In our Scripture for today James asks the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James was writing to brothers and sisters in Christ, to men and women who were followers of Jesus, and yet he asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Nothing has changed from the day James sat down to pen his letter, almost 2000 years ago, to this day has it? We should still be asking the same question today, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and then we’ll see if we can find the answer.
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. 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. (James 4:1-3 NIVO)
There are wars and rumors of wars being heard all across the planet as one nation threatens another. There are civil wars being waged within the borders of nations as one faction seeks to silence and destroy those who see things differently. There are accusations and fights about any number of topics taking place in our nation’s capital as well as in the halls of our own state capital. Each and every day there are quarrels and fights about every subject under the sun happening in boardrooms, offices, cubicles, and hallways of corporations, churches, and schools. Bickering, fighting, screaming and shouting, even violence rips families and homes apart in every corner and all across our city. What is the cause of all of this quarreling, all of this fighting, all of this killing? How can we bring an end to it all? Those are questions that have been asked by every generation and yet we are still in the midst of the big brawl aren’t we?
Many years ago, following the bloody Thirty Years War in Central Europe, a revolution of thought took place in Europe and later in America called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment flourished in the 17th, 18th, and the first half of the 19th centuries. Men like Voltaire, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and others desired to come up with a new understanding and solution for the human condition. Enlightenment thought was based on four themes: reason, science, humanism, and progress. Steven Pinker, in his new book, Enlightenment Now, writes,
If there’s anything the Enlightenment thinkers had in common, it was an insistence that we energetically apply the standard of reason to understanding our world, and not fall back on generators of delusion like faith, dogma, revelation, authority, charisma, mysticism, divination, visions, gut feelings or the hermeneutic parsing of sacred texts. (Pinker, Steven. Enlightenment Now.)
Enlightenment thinkers believed religion had failed them. They believed that what was needed to improve society and the human condition was reason. It is reason that will free us from the superstitions of religion and enable us to perfect ourselves and society. The Enlightenment thinkers believed that all we need to correct the flaws of humanity and society is information, education, and knowledge. Once people are presented with the facts, once we appeal to their higher thought processes, their reason, then they will see the error of their ways and make the needed changes so that humanity can flourish and society can usher in a golden age of harmonious unity. Then came the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and two World Wars. So much for reason. So much for enlightenment.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor before he sensed a call to go into the ministry. Dr. Jones pastored Westminster Chapel in London for almost thirty years, but the day before he was to begin his new ministry at Westminster, World War II broke out in 1939. Later, Dr. Jones would preach on the very Scripture we are looking at this morning. As he studied the text, he thought about all he had witnessed in his life having lived through two World Wars and the resurgence of the appeal for people to turn once again to reason above all else. Dr. Jones wrote about the fallacy of Enlightenment thinking.
They give no account to that veritable iceberg of irrationality which controls man. What is man? Is he just a great reason, with just a few failings, with just a few faculties not fully developed? No, no, he is much more like an iceberg. There above the water you see man’s genius, man’s reason, man’s ability, man’s power, man’s scientific discoveries, man’s brilliant inventions. You say, ‘that’s man!’ It isn’t my friend. That’s only about one third of him. Two thirds are submerged under the dark waters. The whole of his iceberg of irrationality. What do I mean? All lusts, passions, desires; These are the things that make man. There’s only the third that appears above the surface, it is this that determines and controls life. And isn’t it true? And the result of this is this, that man is selfish, and self-centered. I know he’s got a great brain, but why does he behave as he does? Because he is selfish. Because he is self-centered. Because he is a creature of greed and ambition and desire. And these forces within him are so strong that he becomes irrational. He knows what is right, but he doesn’t do it. Why? Well, because he prefers the other thing. (Jones, Martyn-Lloyd. From Whence Come Wars?)
