a year there, and make my fortune. Focusing on worldly wealth, they were neglecting their spiritual health.
They also developed the wrong friendships. James wrote, “… don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) We should aim to be a friend of God. Jesus offered friendship to his followers saying, “I have called you friends,” (John 15:15)
James gives insights into developing our friendship with God. He states, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Humanities problem is that we too often submit to the devil and resist God. Heavenly friendship begins when in submission we come near to God, knowing he will come near to us. It is a wonderful thought that God desires to draw near to us and will in fact be present in our lives by the power of his Holy Spirit. It is amazing to consider that eternity will not be populated by those God considers his servants but by those God calls his friends
James describes a repentant sinner who washes his hands and purifies his heart. True repentance is expressed by sorrow for sin, even grief and mourning. John Newton recognised this in his hymn Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. He wrote this knowing the wretched state of his sinful soul without God. But this is not the permanent state of those who repent, for such deep repentance comes with a wonderful promise. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10) God’s intention is not to leave us broken and suffering in our sinful state, but to lift us up, to adopt us into his family, to make us children of the Living God.
Have you ever witnessed church conflict? What does conflict reveal about the spiritual health of a church?
Why does James teach that fights and quarrels come from desires that battle within us? What do you think he means by that? (Consider Deuteronomy 5:21 & Romans 7:18–25)
If conflicts arise when we have wrong desires, wrong motives and wrong friendships; how can we develop right desires, right motives and right friendship?
Is it significant that Jesus called his disciples his friends? Do you feel comfortable with the idea of being a friend of God? Why/Why not? (Refer to John 15.14-15, James 2.23 and Isaiah 41.8)
List several ways we might resist the devil.
What do you make of James’ description of repentance? (James 4.8-10, Psalm 24:3–4 and Isaiah 6:5)
If someone asked you how they could improve their spiritual health what would you suggest?
Rev John Malcolm