”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” ~ James 4:1
Explanation of the Text: The text here begins with two questions, which are meant to convict the readers of what James is saying. This is more poignant displayed when we recognize that James didn’t write his two questions as one, even though he could have. “The recurrence of πόθεν (the Greek word for what) especially when it is not needed to ask the question, conveys the force of the questions that function as an indictment.”
There are two words used that convey conflict or battles. The first is the one used for quarrels (πόλεμοι) and the second is the word for fights (μάχαι). These two words are found in the usage of military with πόλεμοι referring to the general war, while μάχαι refers to specific battles. Therefore, in using these two words, James has brought forth the imagery of the entire scope of a military conflict referring to the overall war and the specific battles that make up the war. It should also be noted that these words are plural, giving the indication that this was not just a one-time event, but rather were ongoing problem within the people.
James now answers the first two questions with another question. Although it is an imperative, it could be reworded as a declarative sentence to indicate that the reason you are at war with each other is the result of the passions that war within you. Another interesting note with the Greek language is the word for passions used here (or desires in some other translations). This word is ἡδονῶv which is where we get the modern English word for hedonism. Hedonism is of course that philosophy of finding joy in life by pleasing self. There is much to be learned from this concept! The wars and battles that rage on are the result of trying to please self!
The overall issue being addressed here is that in our selfishness, we are the cause of division! The same concept is addressed in James 1:13-15 in which James says we are the cause of our own sin!
Examination & Application of the Text: As we read this text today, one of the first things that should come to mind is the need to address our selfishness. I remember sharing Christ with a girl one day and she kept saying how she was not selfish. In fact, she was the most giving person she knew! Well, that’s quite the claim! In talking with her though, what you learned is that she was indeed giving in certain areas, but the reason for that was to gain the approval of others. So while she was giving to others, the motivation behind the giving was in fact, selfish. She was more concerned about what others thought about her than anything else.
Even in doing the right things, we must ask, “What is my motivation?” Ultimately the greatest motivation must be for God and not for ourselves. In Luke 8, we read the Parable of the Sower. Immediately following that a disciple asks what the parable means, and thus, Christ explains it. He explains the seed represents people, while the soil represents various aspects that can stunt or spur growth. Luke 6:14 reads like this: “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” There are those who are motivated by their own cares, desires, and pleasures of life, and eventually those same pursuits will be what chokes them off from eternal living! This is quite the contrast of John 15 in which Jesus tells disciples to abide in Him. As ones who abide in Him, they will bear much fruit. Those who do not abide, will be cut off.
The key to unselfish living is to abide in Christ, supplanting your own ambition with God’s aim. While God has chosen to bless us according to His sovereign will, this benefit is not our motivation, as that would be selfishness. Instead, the motivation is pleasing God because of WHO He is, giving Him thanks for that and for the way He has blessed us.