The Source of Conflict: A Study of James 4:1-4

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (2) You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. (3) You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4) You adulterous people! 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. (5) Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? (6) But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." James 4:1-6 ESV

The inspired writings of James have found themselves in considerable controversy primarily because of a false perception of his view of Faith and Works, juxtaposed with that of Paul. James is "not in opposition to Paul but against people who fail to understand that faith includes obedience (Romans 1:5)" (1) In actuality both compliment one another and go hand in hand. In the Pauline epistles we see him speaking of faith that assumes good works to follow saving faith. James actually demonstrates for us that "faith without works is dead".

In a recent bible study, I found myself drawn to this passage. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? The answer, indeed, lies at the heart of all strife and conflict. Each of us, especially myself, suffer from falling prey to senseless and often times selfishly driven quarrells. James accurately describes strife among Christians with the terms wars (KJV) and fights. Sadly, the battles that erupt among Christians are bitter, severe and often lengthy. Moreover, the battles and wars that erupt on our globe are fatal and acute.

The source of these strife's, come from desires for pleasure that war in our members. The source is the desires battling within each individual. There is some root of carnality, an internal war within the believer regarding the lusts of the flesh. At this point some may be thinking of 1 Timothy 6:10, where Paul says "the love of money is the root of all evil" Some scholars feel that money is NOT the root of all evil but all kinds of evil. However, the point at hand is that it is the "love of money" and not money itself that lies at the root of most, if not all, evil. It is avarice and the power that monetary wealth brings to an individual. This is inexorably linked to what James proposes in 4:1-6 because this is a carnal desire.

Another interesting note here is that James seems to be taken up more by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the fights and strife's than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints. He never speaks of whether or not the fight is just or unjust, but it is in the source of the fight and the prideful manner in which it may be carried out (cf. vs. 6). Often time our truths are drowned out by the deafening noise of fighting and quarrelling.

"Most Greco-Roman philosophers and many Diaspora Jews repeatedly condemned people who were ruled by their passions, and described these desires for pleasure as "waging war." Many writers like Plato, Plutarch and Philo attributed all literal wars to bodily desires. In a somewhat similar vein, Jewish people spoke of an evil impulse, which according to later rabbis dominated all 248 members of the body." (2) Obviously, people ruled by their passions fall into prideful conflict where truth is not the sake of the argument but the purpose of winning the argument. Post-Modern hermeneutics are folly to this quite often. Covetousness leads to conflict (you lust and do not have), anger and animosity lead to conflict (murder). These are basic human attributes present prior to most conflicts.

James looks back to the Sermon on the Mount when he uses murder to express more than actual killing, but also as an inward condition of heart, shown outwardly by anger (Matthew 5:21-22). For a treatment of killing and its link to killing by the tongue see The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shall Not Kill. James uses the word murder also, and it is startling and meant to startle; James sought to force his readers to realize the depth of the evil in their bitter hatred toward others. This is a continuation of the principle Christ laid in Matthew 5 concerning the tongue.

The reason such destructive desires exist among Christians, or humans generally, is because they are not seeking God for their needs. Or, when they do ask, they ask God with purely selfish motivation (you ask wrongly). Most often, our human condition worsens to the utter depths before we finally seek God concerning our condition. This is due to our selfishness and self-dependency, this is purely anti-Christ because it relies upon human ingenuity and human strength rather than Christ to provide.

There are those who perpetually offer their supplications before the throne yet their supplication is from selfish motives. I have noted that some who are in a troubled condition feel the compulsion to pray more than they did prior to the trouble. Often, these individuals only avail themselves to prayer to be delivered from this condition, all the while overlooking the fact that they ignored heaven previously. Even this affair often leads to strife because the individual with new found piety begins to rally others for their cause and condemns those who do not.

America is reached empire status. We are a country ruling over several provinces of assorted languages. America is constantly extending its influence, this inevitably leads to conflict. Some may say, and rightly so to a degree, we extend our influence to share democracy and freedom. However, what is also a reality is that we extend ourselves for financial gains and territorial annexation.

James says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." Spend is the same verb used to describe the wasteful spending of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:14. Ironically, destructive desires persist even in the midst of the most pious actions. Even if we pray, because our prayers may be self-centered and self-indulgent, we can have destructive desires. We must remember that the purpose of prayer is not to persuade a reluctant God to do our bidding or prod a slothful God to action, rather the purpose of prayer is to align our will with His, and in partnership with Him, to ask Him to accomplish His will on this earth (Matt 6:10). Today, we are His feet and we are His hands. God has chosen this to be so.

To pursue and propagate Godliness we should prefer one another. Romans 12:10 states, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;" (NKJV) Could this be the source of peace?


1. Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary. Includes index. (1st ed.). San Francisco: Harper & Row.

2. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener Copyright © 1993 by Craig S. Keener. Published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.

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Adversus Trinitas

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