Seeking Wisdom in Difficult Days
A Study of James
Getting Rid of Chaos in the Church
James chapter 4 continues to discuss conflict and strife within the church, and ultimately where it comes from. The conflict is originating when the people and its’ leaders love the world while also saying they love God – worldliness and a love for God cannot co-exist at the same time. Something has to give, if not, then there will be constant conflict and chaos in the church.
I. The Cause of the Chaos (vv. 1-3)
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
The Revised Standard Edition of the Bible translates verse one as “what causes wars [ESV says quarrels], and what causes fightings [ESV says fights] among you?” This helps us to see that wars are longs standing disagreements, or “chronic hostility.” And fights or fightings are clashes or disputes that arise suddenly, or “acute hostility.” So whether it’s the Hatfields and the McCoys or Wyatt Erpp and the brothers at the OK Carrol – church was a place to keep your head down.
In this book so far, James has addressed several issues that are going on in various churches that have been scattered due to persecution (false teachers, hollow religion, empty words, empty actions, earthly or demonic wisdom, jealousy, and selfish ambition.) Because of these various sinful issues, the church seems to be embroiled in conflict and has come to a stop, a standstill. “Satan’s strategy is to get us fighting among ourselves instead of waring against him.”
James says that we have passions, and that they wage war within us. “It is the passions, or more properly the decision to cultivate rather than control the passions, that have contributed to the problems within the church.” Whenever we decide to feed the wolf instead of starve the wolf then there will inevitably be problems.
But even when we decide not to retrain our passions, they will never be satisfied because they are sinful and separate from God. James has identified several items that people say they desire (power, prestige, position) ultimately a higher status in life – but this is not what they really want. “When one’s body, mind, and spirit are not fully yielded to God, life become one vicious circle of seeking but never satisfying.”
What all of us ultimately want is what we think these things will bring us (wholeness, joy, purpose, to be fully known, peace). Seeking things that we think will bring us wholeness, apart from God’s will and direction only leave us wanting more, because only God can satisfy that longing within us.
“You desire and do not have, so you murder”— The first murder took place when Cain wanted what Abel had – to be accepted by God, which led to a fight and eventual murder. Genesis 4:6-8 Cain’s offering the Lord was rejected, so “The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”
He couldn’t have what he wanted, so he fueled that passion instead of controlling it, which led to him kill his brother. You can’t have what you want, so you fuel the passion, and you take the ultimate measure to get what you want. People are willing to take the ultimate step because they believe that it is this final ultimate step that will give them what they desire (but it never does).
“There is a sort of chain reaction within man’s soul, just as James describes here: lust, incapable of satisfaction, leads to sadistic impulses, which, heated by a vision of pleasures beyond reach, turn to violence, cruelty, and murder.”
Often times, when a person in the church is seeking to satisfy this desire (power, prestige, position) people become means to an end – we all desperately need genuine friendships and authentic relationships with other people.
But if we follow the ways of the world, then people become disposable means to get what we want, and then discarded when we are done. “His deepest satisfaction come in interdependence of friendships and fellowship. Loneliness is hell. But these satisfactions cannot be enjoyed by one who is willing to collaborate with others only so long as they can use them for his own personal ends.”
“You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive” So we have this craving to fulfill the passions in our hearts, and James gives two answers why God is not answering our prayers to have it fulfilled: 1) we simply don’t ask, we aren’t praying or talking with God about it.
This may be because in our hearts we know that it goes against God’s ways, His will for our lives. When you pray try telling God what you want, and the reason why you want – then ask the Holy Spirit to test what you are saying is true, to reveal to you your true motive.
Or 2) The second reason we may pray but not get the answer we want is because we would use the answer toward our selfish Luke 15:13-14 is the story of the prodigal son who demanded his share of his inheritance before his father was even dead, and left the family home where he then wasted his inheritance “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.”
The same word for spend in James “spend it on your passions” is used in the prodigal son story as squander. James says that you have asked God for certain things, but those prayers have not been answered because you would then squander it on the passions that you are feeding. “Our fault is rather that we try to gain by evil means what God would give us if we asked him for it in prayer.”
You are asking for abiding satisfaction, found in the world, but you will never get an answer because an abiding satisfaction is only found in a relationship with God – squandering your life on this pursuit only leads to conflict and strife, especially within the church. “wars without come from wars within.” Until we seek peace with God, the war will rage within our hearts.
When they do pray, they are praying “to further their own interests and not to deepen their relation with God or to accomplish his will in the world.” They said outwardly that they wanted to follow God, but their passions and desires on the inside were controlling them.
II. The Course of Chaos (vv. 4-6)
4 You adulterous people! 3 Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
In the Old Testament there were several times over the course of God’s people’s history that they would depart from genuinely worshipping the one true God, and begin to worship false gods. God would then call His people an adulterous
So we may not be bowing down to a stone statue, or giving an offering to a golden calf, but we have a “friendship with the world” The term world here is not a reference to people, John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world.” But the “way of life or style of life of person that is apart from God.
