Infighting in the Church (James 4:1-6)

Why do we not like certain people? Why are there fights and quarrels, some rather bitter and longstanding, even in the holy church of God?
  1. Horrible Days (1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith and Loving Deeds (2:14-26). Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to shut up!
  8. The Wise and the Selfishly Ambitious (3:13-18). You can't be wise if you are selfishly motivated.
What causes us to be angry, to fight and to have quarrels?
An obvious answer, as we think of the person or situation, is because "he/she did this or that," "this is what they're like," "this is what they're done," "this is what they said and decided." We're angry, or dislike people, because of some action or words on their part.

But James says that the reasons for our resentments and quarrels (especially during times of trials and difficulties, which seems to accentuate and aggravate everything!) are much more profound and penetrating than "other people are the cause of my problems" and "they are making life hard for me." James basically says that when we're angry and upset with other people, the reasons are primarily in us--not others. If we're going to come through our trials to the righteousness, maturity, completeness (Jas 1:2-4) and crown of life that God has in mind for us (Jas 1:12), we must understand what is really at the heart of our conflicts with others, even or especially in the church.

James asks and answers that the cause of infighting is with us and that there are several reasons:

First, our own desires are being denied"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" (Jas 4:1-2a) The cause of our fights and quarrels is some self-centered desire that wants to prevail. There is "me, my, mine" that is being insisted on. There's something we want and we aren't getting it. Our desires, wants, are being frustrated, thwarted, denied and we see the other person as being responsible. So we're angry, resentful, ready to fight, hoping he or she will get what we think is coming to them.

These desires James is addressing are insistent, belligerent desires. They're ready to wage war and battle within us. He uses military imagery--armed soldiers getting ready for a bitter battle to get what they want. We have an innate, self-centered readiness to fight to get our own way. We desire and covet--want something someone else has, but we do not have it and are very upset. So we're ready to fight, quarrel, damage, demolish and even destroy those who we think are keeping us from getting what we want.

So if and when I am upset with others, I must know, according to James, that the problem is with me and not the other person. I can easily blame others because "they said this," "they said that," "they are doing this," "they are doing that." But if I honestly search my own heart, I should find that what they're saying or doing is preventing me from getting what I desire--be it commendation, recognition, a good reputation, to be accepted, honored, respected and esteemed, to have a position of power and privilege and influence, etc, but then someone else in the church (or at work or in school or even at home) is getting it instead of me. Therefore, search my heart to see if the reason I am upset is because I "desire but do not have... (I) covet but (I) cannot get what (I) want, so (I) quarrel and fight" (Jas 4:1-2a).

Second, we have stopped trusting God to be good to us. We don't believe God is going to give us every good thing. So we think that we have to go get the good thing ourselves. We no longer wait or depend on him as the one who can and will provide. James says, "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" (Jas 4:2b-3).

James says we fail to pray when we do not trust in God's goodness and in God's provision for us. Or that we do not believe that God's riches and love are infinite and inexhaustible, beyond imagination. We often also ask with wrong motives. A wrong motive invariably puts our own desires above God. Our prayer is not because of an honest seeking of God, but is a selfish demand that disregards God's will, God's plan, God's purpose and God's sovereignty. We ask for what we want instead of what God wants for us, which will always be better by far. 

Third, we become adulterous. When we turn from trusting in God's goodness and provision, we invariably end up embracing the world--we enter into a friendship with the world by employing the world's methods which always looks out for number one. James concludes with words drawn from the language of love and politics: "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" (Jas 4:4).

We are the bride of Christ, but we have gone into the arms of another. We become like an adulterous husband or wife who says to their spouse, "You're not adequate, you aren't satisfying me. What you're giving me is not enough. I'm going to find love and intimacy somewhere else." We become an enemy of God. Faced with pressures and trials, we adop the world's way of handling them--lashing out a fellow believers, quarreling and fighting with them, failing to bring the matter before God, and instead aligning ourselves with a sinful culture's way of doing things.

What is the cure? What hope do we have to overcome our adulterous tendency?

Our hope lies in God's unshakable commitment to keep us intimate with him. This is his overwhelming grace. God is a jealous lover who simply will not let us go, and he will enable us to stay close to him:
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" (Jas 4:5-6).
When we are adulterous and do not trust God, God's response is a fresh infusion of even more and greater grace to keep us connected to him. He will not let us remain in a hostile relationship with him, but will jealously woo us back to have an intimate relationship with him.

If necessary, he will use the negative pressure of opposing us if we continue our prideful behavior and our drift into the world's arms. But he will also give increasing grace if we turn in humble submission to him by accepting that our circumstances are difficult for the time being, but believing that he is working through them for our good (Jas 1:2-4, 12).

James quotes the OT that God is actively repelling the proud and advancing the humble he is curing the one and blessing the other:

"The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked,
    but he blesses the home of the righteous.
34 He mocks proud mockers
    but shows favor to the humble and oppressed" (Prov 3:33-34).

God's grace is truly amazing because though we stumble, fail, sin and become adulterous, God "gives us more grace" (Jas 4:6a).