By Randy Dillon
James 4:1-6 “From whence come wars and fightings from among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwellest in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
In this passage of scripture, James is speaking directly to Christians who are controversial with other believers over even small or insignificant issues. He asks where such fights and battles within the church come from. He answers that lusts residing within the heart of some believers in the faith is the source of the evil thoughts and actions which often divide believers from one another. Why is this so?
James continues that lust leads a believer to resent the fact that they do not have what others, perhaps, have. This is a contradiction of the 10th Commandment and Jesus also condemns it in several places in the Gospels. This creates a sinful feeling of inadequacy that is not satisfied even if the object of lust is acquired. Worse, believers can even fall into the sin of killing other believers in a desire to fulfil their lusts. Kill may involve not only physical death, but also the killing of reputation and integrity. But these attempts to destroy other believers does not lead to the results desired, so they cannot be obtained as the unfaithful believer wants them to. Fighting and warring does not result in what the instigator expects because what such evil desires lead to is not what is expected.
James then makes the bold statement that those who create controversy from their lusts do not have because they ask not. This statement requires an additional explanation. Is James saying that we war and fight because we ask for evil things. If we ask for evil, will God graciously give us the evil desires of our heart? No! James says that we do not have our requests answered because we ask for the wrong things. Our lustful hearts desire the unrighteous things of the world instead of the righteous things that God desires for us. We ask amiss. What we often ask for is that which simply satisfies our temporary lusts. He then uses the severest of language as he calls such believers adulterers and adulteresses. This is a strong condemnation of such people. It is one that specifically calls into question the actual salvation of such a person who would create such dissention within the body of Christ. Such nominal believers are actually friends of the world, desiring the things of the world, and as such they are enemies of God.
The author recognizes that the spirit of lust is a strong and sinful urge. He recognizes that it dwells in the human heart and is a part of the sinful nature of man. Yet, it can be overcome by the grace of God indwelling our lives in such a manner as to become an anti-dote to such sinful behavior and desires. As the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” There is more grace from God to cover all of our sinful desires than there is lust in our hearts. A currently popular song reminds us that “my sins they are many, His mercy is more.” So too His mercy in providing the sufficient grace to overcome our lustful desires for worldly things.
Finally, James reminds us that God will resist the proud but give grace to the humble. Resisting the proud does not necessarily mean that the proud will not perhaps take some pleasure in their lust or even make worldly profit from their actions. But these temporary gains will only lead to greater punishment at the end. Consistent believers, on the other hand may expect God’s blessing both on earth and in the hereafter.