“This present world-system, or present age, has Satan as it’s “god” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “prince” (John 14:30); hence it is declared “evil” (Gal. 1:4). “The whole earth lies in wickedness (1 John 15:19), hating Christ and all who follow Him (John 15:18,19).”
It is when we want that kind of life, that we have departed from the desire to be loyal to God.” When we attempt to live in both worlds, the keep both options alive in be unfaithful.
The world then is the whole human systems, institutions, and traditions that knowingly or not are set against God. “Many people choose friendship with the world without realizing that it means enmity with God.” So James calls them, “You adulterous people!”
The adultery of the church is worldiness.
1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
It is our deep longings for pleasure that is directly opposed to our Christian commitments – if we try to live in both worlds, it will tear us apart. “James’ strong plea should [encourage] each of us to look carefully at ourselves, seeking to uncover any hint of love for the world that is competing with our love for God.”
But even when our hearts wage war within us, and we are led astray by our passions, God still “yearns jealously” for us by “the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” and therefore “he gives more grace” so that the Christian may overcome the desire for pleasure that is so destructive (in their own lives and in the church). The Holy Spirit resides within us, and “seeks to make us wholly Christ’s, to bring us to the place where we have no divided allegiance.”
God is just in His jealousy just as a husband is just in his jealousy if his wife was showing some other man devotion that is his. But we should not presuppose upon the Lord’s grace – we approach him with humbleness. Because God “gives grace to the humble.”
III. Commands that Counter the Chaos (vv. 7-10)
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Verse seven opens a series of ten imperatives or commands. This is James’ way to humble yourself before the Lord and to bring your loyalty back to Him. Along with these ten commands are also three promises: 1) that the devil will flee from you, 2) God will draw near to you, 3) God will help you.
Our return from worldliness to the grace of God and overcoming the passions that we have been feeding begins with “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” There has to be a giving up of our will and submission to God and His love and “divine law.” There has to be a recognition that God’s ways are best, and the world with its’ allure is destructive.
Then we are to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” – our natural bent is to resist God, and submit to the devil. Satan flees from us because of the one who draws near to us. God is with us, and will never forsake us (despite our cravings for power, prestige, and to replace Him on the thrones of our heart) still in spite of all the sin, His grace abounds.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” – This is a promise that when we submit and seek to come into God’s presence through our relationship with Christ, that He will move toward us (ex. the Prodigal Son).
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” – James calls Christians to transform their outward behavior (“hands”) and their inner attitude (“hearts”). The hands are what other people see, our behavior. The heart is what only God can see. Growing up there was the phrase, “keep short accounts.” If you know of a sin that needs to be confessed, a relationship that needs to be made right, if the Holy Spirit convicts you are something, deal with it quickly.
Priests in the Old Testament would have to go through a purification process in order to administer the things of God – We who seek to serve the Lord, especially in the church, must keep our whole person clean, and be aware of the whole of life. Psalm 24:3-4 says “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,”
Then we turn to a radical repentance, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” Our sin is a serious thing before the Lord, and therefore we should not laugh at or snicker at sin in our lives. When it is before us, it should bring cause us deep sorrow. It is not that we walk around weeping in sackcloth all the time – but we mourn, weep, repent before the Lord and then . . .
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” – When we humble ourselves before the Lord, He lifts us up. When we try to grab position, and wrestle for earthly power, and seek our worldly prestige, the height that we get to is a poor counterfeit for where God places us when He lifts us up.
 Clifton J. Allen, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1972) 127.
 “The gunfight was the result of a long-simmering feud, with outlaw Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury on one side; and Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Special Policemen Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and temporary policeman Doc Holliday on the other side.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunfight_at_the_O.K._Corral
 John Phillips, Exploring the Epistle of James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kregel Publications, 2004) 129.
 David Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary, James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1997) 224.
 Lehman Strauss, James, Your Brother (Neptune, New Jersey; Loizeaux Brothers, 1980) 152.
 George Arthur Buttrick, Gen. Ed., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1957) 54.
 Buttrick, 55.
 “No thoroughly selfish person ever had a friend. He may ask for friendship, but he can never obtain it; for he asks wrongly to use it for his selfish pleasures.” Buttrick, 55.
 “Although described as scripture, there is no such text in the O.T., the Apoc., or in any Jewish writing that has survived; nor does rabbinical literature contain any parallel.” Buttrick 56.
 Jer. 3:20
 Matt. 6:24
 Strauss, 156.
 Allen, 128.
 Nystrom, 227.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 4 (Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001) 108.
 Strauss, 157.
 Allen, 128.
 Strauss, 161.
 Prov. 14:9