The Battles Without - The War Within

James 4:1-3

We’ve never been very far away from war.  There always seems to be at least one going on somewhere in the world, and several others just waiting to flare up.  And it’s not just the wars that are being fought with guns and missiles, those wars take on many forms:

Wars between nations – the casualties are flag draped coffins.

Wars between individuals – you’ve had a conflict this week with someone who said something or did something and you have said or did something in return.  The casualties are damaged and broken relationships.

The war within – you probably have one going on right now.  The results are inner turmoil and sleepless nights and the casualty is often a broken relationship with God.

James 4:1 - “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”

I especially like how The Message paraphrases this verse:  Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from?  Do you think they just happen?  Think again.  They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.

Remember when you were a kid and got into a fight with your brother or sister and your mom would break it up and ask, “Who started it?”  And you’d both point at each other and say, “He did!”  And usually, you were both right, and you’d work backwards – “He punched me, she pinched me, well he took my toy, she called me a name, he stuck his tongue out at me, she… he… she… he…”

Aren’t you glad now that we’re adults, we don’t get into fights anymore?  “He said what?... I’m not going to stand for this!... She’ll regret messing with me… I’ll have your job… I know how to hurt him…”  So much for grown up.

James nails the heart of our problem in that word “desires.”  This isn’t the normal Greek word for “desires” that describes ambition and wishes, and occasionally those sinful desires.  That’s a word that can go either way – it’s those drives within us that motivate us – either for good or evil. 

That’s not the word James uses here.  This is a word you’ll recognize because we brought it into the English language – “hedone” – hedonism – the all out pursuit of pleasure.

·         In the NT it is always used in a way that is contrary to God’s will.  It is selfish and self-centered – it is the source of pride and lust and materialism.  When hedonism takes over in your life your concern is your way, your rights, your pleasure, your happiness – and anybody who stands in your way becomes your enemy.

·         And so we find ourselves crosswise with our husband or wife, our children, our co-workers, our friends – and we think, “What’s their problem?  I’m OK, they’re the ones who need to fix their problem.”

And the most tragic thing of all – James says “among you.”  He’s talking to Christians.  This is taking place in the church.  They’re fighting and quarreling and waging war in the church.  Somebody doesn’t get their way, somebody gets offended and lines are drawn and lives are destroyed and the work of God is dealt a lethal blow. 

Didn’t I tell you last week, that we were looking at the seeds of this back in ch. 3 – it is that wisdom that is earthly, fleshly and devilish that is at work, not the wisdom of God.

Listen to the process that is at work in vs. 2 - “You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.” 

And sometimes, the process is bloodless, but deadly nevertheless.  I have met the casualties of church fights from long ago.  People who are walking wounded.  People who were stabbed in the back, or just people who just weren’t quick enough on the draw. 

And the victims of these kinds of fights rarely recover – their fight drove them from the church and poisoned their relationship with God.  And in a way, it was more deadly than if they had been physically killed, because the consequences are eternal.

Let’s finish vs. 2 – “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”

This is ultimately a faith problem.  We use every other means to get what we want except to ask God.  We are victims of Matt. 6:25 – Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life – what you’re going to eat, drink, wear “because God knows what your needs are and will provide for those needs.” 

But we’re thinking, “No, I’m the only one that’s looking out for me.  I’ve got to make more, rise higher, get ahead, and I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

But somebody objects, “I did ask God, and he never gave me what I asked for.”  James replies in vs. 3, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (note – that’s the same word, “hedone” back in vs. 1).

Here’s where James gets tough on us – you have to ask yourself the hard question – “Why do I want what I’m asking for?” 

There’s an even harder question we need to ask – am I willing to let God say “no” to my request?  Sometimes the only answer we want to hear from God is “yes.”  And when we don’t get the answer we want, we justify our sinful actions by saying, “God just doesn’t care.”  The truth is, God cares deeply, and there are times that the most loving answer he can give is “no.” 

Do you filter every request to God through Jesus’ own statement in the garden, “Not my will but thy will be done”?  Are you willing to let God be God?  Will you trust him to give you what you need, and do what is best for you?  Are you willing to “seek his kingdom and his righteousness and let him take care of all those other things as well”?

James says it is greed and selfishness and sinful desires that drive us to take matters into our own hands.  Look again in vs. 1 – the battles you fight with others on the outside have their roots in the war that is being fought inside you.  It is a war being fought between God and Satan for the control of your will. 

You’re not a victim or casualty – you are an active combatant – you choose which side you fight on.  You decide which desire drives your life – You can let hedonism drive your life – and continue to try to fill the emptiness with things and pleasure and power.  Or you can echo David who wrote in Ps. 40:8 “I desire to do your will, O God.” 

The biggest problem we have is recognizing the war that’s going on inside of us.  We don’t see that we’re consumed with materialism by constantly buying more and more things, because the world tells us buying things is good.  And we don’t see that those conflicts with others around us are because we’re selfish and prideful – we think it’s because others have a problem. 

Let’s take a couple of minutes and ask, “How do I get a handle on this war inside and start fighting on God’s side?”  We go back to basics:

1)      Denial – The Christian life begins with a death – Rom. 6:3-4 “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  We bury the old man that was ruled by the self-serving desires of hedonism – but Satan keeps trying to breathe life back into him and he keeps trying to claw his way back to the surface – and every day we need to throw a couple more shovelfuls of dirt on him.  Every morning we wake up and recommit ourself to Paul’s words in Gal. 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

2)      Contentment – We live every day in a world that tells us we cannot possibly be content with what we have – that in order to be happy we have to have newer, bigger, faster, better – and we believe them.  Recognize the lie – you don’t need more in order to be happy – you choose to be content with what you have – Paul wrote – Phil. 4:11-13  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” 

3)      Generosity – Not just with our money, though one antidote to greed is to loosen our grip on what we have.  Are you giving the Lord from the firstfruits of your income?  If you aren’t giving generously to the Lord, then it’s a red flag that money has a higher priority in your life than it should. 

But we also need to develop a generosity of spirit with others.  When we deal with others, whether it is family or co-workers or strangers, we need to be generous with mercy and forgiveness and compassion and a servant heart.  You don’t need to win every argument, you don’t need to be first in every race, you don’t need to get your way every time.  Paul said, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have the same attitude as Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:4-5)

You can’t change others, you can only change yourself .  The people you are in conflict with may be the source of the problem, but remember, they are fighting that same war within themselves. So, in Romans 12:18, Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal, but the means by which we arrive at that goal.”  (MLK, Jr.)  Are you tired of feeling like you’re always fighting battles, with others around you, but most of all that one within you?  To arrive at peace you have to choose the path of peace.

Make it your choice to be selfless and content and generous, and God will have won a major victory in your life.