Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LIVING FAITH VERSUS SELFISH STRIFE”

James 4.1-12

Throughout our study of this first New Testament letter written we have, to date, dealt with two major thoughts that James was used of God to get across to his readers. Keeping in mind that his readers were Jewish Christians, most of whom had been converted to Jesus Christ shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and certainly witness to the empty tomb if they were not numbered among the hundreds still alive who had themselves seen the risen Savior. Now scattered by persecution and resettled, notice what James, who had been their pastor in Jerusalem, writes to them:

First, he deals with the fact that in the Christian’s life there are the tests of a living faith. In James 1.2-20, James dealt with genuine faith and trust in God, and both the testing of that faith by God (designed to strengthen the believer), and the tempting of that faith (as a result of one’s sinfulness and fostering acts of sin). In that portion of scripture, we were taught what the purpose of God’s testing of the Christian is, what kind of prayer is appropriate for the believer in response to those testings, and what kind of people participate in such experiences. They are the experiences of every man, are they not?

In the second major thrust of James’s epistle we saw the fruits of a living faith. That is, we saw predictable trends of the kind of behavior that genuine faith in God produces in the lives of believers. We saw that genuine faith receives God’s Word, genuine faith shows mercy, genuine faith can be seen by the actions it produces, and finally, genuine faith results in control of the believer’s speech patterns. All of this in James 1.21-3.18.

We now begin the third major thrust of James’ letter. In this portion, which we will spend several weeks dealing with, we see the reactions in the lives of Christians of a living faith. Before we get to that, allow me to establish some context for you. Are you tired of the conflict? Frustrated by the fussing? Weary of being involved in contentious debate? I understand. However, I also understand that the Christian life is warfare, and that engaging in spiritual conflict is not precisely the same thing as fussing with people about relatively inconsequential things. Remember, according to James 3.18, we are the ones who by serving God and seeking to reach the lost “make peace.” Therefore, understand the difference between conflict arising when you seek to exert your will and some other person exerts his will for dominance. That should not be the case at all. Your will is not all that important, just as my will is not all that important. What is crucial, however, and what the Christian should seek to advance, is God’s will. A godly Christian recognizes this, and realizes that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable.”[1]

This morning, in James 4.1-12, we take note of the contrast James has drawn between genuine and living faith on one hand, and a picture of the selfish strife he explicitly identified in the previous chapter on the other hand. Turn to that passage and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

1      From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

2      Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

3      Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

4      Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

5      Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

6      But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

7      Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

8      Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

9      Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

10     Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

11     Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

12     There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Webster’s original 1828 dictionary refers to strife as an exertion for superiority.[2] How similar our English word is to the Greek word translated strife in James 3.14 and 16, eriqeia, which is “selfish ambition. The word really means the vice of a leader of a party created for his own pride.”[3] Therefore, you see that there is a difference between striving for personal excellence, which is a virtue, and exerting yourself to be in a superior position to another person, which is wrong. Many folks fail in their attempts to maintain that the difference is purely semantic, that is it just word games. The result is that they grow weary of fussing and wrongly conclude that they should not as a result stand for the truth, though the two are not related. The difference between selfish strife and striving for personal excellence is as different as night and day. Why? Because selfish strife, which is a form of worldliness, is sin, that is why.

We see this in three ways in our text for this morning:

First, WE SEE THAT SELFISH STRIFE IS SIN FROM THE WAY SELFISH STRIFE IS CAUSED

Notice, first, the inquiry of James, verse 1: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” Let’s get really basic. When do husbands and wives fight? Do they not fight when there is a clash of lusts? Perhaps you think in terms of finances causing frustration that erupts in an argument, or personal habits that provoke irritation and an outburst, but James places all such provocations under the umbrella of explanation referred to as “lusts that war in your members.” Don’t you guys often argue with your wives as a direct result of your lustful waste of needed money coming into conflict with your gal’s unwillingness to allow God to work through her husband, despite his selfishness and lack of love for his family? How about frustration over messiness or perceived laziness? Does it not boil down to anger because one adult does not do what the other adults demands? How about when two teen aged boys fight? Is it not often the result of one young man wanting some kind of gratification at another’s expense? One boy wanting to show how tough he is by pounding on another, frequently in front of some kind of audience? The boy who is being picked on is either overwhelmed by a torrent of fear and is ignorant of how to deal with a bully, or because of his pride he is unwilling to bring forth a soft answer to turn away the wrath of the thuggish guy for fear friends will think he is a coward. No matter how you slice it, no matter what personal examples I might imagine to set before you, it is still essentially the same. Only by pride cometh contention.[4] And pride is one form of lust . . . the perverse desire fulfilled in an unholy way.

