What is the Meaning of James 4.1-3

“Diagnosing the Church Fight”

James 4:1-3

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 4.1-3

Please turn to James 4. If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you likely never had medical problems while on the plane, nor did you experience a fellow passenger having medical difficulty.

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Well, those little aircraft medical kits are great for delivering babies, but two doctors on a flight from Hong Kong to London found they aren’t much help in dealing with a collapsed lung. So Dr. Wallace and Dr. Wong had to improvise.

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The patient passenger was Paula Dixon. She had been in a motorcycle accident on the way to the airport in Hong Kong. And as the plane departed, she complained of pains in her arm. The doctors, who just happened to be on the plane, put a splint on the arm, but soon realized that she had at least two broken ribs, which had punctured her lung, causing it to collapse.

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She kept getting worse. So the doctors, realizing she would die within minutes, decided on surgery to keep the air from leaking into the chest cavity.

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The doctors slipped the coat hanger inside the tube – known as a catheter – to help them push it through an incision in her chest.

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There were no surgical clamps; Dr. Wong held the incision open with a knife and fork sterilized in five-star cognac.

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Dr. Wallace said… “She was conscious during the whole procedure…It was a little unpleasant when we went through the chest wall.”

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Paula Dixon would go on to make a full recovery and marry her fiance.

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All in all the doctors used scissors, knife, fork, sticky tape, a tube, liquor, and a coat hanger to save her life. Thousands of planes take off every day without a doctor on board. But there were 2 that day on Flight 32……

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On its flight to glory, the church will inevitably have some spiritual diseases that need cured. And some churches need emergency surgery! Thankfully, the Lord is always near to perform the spiritual surgery necessary, but like Paula Dixon, that day, we need to submit to the Great Physician who alone can heal all our spiritual diseases.

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James has been borne along by the Holy Spirit, to…like the doctors in our story, to do emergency surgery to repair the infighting that’s abundant among these early believers.

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There are real fighting problems in churches today; and they need to be fixed today and nobody seems to have the equipment to fix that kind of thing. But James can fix it. But why does this kind of thing happen in the first place? Let’s read James 4:1-10 and see if we can find out.

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READ James 4:1-10

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James 4:1–10 1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

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Like an expert medical physician, James is diagnosing and curing fights and angry conflicts in the church … and if more than one person is saved in your household, this would carry over into the home. Why are there fights in the church and in the home? Why are there a war of words in your home? If we were to experience a church fight…what would be the cause of that? Thankfully we haven’t ….but the believers that James is writing to are experiencing just such a fight…what’s going on here?

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Keep in mind when James was discussing wisdom toward the end of James 3, he wasn’t just talking about wisdom all by itself; no, he was focused on the kind of wisdom …. the wisdom from above…the wisdom that gives peace.

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If you’d glance at verse 13 of chapter 3… Wisdom from above is gentle. It’s, verse 17, … pure, then peaceable, gentle…or considerate, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

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This is the kind of wisdom that builds unity in the church and home; this is the kind of wisdom that is gracious when wronged; it doesn’t demand its own way; it yields and is submitted.

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This wisdom doesn’t express bitter jealousy or selfish ambition. It’s not arrogant. And at the end of chapter 3 verse 18 it’s full of peace! And boy, does this church James is writing to need a couple of peacemakers! Someone needs to break it up and heal the wounds, and offer some prevention so this doesn’t keep happening!

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And that kind of wisdom is exactly the opposite of what is going on in chapter 4:1-3, our text this morning.

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Wisdom from above does not produce quarrels and conflicts, fightings. With wisdom from above, there is no war waging with the heart. But in the church James is writing to, James is having to address the fighting that’s going on in the assembly, because there seems to be a lack of

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James is addressing church fights. And this morning we follow James as he diagnoses the fighting… And the follow week we’ll see what happens if this spiritual condition is left untreated, and then in a couple of weeks we’ll discover the cure for church infighting.

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ILL: But church fighting is so common that…Years ago, Leslie Flynn penned a book unfortunately called, Great Church Fights. In it he tells the story of a young father who heard a commotion out in his backyard, he looked outside and saw his daughter and several playmates in a heated quarrel. Alarmed, he goes to break up the commotion, but his daughter calls back, “Dad, we’re just playing church!”

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But I’m preaching this morning on the diagnosis of church fighting. Let’s look first at the source of the fighting…and then the symptoms of this spiritual disease.

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  1. The Source of Fighting (4:1)

James 4:1 1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

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What’s going on?

