James 4:1-10 – War and Peace



James 4:1-10.




James has spent ch.3 dealing with the tongue which is more difficult to tame than a herd of wild horses and with wisdom in its good and evil forms. [Remeber that this letter was not written in chapters and verses] He ended chapter 3 talking about peace and a harvest of righteousness – this would be ideal – this should be the goal. HOWEVER it would seem James readers were far from reaching this ideal – in fact the contrast between 3v18 and 4v1 is quite astounding.


James 3:18-4:1 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? (NIV)


He now goes on to point out very clearly that these fights and struggles are not from God and calls on those involved to repent and be forgiven.

He states what the problem is – strife, fightings, wars, quarrels.

He explains the cause of the problem – selfish desires and motives.

He expounds a solution to this problem – repent / draw near or submit to God.


OUTLINE:- The Root of the conflict.

The Result of the conflict.

The Remedy of the conflict.




James 4:1-2

1 What causes fights [WARS] and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (NIV)


– fights = [WARS] – fights; quarrel; battle; kill — isn’t James being a bit dramatic? Isn’t he writing to Christians? Surely he can’t be describing what happens in churches?


These are the kind of words we use when describing the conflict in Bosnia or Chechenya – or when we are discussing World War II. This is the language of flame-throwers, missiles, anti-missiles and nuclear weapons – of burning buildings and body-bags.


But James is not writing to a Military Academy he is writing to a church – but [ as Alec Motyer writes] he “Chooses the vocabulary of war to express controversies and quarrels, animosities and bad feeling among Christians, not because there is no other way of saying it, but because there is no other way of expressing the horror of it.” (Motyer p.141)


CONDITION – James is describing the condition of the Churches to whom he was writing and it is not a pretty picture. He does not mean that they are actually murdering each other or continually quarreling but that there is a atomosphere of animosity. The peace and unity of the Church is not what it should be!


ILLUST.: The American frontier where two families would fued for years – that did not mean that they were shooting at each other every day but that there was a state of war between them that would break out into fighting from time to time.


Sadly these situation sometime arise in Churches – power struggles between different personalities


Why do such situations arise? CAUSE – Whenever there is a war or a fight or an argument – there is always a cause. Wars don’t just happen – someone starts them!! It is always the fault of the other side, however! James does not allow us to look at this from a distance BUT he tells us to look inside us James 4:1

……..   Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (NIV)


Listen!” says James “You guys are a walking civil war! The fights and arguments between you are only a symptom or a much deeper conflict – the one inside you!”


These desires and passions inside us are characterised by self seeking – it is doing and promoting those things that we want and heaven help anyone who gets in the way! The pursuit of the heart is our own happiness.


BUT we don’t have many arguments and fights in our church – NO! praise God for that BUT let us be honest with ourselves – sometimes there is a cold war – we disagree with someone but we don’t have the courage to say so and as a result we harbour resentment and bitterness. And then pat ourselves on the back for being controlled!


Maybe there is a situation in the Church or in the home that you disagree with but you don’t want to be seen to be the odd one out so you use spoiling tacits. Cold war tacits can be just as damaging to a relationship as can open warfare!


It is so easy to say “Well I don’t behave like that so I’m not guilty – this message is not for me!!” Listen – when there is bitterness, resentment, name-calling [even in the silence of your own heart] , anger –….etc. then you too are guilty!


Jesus thought it was serious – Matthew 5:23-24

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (NIV)


Something – he did not specify how big or how small – something important or insignificant — just something [anything] — Was Jesus exaggerating when he put these things under the heading of ‘murder’!

When we see two Christians fall out with each other – or when we ourselves fall out with someone do we shrug our shoudlers saying that that is simply part of life.

Whose interests do we have at heart?? Are we doing what the Bible enjoins upon us to ‘consider others better than ourselves’ –




James 4:2a 2a You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight…. (NIV)

Possibly a better translation – moving a few punctuation marks and adding two little words ‘so’ … and ‘so’ You want something but don’t get it [so]you kill. You covet, but you cannot have what you want so you quarrel and fight….


It would be much easier if James listed the things we should not want then we could tick them off and desire others BUT it is general and applies to all of us.


