“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” James 4:1.
As one commentator wrote, “James is speaking to a mixed synagogue.” What is meant by this is that James is speaking in church to a roomful of both Jews and Gentiles, saved and unsaved.
The more important part being that they are both saved and unsaved. As a result the question, “Where do wars and fights come from…” and its answer concern both groups.
The second question, “Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” will need a little elaboration.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God –through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:18-25.
We find then that those without Christ as their Savior have the desires of the flesh which the apostle Paul is speaking of above; but not having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is no war, except perhaps with their own conscience, which may keep them from plunging headlong into certain sins. Nevertheless men still rush into the vilest of sins, which often costs them their lives.
“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), quoted from, “Picture of Dorian Gray”.
Now let us consider the Christian. The desire for pleasures that war in our members is the sin nature, and while it says.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” II Corinthians 5:17.
It still remains that as long as we are alive the sin nature which is in the flesh is also alive, and as Paul emphasizes in Romans 7 earlier.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” Romans 7:18.
Paul answers this conundrum in Galatians 2:20. Yet, the solution is a difficult one to grasp, and more importantly, difficult to put into use.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
Here he says that he is dead in Christ, and as such he allows Christ to live through him, and the life he now lives, he lives in faith that Christ will lead him in the path of righteousness. As a result of this the various temptations which he feels are reckoned as dead and are no longer pertinent to his life in this world.
The Lord Jesus gave us this short verse to illustrate how Christ can live through an individual.
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23.
To deny oneself is to say, “Okay Lord Your will not my own; I do not need to spend my life making a billion dollars, becoming a great movie star, model, businessman, or artist. If you open those doors, well and good, otherwise I am content to follow You anywhere You lead me.”
To take up the cross daily is to take up something that the world despises and mocks. To be a Christian is to become an object of derision, just as Jesus was mocked as He dragged His own cross to Calvary’s hill, so the Christian will encounter many adversaries.
To follow Christ is to have an ear attuned to His direction; whether this takes the form of giving to the poor, teaching Sunday school, visiting the sick, or just reading and praying.
Some things He may have you do will be inconvenient, unpleasant, or just plain hard work, and often as training for the thing He will want you to do; but He will never stick you with a permanent ministry which you will hate.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4.
Notice that the Lord tells us to take up our cross, “…take up his cross daily…” , this is important because we have to remind ourselves daily of the cross, if we do not, we soon forget and fall back into our old ways, and the flesh takes command again. This is a long arduous battle, but do not despair, Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you.
For those who do not heed this advice, the following.
“You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:2-3.
The first three sentences of these verses are a good description of why the world is in such chaos today. At the same time they speak directly to the worldly Christian which is the concern of this study. A worldly Christian is “…a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:8.
As discussed in “That You May Be Perfect, James 1:1-11”, published 9-25-20, the double-minded man is someone who has one foot in the world and one foot in Christianity. And as stated there, this type of person does not become a better Christian rather they become corrupted by the world.
Jesus warned us about this.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24.
Mammon is Aramaic for riches, yet it can be more than riches, there are so many other things that we love so much that they crowd out thoughts of God, until we begin to resent His demands on our time which could be used in pursuit of our real love.
We may also become bitter at God because the thing we love is forbidden by Him; mammon is not the only villain here. Beware the tendrils of the lusts for things that have captured our heart.
“You lust and do not have.” The desire for something can be like seeing a mirage in the desert; the vision of a thing that is desperately needed only increases the thirst. Desire begets covetousness and murder.
While covetousness and murder often go hand in hand with lust among the ungodly, it is possible for the Christian to murder in their passion without breaking man’s law.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” Matthew 5:21-22.
Words and thoughts are the same as actions before God.
“But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28.
Such a stickler for words, but there is a reason, often if we think about something enough, we will do it.
“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” James 1:14-15.
God wants our thoughts to be pure because it can save you great misery and perhaps even your life.
God also wants our thoughts to be pure because He is pure and holy; He wants us to be like Christ in our actions and attitudes. These are difficult words but we are not alone.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2.
“Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2d.
Beginning with lusts which are not fitting for Christians how can one know what to ask for and indeed if one were to ask would it be for something of real need, or just frivolous things that the worldly Christian wants, perhaps with the justification that it would be used to help others. “Lord if you help me become top salesman, I would be able to help the church with its building fund.”
What is more important here, the building fund, or the huge sum of money that the salesman will rake in?
All of us have started in a place like this, but the more dedicated we become to Christ the more we can see the rationalizations used to manipulate God; which cannot be done, and so.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:3.
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4.
The word adultery was commonly used in the Old Testament to signify apostasy or idolatry. The word was easily understood because it is such a humiliating act for a spouse to do, breaching all trust.
Because God called Israel His wife it illustrated the betrayal God felt when they left Him for other gods, which were demons in reality (1 Corinthians 10:19-20). Jesus used the same term when He called the Jews an adulterous generation.
The term as used in the passage under consideration calls worldly Christians adulterers because of their lack of fidelity to Christ.
“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. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” I John 1:15-16.
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?” James 4:4-5.
James 4:4 and 5 are shown together here to maintain context since the passages are connected by the words “Or do you think…” in verse 5.
James 4:5 is an extremely difficult verse to grasp because different Bible versions have different renderings. The question is; does the word spirit refer to the Holy Spirit or man’s spirit here in verse 5?
The above quotation is from the New King James Version; the J. N. Darby Version reads like this, “Think ye that the Scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken His abode in us desire enviously?”
If the Spirit has taken His abode in us is correct, then it would be the Holy Spirit which comes into the believer upon salvation referred to.
This is also suggested in the NKJV quoted at the beginning above, “The Spirit who dwells in us…” indicating the Holy Spirit and not the individual’s spirit.
However, look at The Complete Jewish Bible, “Or do you suppose the Scripture speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy?” This speaks of a spirit, not the Holy Spirit and would give the verse an entirely different slant.
The problem seems to grow more when it is seen that the verse quoted within verse 5, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously…” James 4:5b does not seem to exist in the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit did not dwell in men until Pentecost nearly two thousand years ago.
If this quote is from the Old Testament, then it is not likely that it would be referring to the Holy Spirit, but rather to man’s spirit within him.
Now the only verse that is shown as a possibility is in Genesis 6.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5.
While this may seem far fetched, it is notable that one of the meanings of the word translated heart is soul, a reference to man’s spirit. Couple this with the intent of the verse which clearly shows that man’s spirit is given over to evil continually.
Taken this way it is possible that the Holy Spirit moved James to loosely translate this as, “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy”.
In other words, it is the same spirit that drives us that we see in verse 2.
“You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2.
Taken this way we see verse 5 pulling the whole passage, James 4:1-5 together.
If this is correct, then we see God’s goodness in the midst of our own sinfulness in the next verse.
“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” James 4:6.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7.
These words are for all of us who find ourselves stumbling along in a dark place after pursuing our own lusts and forgetting our Father in heaven. His hand is always extended to us if we will only forget our pride and reach out to Him.
“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4.
This goes for you too, do not judge yourself as being out of the race, “…for God is able”.
Whence Wars, James 4:1-6 taken from godisrevealed.com posted on 9-20-11, updated on 11-4-20.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission, all rights reserved.