These brethren had not sown in peace. They had not made peace. They were at war with each other. It's ugly when Christians war against each other. No one wins and the name of the Lord loses. What caused a war among brethren? How can two people, created in the image of the same God, saved by the same blood of a Jesus, and filled with the same Holy Spirit, be at war? Aren't all believers yielded to a common God with a common set of values? Of course, that's the case but none of us are perfect in that yielding or submission to God. We exist in this sinful flesh, for now.
Note: It's important to note that James isn't dealing with who is right and who is wrong. He's saying we are all flawed. We all have the capability and maybe even inclination to cause war.
James isn't just speaking about a couple individuals in that time where we can disregard this as if it doesn't apply. No, James is concerned about the selfish spirit that brings the brethren to war against each other. That selfish spirit can rise up in any of us, at any time. The nature of man hasn't changed in all the years from when James wrote this till now.
James isn't the only one to deal with this. Paul ran into this same thing. The Corinthian's were competing with each other and suing each other. The Galatian were biting and devouring each other.
While all brethren have in common the same creator, same savior and same Holy Spirit, we all also have a common sin nature. James asked the question, where do these wars come from? He answers by saying, they come from your desires for pleasure. There's a battle that rages within every Christian. The old man, the sinful nature wages war against this change the Lord desires to bring about. When we received our salvation, we were given a new heart and new desires. The old man and new creature are at war.
James calls this sinful nature 'your desire for pleasure'. This is a lust for stuff that makes us happy. The word translated to lust in verse 2 is Hadona. You can hear the word hedonistic in it. The hedonist is one that lives their life for the sole purpose of self pleasure. This is a self centered, "I don't care who I hurt as long as I get what I want" approach to life. It's the high life; power, money, sex, drugs and rock and roll. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
James goes so far as to say these brethren who are self centered and seeking their own pleasure are driven to murder and covetousness and still they can't satisfy that hedonistic lust. This accusation of murder is not that they were killing each other but that they had murderous intentions in their heart. Jesus said in Matthew 5 that whoever is angry with his brother without just cause is guilty of murder. The intent of their heart is murderous. The brethren had a heart problem. They were being driven by their lust and desires.
This is quite a picture of this church isn't it? We envision them all warring among themselves because somebody had something the others didn't. People were lusting after their own selfish desires. They were full of pride, back biting and judging others. They were coveting what others had. James said they didn't have because you do not ask. I wonder what those people thought when James said that. Because the self centered is going to think, "Mmmm, I can ask God for anything and he'll give it to me? What a sweet deal, I'm going to give that a try." While the humble, seeking God, is going to ask Him for things consistent with God's will for their life. God grant me patience, opportunity to speak your name, give me wisdom, and provide for my needs. Fill me with truth.
Why do you suppose they didn't ask? Would the motives of these brethren be revealed if they asked God for what they were pursuing? You get the feeling they weren't praying for the peace that was sown in righteousness. They were chasing the desires of a sinful heart. It's hard to go before God and plead your case for something to simply feed the hedonist in you. "Oh God, I need to win the lottery. And not the little one, I need the big one; 50 million or more will be fine. I have stuff I need to get. If there is anything left, I want to try to help some people in need. Don't forget God, I'll give a tithe if you give the full 50 million. That would be a ridiculous sounding prayer because the motive of greed and covetousness is revealed. Yet, I'm guessing we've all found ourselves looking to God to take care of us in some similar way.
For those that did ask God, James said, you ask but you don't receive because you're asking for the wrong reason. The heart was wrong in the one asking. Is it possible that they asked God for stuff to please the flesh? Haven't we done the same? Did they ask for good things, but not for God's glory? Maybe so they would get the credit or pat on the back?
Our prayers before God are to seek His will. We don't take a shopping list to God and try to talk him into giving us our way. Prayer isn't talking a reluctant God out of the good stuff. It's coming into agreement with him; not Him moving to us, but us moving to Him. Our prayers must be kept focused and analyzed to keep pride and selfishness from leaking in. Prayer isn't about changing God to conform to our desires, it's submission of a servant before their Lord; it's trust and obedience in all circumstances; it's about the change in us to be transformed into the image of Christ. Then, in time, our desires begin to look like His desires. We begin to reflect the God we serve because we've spent time in His presence. And we begin to experience the peace that has been sown in righteousness.
