|CONFLICT AND QUARRELS
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 1, 1998
Invite to turn to James 4:1-12: What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is is not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! - or literally - you adulteresses - Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity - hostility - with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?
This past week, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan went to Iraq to talk with Saddam Hussein and - as we have been watching the news - the result has been “the mother of all negotiations.” Secretary General Annan was able to cut a deal with Saddam Huessein and defuse the standoff over weapons inspections. Its really not surprising that most people don’t believe that Mr. Hussein will keep his word - and that we’ll probably be right back on the brink of war.
Since 3600 B.C. there have been over 14,000 wars, over 3 1/2 billion people have been killed. Today, global military expenditure is running at well over $1 million per minute. One of every 5 scientists is now engaged in military work.
Conflict is a part of life - conflict in our society - in our relationships. Conflict seems inevitable. There’s conflict in our homes which God has established for nurture and the deepest kind of human fellowship. There’s conflict in the church - where we’re called upon to love each other with the love of Christ.
James asks the question, “What is the source of conflicts and quarrels among you?” How do we explain all this? Where does all this come from? And James gives us the answer, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
As someone has said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The conflict that we see around us is simply an extension of the conflict inside. James says that the root cause of our quarrels and conflicts is our own self-serving attitudes and desires.
Do you remember the account of Esau and Jacob? Esau - who brought tremendous grief to his parents and got himself into a lot of trouble because he only cared about fulfilling his own selfish desires. And Jacob - whose name means “supplanter” or “one who takes the place of another by force of treachery” - who would name their kid something like that? The conflict between these two is horrible.
Esau was the oldest and was due to receive the greater portion of his father’s riches and God’s promises. Jacob was the younger. One day, Esau came home from hunting and Jacob was cooking soup. Esau, who’s famished, begs him for some soup. Jacob - looking out only for himself - says, “First, sell me your birthright.” And Esau sold his future riches and blessing for a bowl of soup.
Another time, when Isaac, their father, was old - blind - near death - he called for Esau - and Isaac sent Esau out to hunt for fresh game and to prepare a special meal that was Isaac’s favorite. Its a nice scene. The eldest son is going to prepare a meal for his father and then the Isaac is going to give his blessing to Esau. But, while Esau’s out hunting Jacob puts on a costume - brings in Isaac’s favorite meal - pretends to be Esau and gets the blessing Isaac intends for Esau.
This goes on and on - intrigue and deception - conflict and quarrels. Their lives are full of this. And the source is their own selfish desires - taking care of themselves first - their own self-gratification. And James says its the same for us.
Verse 2 - We covet something - and we don’t care who gets in our way - we’re envious of what others have - and we fight and quarrel to get it.
Verse 3 - We ask God for things - and He doesn’t give them to us because our desire is to only use these things for ourselves.
Verse 4 - James says, “You adulteresses." To trust ourselves rather than God is infidelity. When we trust the world to meet our needs rather than God - we become enemies of God - estranged.
Men, how would you feel if your wife got $75 from the man next door when she needed money to buy clothes. Or, if when she needed counsel - or help - or assurance of anything else - she went to all the other men in the neighborhood instead of coming to you? It would break your heart.
And this is what this does to God. It breaks His heart when we go the world’s way. Its as if we’re saying, “Lord, you are not adequate. Your way is not the right way; it’s not the best way for me. I’m going to have to get what I want by myself.” James says that this is spiritual adultery.
Is there a way out? How do our hearts change - so that we’re no longer focused on ourselves?
Verse 5 - “He - God - jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.” - we’re His. When we’re involved in spiritual adultery - God gets jealous.
But the amazing thing is - that God’s jealousy creates in Him a desire - not to condemn us - but to give us greater grace. He doesn’t cut us off - divorce us. He desires to pour out His grace on us. He stands ready to rescue us from our adultery - our selfish attitudes - our conflict and fighting - and renew and restore us.
How can we be where God’s grace is? To be where He will renew and restore us?
Verse 6 - “God opposes the proud - but gives grace to the humble.” We can go in two directions. We can continue in our own strength and assert ourselves - causing chaos and conflict. Or, we can humble ourselves before God - and wait for Him to meet our needs according to His own time and in His own way.
