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James 4:1-6

Sunday Morning Bible Study

July 21, 2019

Reading: Matt. 5:13-26


The book of James is possibly one of the earliest things written in the New Testament.

It’s thought to have been written around AD 40-50

It was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus.

James’ father was Joseph, while Jesus’ father was God.

Though James didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection, James would eventually be recognized as the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

James was known in the early church as “James the Just” because of his great devotion to God and purity of life.

Ancient historian Eusebius describes James’ prayer life, that he…

was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people[1]

While the apostle Paul wrote mainly to Gentiles, James is writing to the Jews.

His teachings are going to be very practical (hence our “tools” pic) and will draw much from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, as well as the book of Proverbs.

4:1-6 Global Conflict

:1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

:1 wars and fights

James uses several Greek words to describe conflict.

The word for “wars” (polemos) describes the bigger picture, the overall war being fought.

Sometimes the conflicts we experience in life are long term and ongoing.
It might be a struggle inside that you have with a particular addiction.
It may be an external struggle, a difficult relationship with someone you fight with.

The word for “fights” (mache) describes the individual battles being fought inside the bigger “war”.

Within each of the “wars” we face, there are individual battles.
Our internal struggle with sin involves specific moments of temptation, specific “battles”.
Externally, the people we face constant conflict with will involve specific skirmishes, specific “fights”.

The verb translated “war” (strateuomai) speaks of leading soldiers into battle, and we get our word “strategy” from it.

There is an amount of intelligence behind the battles we face.
Our own sin nature can be quite devious, leading us places where we face difficulty.
It may be Satan directing his troops.

In the Avengers Movies, each movie is a “war”, with different “battles”, directed by an enemy.

Video:  The Avengers – Puny god – Hulk smashes Loki
Let me remind you that when it comes to Satan’s “strategies”, he may be stronger than you, but compared to Jesus he is a “puny god”.

wherepothen – of place: from where, from what condition; of origin or source: from what author or giver

warsπόλεμος polemos – a war; a fight, a battle; a dispute, strife, quarrel

fightsμάχη mache – a fight or combat; of those in arms, a battle; of persons at variance, disputants etc., strife, contention; a quarrel. 

While polemos means the whole course of fighting, the war, mache means a single battle engagement.

youhumin – you.  Plural.

henceenteuthen – from this place, hence

desires for pleasureἡδονή hedone (“hedonism”) – pleasure; desires for pleasure

that warstrateuomai (“strategy”) – to make a military expedition, to lead soldiers to war or to battle, (spoken of a commander); to do military duty, be on active service, be a soldier; to fight

Present middle participle

membersmelos – a member, limb: a member of the human body. 

James could be talking about the kinds of “inner conflicts” we might have, but I think he’s mostly aiming at the kinds of disputes that come between people in the church.

The word James uses for “members” is also the same word that Paul uses to describe parts of a person’s body.

(1 Corinthians 12:12 NKJV) For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.

I think there’s a sense in which we can see “conflict” that happens inside of each of us, and where it comes from.

:2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.

:2 You murder …

I’m not sure that James is accusing someone in the church of physically killing another person.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you hate your brother, you are as guilty as a murderer (Mat. 5:21-22)

(Matthew 5:21–22 NKJV) —21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
This is conflict.

:2 You lust and do not have

James uses three different words to describe these “roots” of our conflicts.

:1 desires for pleasureἡδονή hedone (“hedonism”) – desires for pleasure

In the New Testament, this word is always used to describe sinful pleasures.
(Luke 8:14 NKJV) Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
(Titus 3:3 NKJV) For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
(2 Peter 2:13 NKJV) and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you,

:2 lustἐπιθυμέω epithumeo – to have a desire for, long for; seeking the forbidden

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
(Matthew 5:28 NKJV) But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
(1 Corinthians 10:6 NKJV) Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
(Romans 7:7 NKJV) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”
To be honest, this word is sometimes used in a positive sense, the idea of longing for something that’s good.
Jesus said,

(Luke 22:15 NKJV) “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;

:2 covetζηλόω zeloo – to burn with zeal; to desire earnestly

This word is also used in both positive and negative ways.

(Acts 7:9 NKJV) “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him


(1 Corinthians 12:31 NKJV) But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

I saw this in an email this week:

If I like it, it’s mine.

If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.

If I had it a while ago, it’s mine.

If I say it is mine, it’s mine.

If I saw it first, it’s mine.

If you’re having fun with it, it’s definitely mine.

If you lay it down, it’s mine.

If it’s broken, it’s yours.