Notice, next, the inquisition of James, in verse 4.2a: “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have.” An inquisition is when you are not asking whether or not someone has done wrong . . . you are telling them that they have done wrong. James is at the inquisition stage of his message now. He is in accusation mode. Those Christians who used to be in the church he pastored are now charged with lust, they are guilty of killing and jealousy even if only imagined in their hearts and minds, and they are charged with fighting and warring.[5] No longer in peaceful and serene Jerusalem under the teaching and guidance of the apostles before the great persecution of Acts chapter 8, these people are now in the real world. They are now out where Christian living is hard and gritty, and personal sacrifices of a different kind are now necessary for the advancement of the cause of Christ. Used to be, they were very short of food. Now, they find themselves dealing with other kinds of pressures than hunger alone, other kinds of appetites. They are stressed and scared and frustrated, and they have forfeited control of themselves to other passions than hunger.

Third, notice the insistence of James, verses 4.2-3:

2      Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

3      Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Oh, these Christian folks have a serious problem. There are some things they just do not seem to have that they would like to have. They need grace. They need perspective. They need wisdom. They need lots of things that only God provides. James lets them know that they do not have what they desperately need because they have not asked. Instead of asking for the necessities of life from the gracious hand of God, they have been grasping for what they want like little so often kids will do. Sorry, but no one gets anything from God by grabbing. Amen? And when they would infrequently ask, they were asking for the wrong things and for the wrong reasons. Do you know Christians involved in that sort of stuff right now? I do. It seems there are always Christians who are not content to live for God while asking of God, and are impatient to let God give them the rewards of Christian service. They go to grabbing. It never works. Of course, there are some Christians who are very spiritual. They very piously pray that God will make them rich so they can bless everyone. My friends, selfish strife is caused by not trusting God’s ability or motives to provide you with what you need. Whether you want your way in the argument with your mate or you want everything to always go rosy at work, not trusting God is sin. As well, trying to take things out of God’s hands is also a sin.

ANOTHER WAY WE SEE THAT SELFISH STRIFE IS SIN IS IN THE WAY THAT SELFISH STRIFE IS CORRECTED

James provides three ingredients for correcting selfish strife:

First, there must be a recognition of God’s principle, verse 4: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Do you see that James is calling selfishness by its right name? He is reducing selfishness to its root problem. It is at its root idolatry. It is the worship of someone other than God, which is precisely what the world does. Idolatry is really spiritual adultery, is it not? Therefore, how in the world can you or I be selfish, and strive with others because of that selfishness, and at the same time be God’s friend? Does God the Father strive? Does the Lord Jesus Christ strive? Does the Holy Spirit strive, with striving in this context referring to fussing and arguing? Consider several things. Does God strive, when Second Timothy 2.24 reads, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient”? Matthew 12.19 explains our Lord’s refusal to fuss with Pharisees as the fulfillment of Isaiah 42.2, “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.” In Genesis 6.3, we read “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” though I suggest that this refers to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and not being argumentative. God’s pronouncement is that if you are friendly with the world, by doing what the world does and wanting your own way all the time, you are become the enemy of God. After all, if you do get your way God does not get His way. How can that be right, unless you consider yourself to be a god in your own right? Folks, we must decide whose side we are on. Amen? You are either on your own side or you are on God’s side. Your selfish side and God’s side are not on the same side of the fence. This is a principle that we must recognize.

Second, selfish strife is corrected when there is a response to God’s provision, verses 4.5-6a:

5      Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

6      But he giveth more grace.

What is God’s provision? It is a twofold provision: God, first of all, has provided us with His Word. And His Word is not vain. It is the infallible and inerrant Word of God, which, if responded to properly, will cure the selfish strife problem in a man’s life by convincing him that God’s way is best. Secondly, He has provided His Spirit. Folks, the Holy Spirit is rightly jealous of any man’s divided loyalties. He is opposed to anyone sitting on the throne of his life but Christ, and He will give more grace to deal with the problem of selfish strife . . . if you respond to Him and His Word. Whatever grace for living you need, whatever enablement from God you have to have, is available. According to First Corinthians 1.4-9, God’s grace is always available, has always been available, and will always be available, because God is faithful. Your obligation as a repentant believer in Jesus Christ? Prayerfully make use of the means of grace at hand. Read your Bible. Meditate on scripture. Fellowship with godly believers. Sit under the preaching of God’s Word. Pray without ceasing.

Third, selfish strife is corrected when the child of God remembers God’s promise, verse 4.6b: “Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” This is a twofold promise which indicates that the proud have a very serious problem. Why is their problem serious? Because God promises to resist the proud. This Greek word translated “resist,” antitassomai, is a military term that refers to range against someone in battle.[6] Do you really want God to oppose your attitudes and actions? That is precisely what He will do to you when you are stubborn and proud. However, He also promises to give grace to the humble. Forget the worldly admonition to bolster your ego and self-esteem. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up. Psalm 10.17 encourages the humble when it reads, “LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”

When God’s children take these three steps outlined by James, of recognizing God’s principle, of responding to God’s provision, and by remembering God’s promise, selfishness and the strife that accompanies it will be taken care of by the grace of God. First, remember the principle. You cannot do things the world’s way and be on God’s side. You cannot have it all. Choices have to be made. Choose you this day. Second, respond to the provision. Follow the direction of scripture and the Holy Spirit, Who will never lead anyone in a way that is contrary to scripture. Finally, remember God’s promise. Come humbly before Him and He will give you grace to live for Him, to love Him and His children, and to effectively serve and glorify Him.