This is Old Testament language. Those that chased after other gods or the world were considered adulterers. You especially see this when you read through the prophets. Read one example, Jeremiah 8:6.....
6 The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: "Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. 7 And I said, after she had done all these things, 'Return to Me.' But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. 9 So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. 10 And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense," says the Lord.
When God's people chase after some idol or some false God the Lord called them an adulteress nation and an adulteress people. They were unfaithful when God had been so good to them. He had delivered them, redeemed them and bought them out of slavery. They thanked Him by committing spiritual adultery.
James viewed all this covetousness that was causing all this fighting among the brethren as adultery. The people of the church had become friends with the world. James is very clear, if we love the world, we hate God. This 'enmity' is a deep-seated ill will toward our creator.
We should all take a careful look at these things. It is so easy for any of us to become a friend of the world. When we do that, we become enemies with God. This is a phrase you don't want associated with your name. Yet, all we have to do is take our eyes off Christ and we are there. It's a natural progression and it comes so natural to us to seek that which pleases us. It's bred into us and the stuff we desire is all around us. The world is constantly calling out to us to conform to that system. You deserve the finest, the best, the most expensive; you've earned soft and squishy life; others should work for you. The world says, go after the money and power and fame no matter the cost. You deserve to be happy. And it goes on and on. Yet, to be friends with the world is to be an enemy of God.
The quotation isn't a verse found in scripture. This may be James paraphrasing a scripture passage. The message is clear though. There are two schools of thought:
- The Holy Spirit is in us; that Holy Spirit yearns in us to be loyal to God. The Holy Spirit calls us to friendship with God not the world. When we get pulled into that friendship with world, the spirit yearns jealously.
- The 'spirit' in us is this spirit of lusts that yearns constantly in us, moving us and driving us to pursue the things of the flesh. The 'jealous' yearning is a negative thought leading this being the likely meaning.
Because we constantly and maybe even consistently mess up, we can all be so glad that grace never runs out. As there is a spirit in us that drives and yearns constantly with envy and covetousness, there is another Spirit that offers us grace.
Pride is what leads us to covetousness. Pride says, give me what I believe I deserve. In this case James said the covetousness leads to spiritual adultery and murder of the heart. These are saints warring because they are pursuing selfish desires. The fruit of unrighteousness is sown in war by those who war against each other. They were covetous and hateful to each other. They were slow to listen and quick to speak. In their pride they had established their own laws and set themselves up to be judge and jury. They were judging others by laws they had not applied to themselves or lived up to.
They were judging for the sole purpose of putting down a brother to build themselves up. James calls these people brethren but he's clear they aren't acting like God's people. And if you see all this at some point you have to ask question, "Were they really brethren?" Remember, James said, I can see your faith by your works.
There is pride in all of us. We shouldn't think we are beyond or above this or in some way we outgrew it. We are all subject to falling prey to it and we have to guard against it.
James wants us to make sure we know that God resists the proud. We can't be pride filled and be friends with God. What kind of life will we have if God resists us? When God resists us, we are brought low and forced to examine ourselves. If we humble ourselves before God, He gives His grace to us. Grace is receiving what you don't deserve. It's a gift that can't be bought with all the money in the world. God gives grace to the humble that are thankful for what they have; that find contentment in the life God has given us. That's a fruit of righteousness sown in peace.
James has stated the problem, warring; then the cause, which is pride; now he brings the conclusion.
Here's the remedy to those who were bought into worldly wisdom; who were quick to speak and slow to listen; to those who were covetousness and who committed murder of the heart and spiritual adultery. James said, submit yourself. This was a military word that meant to get in line, form up under your commander, find your place. To submit to Jesus Christ is to assume the role of a servant of Jesus Christ under His headship of the church. Find your place. This is a voluntarily giving in, cooperating, assuming your role and responsibility of carrying the burden outlined for you. It's an attitude change; moving from pride to humility; moving from God's resistance to God's grace.
Present yourself: "Lord Jesus, here I am reporting for duty. What is it you have for me Lord?" And then do it with all you have because you are doing it for the Lord.
