I have never had sheep, though I’ve raised other animals. Like other creatures, I suppose that there are times when the sheep in a flock get to fighting with each other over something stupid, like who gets to graze in a particular spot or which one gets the best place to drink out of the stream. This must drive a shepherd crazy!
I know of another type of sheep who sometimes gets to fighting with each other over stupid things. And it is so irritating to this other category of shepherd. Why can’t they just get along? Why do two people in the same family allow simple bumps and bruises to thwart the larger relationship with one another? This same sort of thing would drive me nuts as a father. One boy would trip and bump another – that other one wrongly believing the contact was aggressive, thereby clubbing the first one, who would utter a blood-curdling scream and retaliation.
The irritation of James is evident in this portion of his letter. At other points he addresses his readers with language like “my brothers.” But here in chapter 4 he comes right after them with aggressive rhetoric, even calling them adulterous people at one point.
James’ opening question is to ponder what causes fights and quarrels amongst God’s family. The answer comes quickly – it is because his readers were covetous and self-centered. They were interested in their desires being filled, too often trusting in the world for personal satisfaction rather than in God’s provision.
The remedy is to not depend upon satisfaction from the devil’s world; rather, the believer should humbly look to God for His provision for their needs in His timing and in His way.
In the previous passage, there were two types of wisdom: from above or from below. Here there are two opposing ways of seeking life satisfaction: from the things of this world or from submission to God.
Clearly, the one who does not insist upon his own rights and comforts, but who rather depends upon God, will ultimately find God’s blessing and be a person who avoids conflicts with other Christians.
The challenge is to do this, of course. It seems better to take charge of life and circumstances in the material world, fighting for your own rights and fulfillment. This appears to be the straight-line path to personal satisfaction. But it does not work. God’s true “lifting up” of an individual comes only after a time of trust and endurance, but it is true satisfaction.
James 4:1 – What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” [Proverbs 3:34]
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.