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Nov 27, 2016

A War Worth Fighting

A War Worth Fighting

Passage: James 4:1-6

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: conflict, desires, enemy of god, friend of god, humility, peace, prayer, pride


Conflict, particularly between God's children, is nothing new in church history. James is concerned with attacking the roots of conflict and unmet desires, not just the symptoms. This passage deals with both the diagnosis of the problem and what is needed to turn it into an asset.


A War Worth Fighting

James 4:1-6

November 27, 2016


World War II had ended. On September 2, 1945 General Douglas MacArthur spoke to a waiting world from the Battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay, “Today the guns are silent...the skies no longer rain death...the seas bear only commerce...men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace....”

That long war cost 60 million lives, and an estimated $1 trillion. It came only one generation after what President Woodrow Wilson called “the war to end all wars,” WWI.

Since World War II we have been engaged in no small number of wars that many today question the value of.  Korea and Viet Nam, two wars in Iraq, and the longest war in our nation’s history, Afghanistan.  The cost of those wars total more than $3-4 trillion dollars.  The human toll of sorrow is well over 4 million for those wars as well.

Our study of the book of James brings us today to a passage that has a lot of very graphic, war-soaked imagery.  Human conflict at every level is its theme.  It’s about a war that rages in every human being from the inner cathedral of our hearts to the battlefields of every continent.

It’s amazing how “necessary” disagreements and conflict look in the moment.  And it’s equally amazing how unnecessary they seem from the perspective of just a few months or years later.  When the smoke finally clears, the destruction such battles bring rarely seem worth it all. 

While wars touch some of us very closely but most of us from a great distance, the battle to live in peace…at close range…to the people God has sovereignly placed around us…has been one the God’s children have fought from the church’s inception. Since there is so much at stake with the unity of God’s family, it is no wonder that even the earliest N.T. books repeatedly address this challenge? 

So let’s read this paragraph in James 4:1-6 together today. 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”


How many of us grew up hearing parents that fought?  It might have been just verbal disagreements.  Or it could have been fighting that escalated to name calling, objects being thrown or even physical abuse.  

  • Anybody really enjoy hearing parents fight?
  • How many of us fought with our siblings? Truth be told, some of us did really enjoy that!  J
  • How many of us have been a part of businesses or institutions where workers fought with management or each other?
  • How many of us are really enjoying the animosity and hatred that has spilled over in our nation of late between people of different racial or political groups?
  • How many of us like living in a city where the city council is always fighting either among itself or with the mayor?
  • Then there was BLACK FRIDAY! People who probably have too much stuff already were fighting with each other over getting more stuff! 

But the saddest conflict of all is when the people of God fight. 

STORY:  Of the church conflict we walked into in our first pastorate here in Spokane back in 1993.  We arrive 4-months post one of the most public, visible and painful church splits this city has ever experienced.  And it had happened in the church where I had experienced the greatest growth of my life spiritually as a young person.  It ripped apart families I had the utmost respect for personally.  It destroyed friendships that had taken a lifetime to build.  And it produced pain the likes of which I had only seen in families broken by acrimonious divorce or tragic death. 


Conflict is costly.  But it is also curable.  The problem is, most of us don’t like the taste of the medicine necessary to both avoid and cure the disease. 

            Like any disease, if you are going to treat it effectively, you need to understand the causes, not just the symptoms.  So that is where James begins, with a question, in vs. 1 of chapter 4.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” 

The word for “fights” here is usually translated “wars” or “battles” in other places in the N.T.  Unlike some sad periods of church history, we have no record of the early church “going to war” against itself. So “fights” is probably the best translation here.  It means a continuing state of hostility.  If it were not for what I had personally experienced in trying to reconcile hundreds of people involved in the previous church split I talked about, I would have thought James was overstating the issue.  Unfortunately, he’s not. 

And to that term “fights” he adds “quarrels.”  This word focuses more on the verbal results and damage done by the conflict we may engage in with each other.   

It is safe to say that the primary symptom of just about every serious conflict we will have in life with others is “fight’en words.”  Words are the preferred ammunition of every conflict we will ever encounter.  It is amazing how many arguments and outright wars can be avoided if we would just learn to bridle our tongues.