THE FINAL WAY IN WHICH WE SEE THAT SELFISH STRIFE IS SIN IS IN THE WAY THE SELFISH ARE PROMISED COMFORT

Notice how James relates this thing called comfort:

In verse 7, comfort is related to authority: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” These are not two separate commands. They are really two sides of the same coin. Submit to God and you will be resisting the devil (and he will concentrate his efforts on those who do not resist him). However, if you will not submit to God, you are giving in to the devil. Of course, the world would convince you to be proud and self-reliant. The world would say, “God can’t tell you what to do!” “You have a right to live your life your own way, make your own decisions, and angrily contend with anyone who gets in your way.” However, God’s Word reveals that there is security in submission to God. God’s Word also reveals that there is serenity in submission to God.

In verses 8 and 9, comfort is related to separation unto God and separation from sin and sinful influences:

8      Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

9      Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

Verse 8 reminds us that we must separate ourselves unto God. Folks, separation that is not unto God is nothing more than barren legalism, which is an orientation toward rules and provides no satisfaction for the mind, heart, or soul. Christians who try to play it both ways, who think they can be spiritual while at the same time being proud and trying to be friendly with the world have dirty hands, defiled hearts, and are the same double minded type of people mentioned back in James 1.8, unstable in all their ways. Verse 9 stresses separation from sin. Christians are directed to be afflicted, to mourn, and to weep over our sins. We are discouraged from laughing the laughter of the silly, the foolish, the drunken, and the partygoers. Repent of your sins and seek to make restitution for the harm to the cause of Christ and in the lives of others you have caused. If you have been wrong in this thing called selfishness and strife, you should be sorry. You should be mourning instead of laughing. This feeling you might wrongly describe as joy should give way to heaviness. After all, as Paul writes in Second Corinthians 7.9-11, godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of. What God identifies as sin, regardless of how much you or I might temporarily enjoy it, should break our hearts with sorrow.

In verse 10, comfort is related to humiliation: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” Folks, this is a well-established principle in scripture, though the unsaved of this world howl in opposition to what God’s Word clearly teaches. Listen as I read these verses:

Proverbs 18.12: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

Philippians 2.1-5:  1      If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

2      Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

3      Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

4      Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

5      Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.

First Peter 5.5b-7:  5. . . Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

6      Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

7      Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Finally, in verses 11 and 12, comfort is related to retaliation:

11     Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

12     There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

There is a lot of pride in the hearts of people who seek vengeance for wrongs that have been done to them, or who persistently seek to force their wills on others in order to fulfill their lusts in one way or another. Revenge movies make a lot of money for Hollywood. However, when you or I would get back at anyone who has done us wrong, we are usurping the place of God, Who is the righteous judge, which is a real problem, according to Romans 12.19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” See, these avenues to God’s comfort show, that trusting God is superior to selfish strife, which gives and provides no comfort, but only heartache in the long run. Bow to God’s authority in your life. Separate from sin and to God. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. Forgo retaliation and revenge and let God do what He can do for you and will do better than you.

 __________

A rather long passage for our text. A rather long message. But an eye opener, I trust. From the cause, to the correction, to the comfort related to selfish strife, we see a radical difference in what is normally done by even some Christians we know and what God commands of us.

Been fussing with folks? Lust is at the bottom of it. Been without answers to your prayers? Lust is at the bottom of it. Hard feelings for others? Lust is at the bottom of it. Trying to get even? Lust is at the bottom of it. Correct all of this vain nonsense by recognizing God’s principle that nothing done the world’s way is pleasing to Him, by responding to His provisions of the scriptures and His Spirit, and then, by remembering His promise to help with grace those who will humble themselves before Him. If you will do this, you will be greatly comforted by the God of all comfort, for:

-     There is true comfort in submission to the authority of God,

-     There is true comfort for those who will separate to God and from sin,

-     There is true comfort for those who are humble,

-     There is true comfort to those who seek no retaliation for themselves, but who leave all vengeance, whether by word or deed, to God.

Does this hit you where you live? Then do something about it. Go to whoever you need to go to, submit to the authority of God . . . whatever you need to do or need to decide to do to obey God by complying with this portion of His Word.



[1] James 3.17

[2] Noah Webster’s First Edition Of An American Dictionary Of The English Language, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, republished 1967).

[3] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 735.

[4] Proverbs 13.10

[5] 1 John 3.15; Proverbs 6.34

[6] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol VI, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1933), page 52.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org