Expectations and Conflict

Not all of our desires are wrong and sinful.
We can have desires for good things.
Yet how you handle these desires, how you set your expectations, can still lead to conflict.
Aug.12 --   Moved to our new home in Montana. It is so beautiful here. The mountains are so serene and picturesque. Can hardly wait to see them with a covering of snow. Gods country. I love it here.
Oct.14th-- Montana is the most beautiful place on earth. The leaves are turning all different colors. I love the shades of red and orange. Went for a ride through some beautiful mountains and spotted some deer. They are so graceful, certainly they are the most peaceful animals on earth. This must be paradise.....I love it here.
Nov.11th-- Deer season will start soon. I can't imagine anyone wanting to kill such elegant creatures. The very symbols of peace and tranquillity. Hope it will snow soon. I love it here.
Dec.2nd--It snowed last night. Woke up to find everything blanketed with white. It looks like a postcard. We went out side and cleaned the snow off the steps and shoveled the driveway. We had a snow ball fight (I Won) and when the snow plow came by we had to shovel the driveway again. What a beautiful place. I love Montana.
Dec.12th--More snow last night. I love it . The snow plow did his trick again ( that little rascal ),A winter wonderland . I love it here.
Dec.19th--More snow last night . couldn't get out of the driveway to get to work this time. I'm exhausted shoveling. I need a snow plow.
Dec.22nd--More of the white stuff fell last night. I've got blisters on my hands from shoveling. I think the snow plow hides around the corner and waits until I'm done shoveling the driveway. Chump! They should use more salt to melt the ice on the roads.
Dec.25th--White Christmas Ya right! More darn snow. If I ever get my hands on that person who drives the snow plow, Lord forgive me for thinking that thought. Don't know why they don't use more salt to melt the ice.
Dec.28th--More of that white stuff last night., Been inside since Christmas Day except for shoveling out the driveway after " Snow Plow Harry " comes by every time. Can't go anywhere. Cars buried in a mountain of white. The weather man says to expect another ten inches of  the stuff tonight. Do you know how many shovels full of snow that is.
Jan. 1st--Happy New Year. The weatherman was wrong (again ) . We got 31 inches of  white stuff this time. At this rate it won't melt till the 4th of July. The snow plow got stuck up the road and the driver had the guts to come to my door to borrow a shovel. I told him that I had broken 6 shovels already from shoveling the stuff he's pushed into my driveway. I broke the last one over his head.
Jan4th--Finally got out of my house today. I went to the store to get food and on the way back a deer ran in front of my car and I hit it. Did $3,000.00 damage to the car, those beasts are a menace. Wish the hunters had killed them all last November.
May 3rd--Took the car to the garage in town. Would you believe the thing is rusting out from all the salt they keep dumping all over the road?
June 1st--Packed up and moved to Arizona. I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would ever want to live in that state of Montana.
And to be honest, some of that conflict may be necessary.
Our evil desires will certainly lead to conflict.
King David saw his desires get him into trouble.

(2 Samuel 11:2 NKJV) Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.

You know what happened.  David ended up committing adultery with Bathsheba.

Did it bring conflict?

David had Bathsheba’s husband killed.

But wait, there’s more, then came God’s response:

(2 Samuel 12:10 NKJV) Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

David’s “desires” led to wars.

King Ahab was one of the worst of the kings, and he fell in love with his neighbor’s vineyard:

(1 Kings 21:2 NKJV) So Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.”

When Naboth refused to sell his family’s vineyard to Ahab, Ahab became depressed.

Ahab’s wife Jezebel told her husband not to worry, and that she’d take care of everything.

She came up with a way to have Naboth slandered and put to death – and they took the vineyard.

 But God spoke up through Elijah:

(1 Kings 21:21 NKJV) ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free.

Remember though that not all “desires” are wrong.
But even good desires have the potential for conflict.
Let’s say you and your business partner have two distinct ideas about the future direction of your company.

You may feel that your vision is a good and noble one.

Yet if you are not careful in how you resolve your two ideas, you are going to face conflict.

This kind of stuff even happens in church.

The pastor may want to do something good, but how he goes about it may bring unnecessary conflict.

Internally, in our hearts, we also face conflicts connected to our expectations.
(Proverbs 13:12 NKJV) Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.

You may be facing the reality of a good thing not coming to pass, and it makes your heart sick.

It’s not wrong to have desires for good things or to set goals in your life (it’s a really good thing in fact) – just know that with expectations come the potential for conflict.

haveecho – to have, i.e. to hold; to have i.e. own, possess

present active indicative

you murderphoneuo – to kill, slay, murder; to commit murder.

present active indicative

It might not be that church people actually “murder” each other, but some of the things we do to each other might come awfully close.

cannotdunamai – to be able, have power whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources, or of a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances, or by permission of law or custom; to be able to do something; to be capable, strong and powerful

present passive indicative

obtainepitugchano – to light or hit upon any person or thing; to attain to, obtain

aorist active infinitive

fightmachomai – to fight; of armed combatants, or those who engage in a hand to hand struggle; of those who engage in a war of words, to quarrel, wrangle, dispute; of those who contend at law for property and privileges

present middle indicative

warpolemeo – to war, carry on war; to fight

present active indicative

:2 Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

ask aiteo – to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require

present middle infinitive

Indicates the reason for not having is not asking.

:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

askaiteo – to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require

present active indicative

receivelambano – to take; to receive (what is given), to gain, get, obtain, to get back

present active indicative

amiss kakos – miserable; improperly, wrongly

askaiteo – to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require

present middle indicative

pleasures hedone – pleasure; desires for pleasure

spenddapanao – to incur expense, expend, spend; in a bad sense: to waste, squander, consume

aorist active subjunctive

:2 because you do not ask

If it’s not wrong to have desires/expectations/goals, is there anything we can do to avoid conflict?

One of the biggest tools in our toolbox is prayer.


Learning to Ask

We need to take our “desires” to God in prayer.
It’s hard to pray for something that you know is sinful – but that’s part of prayer’s value – bringing light into our dark desires.
Sometimes it takes a lot of prayer to be able to look at that good “desire” correctly and know how to proceed with it.
Sometimes in prayer I come to realize that my desire might be good, but it’s not what God wants.
Sometimes those desires are things that require years of prayer before they happen.
There is a place for wars and battles in the Christian’s life, but the battles belong in the prayer closet.
Video:  The War Room – Miss Clara’s Closet
I know that some of you have developed a “prayer closet” like Miss Clara. 
For me – my prayer closet is a list on my phone – and when I walk in the morning I am bringing these things to the Lord.
Keep in mind who is writing all of this.
James had a nickname – “old camel-knees” because of the calluses on his knees from praying.
This Thursday we are going to have a prayer and worship night.  Why not come out and seek the Lord with us?

:3 you ask amiss

Sometimes we are asking, but in the wrong way, with the wrong motives.

“Amiss” refers to the way we ask. (it’s an adverb, modifying the verb “ask”)

The verb “ask” here is in the middle voice, meaning “you ask for the sake of yourselves”, and you are doing it simply for the sake of pleasure (hedone)

It’s like asking God for a raise, telling Him you’re going to give more to the church, when your real goal is to get that super cool car so everyone will think you’re pretty special.

How about praying for your spouse to be saved?

That’s a good thing to pray for, but you might be praying for it in the wrong way.
Some would pray for salvation so they would have someone to sit with in church.  Others would pray so people would stop asking, “Where’s your spouse?”

David wrote,

(Psalm 139:23–24 NLT) —23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Sometimes we don’t need to change what we’re asking, but change the way we ask it.

:4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

adulterers moichos – an adulterer; metaph. one who is faithless toward God, ungodly

James is talking to the church in spiritual terms.  As believers, we are in a type of marriage with God, a love relationship.  When we get too “friendly” with the ways of the world, it’s like we’re committing spiritual adultery.

adulteressesmoichalis – an adulteress; as the intimate alliance of God with the people of Israel was likened to a marriage, those who relapse into idolatry are said to commit adultery or play the harlot; fig. equiv. to faithless to God, unclean, apostate

friendshipphilia – friendship

worldkosmos – an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order, government; the world, the universe; the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ

enmityechthra – enmity; cause of enmity

wantsboulomai – to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded; of willing as an affection, to desire

aorist passive subjunctive

To purposely choose to be a friend of the world.

friend philos – friend, to be friendly to one, wish him well; a friend; an associate; he who associates familiarly with one, a companion

enemyechthros – hated, odious, hateful; hostile, hating, and opposing another

makeskathistemi – to set, place, put; to set down as, constitute, to declare, show to be; to constitute, to render, make, cause to be; to show or exhibit one’s self

present passive indicative

:4 Adulterers and adulteresses!

The believer’s relationship with God is often described in terms of a marriage.

We are the “bride” of Christ, and He is our “groom”.

Ladies, how would it make you feel if your husband were to become closer friends to another woman than he is to you?

Men, how would it make you feel if your wife were to become closer friends to another man than to you?

I’m not even talking about a spouse getting involved sexually with another person – the word used here is “friend”.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for a spouse to have friends of the opposite sex, but the friendship should never come close to what the marriage is supposed to be about.
There’s a line in the standard wedding vows, “forsaking all others, and cleaving only unto him/her”.


What do you want?

The point is, whose friendship do you want?
The Notebook is that romantic movie about a young couple who struggle.
I want to play this clip as if it’s a parable.  Pretend that Ryan Gosling is playing the role of God, and Rachel McAdams is playing those of you who struggle with being a little too friendly with the world…

Video:  The Notebook – What Do You Want?