ILL:  Watching this weekend with the family the old 1997 movie, What the Deaf Man HeardIt’s about a young boy whose mother is murdered somewhere along a long bus ride in which she was taking her son to the town of the man who fathered him out of wedlock.  The boy, who sleeps through the trip, wakes up to find himself in an unknown town, surrounded by strangers, who have no idea who he is.  Very quickly he learns that feigning being a deaf-mute has tremendous advantages.  People tell you things they would never say if they knew you could hear and talk.  Sadly, some were incredibly rude and thoughtless.  But playing a deaf-mute means you show neither the slightest acknowledgement or irritation.  Quarrels are nonexistent…just by holding your tongue.   

Now James tells us the first cause of the disease of conflict that afflicts us all from time to time.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 
 “Desires” used here is from the word hedone, a term for pleasure, with the usual negative connotation of sinful, self-indulgent pleasure. Our English word “hedonism” comes from hedone

Most of us would pretty upset with someone who called us a hedonist.  But James says, that’s what most of us are when we allow our own desires rule the day.  We’re slaves to our own notion of happiness and pleasure.  God is not a cosmic killjoy who allows us no pleasure. In fact, He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17). Pleasure is a good byproduct of godly living. But if its pursuit becomes an ultimate aim, it becomes corrupted and selfish.

            Something else this passage makes clear: External conflict has internal roots.  There is a “battle within you.”  Every outward conflict, says James, started with an internal battle inside of us. There is a war that rages in every human heart.  We tend to think that we’d be at perfect peace if it just weren’t for all the other jerks we have to live around, right? 

But God knows the truth.  Peace is not our natural state; conflict is. Even if there were no other humans to get in our way, our selfish hearts would be right there fighting with the new heart God has given us in Christ.  Interpersonal conflict is simply a symptom of inter-person conflicted hearts. 

So what are those “desires that battle within” us?  Vs. 2—“You desire but do not have, so you kill.”  Here is the corrosive power of possessiveness. 

            Every human being is born with desires.  We start rather simply, wanting food, sleep and a clean, dry diaper.  It’s all downhill from there!  If you’ve raised a child, you know their desires not only multiply; they frequently conflict with their parents’ desires.  But by the time they become adolescents, that all goes away, right?  J  Hardly!  This incessant human experience of wanting things “my way” never stops…until you take your last breath. And even then, I’m guessing that most people die wanting another breath, another day, or, in the best cases, wanting eternity with God.

            James tells us that it is desires unfulfilled or unadjusted that lead to conflict.  Again, we need look no further than our own hearts to see this. 

  • How much depression is the result of disappointment about the difference between what we want and what life delivers?
  • How much anxiety and worry and fear and anger and frustration comes from the gap between what we want life to be and what it actually is?
  • Virtually every negative emotion can be traced to some unmet desire while most positive emotions find their source in fulfilled desires, right?

Unmet desires wage war against our very own souls…sometimes apart from what other people may or may not do. 

  • We wake up and wish it was a sunny day…or rainy day…or snowy day, and totally apart from other people, we want things different from what they are.

Sometimes a little work or action on our part can make things the way we want them to be.  But not always…and sometimes not often. 

            Learning to be content is, well, a learned experience.  As American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) wrote in the well-known and oft used Serenity Prayer,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

[Recite together a couple of times.]

Just imagine what could happen to our anxiety levels if we really made this prayer OUR prayer every day?  Every time we felt disappointment? Every time we wanted life to be different? 

Now add PEOPLE to the mix of wanting life to be different from what it is and you have a whole other level of conflict. 

APP: I want you to think back to a recent conflict situation you’ve been involved in.  My guess is it had something to do with someone, right?  And that “someone” was probably either a…

  • Friend
  • Family member
  • Coworker/fellow student
  • Spiritual brother/sister
  • Another driver! J

Write down, in 45 seconds, as many unmet/unfulfilled desires as you can think of that you had/have that contributed to the conflict. 

Here comes the really ugly part of unmet desires: unaddressed desires often lead to unintended “death.”  In its severest form, we’re talking murder—physical death of someone else. 

But for most of us, unmet desires lead to a different form of death:  death of a friendship, death of intimacy, death of hope, death of love, death of kindness, death of patience, death of a marriage, death of godly speech, etc., etc.

James continues on in the 2nd half of vs. 2:  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

Quarreling” has to do with verbal combat.  “Fighting” moves it one or more steps farther, to emotional, physical, legal or monetary harm. 

