Fights and Quarrels: Part I
Origin and Solutions: James 4:1-3
Introduction: This four-part series: Fights and Quarrels, Origin and Solutions unpacks God’s answers for God-honoring relationships. Post-fall, man remains a relational being but a self-pleasing one. Thus, fights and quarrels result. They are givens in God’s world even for believers. James gives God’s answer for “broke” relationship. Actually, the problem is not the relationship but the people! God has answers.
In James 4:1-3, James spoke to Christians specifically about the reality of fights and quarrels among them.
v.1: What causes fights and quarrels long you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
v.2: You want something but you do not 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.
v.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 one of the Lord’s brother, a pillar of the Church (Galatians 2:9), wrote the book that carries his name. He was the leader of the Jerusalem council (see Acts 15) and he was martyred in the early 60’s A.D. His letter is direct as he continually exhorts. Of the 108 or so verses, about 50% are directives or imperatives. James’ words show a close association and familiarity with Christ’s teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. As did Jesus, James took care of his flock by addressing the issue of relationships and the accompanying fights and quarrels: origin and solutions.
He wrote as a Jew to the scattered twelve tribes of Israel (1:1). The letter is a piece of wisdom literature focusing on the application of biblical principles for any situation. James emphasized faith that was informed, intelligent, and active. He considered saving faith to be a working faith involving thoughts and desires that resulted in God-pleasing actions. His focus was on faithfulness, the outworking of saving faith. James goes behind the visible works and actions of a person and moves to thoughts and desires of the inner man. James knew that saving and non-saving faith motivated a believer’s thoughts, desires, and actions. James was interested in bringing the believer’s inner- and outer-man activity in sync with each other and biblical truth.
In James 4:1-3, James speaks to his congregation of the reality of fights and quarrels: origin and solutions that were in evidence among them. These were God’s people! It should not be this way. This fact sullied the Person and work of the Triune God. Apparently the congregation was handling problems in the same manner as the culture was doing – sinfully thereby dishonoring God. God’s people were engaged in fights and quarrels without knowledge of their origin and solutions. . They were not loving one another as they had been loved by God (John 13:34-35; Romans 5:6-10).
In verse 1, James wrote from the reality of sinners living sinfully: they are fights and quarrels among you. He asked for the origin and source of fights and quarrels. He wanted to point God’s solutions. James had each member of the congregation look within. Each one was to do a spiritual inventory beginning with self. James made it clear that fights and quarrels were fruit of an a heart issue. Conflict as manifested by words, facial expressions, and even fists were fruit. Fruit gets everyone’s attention but they are expressions of the person’s heart. The inner-man activity of each person’s heart expresses itself. James summarized this inner-man activity of fights and quarrels and its many expressions at it core: it is self- grasping and self-exaltation spurred by I want and I deserve (see James 3:14, 16).
James clarified his diagnosis in James 4:1. Conflict is one of choice that initially occurs in the person’s heart. The choice is between pleasing-God and pleasing-self. At its core, James 4:1-3 pinpoints fights and quarrels as an attack on God as well as the other person. Post-fall, every person is bathed in feeling-orientation, experience, and or reasoning divorced from God’s word that leads to a me-first approach to and in relationships. The person is for me, by me, to me. Conflict is the result. Fights and quarrels: origin and solutions are a reality in God’s church. Yes they are bro=ken relationships but God has answers!
For the believer, he has been changed. His heart is bathed in the word of God via the indwelling Holy Spirit. He has a relationship with Christ. He has a new motive for life: pleasing God because He deserves it. The believer is to grow, and will, in the area of putting off self-pleasing by putting on pleasing God. Harmony and graciousness are the result.
James goes on to say that one of the consequences of this root-fruit activity is impotent prayer and continued strife. (v.3). God hears and answers all prayers. Prayers of those who are unreconciled to God and others grieve God and the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:31-32). Praying rather than being actively engaged in humbling oneself is a stench in the nostrils of God. The prayers are selfish and lead to and may be a reflection of friendship with the world (v.4). James terms this adultery. James does not want his people to waste prayer or to grieve the Holy Spirit. Rather he wanted his congregation to please God and enjoy its fruits.
1. How would you summarize James’ message in verse 1?
2. List unreconciled relationships in order of priority. Read Philippians 2:3-5 and write how it fits with James’ teaching? How will you begin to put others first?
