James 4:2

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. James 4:2

James turns to a literary technique known as an anaphora to reveal what is going on inside man. This is a technique which consists of repeating various words or sets of words, particularly at the beginning of each sequence of clauses, in order to produce emphasis. In this verse, he begins with, “You lust and do not have.”

The idea here is that of a person desiring something that is outside of his normal ability to obtain. The word translated as “lust” signifies something that is truly yearned for. On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” It is the same word as James uses here. And so it can be positive or negative. What James is speaking of is this intense desire, but the individual does not possess what is desired, and the implication is that it is beyond him to possess it.

Next, he says, “You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” The result of the lusting has led to the next step of the process. The idea here is that the person is willing to go as far as murder to obtain what he has. The subject “you” throughout the thoughts in this verse is plural. It is a general thought that any person he is addressing is liable to fall into this pattern. There is the intent to murder being worked out in the person based on the coveting. The violation of the Tenth Commandment results in a violation of the Sixth Commandment. Again, what is desired remains out of the ability to obtain.

James next says, “You fight and war.” The localized “murder,” turns into a general battle as part of a greater war. The word translated as “war” is introduced here, and it will next be seen six times in the book of Revelation.

The increasing measure of destruction in James’ words shows that man is never satisfied with what he has. We lust after something, we will kill for it because we covet it, and after that, we are willing to go into battle for it. And all of this, James says, remains elusive. His final thought of the verse is, “Yet you do not have because you do not ask.”

What we know does not belong to us, and which is forbidden to us (such as another man’s wife), is the last thing that we would ask for from God. He has already told us that what we seek after is not available. However, if we come to God and desire for His will in what we ask, then we will be given what we desire – which is His will. He will not give us another man’s wife because it is His will that we do not have what we lust after. However, for that which is in accord with His will, when we ask for it in prayer, we can be sure that He will provide it.

The problem with us is that when we ask for something in His will, we are looking for what we want, not knowing what His will for us is. And so when we don’t get what we want, we assume God did not provide according to our prayer. But the exact opposite is true. We prayed for His will, He provided what is in accord with His will (even if we received nothing physical or tangible), and whatever we now have is exactly what He intended for us to have.

Praying for God’s will in a matter means that whatever comes our way after that prayer of faith is God’s will for us at that time. From there, we cannot go out and do something which is against God’s will (as stated in His word) and claim that it was given to us according to His will. What comes our way in life, if it is in accord with His will, must always be in accord with the word. We can never go around His word and say that what we have is in accord with His will for us in our lives.

If we have cancer, and we pray for God’s will to be done, and then the cancer spreads, can we blame God? The very cancer in our body is a part of the unfolding of our life. It was no surprise to Him at all. We can pray for the cancer to be removed, but we are to accept that it may not be. All must be accepted as being according to His will. James will continue to explain this in the verses ahead.

Life application: Normally a counselor won’t be so direct with his words, but will rather talk around a subject and allow the one being counseled to come to an understanding of the problem through questioning. But James pulls out his boxing gloves and gives the old one-two across the chin.

“You’re a stubborn mule. You want things and don’t get them and here’s why.” He explains that we would rather kill and covet, quarrel and fight than merely ask God for the things we desire. Why would we do this? James will give us good reasons in the verses ahead, but it should be painfully obvious that if we are willing to kill for something we don’t receive then one of the reasons is that it is something we shouldn’t have in the first place.

If we have to go to such extreme measures to obtain a desired object, relationship, job, etc. then we’ve made it an idol in the place of God. One main purpose of God’s commandment to not covet was to tell the people that what He provides is sufficient. We should be content with that.

A second purpose is to show us our immense need for something greater; because by our very nature we cannot fulfill the law, “Do not covet.” As Paul said, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

The law makes nothing perfect. It was merely given to lead us to a realization of how sinful we truly are. Once we get that, then we can finally see our need for Jesus. If you’re struggling with overwhelming desires, hand them over to the Lord and ask for His strength in dealing with them. He prevailed and through Him, you can too.

Lord God, desiring things that we don’t have seems to be the norm in our lives. Help us to be content with what You have given us. When there is something we don’t have, but which we hope for, give us the patience to work for it rather than burn with unhealthy desire leading to coveting or worse. Grant us this wisdom so that we might not sin against You. Amen.

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