AN EXPOSITION OF JAMES 4:1-2
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
2 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”.
One of the most fundamental questions that can be asked about nations and individuals is this.
“Why do people fight?” Some sociologist think they know.
There are naturalist who say that as animals will fight for food and mates, so wars will be fought by civilized people for just such reasons. There is some truth to this observation. Historically, the mythical Roman rape of the Sabine women was the most famous case of fighting for mates. However, woman stealing is hardly a primary cause for warfare even if many women do love to see a man in uniform.
The spirit of adventure has often made individuals willing to respond to the call for conflict. The Crusades of the Middle Ages introduced the Western world to many wonderful sights and sounds. For many, the Crusades seemed like a grand adventure. But this motive usually applies to times when war is not too dangerous, and relatively few are killed. The Spanish-American War of 1898 offers a perfect example. Theodore Roosevelt called it, “A splendid little war.” But when war becomes less glamorous, and less pleasant, the call to high adventure loses much of its force as a drive to battle. Frederic Wertham has cynically pointed out, “Soldiers in modern armies do not fight because they have sadistic impulses; they fight because they have been drafted.”
Another cause of war is fear, or the terror of the unknown. Fear is not a quiet emotion. It does not suffer alone. Fear cries out and quickly spreads among others. “Whom man fears, he longs to see destroyed,” observed the Roman poet Ovid (c. 43 BC – AD 17). President Kennedy once described the warlike tensions between Russia and the United States. “We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle, with suspicion on the one side breeding suspicion on the other, and new weapons begetting counter weapons.” Thomas Fuller wrote, “T’was fear that first put on arms.”
Following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, a telex machine was installed in the White House.
This new means of communication directly connected the President of the United States to the Kremlin. It was hoped that more openness and honesty, more free exchange of attitudes and actions would avoid further critical conflicts.
But far more important in civilized man than the drive for food or female favors, for adventure, or even the actions that he takes through fears, are the drives for territory, and for dominance. For example, there was a time when American’s talked about a concept called “Manifest Destiny.” This argument contended that America was fore-ordained to be a single nation, from sea to shining sea.
It was our destiny to rule this continent, regardless of what the Europeans, or the American Indians might have to say on the subject. In fact, it was our destiny to rule other territories as well, such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands. When territorial drives are manifested there will be conflict, for others will fight for preservation, or self-defense.
There are still other causes for war, such as noble ideas clothed in religion, the freedom of mankind, or national honor. Each of these can be documented.
In the name of religion, Richard the Lionhearted of England went to free Jerusalem from the rule of the Turks. He fought a war of religious liberation, and killed for Christ.
In the name of freedom for mankind, Woodrow Wilson argued that American’s had to fight in World War I to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” No one bothered to ask if democracy was wanted by all people, in all places in the world. Also in the name of freedom, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy told American soldiers they had to fight, and perhaps die in Vietnam in order to keep the countries in the Far East from falling to Communism. This was known as the “Domino Theory.”
The argument stated that if Vietnam fell to Communism, so would Laos, Cambodia and eventually all of Southeast Asia. As the war continued, President Johnson, and then President Nixon changed the reason for fighting in Vietnam. Americans were told that we had to keep fighting in the muddy pits of hell in order to uphold our national honor, and keep our political commitments. Of course these were great political fabrications which have now been exposed by recorded White House conversations, and open confessions of former national leaders, such as Robert McNamara.
Here then, are several reasons why men fight. However, the ultimate cause of conflict has not been fully revealed, nor will it be made manifest apart from the Word of God. If the world would understand war, it must read the Bible, for the Bible does speak of the true origin of all conflict. A key passage is James 4:1, 2.
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 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.
According to the Word of God, the ultimate origin of war begins with an intense desire in the heart to have something. The intense desire may be for something tangible, a material possession like money, or a physical object of desire. When King Ahab looked out of his palace window, he saw the vineyard of Naboth, and he wanted it. Through the actions of Jezebel, the king obtained the desire of his heart, though it meant the death of an innocent man.
Again, the intense desire may be for something intangible, such as a title, a position, or being in the place to make final decisions, regardless of what others think, or say or desire. King Saul was guilty of this sin. He wanted to stay king of Israel, even though God had taken the throne from him.
