The war within
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3 NLT
James, from the text, begins by asking two rhetorical questions: “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” The second question supplies the answer for the first question. James is saying that Christians are struggling to live their lives as followers of Christ because their desire to please God is at war with the desire for worldly pleasures. If we continue to entertain our insatiable desire for worldly pleasures, we will lose the battle. From the previous chapter, James reminded the believers to be driven by godly wisdom so they will not easily give in to the desires of the flesh. This internal battle can spill over to our relationships with others. The persistent preoccupation with worldly pleasures will affect how we treat others. When we become frustrated because we are not getting what we want, we start to lash out to others. Because of our selfish greed, we use words that cut through the heart that causes pain and hurt. We use words such as cursing, ridicule, or insults. Also, we use words that occur behind the lines, like gossip, or slander. All these behaviors can actually lead to death. James alluded to this when he said, “But no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). In the Old Testament, this terrible image of the misuse of the tongue was described: “For their tongues shoot lies like poisoned arrows. They speak friendly words to their neighbors while scheming in their heart to kill them” (Jeremiah 9:8). “The words of the wicked conceal violent intentions” (Proverbs 10:6). “The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly save lives” (Proverbs 12:6). When there is conflict within because of our warring desires, it affects our growth in our total spiritual dependence on God. We tend to forget God because we are so much preoccupied with selfish desires. If we are not going to have victory over this quarrel within, it will lead to asking God in prayer with wrong motives. This can drive us away from God and will create havoc in our relationship with others. We must choose the one who truly loves us for who we are.