What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure. - Vs 1-3 (NET)
James ended chapter 3 talking about bearing the fruit of righteousness that is sown in peace by those who make peace. Now he addresses the opposite crowd. Those who sow quarrels and conflict. And what's the source of their quarrels and conflicts? Their own passions or sensual pleasures. The Greek word is hedone and it is where we get our English word hedonist - a lover of pleasure, a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.
These passions or sensual, self-centered desires do battle inside us. Our lives becomes war zones where each these desires for pleasure compete for our attention and demand that we fulfill them. We end up wanting things we don't have. James says you long for it. The word he uses is epithumeo, and it means to lust after, to covet, and is used of those who seek things that are forbidden. And to make things worse, we don't end up getting what we want. Our desire can become so great that we even consider murder to get what we want. Our internal passions cause us to covet. That Greek word is zeloo and it means to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, and anger. We literally burn with desire for that thing. But James says we can't have what we want. So the frustration build. We are denied the very thing we burn after.
Then James makes an interesting statement. He says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God," and "when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (Vs 2). We don't usually take these kinds of desires to God. Maybe it's because we know He will say no. Or maybe because these desires are so fleshly that our heart is twisted to believe that we can somehow get them on our own. We don't even think to ask God for them. But even if we did, He would say no, because He knows that we are asking with wrong motives. He knows that we are only interested in our own pleasures or sensual desires.
And I don't think James is only referring to evil, sexual, perverted desires here. I believe he is referring to anything that is so self-focused, that is only about me and my self-centered pleasure. I want that raise so that I can use the money on me. I want that new toy so that I can feel better about me. I want that bigger home so that others will think more highly of me. I want that new relationship so that she will fulfill me. No, James is talking about all kinds of desires. And not all the things we desire are bad. It is more about our motives. It's a heart issue. We are in love with the world. James makes that clear in the next verse. "You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God" (Vs 4). The world becomes our source for all the things we desire. It is the candy store from which all our favorite delicacies can be found. So we spend all our time with our faces pressed to the window, looking at and longing for what it has to offer. And in doing so, we take our eyes off of the one and only thing that can truly fulfill our desires: God Himself. And we become His enemy.
James' solution? "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (Vs 7). And he goes on. He says we should draw near to God, cleanse our hands, purify our hearts, cry over the wrong things we have done, express sorrow and grief for our love affair with the world, and bow down before the Lord and admit our dependence on Him. The result? He will lift you up and give you honor. This is serious stuff. God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud. So in other words, He withholds His grace from the prideful – those who stubbornly continue their love affair with the world. If grace is God's power to live the life He has called us to live, then we are powerless without it. Humility is the key to regaining it. We must humble ourselves before God and confess our ongoing love affair with the things of this world. We must admit that we are filled with pleasures inside of us that battle for our attention, drawing us away from God. We must recognize that only He can meet our needs and that anything of this world that offers to do so is a lie that will never deliver on its promise.
Father, I confess that I love the world way too much. I love what I think it can deliver. But I have found it to be a lie over and over again. Forgive me for my stubbornness and arrogance that drives me to keep going back to the world in spite of how many times it has disappointed me. I know I should turn to You. You have never failed me. Thank You for Your unfailing love and incredible patience. Amen