James gives us three concrete steps - attitudes - that put our hearts and actions under God’s outpouring grace. A prescription for humility - take three of these a day and call on God every morning.
The first attitude is:
1. SUBMISSIONChoosing to trust God not the world.
Every New Year’s Day - Pasadena holds the Tournament of Roses Parade - with these incredible floats covered with flowers and seeds and all kinds of natural things. If you’ve ever seen those floats up close they’re really impressive. Some of them are huge and very complicated.
One New Year's Day - in the Tournament of Roses parade - a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. The amusing thing was that this float represented the Standard Oil Company - with its vast oil resources - its float was out of gas.
Verse 7 - “Submit therefore to God - choose to put your life in God’s hands - Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Its easy to play along with the world system - which is under Satan’s control - to trust the world’s selfish - self-serving - ways of taking care of ourselves. But, we can choose to trust God.
Satan has no ultimate power over us. Its a lie that we need to act like the world acts. As tremendously powerful as Satan may seem - he can be resisted. And God is graciously standing right there ready to empower us - we’re His. We can’t resist Satan under our own power. But if we give God free reign over our lives - if we choose to trust God - and resist the devil - he will flee from us. The power of God upon our lives is too much for him.
Choose God - submit to Him - and we place ourselves where His grace powerfully works to change our hearts.
First submission to God - and the second attitude which places us under the grace of God is:
2. REPENTANCETaking steps that draw us closer to God
Not too many years ago, newspapers carried the story of Al Johnson - a Kansas man who came to faith in Jesus Christ. What made his story remarkable was not just his conversion - but the fact that as a result of his newfound faith in Jesus - he confessed to a bank robbery he had participated in when he was nineteen years old. Because the statute of limitations on the case had run out - Johnson couldn’t be prosecuted for his crime. Still, he believed his relationship with Jesus demanded a confession. And he even voluntarily repaid his share of the stolen money!
James says that if we draw near to God and He will draw to us.
Verse 8 - “Wash your hands” - make our conduct pure. “Purify your hearts” - purify our thoughts and motives. In other words, take concrete steps to separate ourselves from sin.
Verse 9 - “Be miserable and mourn and weep” - Get serious about God. A person who really understands the disaster and consequences of sin - whose been on a freeway of laughter and joy - running over anybody that gets in their way - will have their laughter and joy turned to mourning and sorrow.
This doesn’t mean that we’re suppose to walk around in sack cloth and ashes. But our attitude should change from pursuing our own will to doing those things which draw us closer to God.
If we really understood the consequences of our self-justification - our pride - our selfishness - given a choice between coming and worshipping God - and anything else - we would come and worship God. Bible study - prayer - Christian fellowship - serving God - whatever draws us closer to God - these would be the insatiable priorities of our lives.
Submission, repentance, and thirdly:
3. HUMILITYOn a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works. She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it and she accompanied the request with a lavish tip. The guard agreed. The girl went to the piano and tinkled out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving she said to the guard, "I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano."
The guard shook his head. "Padarewski - the famed Polish pianist - was here a few years ago and he said he wasn't worthy to touch it."
We need to keep our pride in check.
Winston Churchill was once asked, "Doesn't it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?"
"It's quite flattering," replied Sir Winston. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."
James says, verse 10: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” There is no way to have illusions about our own importance standing before the throne of God. Understanding who we are before God changes our whole attitude towards others.
Its so easy to elevate ourselves at the expense of others.
Have you heard this? How many Armenians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: 7. One to screw in the new one - 3 to tell him how good the old one was - and 3 to tell them how he could have done it better.
James says, verse 11: “Don’t slander each other.” Maybe we’re right. Maybe we’re perfectly justified in our position. But the criticism is harsh.
James says in verse 12: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge - God - So who are you?”
James is very specific. Man apart from God is only interested in himself. This world is full of people who are only seeking their own self-pleasure - justifying themselves and their own ideas and positions - taking care of themselves at the expense of others.
And yet, the people we live with are dying to be cared for - to find someone who cares about their rights - someone to listen to their needs and concerns - to touch them with the love of Jesus.
Submission - repentance - humility - do these and we place ourselves under the grace of God - His transforming power and sustenance for our lives - and He will use us to reach a world - maybe even our homes and community - with His peace and healing.