James 4:1

Monday, 12 August 2019

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? James 4:1

James has been contrasting that which is heavenly wisdom from that which is earthly and reflects no true wisdom at all. He has shown what the results of the two are as well. He now asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you?”

Is he referring to actual wars and fights among the Jewish believers? Or, does this extend to all of the Jewish people as a collective whole? Or, is this a general statement concerning the cause of such things in humanity? The answer is probably the latter. Humans are humans, regardless of race, culture, nationality, etc.

Further, the word translated as “wars” is one which speaks of actual battles. It can be used figuratively as well, but it is speaking in a broad term about the impetus behind such a war. The word translated as “fights” governs a whole sphere of words, and so it signifies strife, contention, quarreling, and so on.

The two words are given to include the whole round of such violent interactions between people. James is asking his audience where these things arise from. His answer is, “Do they not come from your desires for pleasure?” Here, the word translated as “pleasure” is hédoné. One can see the source of our modern word “hedonistic.” This is speaking of sensuous pleasure, and that pleasure which is looked to as an end in itself. It is not a godly pleasure, but one which is opposed to godliness.

Such desires well up in man and they cause all kinds of vile urges and motivations which can easily lead to wars and fights. As James says, it is these which “war in your members.” The verb here is a present participle. The war is ongoing and active. The word goes beyond just the act of fighting, but in everything that is involved in serving in the military. It is the service of a soldier which is warring inside of us because of our desires for pleasure.

Even Plato understood this precept. In Phaedo 66c, he says, “The body and its desires are the only cause of wars and factions and battles; for all wars arise for the sake of gaining money, and we are compelled to gain money.” It may even be that James was aware of Plato’s words and used the idea in his epistle. Paul cited Greek philosophers on several occasions. These are universally understood precepts because they come directly from the state of humanity.

James will continue with this line of thought, and he will also speak of the cure for it in his words ahead.

Life application: Think about it, if we didn’t have pride we wouldn’t care if we were offended and the fight would never get started. If we didn’t want things we didn’t have, we wouldn’t envy others and steal, kill, or lie to get them.

Admittedly, desire can also be used as a force for good; innovation comes from a desire for these things as well, but it is being channeled properly rather than improperly. Motivation causes us to work within our means for a good purpose, but envy causes us to go beyond our means to attain the same thing. Such is the case concerning the battle within us. We need to quench unhealthy desires and emotions and work towards our goals using proper levels of motivation.

Think on any issue where sin is involved and you will see that the problem could have been resolved from within the person by merely handling what happened differently.

When a candidate for public office lies about his qualifications, he is working outside of his true life story to achieve a goal. However, he could just as easily use the same precept as a point of complement to those who actually have such qualifications. This is just one example which reflects the nature of sin in all of us. We need to be extremely careful that when the internal battle begins, we quench the unhealthy desires before sin gets a foothold.

Lord, Your word is like a mirror that we hold up in order to see ourselves, and right in it, we can see our own failings exposed. We often lose those battles we face and that in turn ends in sin. Please give us the wisdom, the courage, and the fortitude to fight the battle and to prevail in it before sin is released in our lives. In this, You will be exalted through our faithful Christian walk. Amen.

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