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At the Core of Conflict

FAITH AT WORK: Devotions through the book of James

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (James 4:1, ESV) 

We live in a day of great animosity, fueled in large part by social media. People don’t hesitate to tear others down, rather than engaging in a respectful exchange of ideas. That atmosphere of hate is easily combustible. The extreme disregard of others and preoccupation with self and personal rights result in road rage, flight rage, and outrage. 

Most disturbing is when those who claim to follow Jesus Christ act in kind. Their behavior is indistinguishable from those who belong to the kingdom of darkness. 

We can detect a theme in James. He has urged us to Kingdom decorum, loving others, respecting them, and serving them in the manner of our Lord Jesus. Recently, he has been aghast at the notion that we would use our tongues to curse others, those made in the image of God. 

Now, James queries the cause of quarrels. By way of answer, he points the finger of blame directly at us. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1–2). 

What James says harkens to what our Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount. There He urged us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. James, however, notes that a pleasure-driven life seeks our own kingdom and serves our own ends.  

Because we are driven by selfish ambition, we do not look to the expressed desire of our God for us. Rather than submitting ourselves to the will of our Father, we resent His not giving us what we want. In other words, we operate according to a principle completely foreign to the Kingdom of God. 

James gives us lines to think along as we examine the discontent and discord we experience. “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” (James 4:4). 

In speaking of being adulterous, James is bringing a wisdom perspective to bear. He has already contrasted demonic wisdom (with its bitter jealousy and selfish ambition) with wisdom from above (described as “peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere”). The former yields discord; the latter accord. The demonic wisdom foments division and conflict; the wisdom from above comports with a Kingdom of righteousness, joy, and peace 

In the book of Proverbs adultery points to unfaithfulness to the God to whom we pledged our troth. In view are spiritual adultery and the call of God to live out the “royal law” of love (2:8). No wonder James points out: “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’?” (James 4:5) 

1. What do our quarrels reveal about our allegiance to Christ?

2. What should govern the requests we make of God? 

“Father, help me to be a peacemaker and not a troublemaker.”

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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