The first step is to submit, to submit to God you have to turn away from the World. Then, the next two things go together; resist the devil and come near God. This seems like it would be evident, yet, here it is. You turn toward God with a new attitude. Resist the devil's efforts to war against that new attitude and then come near to God. Run to Jesus.
It is time to quit trying to dance around in the gray zone. You can't' serve the Lord with one foot in the world and one in heaven. You can't say you're a Christian out of one side of your mouth and speak like the devil out of the other. You can't war against your brothers and claim to be living a life driven by the God of peace. Commit yourself to the kingdom of God.
Then, as you come near to God, you will feel the conviction of sin. You begin to recognize the filth we've been immersed in. This is how I picture this (it's the view of a former Illinois hog farmer). As unbelievers in the world we were like pigs in the pigsty. We wallered (yes, wallered) in the mud and filth and thought we loved it. We had no shame; we had no idea how much filth we were wallering in. We didn't know we were dirty. We thought we were just happy like pigs in the mud. Then the Lord saved us, cleaned us up and gave a new heart and new eyes to see. Suddenly we see the pigsty and filth from a different viewpoint. As citizens of heaven we stand in the world and its filth. Like a clean pig in a pigsty we try to make our way through this world without getting any on us. At the same time, there's a part us that wants to flop down in the middle of it and roll around.
James said submit, flee the devil and run to Jesus. Then, as we stand before God we want to be cleaned up. James said, be cleansed and be purified before the Lord. This is done by submitting our selves to the work of the Holy Spirit who will do the work of cleaning us up before the Lord. When we set our self apart from the world and stand before God we will mourn and weep over our sin. The sin we once laughed about and found joy in, will now bring us to tears. The mud we once wallered in makes us appreciate the scrubbing we've experienced.
These brothers and sisters in Christ were speaking evil of each other and James is saying it has to stop. You can't stand before God and say the things you are saying. They are inappropriate and unholy. There is no benefit in them. That kind of talk is part of the pig sty we are no longer citizens of. When we speak evil of our brothers and sisters, we've set our self up as the law. This is like saying, I don't trust the law or the judge to take care of this person so I'm going to do it myself. It happens quickly, usually when we are angry. Our pride rises to the surface and we pronounce judgment on a brother or sister. And the war is on.
James said, there is one Lawgiver. He is able to save and to destroy. You have the ability to do neither. That makes Him the righteous judge and you and I just plain wrong.
These brethren thought they chose their life; controlled their life. Their world was a very self-centered world. They weren't submitting to God saying, where will you send me today Lord. How can I serve you tomorrow? They were making their own plans. Our plans become pretty meaningless when we are submitted to God. God has a better way and a far different plan. Not an easy plan. It's one of service. Yet, it's a life of grace and contentment.
We plan our lives from our thoughts and desires; we carry on business and make money. We seek our goals and rarely look to God and ask what his will is. When our goals are in trouble that's we then look to God and ask, "Why?" This is like lying in the mud, looking up and asking God what went wrong. The answer is, your playing by the rules of the world.
The best place to be is where God wants us, regardless of the circumstances. The best place in life is humbled before the Lord, regardless of the physical circumstances. Should we not humble ourselves where we stand? Right here? Right now? Are we waiting for a better time; a better season in life? Do we think we are too young to humble ourselves to God? Do we think we are too busy; no time to devote to God? Do we think we'll get better at our relationship with the Lord when fix something in our life? When we get rid of that addiction? When we get rid of that secret sin? Maybe its just your sinful nature wanting play in the pig sty a little longer?
James said we are a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes. We should always seek God's will for our life. There is a sense of urgency, like time is running out. If we don't do the good, we know we ought to be doing, we are sinning.
As Christians make their way through this world, we should look like we are making our way through the pig sty trying desperately not to get any on us. When we submit and flee from the devil, run to Jesus, be cleansed, mourn over our sin and humble our self before our creator, we will find we are becoming closer to a single-mindedness with Christ. When all the brethren do that, the commonality of the same creator, the same savior and the presence of the Holy Spirit overwhelms the sinful nature present in our flesh. And the wars among brethren cease. The backbiting stops. We become quick to listen and slow to speak. Instead of the fruit of unrighteousness that is sown in war by those who make war. We'll be operating with the fruit of righteousness that is sown in peace by those who make peace.
©2012 Doug Ford
©2019 Revised & updated