There’s no way I can read James 4 and not map it to what seems to be a prevailing undercurrent throughout the body of Christ in this season. But the temptation, it seems to me, would be over application or, worse yet, leveraging it for self justification. So, as I hover over the passage, I need to be slow to speak how it applies to others, and quick to listen to what I think the Spirit is saying to me. So, following the lead of a well known detective from my black and white TV days, I’m gonna try and stay with the facts, “just the facts ma’am.”
Fact: James addresses an issue among the people of God.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
(James 4:1 ESV)
Problems among the people of God? An indicator of problems within the people of God. We have passions at war within us. Pleasures (NIV) we want to realize. Cravings (CSB) we think need to be addressed. Peterson paraphrases it as, “You want your own way” (MSG). The original word is hedone — looks a lot like the possible root for our modern term hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence.
Fact: The heart of man contributes to heat in the moment.
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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
(James 4:2-3 ESV)
These passions at work within believers result in murder within the body of Christ. Not murder murder as in, “Shoot him with a gun”, but anger murder as in, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Jesus, Matt. 5:21-22). Murder as in “you fight and quarrel” murder. And why? Perhaps it’s a propensity to wanna put on the gloves first and then pray later. Hmmm. Maybe the family that prays together really does stay together.
Fact: The heart of man is influenced by the ways of the world.
You adulterous people! 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.
(James 4:4 ESV)
Fondness of the culture around us can impact the firmness of the community among us. It’s been a problem for the people of God since there were a people of God — we tend to look to the world for cues which should be coming from the Word. Prone to get our minds stuck on man’s wisdom below and lose focus on God’s wisdom from above.
Fact: The solution is grace. And accessing the solution requires humility.
But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
(James 4:6, 10 ESV)
I’m not big enough to deal with my heart problem on my own. I’m not strong enough. I’m not pure enough. I’m a work in progress — too often, it’s painfully slow progress. So I need grace.
I need grace that forgives my murder. Grace that cleanses my stained heart. Grace that calls me to a higher road. Grace that enables me to walk that road. Grace that lives in me, and through me, by the One who gave Himself for me, and wants, one day, to be wed to me. And that grace is freely accessed not through my ability to step it up, but my willingness to bow down. Humbly acknowledging things are not as they should be. Confessing my complicity. Acknowledging my dependence on Him to help me to maintain the unity (Eph. 4:1-3).
Fact: It starts with how we talk about each other.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers [and sisters].
(James 4:11 ESV)
Don’t criticize (CSB). Don’t slander (NIV). Don’t bad-mouth (MSG). Just don’t.
I think that’s the facts, ma’am.
Lord, help me to internalize Your truth. Help me to externalize Your way.
All by Your grace. Only for Your glory.