Saul was not like his son Jonathan, who saw in David the hand of God upon his life. Jonathan loved David, and honored him in a way that Saul could not, because of the hatred that was in his heart, and the desire to have what God did not want him to have any longer. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”
With these words, the Apostle assesses who is blameworthy. James does not condemn those who withstand harmful practices. The Word of God does not censure those who oppose principles that will destroy the fellowship of the believers. Rather, God passes judgment upon those who have the raging drives to go beyond biblical boundaries, and want what they cannot have. Even when they kill, literally and figuratively, all who seem to be in their way, they still cannot obtain what they want. Individuals fight, and wage war, and yet have not. Why? Because they have forgotten God! They have not asked in prayer what the will of the Lord is. Therefore, they will be opposed by God Himself, directly, and indirectly.
Sometimes God will personally oppose strong willed individuals who are filled with intense desires. He did this in the case of Cain. When Cain killed his brother Abel, he did not get what he wanted, which was to have his offering be accepted by the Lord. Instead, God placed a mark upon Cain, which identified him for life, as one who was unacceptable to the Lord.
God also directly intervened in the life of Pharaoh. Pharaoh boasted that he did not know the God of Moses. Therefore, he said that he would not let the Hebrew people go. Then one night the Death Angel passed by, and touched the first born baby in Pharaoh’s house.
Though his desire was to keep the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enslaved, Pharaoh finally let the people go. Then he immediately regretted that decision, and sought revenge. Foolishly did Pharaoh pursue the posterity of Israel. He made war upon God’s people, and thus God Himself. In the end, Pharaoh drowned in the Red Sea. He had not. He asked not. He received not.
Though God will oppose wrong directly, more often He is pleased to use secondary means, in the form of godly men and women and young people. God has a spiritual army who will fight for His cause. They will lift their voices to cry out against injustice, oppression, falsehood, and the needless hurting of individuals. They are the true soldiers of the Cross, and are commanded to wage a good warfare for the faith.
There is young David. He is ruddy in complexion. He has accepted a soldier’s challenge to combat. He straps on the armor of King Saul, and cannot move. Yet he must fight God’s enemy. There is a loud mouthed giant named Goliath, who has defied the living God. He is hurting Israel. David takes off the armor of man, and uses the weapon of warfare of God’s choosing. He is physically victorious in battle, as Timothy was spiritually victorious many years later, in a different context.
Timothy had been sent to a troubled church. There were some things which were just not right. However, Timothy did not want to be accused of being the source of conflict. What would he do? He would leave. But wait, Timothy. There is a letter. Listen as Paul says, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” ( 2 Timothy 2:1, 3).
And he did.
To press the point, it can be said again that the ultimate cause of conflict in the World, and in the Church, is not ascribed to those who contend for principles of righteousness. Rather, the conflict comes because God has been forgotten. Individuals have stopped praying. The Church has stopped praying. And when there is prayer, it is offered in an inappropriate manner.
If world leaders, if Church leaders, if couples in a marriage, if citizens in a community, and Christians in a church want to know peace, and the absence of conflict, then several things can be done.
First, a list can be made of what the heart desires. This can be done literally by taking a piece of paper, and honestly writing down what the heart wants passionately. Write down what is desperately desired.
Second, after the list is compiled, it is to be submitted to the Lord in prayer. Anything that is of God is worth praying for openly, for then it shall be revealed if the Lord Himself wants what is so passionately desired.
Third, if conflict is to cease, hearts must be humble. There is to be a submission to God (verse 7), for then and only then, will the devil flee.
While this is godly counsel, it will never happen apart from a saving experience with Jesus Christ.
Only Christ can make a person want to be better. Only Christ can take away the natural love for conflict that sin has filled our heart with. Only Christ can cause us to be honest and open, kind and considerate, to the point that relationships are more than anything else within the Church. “Give me your heart,” is the great cry of heaven and hurting humanity. The solution to the ultimate origin of war, is a spiritual solution, found in Christ.
When we come to Christ, we will want to live in peace with all men. And the fruit of the Spirit will let that happen, in as far as we understand ourselves, confess our sins of hatred and hostility, and stay close to the Saviour.
If we are to fight, let us fight as soldiers of the Cross, and not as mercenaries for the world, the flesh, and the devil. May God grant grace to understand the difference as we sing a song of Zion.
“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.
Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.”