Two Kinds of Friends
War of Words, pg 17…
Why does that sort of thing happen? Why does it happen so often?
Or as James asks in v1, with another of his penetrating questions:
V1, What causes quarrels and what causes fights…?
It might be the blow-up at work or at home: with a stranger; with a friend.
It might be the very obvious falling out. It might be the quiet, unspoken animosity that can exist for years under the veneer of friendship or even marriage.
There is conflict that hurts and scars deeply; and there is the sort that might not even be recognised, because for one side it is just a minor spat, while for the other it is a huge deal.
There will be some here today who carry the bruising because of wounds they have received. There will be some who carry guilt because of the damage they know they’ve done to others.
Christians are not immune to conflict are they?
Which is James’ point when he says, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?
Any two individuals have the potential for conflict, but sadly, it can be just as common for the Christian—sometimes, it seems, even more common for the Christian—and no less painful.
The new Christian might be shocked by the conflict that can be present in the life of a church. They are right to be. Those who claim to follow Jesus should be different. James insists we can be.
I want to ask just two questions this morning: 1) What starts conflict? 2) What stops conflict?
What starts conflict?
What starts conflict? What’s the answer?
Well, it’s pretty straightforward isn’t it.
Think back to a time when things flared up with someone else. What was the cause of conflict with this other person?
That’s easy: they were!
If they weren’t so unreasonable, if they weren’t so demanding, or if they were just a bit more thoughtful and considerate, then there would be no problem! The answer’s obvious: other people are to blame for our conflicts.
We love blaming things on other people, don’t we?
There was trouble down at the old carpenter’s workshop; the tools were having an argument. One of them said, “It’s the hammer’s fault. He’s too noisy.”
“Nonsense,” the hammer protested, “I think the blame lies with the saw. He keeps going backwards and forwards all the time.”
The saw shouted, “I’m not to blame. I think it’s the plane’s fault. His work is so shallow, he does nothing but just skim the surface.”
The plane objected loudly: “I think the real trouble lies with the screwdriver, always going round in circles.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the screwdriver said, “the whole trouble began with the ruler, he’s always measuring others by his own standards.”
The ruler was furious: “Then what about the sandpaper? Surely he’s always rubbing people up the wrong way?”
“Why pick on me?” said the sandpaper, “I think you ought to blame the drill for being so boring.”
So it goes on, and on and on.
We’re very good at using our knowledge, intellect, cleverness not for wisdom, but to find fault in others.
However much we might want to, James won’t let us answer the question in that way. The issue is not everybody else, but us. The problem is not out there; it is in here—in us.
James has already pointed to the true nature of our hearts in his letter. It is from the evil desires of our own hearts that temptation comes (1:14). It is the state of our own hearts that is reflected in the godless speech that too often characterises us (3:9-12). It is no surprise, then, that James would point to these same desires in order to get to the root of our conflicts.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions (selfish desires) 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.
We may not agree with that. Our culture certainly doesn’t agree with that.
God says however, conflict comes because our own selfish desires are not being met.
What James wants to show us is the sin behind the sin. The sin behind the sin is the reality that when you sin, you do a sinful act, there’s usually more to the story than just the act.
What is it that is driving the act? Why did you do it?
In this context, it’s unmet desires and passions and wants in our heart.
So there’s the sin. Then there’s the sin behind the sin.
Which is why, if you walk through the Christian life only trying to correct the actions, and not the desires that lead to the actions, it will end up finding it very frustrating and difficult.
Not all our desires are wrong…
How do you know if a desire in your heart is good or bad?
Two ways desires can be wrong:
What you desire could be wrong
It’s possible to sin in action, and it’s possible to sin in want you want.
Arguably, the very first sin in the world was like this. God said do not eat of the fruit of the tree that is forbidden. That’s the one tree you can’t take from.
Then we read in Genesis, Eve looked at the fruit and what? She desired it. She wanted it, but she wanted something God told her she couldn’t have. Then eventually she took, and she gave it to Adam and he took it also.
The sin is not just the eating, but also the wanting/desiring.
Maybe that’s you. Longing for something you know you shouldn’t.
If left unchecked, it’s not going to end well, James says.
The way you desire could be wrong
You desire something to such an extent that you begin to get angry, complain, grumble, envious of others even if the thing you want in and of itself is actually a good thing.
That might be you. You want a good thing, but that desire is ruling your life in such a way that it is or will cause conflict (envy, covetousness, frustration, anger), even with those you love.
So to understand conflict, we need to understand the sin behind the sin, the desires jostling within us that are being frustrated.
It might be the desire for recognition or status that leads you to fight for positions of influence, or just drag others down.
It might be a desire to get even with someone who has hurt you, and so bitterness is nurtured over months or even years.
It could be the desire to protect yourself from criticism that causes you to lash out at others pre-emptively.
My desire that says: “I’m going to win the argument.” “I’m going to say everything I want to say.” “I have to prove my point.”
Then we allow these desires to erupt into conflict.
James uses strong language; fighting, war, murder. We might think he is being over the top—after all, we don’t literally kill one another. As Jesus pointed out (Matthew 5:21-22), we don’t need to kill in order to commit a form of murder.
If that’s what starts it, is there anything we can do about it? If that’s the condition, is there a remedy?