I’ve read Dr. Jones’ words over and over again this week. There are two ways to see and understand the fights and quarrels that are ongoing in our homes, our society, and in our world today. We can either view them from our perspective, a humanistic perspective where we are the ultimate authority and determiner of truth or we can view them from God’s perspective and like Job put our hand over our mouth and learn what God has to say about why we have all of this tension, animosity, and fighting taking place. The answers we tend to offer to the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” most often point “out there.” “They” are the problem, “this” is the problem, or “that” is the problem. Many years ago a newspaper posed the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” You can only imagine the large number and wide variety of responses. G.K. Chesterton, the great British thinker, wrote a letter to the editor in response to the question. Here is what he wrote, “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G.K. Chesterton.” Chesterton must have read our Scripture for today. Let’s read verse 1 once again.
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (James 4:1 NIVO)
So, where do our fights and quarrels originate? Is it the behavior of others, circumstances that are unjust, immoral, or systemic problems that finally cause us to explode in anger and rage? James says the fights and quarrels “among you” come from the desires “within you.”
The beginning of James 4 is in actuality a continuation of his thoughts about the comparison of worldly and godly wisdom which we took a look at last week in our study of James 3:13-18. If you will remember, in James 3:13-18, James praised the godly wisdom that produces “peace and righteousness.” He also made it clear to us that worldly wisdom, characterized by “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition,” produces “disorder and every evil practice.” Now, we have to remember, James is writing to church folks, brothers and sisters in Christ, yet they are living the carnal Christian life. Their lives are not being shaped by godly wisdom, they are living just like the people of the world, being controlled by their desires. That is the word James uses in verse 1. He says our fights and quarrels come from our desires. The Greek word that is translated “desires” is the word, “?????” (hedone) and it means, “pleasure or desires for pleasure.” It’s the word from which we get our english word hedonism. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure and happiness are the primary or most important intrinsic goods and the aim of human life.
Hedonism is placing myself at the center of the universe. It is desiring what I want more than anything else in life. It is a willingness to do whatever I need to do to get whatever I want. This mindset, this lifestyle, stands in total contradiction to the life Jesus lived. Jesus gave His followers His mission statement in Mark 10:45. This was HIs focus in life.
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIVO)
The Greek word that James uses in verse 1, the word we get our word hedonism from, is used five times in the New Testament. Let me show you a couple of examples. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he writes,
1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. 3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (Titus 3:1-3 NIVO)
Paul, without mentioning the two phrases, is contrasting godly wisdom with worldly wisdom while he is urging Titus to call the people of God to live in a certain manner. Paul makes it clear that we too were at one time people of the world. What evidence does he offer of our former worldliness? For one, he writes that we were “enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” There’s the word we’re looking at. We were hedonists, controlled by our inner urges, the “flesh” as the Bible calls it, and totally given to our pleasure at any and all costs.
In 2 Peter 2, Peter writes about people who “follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature.” Beginning in verse 12, Peter writes,
12 But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. 13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed– an accursed brood! (2 Peter 2:12-14 NIVO)
How about these men that Peter was thinking about as he wrote; Were they godly men or worldly men? We don’t need even a minute to answer that question do we? They were men who were doing what they did because of their own passions, their own desires that were driving them. This is not how the people of God are supposed to live.
You and I live in a day where we have more education than any generation that has ever gone before us. We have a greater accumulation of knowledge than any generation that has ever gone before us. We have specialized fields like psychology, psychiatry, and the even more specialized field of neuropsychiatry to help us understand why we behave in the ways we do. We have all kinds of therapists as well as medications to help us alter our behavior. We can read all of the books, attend classes, make our weekly visit to see our therapist, take our meds, and still be controlled by the desires that wage war against us. This is not a new phenomenon. In the first century, James wrote about how people were controlled by their desires, lusts, and fleshly urges. He also wrote about the effects of their behavior on their relationships. A few years later, Paul sat down and wrote a letter to a young pastor named Timothy,
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIVO)
I don’t know if we are in the “last days” or not, although we are certainly much closer to the last days than either James or Paul. As I read this list of characteristics of the last days, I see them all around us. Worse yet, I see them within me. I don’t have to watch the evening news, read newspapers, or crime statistics–all I have to do is look in the mirror. There’s a battle going on and the battle is within us. In James 4:2-3 we read,
2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. 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. (James 4:2-3 NIVO)
“You want something but don’t get it.” That’s the nature of life isn’t it? The famous British theologian Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want?” And we don’t. And when we don’t we get frustrated, we stew and fuss, and left unchecked our frustration can and oftentimes does boil over. Evidently this was going on in the churches and that is why James wrote these startling words. “You kill and covet. You quarrel and fight.” The churches James wrote to were not the only churches of his day that were experiencing conflict. These brothers and sisters weren’t the only ones who were allowing their ungodly desires to tear at the unity of their church, the very heart of their relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Galatia. Turn with me to Galatians 5:14-16.