[say like a parent to a child….] Now, what’s all the fighting about? Here’s what they are fighting about: James’ first readers are fighting over leadership in the church. Remember how chapter 3 began … chapter 3 verse 1 … “Let not many of you become teachers”… And then James goes on to give the reasons why not many should be teachers, because of the filthiness of our mouths. Wanting to be a teacher is wanting leadership.

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And then he asks in verse 13 “who among you is wise and understanding?” They were likely claiming to be wise….And then, James says, “Let me ask you another question” in chapter 4 verse one … “What is the source of your fights?”

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So it seems James is addressing people who are wanting to be teachers, who are claiming to be wise … they are in conflict and they are fighting over leadership in the church.

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The word translated “quarrels” chapter 4 verse 1 is particularly interesting…it’s literally the word “war.” It’s used in Revelation 11:7 referring to a literal war by the beast during the tribulation period against 2 of God’s prophets…Revelation 11:7 When the prophets finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.

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That word war is the same word translated quarrels in chapter 4 verse 1… and the KJV even translates it war in James 4:1

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Of course, James is using this word metaphorically. They aren’t literally taking up swords against one another. James is using a graphic hyperbole…he’s exaggerating to make a point… that this is really really bad! “It’s like you’re at war with each other!”

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Sometimes we get this grandiose picture of the early church, that everything was perfect then… we need to go back to the early church! … but the New Testament is full of God’s people who are in conflict with one another.

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James follows up his first rhetorical question with a second rhetorical question.

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By the way, he’s not asking these questions because he doesn’t know the answer … He’s asking them these questions so that they might get it right.

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And these questions reach down into the heart … What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

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Answer…yes, it is the source! The source of war and fighting is what then? The source of war and strife James says is your pleasure that wages war in your members.

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So James is saying, “don’t your fights come from your desire for pleasure that battles inside you?” “Don’t your fights come from your desire for pleasure that battles inside your members, inside .. . … in your heart?”

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Now, by itself, there is nothing wrong with pleasure…except when you have such a longing for it that you lose your Christian principles.

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ILL: Those who fall in the thorns in Luke 8 are those …Jesus says … who are choked with “the pleasures of this life.” And in Titus 3 before coming to Christ, we were all “enslaved to pleasures.” And 2 Peter 2 describes false teachers with this word, they who “count it a pleasure to carouse or live in luxury.”

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Our pleasures can, James says, wage war in our members, or “in yourself” is probably the idea.

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And when pleasures wage war, it’s not exactly pleasant. War is miserable no matter what wages it. Your heart and mind is a battle ground every day. Paul teaches Romans 7:21 that there is a principle of evil within you that wages war against you and it captures you as its prisoner.

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And he says in Galatians 5:17 that your flesh or your sin nature sets its desire against the Holy Spirit who is in you, if you have trusted Christ.

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The old habits of your life before Christ will seek to do battle royal against anything good God has put in your heart.

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But if you have trusted Christ … if there was a time in your life when you rejected your life and ambitions and wishes and you hated your sin and you sought to get right with God, confessing your sin…and if God has indeed saved you from your sin by a simple childlike trust… Then you no longer have to obey those old you habits. Those sinful habits no longer enslave you, once you trust Christ. When you ask Jesus to save you from your sinful pleasures, God breaks the power that sin has over you. So consider yourselves to be dead indeed to your own sinful pleasures and alive to God.

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In the church James is writing to, they seem to be seeking the pleasure of position, or status, or recognition or power. Because of the drive that they have to satisfy their pleasure, it’s creating a war in the church.

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ILL: In his book Great Church Fights, Leslie B. Flynn quotes a story from a Welsh newspaper about a church that was looking for a new pastor…

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“Yesterday the two opposition groups both sent ministers to the pulpit. Both spoke simultaneously, each trying to shout above the other. Both called for hymns, and the congregation sang two —each side trying to drown out the other. Then the groups began shouting at each other. Bibles were raised in anger. The Sunday morning service turned into a bedlam. Through it all, the two preachers continued trying to out shout each other with their sermons. “Eventually a deacon called a policeman. Two came in and were shouting for the congregation to be quiet. They advised the forty persons in the church to return home. The rivals filed out, still arguing. Last night one of the group called a let’s-be-friends’ meeting. It broke up in argument.”

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War in the church! Now, this seems to be an exceptional case, but the heart that drives a scene like that is in each one of us in our homes. Your sinfulness is fire, and mine is the gasoline. You get us together at the wrong time, sparks can fly and explosion can happen.

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It’s quite obvious we live in a pleasure seeking society. Everywhere you turn, you are told to seek your own pleasure. It must be your way or no way…And this attitude is in the church …

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ILL: Believe as I believe, no more, no less;

That I am right, and no one else, confess;

Feel as I feel, think only as I think;

Eat what I eat, and drink but what I drink;

Look as I look, do always as I do;

And then, and only then, I’ll fellowship with you.