Chances are, we would never find ourselves moving down the “slippery slide of conflict” IF we would learn to pray the Serenity Prayer… and wait for God to answer it.

[See and explain graphic, The Slippery Slope of Conflict  by Ken Sande of Peacemaker’s Ministry.]
All human conflict is ultimately traced back to the frustrated desire of wanting more than we have, and being resentful of what others have.

James also mentions another cause of conflict: it is lack of looking to God in prayer… or, if we pray, praying selfishly. 

“You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Unrealized desires can either drive us farther FROM God or move us closer TO Him. Every unmet or unfulfilled desire is meant to be like the dinner bell for Pavlov’s dog—get us salivating for prayer, for a dynamic conversation with God about our disappointed desires. When we have those conversations and are honest about our desires, that gives God the opportunity to expose which desires are simply selfish or wrongly-motivated and which desires God wants to use to lead us to THE ultimate pleasures of life in Him. 

As C.S. Lewis has said, it isn’t that our desires are too strong; it’s that we too often settle for lesser pleasures when we should be building stronger desires for the things that God says are the best pleasures and joys of His children. 

APP:  So here’s what I want us all to do for the next few minutes. 

  • Write down 3 as of yet unmet/unrealized desires that you are experiencing in life right now. They might be in 3 different areas of your life…or all in the same area.  Look at the list on the screen as possible prompts to remind you of some unmet area of desire in your life. 
    1. School
    2. Career
    3. Friendships
    4. Romance
    5. Marriage
    6. Children
    7. Family
    8. Health
    9. Finances
    10. Material things
    11. Spiritual life and experiences
    12. Emotions
    13. Intellect
  • Talk to God about them. Let Him know how you feel, what you are longing for and   Give some thought not only to WHAT it is you desire but WHY?  Are you looking for…
    1. Respect
    2. Success
    3. Stability
    4. Strength
    5. Peace
    6. Hope
    7. Love
    8. Freedom
    9. Favor
    10. Companionship
  • Be open to the Spirit of God questioning, probing or speaking with you about whether this is a God-given desire or something he wants you to let go of

One of the reasons I like preaching series that go through a whole book of the Bible is that it forces us to hear and grapple with parts of God’s word that neither you or I would naturally choose to meditate on.  Some passages of God’s word seem pretty direct, even a bit harsh, to a culture that thinks the worst sin in the book is to offend someone, even if it is with God’s truth.  But the Holy Spirit led James to write just these words to share with us the heart of God.  So here goes….

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 

            Besides being rather “offensive” language calling God’s sons/daughters “adulterous people”, this feels like a rather abrupt change of theme.  What does self-driven desires have to do with worldliness and being “a friend of the world”? 

            Very simply, the world and its system is all about self-fulfillment, self-direction, self-image, self…self…self.  It is the priority of self that runs so counter to the Spirit of Christ who is all about God-centeredness, God’s desire, dying to self daily and loving others as ourselves.  Conflict-plagued lives are simply proof that we are shacking up with the world’s way of doing life and conflict more than with God’s way.

            A mere 30 years of ministry has made me weary of conflict among God’s people.  I’ve seen too many husbands and wives fighting for what they want rather than what God wants.  I’ve seen too many church leaders—pastors (self included), elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, Bible Study leaders, musicians, Trustees, you name it—quarreling and fighting about what they want rather than praying and listening to God about what He wants.  I’ve worked in weeks-long mediation processes that cost plenty of money and time only to have one of both of the waring parties refuse to abide by the final decision of the people they agreed to submit to when the process started…all because they didn’t get what they though they should in the process.  They think themselves spiritually and morally superior to their advisory but fail to see that they are actually proud, arrogant, unbending, graceless and selfish. 

            The greatest tragedy in all these conflicts is that the people involved fighting for their rights actually end up fighting against God.  They almost universally refuse to acknowledge that their “friendship” with the way the world does things has actually made them “an enemy of God.” 

            I don’t know about you, but of all the beings that I could possibly make myself an enemy of, God is the LAST one I would want to do that to. 

ILL:  Might this be one of the reasons Abraham was known as “the friend of God” (James 2:24).  Rather than argue with God about letting go of the most precious person and promises in his life, is only son Isaac, he argued with himself on the way to Mt. Moriah and “reasoned” that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:19). 

