There are times when reading the letters to the early churches from the apostles or in this case Jesus’ brother, one could reasonably question, ‘Are these really God’s people they are writing to?’ But then one considers examples of conduct in churches we have known and a tragic similarity may strike us. I can think of examples of Christians arguing and bearing grudges to the point that people leave. Pastors who have been forced from a church by church members who have conspired against them. Pastors who have driven people from their church because of a difference of view or a refusal to declare personal allegiance. Grudges borne over years, gossip that undermines others in the fellowship, jealousy over spiritual gifts and ministries, covetousness of others’ material possessions and doctrinal pettiness are common features of contemporary churches that lead to divisions and splits. Such behaviour damages the work of the gospel, hinders the personal spiritual growth of church members and limits the blessing of God on the church. Where one expression of sin creeps into church life it opens the door to others.
The evidence of a living faith ought to be changed lives and progressively believers becoming more like Jesus. No wonder then James, along with the other epistle writers speak so strongly when they know of the church conforming to the worldly patterns v4 around them instead of developing Christ likeness. James confronts the churches with, ‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?’ v1 James identifies three reasons for rebellion against God within the church: self centred desires, v1 loving the world as opposed to God v4 and temptation from the devil. v7
The latter may strike some modern, particularly western, Christians as literally incredible and so I will address this briefly. Jesus believed in the devil or evil one, was tempted by the devil, taught his disciples to pray to be delivered from temptation from the evil one, Mathew 6:13 and delivered people from the grip of the evil one during his ministry. Many people who have experienced evil at an extreme level over history and across the globe have very little difficulty in believing in spiritual evil forces and find it easier to believe in a devil rather than a loving God. It was to overcome the evil in our world that Jesus died and rose again. Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 4:4 The apostles repeatedly urged the churches to resist the devil. 1 Peter 5:9
The internal conflict of passions will be recognized by many Christians as a reality in their own lives as they hang on to desires they know are contrary to God’s character. James describes this as a war within you. v1 However James also makes clear that such desires also are the cause of arguments and quarrels within the membership of the church. v2 When he refers to murder he is probably not doing so literally but Jesus made clear that hateful thought was like murder and lustful thought is adultery in the heart. James then uses the term adultery to refer to those things we long for that oppose the will of God. They are a form of lusting after the world and place us in direct opposition to God. ‘Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?. Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.’ v4
Such behaviour, breaks the heart of God, I use this phrase colloquially. The Holy Spirit, gifted to the Christian, is deeply and personally grieved by the sin of the Christian. Sin causes a barrier in the Christian’s relationship with the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit’s reaction is to yearn for a re-establishment of relationship with the Christian. ‘Do you not suppose it is to no purpose that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit he has made to dwell in us”? v5 James is not making a direct quote but referring to general Old Testament teaching.
The giving in to sinful temptation has prevented God from blessing them with answers to prayer because the motivation for their prayers has been to satisfy their sinful desires. ‘You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.’ v4 James in this short passage paints a picture of a church divided, internally at war, separated from God’s will and governed by selfishness and temptations from the evil one. Fortunately this does not have to continue to be the situation.
What are the motives behind the requests we make to God?
Whose friend are we, the world’s or God’s. (The world means, loving this world’s beliefs and pleasures more than God.)
Have you felt God’s jealous love over the spirit that he has made dwell in us? v5
How he loves us – Kim Walker / Jesus Culture