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.
Friends With God or Friends With the World
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) James explains ti further by saying if you are a friend of the world, you are an enemy of God. God does not allow you to straddle this particular fence. James echoes Jesus here. Jesus put it this way:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
That is pretty clear, is it not? Well, it might not be that clear when you apply it to yourself.
The very cool thing, and the very deadly thing, about being a Christian in America is that you can serve God and money and still be considered a good Christian. It is cool if you do not want to grapple with the issue. There is a lot of preaching and writing in America about being rich and being Christian, encouraging you that being rich is a sign of being a good Christian, much as there was in first century Judaism.
It is very deadly because if you do not grapple with this issue you may become an enemy of God because you love the world and not God and do not even realize it.
I wish I had an answer for you on every question. I wish I could tell you how much your how should cost, or your car, or your clothes or anything else. I wish I could tell myself all those answers. But I can tell you that need to grapple with them or face great peril. And, when I mean grapple, I mean reading what the New Testament says about money and candidly applying it to your life.
Verse 5 tells us God does not take this lightly. He is jealous for his people. (5) [I think the NIV gets this backward, speaking of the jealous spirit of men. But the context is God’s reaction to the behavior of his people.] 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. So, he will not be pleased if you value money more than him. That is why he demanded that the rich young ruler give up all his wealth and follow.
Fortunately, verse 6 tells us God gives more grace. That is, while we are humbly struggling to ascertain God’s will and do it, he gives us grace when we fail to put him above money and possessions. He does oppose the proud, though. James, here, is quoting Proverbs 3:34. He gives grace to the humble, but not the proud. If money makes you proud, get rid of it. The proper response to grace is humility.
I do not feel the pull of these things as much as I used to, but I know the temptations lurk in the shadows. I know the Tempter is always out there. James tells us to submit ourselves to God. That is an act of humility, allowing God to work in us and on us, to give us more grace to conquer our weaknesses. It is submitting yourself to his lordship. This is exactly how I managed my desire for success a few decades ago. I submitted myself to God and he worked to rid me of that weakness and sin.
So, in this deal of loving God or loving the world, you will receive temptation from the world and strength from God if you seek it. James uses one of his famous comparisons. He said, in verse 8, to resist the devil and he will flee from you. The key is you resist, not run into his arms like a lover on the beach and say give me what I want. On the other side of the coin, if you draw near to God he will draw near to you. This is not an evangelistic verse. This verse tells us if we resist the devil and his temptation and draw near to God instead, the devil will go and God will draw near and keep you from sinning.
Part of drawing near to God is repentance. If we have fallen into love of the world, James calls us double minded. This goes back to chapter 1 where James said if you ask but you doubt you are double minded and unstable. It also alludes to verse 4 of this chapter, where James called them “adulterous people”. They are folks who are embracing the values and methods of the world instead of living according to God’s kingdom standards. If you have been double minded, you must repent to draw near to God. James said it two ways: (1) cleanse your hands and (2) purify your hearts.
“Cleanse your hands” signifies repentance of outward behavior. “Purify your hearts” signifies repentance of inward attitudes. Psalm 24:3-4 puts it this way? “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”
Repentance is turning away from your sins, but also in deep regret over them. James said to be wretched, mourn and weep. This again is Old Testament language describing those under God’s judgment. In Joel 2:12, for example, God said “Yet even now, return to me with all you heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Have you ever felt this bad about your sin? You laughter should be replaced by mourning. Your joy turns to gloom. This are very strong and expressive words. In the Old Testament, one who laughter at God’s standards was a fool. Jesus dug in on this type of person also, in Luke 6:25, saying “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
Since God hates sin intensely, so should we. When we sin, we should deeply regret it and mourn it. The idea often expressed today is hey do not sweat it, say “I am sorry” and get on with your life. That is not the picture of repentance in the Bible. David’s words in Palm 51 show genuine repentance.
Do Not Speak Evil Against A Brother or Sister
These verses may seem out of place to us at first. But we must remember the passage is speaking of fights and quarrels in the church. Angry disagreements often lead us to say evil things about or against each other. I think there is a since of slander here, saying things that are not true.