Twice in this verse James says ‘..want …’

Twice ‘.. can’t have … ‘ ‘…don’t get..’


So often we pursue possessions, power and pleasure – we sacrifice in order to have yet we are never satisfied.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

1 I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly — my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worth while for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well — the delights of the heart of man. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my work,

and this was the reward for all my labour.


In these verses ‘I’ ‘me’ ‘my’ ‘myself’ occur over 30x – Yet listen to the preacher’s assessment of his achievements.


11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;nothing was gained under the sun. (NIV)


Oscar Wilde – “Sometimes the only thing worse than NOT getting what you want, is getting it!”


We must never under estimate the power of human desire

ILLUS.:- we only have to look at King David when he desire Bathsheba – adultery – murder – death – break up of his family – death of his child.

King Ahab – desire Naboth’s vineyard – murder —


BUT much closer to home we need to look into our own hearts to realise that that is where the real problem lies – it is easy to see the faults and weaknesses in others – it is so easy to be self-righteous and smug.




ILLUS.: Many years ago The Times newspaper read some correspondence under the title ‘What is wrong with the World?’ The best and shortest letter read:

“ Dear Sir, I am. yours sincerely, G K Chesterton


This is the kind of honesty we have to have with ourselves – unless we see ourselves as we are, we will never see the need for repentence and God’s continuing forgiveness – one of the things that I believe is missing in my own life is that I have become insensitive to sin – I have been a Christian for a long time and I have developed a Christian lifestyle that is outwardly respectable and I bask in the light of people’s praise and yet I know that often my heart is cold and I am far from God –

It is in me that wars and fightings begin –




James 4:2b-3 2b ….. 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. (NIV)


There are two things that are the results of these conflicts and desires:

unanswered prayers

emnity with God.


  1. a) They do not have because they do not ask.


Are there things that you want from God – Have you asked him!


O what peace we often forfiet

O what needless pain we bear

All becaue we do not carry

Everyting to God in Prayer.


If you can’t pray about it then ask if it is right and if we ought to be doing it — NOT ‘Lord bless me while I do this’ BUT ‘Lord what do you want me to do’


  1. b) When they do ask they don’t receive.

James 4:2-3 ….. don’t get it. …. you cannot have what you want. … You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3…, you do not receive, …

These verse not only marked by intense desire but also by immense disappointment in that we don’t get what we desire.


It is not that God doesn’t hear – God is not deaf –

Not that pray is not answered – BUT that they don’t get what they want.


  1. c) They don’t receive because their motives are wrong.


Why do we ask for things –

Possible – ask for wokmate so we easier life

Possible to ask for spouse so we more comfortable

Possible to ask for mission need so we less pressure to do something..


BUT God is sovereign and he does grant many of these things often in spite of our selfish motives!


Parable of Tax-collector and Pharisee

Luke 18:10-14 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NIV)


Jesus does not comdemn pharisee for honesty, not commiting adultery or forfasting BUT for his motives and boastings.

How then should we pray?? JOHN tells …

1 John 5:14 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (NIV)


Q> What is prayer according to God’s will?

– not a way of manipulating God.

– not a way of changing God’s mind?


Psalm 37:4   4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (NIV)

I used to think I had God over a barrel on this BUT as we delight ourselves in the Lord our desires become his and we then ask what according with his will.


Q> What about asking in Jesus name?


John 14:13-14 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (NIV)

ILLUS.: Secretary does things in the name of the Boss – eg. letters – BUT she knows tha Boss well enough to know what he wants said and often exactly the way he would.

As we grow in Christ we grow in the confidence that we will ask according to his will and that he will hear us and answer!!


All true prayer is simply a variation on a theme – “Your will be done….”



Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — ‘ My will be done..’


It is difficult to know – our motives so mixed – often do not even know our own hearts —

Bible tells that our hearts are devious and decietful..


When we follow our own desires and passions there is always a price to pay – — in human conflict and damaged relationships — and in unfulfilled desires — BUT also a spiritual price in a breach of communication with God.


Two options — stop our prayers or cleanse our hearts — James will deal with this in vv.6-10


Need God’s wisdom to know our hearts and to know how to pray – James has already told us that we should ask God who gives generously to all who ask — Maybe we don’t hav this wisdom because we have not asked God.




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