3. Have you wasted prayer? If so how can you recapture God’s goal for prayer?
4. Read James 4:4-10 for God’s solution.
Fights and Quarrels: Part II
The Heart as the Source: James 4:1-3
Fights and quarrels are in the headlines of various tabloids in some form. James 4 highlights the fact that Christians too often follow the world’s ways. We may not hear about them in government-controlled countries but even then hostility and strife abound. A common refrain is something like: too many, so often, so useless, and so selfish. Yet, they continue. What is a person to do? That question is thought-provoking and not a helpless cry if one is willing to look at Scripture. James addresses the issue from two sides: Fights and quarrels: origin and solutions..
Prior to chapter 4, James had discussed wisdom in light of interpersonal relationships that were or had turned sour, or better sinful. Throughout ages, people including Christians in homes and in churches don’t get along. Among sinners, even saved ones, fights and quarrels are a reality – too many and too often. Practically, it is obvious that fights and quarrels are a reality. That is what sinners do. So, what is a person to do? James addressed God’s answer in James 3:13-4:3 as to the cause and the solution.
One person may thrive on strife. He seems to appreciate chaos and confusion (Proverbs 6:14, 16-19; 10:12; 12:20; 17:9). That person takes no time to do a self-generated spiritual inventory even if he is a believer (Matthew 7:1-6; Hebrews 4:12). As a result, he fosters more turmoil and never faces his role in producing the unrest and attacking God and His people, his own brothers and sisters. He is too busy fighting – defending himself and retaliating. His goal is fighting and quarreling rather than changing and honoring God. For whatever reason, self has taken center stage but so often that fact is denied (James 3:13-17). James calls him a trouble-maker but the person often denies that fact to himself, to others, and more so to God.
Another person attempts to avoid conflict at all cost. He is a peace-over and not a peace-maker. He, too, is a troublemaker. He must have peace as he defines it for any number of reasons and at all costs. Again self takes center stage. Peace defined his way becomes a way of life in which he defends and seemingly protects himself. However, in both scenarios problems are not resolved. So often, differences of opinions lead to disagreements, and disagreements to conflict and then to fights and quarrels or a mixture. God is not honored in the home and or in the Church.
In the two instances cited above, the problem is not communication. The people are the problem. They are communicating – sinfully. The problem is people and their relationships with God and with each other. Problems with people are problems with God who placed the people in their lives. Fights and quarrels: origin and solutions are theological issues with biblically-derived answers.
James captured the heart of the dynamic of conflict (fights and quarrels) in James 4:1: What causes fights and quarrels long you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? James is speaking to believers. The heat of the conflict is to be found in the hearts of the combatants! The heart of the matter is the heart of each person.
The terms James used in James 4 for fights and quarrels covered the whole spectrum of personal relationships that are not God-honoring. His congregation was handling problems and developing solutions in the same manner as was the culture – sinfully – thus dishonoring God and the harming the congregation. The terms used in verse 1 speak of large conflicts such as world wars and small ones such as hand-to hand combat and guerilla warfare. Essentially, James began with the facts: “you are fighting and quarreling.” He went to their source. “What is their source?” He put the congregation on notice. The two words that James uses for conflict powerfully express “small ones” (hand to hand machete-type scuffles) and large ones, on the scale of world wars.
James invites, even commands, each member of the congregation to look within (James 4:1). What is the on-going activity? James clarifies fruit and root. Conflict is the fruit of a heart – inner- man problem. James is teaching a basic but profound biblical truth: the heart is the heart of the problem for every person (Proverbs 4:23). Conflict, strife, and hostility may get everyone’s attention but James emphasized that these are only expressions of the person’s heart. There is moral activity within each person’s heart – the proverbial war within (Galatians 5:16-18). Each person vies for his place in the sun as captain of his fortunes and master of the time. He is a proud person competing with God. The root of fights and quarrels: origin and solutions must begin inwardly but it can not end there.
1. According to James what are the facts regarding fights and quarrels?
2. According to Janes 4:1 where is James moving his people?
3. What will James have the congregation do once there?
4. How does James expect James 1:2-4, 5-8; 2:14-26; and 3:13-18 to fit 4:1-4?
Fights and Quarrels: Part III
Consequences and God’s Solution: James 4:1-3
James answered a fundamental question: what is this inner-man activity that gives rise to turmoil and chaos? What is the source of fights and quarrels (James 4:1-3)? Being a Jew James knew chaos. James may have considered the creation account. God called light into darkness as He began to bring the cosmos out of chaos (Genesis 1). It may have reminded him of the signs and wonders – plagues in Egypt when darkness filled the land (Exodus 10:21ff). Egypt had returned to early darkness and the seeming absence of God.