            But that way of doing life…of not fighting for what he wanted but rather trusting God’s will…got started a lot earlier in his life.  I doubt that it was his desire to have his nephew Lot tag along with him from Ur… but he didn’t fight him on it.  I’m pretty sure Abram would have preferred to take the watered plain of the Jordan for his herds rather than let Lot have first pick and get the best territory.  But instead of fighting against Lot and his herdsmen, he waged the war against his own personal preferences and committed it all to God. 

Genesis 13 even records the clear choice Abraham made against quarrelling and in favor of peace when vs. 8 says, “So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.  Is not the whole land before you?  Let’s part company.  If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”  That’s doing conflict God’s way, not the world’s.   

For most of us, that would have been the end of our relationship with nephew Lot, right?  If he got mixed up in trouble because he took for himself the best land, that would be his business, right?  Lot made his bed in Sodom and Gomorrah; he should have to lie in it, no?

But Abram, without the Holy Spirit residing in him, continues to care for Lot more than for himself.  He rescues him from the pagan kings that ransacked Sodom.  He pleaded with the angel of the Lord not to destroy Sodom, Lot’s home city.  If ever a man had reason not to rescue a relative, Abram did.  But instead of grievances, grace prevailed.  And the man who hated conflict even between his servants and those of a relative, became known as the friend, not the enemy, of God. 

Which brings us to the end of this passage.  Here’s what vs. 6 says:    But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

There’s the choice: 

  • favor from God OR fighting against God?
  • Communion with God about conflict OR conflict with God about broken communion with people?

We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot choose the world’s way of putting ourselves first and fighting for our rights and even have a prayer that God will be our friend rather than our adversary.  Better to lose a thousand arguments with brothers/sisters in Christ than to pick a fight with God. 

            As we studied last week, this is divine wisdom that comes from God—living life out in humility rather than selfish ambition.  And here is the reward God offers when we make that choice.  Instead of fighting against God we find Him fighting for us.  Rather than having him take things from us, He becomes the greatest giver of grace we could ever have. 

            The NIV translates this word charis both “grace” and “favor” in the same verse.  Favor is a beautiful concept.  To be shown favor by anyone is a wonderful thing.  How much greater is it to be shown favor from God. 

            But favor is only one aspect of grace.  Grace is so much larger.  It’s a small word with BIG meaning in the Scriptures.  Grace is everything we need in the midst of severe trials.  Grace is more than enough during our times of overwhelming weakness.  Grace is what we need to enter the kingdom of God and it is what we will have when we exit this life and enter heaven.  Grace is ALL that God wants to be to us at whatever point of need we are in. 

            Do you see why it is SO important to let go of what WE WANT rather than fight for OUR DESIRES

  • God’s grace at work in, over, around and under us is at stake!
  • God being our friend rather than our enemy is at stake!
  • God giving more and more of himself to us is what is at stake!

We MUST remember this when we are tempted to fight others for what WE want.

We MUST choose prayer and trust in God about our future when we are tempted to think that it depends on how much we fight for what we want.

Such a mindset will put us at odds with most of our business culture, most of our social culture and even most of the church culture.  But it will put us under fresh showers of the grace of God every time we make that choice.


  • What personal desire do you need to give back to God in prayer?
  • What is God asking you to do in some area of unrealized longing/desire so that He can pour out grace on you? How has He asked you to humble yourself so that you can get low enough to immerse yourself in more of God’s great giving of himself to you? 


For Group Discussion:

  • Write out as many of the internal battles with competing desires that you feel in your life right now. Which of these is it difficult to know what God’s will is about this desire and why?
  • How have you experienced unmet and unfulfilled desires “killing” things or relationships in your life? What do you think God wants you to learn from that?
  • In what desires of your life do you need to apply the “Serenity Prayer” presently? What wisdom might others in your group have about that area of desire?
  • Motives are often hard to discern. What kinds of questions can be helpful in determining whether or not we are wanting something for ourselves (wrong motives) or for the right reasons?
  • Verse 4 says, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” How are we to make sense of that statement, written to Christians, if we are a child of God?  Is it possible to be both a child of God and His enemy? 
  • Verse 5 speaks about God “jealously longing” for us. Do you find that comforting or confusing?  Why?  How can God’s jealousy over us help us grow? 
  • Given the context of this passage, how do you think James is encouraging us to humble ourselves? What route of humility do you think God would have you take in a currently conflicted relationship or a situation of unfulfilled desires?