Church fights almost always are the result of at least someone being too friendly with the world. At least, that’s what James 4:1-6 says. If envy, jealousy and selfish ambition fill the hearts of Christians (the wisdom from below – James 3:13-18), then wars and fights are bound to occur in churches (James 4:1-3). James does not hold back in addressing the seriousness of this matter. Getting too friendly with the world can lead to spiritual adultery and to becoming God’s enemy (James 4:4). When God charges anyone with infidelity or spiritual unfaithfulness, that should grab our attention!
James begins chapter 4 with two questions: (1) “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (2) “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Interestingly, James is NOT so interested in the particular person(s) who started the conflict as he is in the real source and characteristics of the conflict. The real source is “passion” or “pleasure,” an expression that often refers to sinful, self-indulgent desire (cf. Titus 3:3; Hebrews 11:24-25; 1 Peter 2:11). A conflict among brethren often finds its roots in what is going on within (inside) them! As has often been said, “the heart of the problem is a problem of the heart.”
In James 4:2-3, he gets even more explicit concerning the nature of conflict in the church. The way the ASV, NASB and ESV bring this out seems to better represent the flow of argument: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” This structure places the emphasis on the fact that frustrated sinful desire often leads to friction and to violence. Murder, fights and quarrels are the result. Recall how even a good man like David committed murder due his sinful passion for Bathsheba? (2 Samuel 11:2-17). And while envy, jealousy and selfish ambition do not always lead to literal murder and violence, they almost always DO lead to character assassination, brutal family feuds and to fractured, broken lives. Yes, there are some battles which must be fought by the people of God (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12). However, no battles should be fought while surrendering Christian virtues like love, integrity and patience.
What we truly treasure, we love and praise. What we really treasure, we talk about and are passionate about. And as Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-24). Do we truly treasure God, Scripture and what is pure and holy? Is the Lord our delight and exceeding joy? (Psalm 37:4; 43:4). Do we have a great love for the church purchased with His precious blood? (Acts 20:28). Do we allow the sins of envy, jealousy and selfish ambition to afflict the body of Christ? Do we allow these sins to grow in our own hearts? It is far too easy for us as Christians to be torn between two loves. James calls it being “double-minded” (1:8; 4:8), and it is about being “two souled” – a form of spiritual schizophrenia which treasures BOTH God and the world; it treasures BOTH heavenly wisdom and earthly. And it won’t work! It will terribly hurt our relationship with God and may well have devastating effects in the church too (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:20).—Mike Vestal