“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, 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. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
(James 4:1-6 NIV)
As we begin chapter 4, James continues his teaching on earthly wisdom vs. heavenly wisdom, focusing on the results of following earthly wisdom. In chapter 3 verse 16, James briefly summarizes the outcome:
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
James begins chapter 4 with an implied question that many in the church were asking themselves: “What is the source of our fights and quarrels?”
James answers their question with another question: “Have you looked inside yourselves?”
If we have conflict, where is the first place we look? Outside of ourselves. We typically want to blame someone else for our troubles, instead of looking inside ourselves to see the source of our conflict. Not all conflicts begin with us, but James is saying that is the first place we should look, instead of the last.
The Apostle Peter captured this same battle for our minds and hearts when he wrote:
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV)
The Apostle Paul also wrote about this same battle for our hearts and minds:
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25 NIV)
James says we do not have what we want because we do not ask God for it. But if we do ask God, we must ask with the right motives, and not for selfish reasons.
James goes on to remind us that God is jealous for our hearts and our attention – God desires us for His very own. James is likely recalling the song that Moses taught the nation of Israel before he died, which tells of God’s love and jealousy for the hearts and minds of His people (Deuteronomy 31:30 – 32:47).
James closes by reminding us of God’s grace as we come before Him with humble and unselfish hearts, quoting Proverbs 3:34 as a reminder. The lesson, the truth, that James is teaching is this: as we rid ourselves of pride and humble ourselves before God, our envy (and the fights and quarrels that go with envy) goes away. To the extent our envy goes away, God’s grace fills our lives.
So how should we then live? Follow this link to Philippians 2:1-11, where the Apostle Paul outlines Jesus’ example of living humbly, and without envy. We would do well to think about and heed Paul’s command, and Jesus’ example.