James is speaking of an inner-man activity that he described as self-grasping and self-exaltation spurred by I want and I deserve (James 13:15; 4:2). There had been a return to chaos in his congregation. James 4:1-3 is a testimony the fact of fights and quarrels as an expression of chaos in one’s heart. It is not a pretty picture! James introduced his “diagnosis” by comparing the wise man and the way of wisdom with the fool (James 3:13-18). Conflict, the struggle for self, by self, to self in reference to God and others, is the result of a continued although often times a fluctuating desire to be number one. It always gives rise to fights and quarrels. Believers still have remaining sinfulness and the legacy of their previous habituation of pro-self, anti-god approach to life learned while members in Satan’s kingdom.
Post fall, me took center stage in lieu of God and others. James knew this tendency continued in the believer (John 7:6). His own brothers did not believe apparently including himself did not believe Jesus. James must have aware of the events recorded only in the gospel of Luke (22:23-24). One moment the apostles seemed to be concerned about the identity of the betrayer and the following verse reports that they were more interested in who was number 1. James was aware than even among the apostles self often took center stage.
Feelings, experience, and reasoning all divorced from biblical truth have become the standard for processing and responding to God’s providence (often called life) which includes people and circumstances. In these passages, James emphasized the presence of self-orientation, self-exaltation, and self-grasping. This trio flows from God’s judgment on Adam and the curse passed to Adam’s progeny. As a result man is a sinner and practices sinfulness. Even in the believer who has been removed from Satan’s family and given a new heart, the believer has indwelling, remaining sinfulness and its habitation as a legacy of being in Satan’s kingdom and family. Man, both unbelievers all the time in varying degrees and the believer some of the time, uses others and attempts to use God. As a result, old habits of thinking, wanting, and acting die hard in the believer and never in the unbeliever. As a result, change is hard but not impossible for the believer. In fact, it is a glorious expectation! The indwelling sinfulness and the lingering effects of habituation of me-first influence the believer’s approach to all relationships – to others and to God.
James goes on to say that the consequence of this root-fruit activity is unanswered prayer (4:3) and friendship with the world – James terms this adultery (4:4) James may be referring to sexual sins. But since sexual sins are the epitome of self pleasing, I suspect James was using the terminology to express the depth of man as an idol-maker and idol-worshipper – man himself is the idol – he worships himself through himself and through others. James knows that idolatry had been and continued to in the very fabric of the nation of Israel (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-4).
James when writing to his congregation must have grieved. Yet James meant business because he knew God meant business. God’s reality is two-fold: fights and quarrels: origin and solutions. Did you notice? There is the reality of fights and quarrels AND God’s solution! The cross proved that fact and the Resurrection and Ascension confirmed it. Moreover, throughout the letter James appealed to the indwelling Holy Spirit and His work:
• In 1:2-4, James taught the people to rethink God’s providence in terms various trials because they have at least one purpose: mature faith by developing faithfulness and God-dependency;
• In 1:5-8, James exhorted his people to seek, ask, and get wisdom from God who is the Liberal Giver;
• In 2:14-26, James characterized saving faith as a working faith so that faith without works is dead.
• In 5:19-20, James encouraged and expected his congregation to grow in grace, pray, and to be a soul winner.
James knew that the Church as well as the individual believer was indwelt by the Holy Spirit and was to be God’s dwelling place. Fights and quarrels in God’s holy presence was an abomination. The people made a holy place and holy people (saints are those set aside for Christ) a stench in the nostril of God, an affront to the Holy Spirit, and a burden to the believers. James tells the people to look within, lay down your arms, humble yourself, and to begin to love God and neighbor as problem solvers and not troublemakers. The application of biblical truth could start with one or both parties. But it must begin! The truth of fights and quarrels: origin and solutions should be a blessing to God’s people. He brings together the bad and good news!
1. What was one of James’ main concerns as given in 4:1-3?
2. What contrast did he draw in 3:13-18?
3. What is a wise man?
4. How are wisdom and its lack and fights and quarrels linked?
Fights and Quarrels: Origin and God’s Solution: Part IV
In part, in preparation for his teaching in James 4 regarding fights and quarrels. James began his letter with heavy theology (1:2-4). He told the congregation to think differently about God’s providence (trials). He told them to look beyond or through the situation and the person to God who is in control. They are to consider His good purpose – the maturing of their faith. That is counterintuitive and countercultural. Especially in tough times, people want happiness and not holiness and relief not growing in faithfulness. James follows those three passages with wise counsel: seek wisdom by seeking God (1:5-8). Wisdom and faith are linked. God expects His people to have an active, informed faith as intelligent children of God. God has supplied His people with the Holy Spirit, a church family, and God’s word – the Bible.
