The Root Cause of Conflict
James begins this discussion simply by asking the question “what causes quarrels and what causes fights to break out among you”? He also answers plainly: it is because our desires\passions are in conflict within us. The ESV says they are “at war” within us. In other words, conflicts on the inside of us result in conflicts on the outside.
The conflict here is between our desire for what the world wants and our desire for what God wants. In Romans 7, Paul discussed this in relation to the lost person. He called it the battle between obeying the law of God and the law of the flesh. We know that the battle continues after salvation.
There is an implied question in verse 2. The question is “why don’t I get what I want”? James answers that question with 2 alternatives.
First, James says you do not ask. He means you do not ask God for what you want. That may mean you do not believe God will give it to you. James has already told us that every good and perfect gift comes from our heavenly Father. (1:17) Yet, we do not always trust him to give us what we need. It may also mean you think you deserve it without asking. Or it may mean you want to take it for yourself without help from God.
Second, James says you ask but do not receive because you want the thing for your own selfish desires. Janis Joplin sang “Oh, Lord, won’t you give me a Mercedes Benz?” And, at least in America, a lot of people pray for things like that. And some preachers preach that you should. But not James. James says instead that this kind of asking is idolatry. He called them “adulterous people”. (4) God used that image of marriage in the Old Testament to describe those who broke his covenant by worshipping idols. Here the idol is money and possessions. We want those things for our own pleasure, status and pride rather than to help others or advance Christ’s kingdom.
So, James sternly reminds us that we can live for the world or we can live for God. He said friendship with the world is enmity with God. Enmity is hostility. For example, God put enmity between the serpent and Eve, between its offspring and her offspring. (Genesis 3:15) That enmity will last until the end of this age when the serpent and his offspring are all removed from earth and thrown into lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
Verse 5 tells us God does not take this lightly. He is jealous for his people. (5) When he made his covenant with Israel, he he told them they could not worship idols (other gods) because he is a jealous God. (Exodus 20:5) That means he demands exclusive loyalty and worship.