The Battle Within
1. Recognize the Context: Previous Context-James 3:17-18
In verse 17, James presents the anthesis of “fake wisdom” by describing wisdom from above. This wisdom from God is characterized by several virtues, with many of these qualities listed in other passages throughout Scripture.
Wisdom from heaven is
4. Submissive-compliant and willing to yield This word is found only here in the New Testament. 5. Full of mercy-(Matt. 9:13, Hos. 6:6) concern expressed for someone in need See 2:13 above. 6. Good fruit-(Matt. 7:16-20) meaning good deeds This is in contrast to evil practices identified in verse 16. 7. Impartial-Not divisive or nonjudgmental 8. Sincere-(1 Pet. 1:22) genuine
In verse 18, James concludes his description of true wisdom with an emphasis on peacemaking (Matt. 5:9). Those who live wisely are peacemakers, and their reward is a right relationship with God and others.
2. Read the Scripture: James 4:1-3
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 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. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
In verse 18, James stresses the need for peace. He begins chapter 4 with a rhetorical question concerning the cause of conflict within their believing community. The words used for fights and quarrels have a military background, but they came to connote quarrels and conflict within relationships.
James answers his initial question with a follow-up question expecting an affirmative response. "Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" The word desire (for pleasure) forms the basis for our English word “hedonism.” Hedonism is the philosophy that places the quest for pleasure as the ultimate aim of life. These desires are the cause of an internal battle (See 1:13-15 above). For James, division within a person leads to division within the community. Here in his second question, he again uses military imagery to describe the internal conflict.
In verse 2, James knows they desire things but don't get them. The verb for desire is the same word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) for coveting in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:17). Since their desires go unfulfilled, James says they “kill.” Clearly, this is hyperbole, since we know Jesus used the same strong language in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22, see also 1 John 3:15). They are jealous (same word in 3:16) but can’t get what they want, so they quarrel and fight (see verse 1).
James tells his readers they don’t have because they don’t ask. When they do ask, they don’t receive because they have the wrong motives. Their motives are to “spend” (the same word found in the parable of “the Prodigal’s Son” in Luke 15:14) what they receive on their desires (for pleasure).
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:
Wow! There are several significant themes to pray about from this short passage. So have a conversation with God about any of the following:
Conflict with fellow believers
Unanswered prayer as it relates to motives in prayer
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
Again, I ask, is there a trusted friend you can discuss these themes with? If you are willing to hear their feedback, ask them about these challenges in your Christian walk. Take some time to pray together and hold each other accountable. To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).
Read and study the passages listed above.