14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:14-16 NIVO)
There were folks at 1st Church in Galatia who were devouring each other. Paul says, “…watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” This past week I’ve read about some incredibly ridiculous church fights. I’ve read about churches splitting over rumors being spread by church members about other church members. I’ve read about a church war that took place because the pastor refused to wear a suit and tie. In one church there was a petition to have all staff members clean shaven. In another church a fight broke out over which picture of Jesus to hang in the foyer. I’m not making this one up, how about a fight over whether or not it is appropriate to serve deviled eggs at fellowship dinners.
In the church at Philippi there were two ladies who weren’t getting along. We don’t know if if was a personality conflict, a difference of opinion about a theological matter, or conflict over the color of the church carpet, but the rift was deep enough and the potential damage serious enough that Paul addressed it. In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul wrote,
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3 NIVO)
Can you imagine sitting in church on the day the local pastor read the letter from Paul? Imagine the looks on Euodia and Syntyche’s faces. They needed help and Paul called on the brothers and sisters in Philippi to help them build a bridge, to agree with one another “in the Lord.”
Just one more example. In Corinth, the church we are studying in Sunday morning Bible study, a church that was an absolute mess, Paul got on them because they were dragging each other into court and destroying their witness to unbelievers in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 6:4-6, Paul writes,
4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another– and this in front of unbelievers! (1 Corinthians 6:4-6 NIVO)
Oh the damage we do to the cause of Christ because of our worldliness, because of our carnality, because of our unwillingness to crucify the flesh and walk in Jesus’ steps.
Let’s get honest, it’s not that we don’t know better. The followers of Jesus that first received this letter knew better as well and yet the rich were taking advantage of the poor (James 2), people were jockeying for leadership positions (James 3:1), they were praising God and then turning right around and cursing their brothers and sisters in Christ (James 3:9-10). They knew better and yet they did these things anyway. Their knowing better and our knowing better affected their prayer life, and it affects ours as well. James writes,
…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. (James 4:2-3 NIVO)
Most of us who are followers of Jesus are not foolish enough to pray for what we know is not pleasing to God. “O Lord, I’m asking you to cause my friend to mess up so that I can get that job and not him.” “Lord, I know it’s probably not right, but I’m asking you to keep this affair of mine a secret, don’t let me get found out.” “Lord, I’m asking that you would make a way for me to get a Maserati to replace this truck of mine.” If we have any spiritual sensitivity at all, we would never pray those prayers.
The other hindrance to the prayer life of a fleshly desire-driven believer is that they pray with wrong motives and God says, “No!” A thousand times “No!” The problem is not that God is anti-pleasure or that God doesn’t want us to have desires. He is the One who has created us with desires and the capacity to experience pleasure. The problem is that our desires are misdirected. C.S. Lewis once said, “All true pleasures are authored by God.” God has created us with the capacity to have desires and to experience pleasure, but if those desires are misdirected they will consume us, and left unchecked they will destroy us.
What is the answer? Is it enlightenment? Is reason our solution? Just show me the facts, show me the error of my ways, educate me, and I’ll make the necessary corrections? That has been tried and failed a million times over my friend. We don’t need enlightenment, enhancement, or more education. We don’t need rehabilitation. What we need is transformation that comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul wrote,
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIVO)
I don’t need a reformed Mike. What I need is a brand new Mike. By admitting my sin to God, by confessing my total inability to live the life God desires for me to live, and by asking Jesus to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior, I can know that new life. Not a more improved Mike or a more determined Mike, but Christ in me. Christ giving me a new heart, a new mind, and a new way of living life. I hope that this will be the morning you ask Jesus into your heart.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 11, 2018