What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? James 4:1 (NIV)
People spar and scrap all the time. There are price wars between retailers, custody battles between parents, and gang warfare in our cities. There are disputes over fishing rights and quotas, road rage, shootings in schools, brawls at sporting events, race riots, political demonstrations, physical abuse in our homes, and protests about everything from the dumping of toxic waste to the disparity in wages between men and women.
But what’s the cause of conflict? Why are people angry? The outer war is due to an inner war. Disputes with others are because of conflict with self. The reason for “fights and quarrels among you . . . come from your desires that battle within you” James 4:1.
That bears some consideration. If you’re sparring with someone, they may not be at fault, you may be. It may be because of the “desires that battle within you.” Desire is at the root of discord, division, and dissension. And what are these desires? James identifies three: uncontrolled desire, unfulfilled desire, and selfish desire.
- Uncontrolled desire. The K.J.V. states that the source of internal conflict is the “lusts that war in your members” James 4:1b. The Greek word for lust is hedonon, from which “hedonist” and “hedonism” are derived. It refers to gratification of the sensual and natural desires. This is the war between the flesh and the conscience – the desire to pursue every whim, passion, and promise of sensual satisfaction.
- Unfulfilled desire. “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” James 4:2a. People want recognition, power, respect, and other unfulfilled desires. Folk lash out, explode into ruinous action, and occasionally commit murder, because their lusts aren’t satisfied. Conflict occurs when it’s all about me and not really about Him.
- Selfish desire. “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” James 4:2b-3. Selfish desires lead to wrong actions and wrong prayers. “Warren Wiersbe says, “Sometimes we use prayer as a cloak to hide our true desires. ‘But I prayed about it!’ can be one of the biggest excuses a Christian can use. Instead of seeking God’s will, we tell God what He is supposed to do; and we get angry at Him if He does not obey. This anger at God eventually spills over and we get angry at God’s people.”
Thus fights and quarrels exist because people refuse to look into their own hearts and see the battle raging within. But it needn’t be that way. Examine your heart. Confess uncontrolled, unfulfilled and selfish desires. Be filled with the Spirit. And ask God to control your anger.