What stops quarrels and fights?
At first, it appears the solution must be in stopping our desires, our wanting. We think that if our hearts are desire-free, our lives will be conflict-free. This may be theoretically true, but it will never happen.
If you’re a Buddhist you might think you can. If you’re a Jedi might think you can… but that’s impossible.
God himself yearns jealously (v5), and because we are created in God’s image, we yearn, too. We cannot not yearn. There is no off-switch to our cravings. We cannot power down our desires. The most peaceful soul and the most belligerent soul on the planet are both driven by desire.
Stopping your desires is not an option.
Well perhaps, we just need to keep our desires in check then. Just make sure we’re only desiring the rights things, but not desiring them too much.
Now, there’s some good things to say on that point.
We could spend a long time here examining all the desires and longings that this person with whom you have conflict threatens.
In fact, a good question to ask yourself whenever you find yourself in conflict is, “What are the desires in me that are being blocked? Is that desire a selfish desire?”
Think back to that time when things flared up with someone else. What was it that you wanted that you weren’t getting?
99% of the time it’s going to be something selfish. If you can identify that, it will be a good beginning to resolving conflict.
Now I should say, there are plenty of things we should stand up for and fight for and run the risk of potential conflict for, but probably 99% of our conflict with others is not based on righteous motive but selfish desires.
What desire is being blocked?
It’s a good question to ask.
If that is all we do, then our analysis (?) will be shallow.
I say that would be a shallow analysis, why? It is because God is left out.
In James 4 God is not left out. In fact, he is brought in with a shocking image.
Once again, James is showing us that the key to living as a real Christian is to think rightly about God.
If we read vv2b-3 we see a transaction going on between you and God:
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.
James has a picture in his mind. Here’s the picture. There’s something you want that you’re not getting, an unfulfilled desire, a hole in your heart that you can’t satisfy. What do you do? You go to God, in prayer.
Which sounds great, very spiritual indeed. You go to God not so he can satisfy, not because you know only he can fulfill the deep longings of your heart, but you go to him only to ask him for the means to get this something else. Then you leave God behind to go get satisfied with this other thing.
What’s going on when this happens?
James names it for us in v4: You adulterous people! Where did that come from?
It came from the situation he just described. We have a great and loving husband, God. He created us to image him and enjoy him and to have such a relationship with him that he’ll risk using sexual language it’s so powerful in its ability to satisfy if we would see him for who he is and love him for who he is.
However, we are in love with someone else or something else, and do not find God satisfying.
We turn to the world; houses, holidays, hobbies, health, reputation, power, a peaceful morning – these things satisfy. These things feel good to me.
As I feel that I’m not getting enough of those, for whatever reason, I can’t afford them or my health is failing, I will go back to my husband and I will say, you know, as a form of piety:
Oh God, please give me health that I may enjoy life that you have given me. Amen.
Please help my children to behave, because I’d really love a day of rest. Amen.
We ask him for the means to get this other lover. That’s why James shouts, You adulterous people!
God did not create you to leave him, and then by his power embrace another mistress and then give him thanks.
Look at the rest of v4: Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Every husband knows this. Every wife knows this.
You may treat me as nice as you can possibly treat me, but if you’ve got another lover, there is hostility in this house.
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
V5 is the so what:
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”?
The translation is not easy here.
I think it means this: God is jealous for your affection and admiration. He has created you so that he might be your greatest desire and highest satisfaction.
God doesn’t just care about your actions/compliance/external ritual. God cares about the heart/your affections.
He wants us to love the right thing, namely him.
Even in an earthly marriage, do you just want compliance and external loyalty from your spouse or do you want their affection?
If a husband comes home after work and brings his wife flowers and plops the flowers on the table and says, “Well honey, I’ve been thinking here that I have marital obligations to do nice things for you every now and then, and it has been some time since I’ve done that. So I did the mathematical calculations and I realised I was due for another gift and so I ran the numbers and went to the shops and bought this, and so here’s me checking the box of my official marital duty, so there you go.”
Wow, how romantic!
What she would rather have is no flowers and your affection.
So when James says that conflict comes from unsatisfied desires, he’s not giving a shallow psychological analysis of the problem. He means: conflict comes from rejecting God as our greatest treasure and our ultimate satisfaction and our supreme love.
Conflict is not merely rooted in the fact that you have frustrated desires and that person got in the way.
Conflict is rooted in the fact that Jesus has not been our treasure, our husband, our lover and the infinitely satisfying beauty, friend, spouse of our lives.
What stops conflict? Well, it begins with right thinking about God.
If we saw Jesus for who he really is, the glorious Christ, the greatest of all delights, whose power is unequalled, whose love beyond all heights, we would avoid 99% of our conflict.
The greatest work that needs to be done, in a world full of conflict, is to spread a passion - a satisfaction - for the supremacy of the Lord Jesus in all things.
You can be friends with the world … and never be satisfied … and only ever be concerned about self.
In contrast, you can be friends with God … and find in him all that your heart longs for, and know that Jesus is supremely satisfying … and be free to serve others.
Lord change our hearts. Make us love Jesus more. Give us a renewed love and affection for Jesus. Remind us that he really is better than anything we’re chasing. May he capture our hearts.
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