James continues his doctrine of two ways in James 3:13-18. He contrasts the man of wisdom and the fool. The fool is for self, by self and to self. His wisdom is earthly and satanic. He is often a peace-lover and a troublemaker. He is self exalting (proud), self-grasping (selfish), and self-worshipper (idolater). In contrast, the wise man has and will receive wisdom from above – it is heavenly, spiritual, and supernatural. The wise man is a peacemaker and God-truster; he has moved from Satan’s kingdom and family. As one saved, he is to move God’s kingdom along by beginning in the body of Christ – fellow Christians (John 13:34-35).
In James 4:1-3 , he asked the genesis of fights and quarrels. They don’t simply happen. They begin in the heart – thoughts and desires. These thoughts and desires, often wants, are present in the heart but demonstrated outwardly. Their expression is an expression of what is dear and important to a person. Fights and quarrels lead to chaos and strife. It is a picture of rebellion and a disdain for God and His grace. We must remember that James was writing to believers.
James had answers for the fighter and the quarreler. They are God’s answers, the only answers that are worthy of the believer’s consideration. James gave God’s solution to the hostile atmosphere and environment in God’s church. James started with the people. They are the problem. In verses 6-10 of chapter 4, James gave God’s solution: grace (v.6), submission (v.7), humble dependence on God (v.8.10), repentance (v.9), and actively loving God and neighbor – their quarrel partner (v.10). What a prescription for his people. How will that look in your life and the life of the Church? Consider these seed thoughts as pump primers as you grow as a wise person.
• First, James tells his people that conflict involves at least two people – you and the other person. If you are not protecting self by attacking or retreating then there is no conflict. So James tells his people to “whoa” themselves.
• Second, they are to remember to begin with God in contrast to self. Conflict is always vertically related – it always involves God because God is Creator, Controller, and Sustainer. In His providence God had placed each person in his situation. James told them to look up but humbly! (Psalm 46:10: be still and know that I am God). Quarrelers attempt to take on God’s job – attacking, defending, protecting, and controlling. Self is their god. Competing with God is a sinful, prideful, rebellious, losing matter (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50).
• Third, each person is to repent both vertically and horizontally. Each person is to be sure he repents of actual sins in terms of the biblical principles violated. But each must repent of the excuses that he uses to justify self specifically in terms of thoughts, desires, and actions.
• Fourth, each person begins to build relationships by giving of himself. The goal is give, not to get. Giving is summarized by love and loving. Love horizontally can be defined as giving to meet a need, no matter the cost, with the right purpose, with the proper motivation, and according to the right standard. God loved the believer when he was unlovely (Romans 5:6-10). His love of the believer blesses, obligates, and privileges him to love others (John 13:34-35; Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 3:1-3; 4:7-12; 5:3-4).
• Fifth, remember that the goal in all interpersonal relationships is pleasing God in and not out of the relationship. The goal is not the absence of differences of opinion. The goal is to use differences of opinion to become more like Christ as a lover of God and others for both parties. When that happens differences of opinion become less of a threat individually and corporately, God is glorified, and the Church grows (Ephesians 4:11-14).
For application, I have spelled specifics for you to follow. The homework requires honesty with yourself and God. Your “quarrel” partner already knows you. James is telling his people and you that it is time to undress yourself before self, God, and the other person. It is time to be what you are in Christ. Self never took center stage in Christ’s life except and only as a God-pleaser. Believers are called to imitate Christ and James has given believers a blueprint to follow!
1. Make a list of your commonly-used offensive and defensive weapons.
2. For every sinful response (the put off), write out God’s put on. Be specific.
a. If you tend to attack replace your desire to control, your thoughts regarding God, self, and the other person, and the actions that follow with something as simple as listening to learn to change.
b. If you tend to defend and hide replace your desire for control, your thoughts regarding God, self, and the other person, and the actions that follow with something as simple as listening to learn to change.
3. At the same time write out an appreciation list of the other person. With a thankful spirit, pray through it daily. Use it when faced with “quarrel time.”
4. Be aware of “quarrel time” – when it is easy to defend or attack or both in whatever form,
5. Remember to recall, recite, and apply such passages as Romans 8;28-29, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Philippians 2:3-5, and James 1:2-4/4:1-3 so that when faced with those occasions described in #4, you will respond as a wise peacemaker.
6. Record the occasion and the results. Repent when needed and Rejoice always.