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James hits to the heart of the issue.

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As James the spiritual surgeon diagnoses our spiritual disease, Dr.James is telling us… that the source of the disease of fighting, conflict, and quarreling is your pleasures that wage war in you. You demand your own pleasure. You must have what you want.

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It is in your members; it’s inside of you. The fight looks like it’s on the outside. But really it’s on the inside. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.

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Proverbs 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

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The heart is the spring, the starting point for all of life. And that’s where your fighting starts; to cure the disease of fighting, you must cure the heart.

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Jesus Christ has that kind of power for you in your marriage, family, and in the church. Ephesians 1 teaches that the surpassing greatness of resurrection power is directed toward Christ’s people today to give new life and break the chains of sin. Available to us by God’s grace is the power of the resurrection. He has all power to break the chains of pleasures that are waring in your life.

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The same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand… That same power is toward you. And Paul’s prayer there in Ephesians 1 is that you might come to comprehend that surpassing power.

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APP: Would you pray with Paul for the surpassing power to overcome your pleasure battles? Would you plead with God to rescue you from the misery of your sinful pleasures? Would you cry out to him for deliverance from the slavery of sin?

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It’s then that you’ll find the pleasures of God. When you forsake and overcome by God’s grace the pleasures of sin, you will find pleasures of God; the fruit of wisdom … The peaceable fruit of wisdom.

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But if you neglect his word and you forsake praying to God and … men if you don’t lead your families in this, you will live a life of conflict. Choose you this day… What will you live for? The pleasures of sin or the pleasure of God?

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TRANS: The disease is frightening and if left untreated, like Paula Dixon, it’ll kill your spiritual life within minutes. If this kind of things takes root, death is the inevitable result. We now know how the disease of infighting in a church or family starts: pleasures at war. James moves next to describe the symptoms of this spiritual disease. Verse 2-3…

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  1. The Symptoms of Fighting (4:2-3)

James 4:2–3 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

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Take the first two sentences there of verse 2…they are saying the same thing…

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You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.

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“You lust and don’t have” … and, James says, “you are envious and cannot obtain.” This is the same thing. “Lusting and not having; envious and not obtaining…” The result of that is he says is that you commit murder…or at the end of the verse, you fight and quarrel.

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What is James saying? Very simply…you want something and you can get what you want and so you fight about it. When you want something real bad and you don’t get it, it’s frustrating and that’s when your pleasures begin waging war…and boy can you feel that!

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ILL: Again Leslie Flynn in “Great Church Fights” tells of two elderly unmarried sisters, who upon moving in to live with each other, had a tiff. And because it went unresolved, they stopped speaking to each other.

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But they continued living with each other … they continued to use the same rooms, eat at the same table, use the same appliances, and sleep in the same room – all separately without one word. A chalk line divided the sleeping area into two halves. They separated the doorways as well as the fireplace with a chalk line. Each would come and go, cook and eat, sew and read without ever stepping over into her sister’s territory. And they lived that way for years, in deafening silence!

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And the problem is in James’s church here is that the people are wanting leadership, power, control and aren’t able to attain that status. And so they aren’t silent however … they fight and quarrel; James says they murder!

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Now this is not literal murder. You can see by the way James words that murder is the same as fighting and quarreling. And Jesus also ties the two together… When he says in…

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Matthew 5:21–22 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

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Jesus not only condemns murder, but he condemns the sin behind the murder. And Jesus is convicting us of our guilt before God by equating the punishment for murder with the punishment of anger. In our natural flesh and understanding of sin, we think that murderers are those who go to hell. “I mean, I haven’t killed anyone, so yea I should make it to heaven!” But Jesus said those who are angry are guilty enough to go to hell.

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Turn to Genesis 4 and we’ll see this in action. Keeping along the lines of sibling disputes … Brothers and sisters are especially known for this kind of fighting.

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ILL: take Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel were the children of Adam and Eve. And God had certain requirements for bringing offerings before the Lord. Abel was a shepherd and Cain a farmer. So when it was time to bring an offering before the Lord, Cain brought some of his crops. Abel brought some of his flocks. For whatever reason we’re not told, probably because the Lord wanted an animal sacrifice and not a grain offering, … But for whatever reason in verse 5, the Lord does not receive Cain’s offering. Cain becomes very angry and the Lord says to Cain in verses 6 and 7, “Why are you angry? If you do well, won’t you surely be accepted?”

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And because of the sibling rivalry that they had, when they were out in the field in verse 8, Cain rose up and killed his brother Abel.