Many believers have some notion of wanting God, but they’re too close to the world and they don’t want to give it up.
Is that you?  What do you want?
The word “wants” (v.4) (boulomai) speaks of deliberately choosing something.
wantsboulomai – to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded; of willing as an affection, to desire
The word “makes” (kathistemi) carries the idea of “show to be”.
makeskathistemi – to set, place, put; to set down as, constitute, to declare, show to be; to constitute, to render, make, cause to be; to show or exhibit one’s self
When you reach the point where you have deliberately chosen to be a friend of the world, then you show yourself be nothing other than an enemy of God.
God doesn’t have to declare you His enemy, you’ve chosen to that for yourself.
It is as if you have cheated on your spouse, because you have cheated on God – adulterers and adulteresses.

(1 John 2:15–16 NLT) —15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

:5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

thinkdokeo – to be of opinion, think, suppose; to seem, to be accounted, reputed

vainkenos – vainly, in vain

jealouslyphthonos – envy; for envy, i.e. prompted by envy

yearnsepipotheo – to long for, desire; to pursue with love, to long after; to lust, harbour forbidden desire

present active indicative

dwellskatoikeo – to dwell, settle; metaph. divine powers, influences, etc., are said to dwell in his soul, to pervade, prompt, govern it; to dwell in, inhabit; God is said to dwell in the temple, i.e. to be always present for worshippers

aorist active indicative

:5 The Spirit who dwells in us

I like the way the NLT handles this:

(James 4:5 NLT) Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.

There doesn’t seem to be a single reference that James is quoting, but more an idea that is repeated throughout the Old Testament.

Like God speaking about other “gods”:
(Exodus 20:5 NKJV) you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…
Or even:
(Leviticus 19:2 NKJV) …‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

The idea is this – God has placed His Holy Spirit in us, and one of the things the Holy Spirit does is to remind us that God cares about us, that God is “jealous” over us, that God longs for us to be more like Him – “holy”.

The Spirit is called the “Holy” Spirit.
When Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to live lives of sexual purity, he wrote,
(1 Thessalonians 4:7–8 NLT) —7 God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. 8 Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Because the Holy Spirit is in us, He wants to be at work to make us like He is, “holy”, pure.

(1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV) Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

(Galatians 5:17 NLT) The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.

An old Eskimo proverb says that there are two dogs fighting inside of you.
The dog you feed is the dog that wins.
If you live your life feeding that old sin nature with the things of this world, you will struggle even greater when it comes to temptation.
If you are building up your spiritual life by learning disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship, you will find the struggle a bit easier.

Sometimes it’s hard to know which idea is from God and which idea is from my flesh?

God’s Word can help us know the difference.
(Hebrews 4:12 NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

:6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

moremegas (here in the comparative) – great; splendid, prepared on a grand scale, stately; great things

givesdidomi – to give; to give something to someone

grace charis – grace; that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech; good will, loving-kindness, favour

proud huperephanos – showing one’s self above others, overtopping, conspicuous above others, pre-eminent; with an overweening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt, haughty

resists antitassomai (“against” + “ordain or arrange”) – to range in battle against; to oppose one’s self, resist

humble tapeinos – not rising far from the ground; metaph. as a condition, lowly, of low degree; brought low with grief, depressed; lowly in spirit, humble

:6 He gives more grace

The greater our need, the greater the help available.

(Romans 5:20b NKJV) …But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more

When we find ourselves struggling against temptation, there is help available from God.

:6 gives grace to the humble

We see this idea in several Old Testament passages, such as:

(Psalm 138:6 NKJV) Though the Lord is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar.
(Proverbs 3:34 NKJV) Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble.

Do you want God “resisting” you, or giving you help?


Help from humility

The choice is ours, and the key is in humility.
I’m not going to completely unpack this concept of humility (I’ll leave that to next week’s study), but let me simply say this:
Humility starts with me learning to yield myself to God.

It comes from me learning to bow my knee to Him and letting Him rule over my life as He wants.

I am of the opinion that humility is not a destination that you reach with a single step.
Humility is something that needs to be cultivated with constant attention.
Paul said (Phil. 2) that the best example for us to follow of humility was Jesus, who laid aside His glory and took on human flesh.
He did this so He could die as a sacrifice for us, dying in our place to pay for our sins.
A good example of Jesus’ humility took place at the Last Supper, when Jesus served His disciples by doing what they had neglected to do – washing their feet.
Video: John – Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.
Jesus did this as an example, that we would learn the humility of serving one another.
When I learn to cultivate humility, to serve others, I will find that God will give me “grace”.
I will find that He’s on my side, even when others aren’t.


[1] Eusebius of Caesaria. (1890). The Church History of Eusebius. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A. C. McGiffert (Trans.), Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine (Vol. 1, p. 125). New York: Christian Literature Company.