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Pleasures waging war; Cain wanted something he couldn’t have, so he fought and committed literal murder.

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ILL: Take Joseph and his brothers. Turn to Genesis 37. Brothers and sisters have a hard time sometimes; thankfully, not all feuds end in murder!

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Genesis 37:3 says that Israel or Jacob loved Joseph his son more than all of his other sons. That’s a problem! Parents shouldn’t play favorites; it doesn’t bod well for the favored one. Joseph’s brothers, verse four, saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers. And so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

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Well, verse five, Joseph has a dream. And when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more and he tells them his dream about his brothers sheaves or bundles of grain bowing down to his bundle of grain in verses six and seven… and so verse 8 … it sounds like to his brothers that Joseph thinks he is claiming that he’ll reign over them someday.

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And indeed he will…

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But then Joseph has another dream in verse nine and he sees that the sun the moon and 11 stars were bowing down to me. And his father Jacob rightly interprets the dream in verse 10 but rebukes him and says to him “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?”

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And verse 11 gives us insight into the heart of his brothers: his brothers were jealous of him.

And the story ends well, but not yet in this chapter …

Verse 18 …Genesis 37:18 When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death.

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And they throw him in this pit and eventually sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites.

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Family disputes! Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph’s position in the family. They wanted that position and they couldn’t have it. And so they fight and quarrel.

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Back to James 4… So it is with the church in James’s day. They want something they can’t have … they want the position and the prestige and honor that goes with it; but they can’t have it. And so they are fighting.

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TRANS: Where this kind of heart exists and where these symptoms of this spiritual disease of fighting exists, there also exists a total breakdown of prayer.

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End of James 4:2…James 4:2b–3 2 …You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

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They wanted power, control, position and authority but couldn’t get it so they are now fighting. James is saying to them that they don’t have because they don’t ask. But even when they do ask, verse 3, they don’t receive what they ask for from God because they ask with wrong motives to spend it on their pleasures.

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So either they are not praying or they are praying and when they pray they just want stuff for their own pleasures and not for the pleasure of God.

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First, you don’t have because you don’t ask. James’ readers here wanted authority, power, and position. But what they lacked was the wisdom that they needed to be in position of authority in a local body of Christ.

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But they first have to realize how to properly rise to a place of authority. In the body of Christ, you don’t gain power or authority or position because you strive for it or play politics for it. You don’t argue for it…no, you are simply called upon to exercise that authority and position.

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And for the body of Christ to call upon somebody to exercise that role takes a recognition that that person must have wisdom from above. And they don’t have it because they don’t ask for it.

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This reminds us of James 1. Turn back to James 1 and look at verse five. James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

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Ask God for wisdom from above; search for it as for hidden treasure. Why is it that there is fighting in the church or in your family? It’s because there hasn’t been a thirst, a longing for God’s heavenly wisdom. You’ll know that there is a thirst for that wisdom in your home because you’ll be praying for it and you’ll be reading about it in his word, searching for Him in what he has said.

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Show me a church family or a family in a church that is fighting and I’ll show you a family that hasn’t been delighting together in God’s word and prayer.

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As has been often quoted, “a family who prays together stays together.” Now, it doesn’t get fixed overnight, but when dad is leading his family in Bible time and prayer, he’ll also be leading his family in family disputes.

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A family who delights in God’s word and prayer together will have a togetherness about them; they will more likely be “at one” with each other instead of at each other’s throats.

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But the second breakdown in prayer is asking for things from God, but as James says there in verse 3, they are asking with wrong motives so that they may spend it on their pleasures.

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ILL: It’s like the boy who prays “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I wake I pray the Lord … my toys to break so none of the other kids can use ’em.”

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Instead of that, we should pray God’s thoughts back to Him. God-centred, not man-centred praying. Asking God to accomplish His will, not to always give Him my laundry list of complaints about how He’s running or ruining my life. Pray God’s words back to Him.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 4.1-3

Have you come to the Great Physician? Do you know the sweet healing of the soul that’s in His hand? Have you experienced His fine surgical skills that heals your diseases? Keep going! Keep seeking Him and find the restoration that you long for…

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… so are you going to ask for wisdom, heavenly wisdom? Are you sick of the fighting, the war that’s going on in your soul when you don’t get your way? Let it go before the Lord! Know Him; His will is good for you. Cling to His will, not your own.

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Seek peace; if the power of sin has been broken, stop the fighting and together let us seek peace. Be sure to ask for forgiveness from others and from God for your fightings. BOW THEN Note stanza 2 … #5 can’t sing this hypocritically now…sing it if you will grow.

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Go to James Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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