If you want to end the conflict in your heart, submit to God’s will.
So let me invite you. Take your copy of God’s Word and turn to James. We’re still in our series talking about how faith impacts the world. We’ve been in James since August. It’s a small book, and we’ve been going through it verse by verse by verse and section by section. The hope, and I think the way it’s planned out now, is we’ll be finished right around the time that I’ll be starting a Christmas series. I’m really excited because right now, in this moment, we’re going to walk through the book of Ruth for the four weeks of Christmas. You don’t think much about Christmas when you think of Ruth, but it really is a story that relates to Christmas. If no other connection, it takes place in Bethlehem, but there’s a lot in Ruth that connects to Jesus as well, so a few more weeks as we walk through James.
Now, as we think about this sermon today – conflict, reason and remedy. This is the great part about walking through the Bible in an expository way because you come to topics that can be challenging and difficult that will step on people’s toes, mine included as I studied this week, but if I go through it verse by verse, nobody can say I’m picking on you, right, because that’s just what’s next. I’m preaching what’s next, and I say that because really, the focus is on church conflict, which is a hard topic to talk about.
Maybe to lighten that topic a little bit before we get really serious about it, I found a list by Tom Rayner. You can Google it. There’s 25 of these. I’m not going to read all 25, but these are absurd arguments that have taken place in churches. Now I hope, and I went through these 25 things, and prayerfully considered the ones I was going to pick, ’cause I do not want to offend anybody here. And, I really hope none of this has happened. The first one – I think we’re OK. I mean, Graham’s got a beard, but it’s not that long. An argument broke out over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard.
Business meeting topic – this was a good one. I gotta keep an eye on our deacons to make sure this doesn’t happen. A deacon accused another deacon of sending an anonymous letter about him. They decided to settle the matter in the parking lot.
This is one of my favorites. A church argument broke out and a vote took place to decide if a clock in the worship center should be removed. Yeah, now see there’s not one back there, and if I ever get long winded, I expect one to show up. I worked with up at an interim pastor. One time the church he was coming from, they had a clock and they put it up there cause he would preach about an hour and they wanted him to not preach so long.
Another fight broke out over what picture of Jesus will we put in the foyer? And you’re like, I mean, you know we don’t know what Jesus looked like really, right? So in my mind, I think it’s like this blonde haired, blue-eyed Jesus versus the you know, Middle Eastern Jesus. You’ve seen those pics? The Middle Eastern one’s more accurate just to be honest with you. Jesus did not have blonde hair, blue eyes.
A church argument over whether you should allow deviled eggs at the church meal. Anybody leaving that church if they voted against it? Although I’ve discovered, Covid messed my taste buds up and I can’t eat eggs anymore, so that’s very disappointing.
This is another one, a disagreement over changing from potluck to pot-blessing. That’s pretty funny, and again, there’s 25 of these. They’re really funny. You can go through and those are just some of my favorites. You can Google Tom Rainer 25 church arguments for the rest. I remember when he did this. What he did is put a Twitter poll out there, and he just asked pastors to share their experiences. There are actually over 100 different ones that were shared. These were just the most common, but it’s just interesting.
We’ll fight about anything, won’t we? Yeah, how about this? I know I’m picking on churches a little bit, but your families will fight about anything too, right? Yeah, there’s conflict in every aspect of life. We see that week in and week out, and I know there’s a lot of people who are sitting here and maybe you’ve been through this, and you’re like, you know, I just wish we could go back to the old days when there was no church conflict. Anybody remember that? Anybody done that? I mean, some people might be thinking that I just knew that early church – they were so unified. You realize we would not have the books of the Bible if it were not for church conflict.
Basically, all of Paul’s letters are addressing some sort of church conflict. It goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Lot started to fight with his uncle Abraham in Genesis 13, and it didn’t really end well. Absalom created a war between him and his father David, and the disciples created problems amongst themselves because they were arguing over who’s the greatest in the Kingdom. Right, yeah? And then you got this – you got the Mama coming up and says, “Can both my kids sit on your right- and left-hand side?” That can cause problems, but she’s just being a good mama.
You get all these. The Corinthian Church is just riddled with problems, right? I mean, this is full of conflict and disorganization, and it’s terrible. The Galatian Church, it says in Galatians 5:15, they’re biting and devouring each other. You got any babies that bite? But yes, they’re biting and devouring each other. This is the early church.
Then you’ve got the Ephesians where Paul calls for spiritual unity. Philippi – we’ve walked through that book. You got two women in Philippi who are who are at each other’s throat. And this is the early church, and then you got James. Obviously, there’s conflict, and he has to address it, and maybe you’re thinking well, as they worked out all the wrinkles, it got better over time and the church was organized.
7th century Jewish philosopher. I can’t pronounce his name, I think it’s Sponanza, he wrote this: I have wondered that persons who make boasts of professing the Christian religion, namely, love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity, to all men should quarrel with such rancorous animosity that is displayed daily towards one another with such bitter hatred that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the criteria of their faith.
I’m going to read that again, ’cause it’s weird language, but I want you to get it. He says: I’ve often wondered that persons who make boasts of professing the Christian religion (these are Christians – they profess love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity), but they quarrel with each other with such rancorous animosity and display such bitter hatred towards each other, that it is the hatred and their fights that is the criteria for their faith. That’s the 7th century. And we live in today’s world. And you’ve seen six or seven of the things that churches have fought over.
Here’s my point. This series says how faith can impact the world. How can we impact the world if people view us as always fighting with each other? How can we impact the world if we’re seen to be the opposite of what we profess. Now, I’m not saying the church that this Jewish philosopher attended didn’t show love and joy and peace. They probably did, but it was their fights that drew the attention of the outside world. That’s something to think about.
I will say this just up front. There are things worth fighting for. We need to fight for doctrine and truth. We fight for the Bible, OK? But the way we fight helps distinguish us, too. We don’t do it with slander and envy and hate. We do it with love and gentleness and compassion OK, and so there are things that we have to fight about. There are disagreements that we’re going to have, and not all disagreements are bad. The ones I read are pretty silly and should have never came up. And all churches have those things, but there are things that we have to discuss and have to talk about.
But James gives us kind of a clear picture on a better way to do it. He gives us the reason and the remedy. So that’s what we’re going to look at. We’re going to see the reason for conflict and the remedy for conflict, but my goal is that by the time we’re done, is that we’ll see that it’s submission to God – it is submission to God that is the remedy to our conflict – church conflict, family conflict, work conflict. It’s the remedy for our conflict with God Himself, so here’s what, again, James Chapter 4:1-12 says.
James 4:1-12: What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? 2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So, whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God. 5 Or do you think it’s without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit he made to dwell in us envies intensely?
6 But he gives greater grace. Therefore he says:
God resists the proud
but gives grace to the humble.
7 Therefore, submit 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, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Let’s pray together. Father, as we examine Your Word this morning, may it reveal to us our sin and may it reveal to us our Savior. Father, help us to be convicted where we have failed and embrace the saving power of our Lord Jesus, submitting to Him each and every day. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
So, when we think about the last few weeks of James, he’s been pretty harsh, hasn’t he? He talked about being doers of the Word and receiving the Word, and then he went into taming the tongue and not showing favoritism and producing fruit.
Last week, he compared earthly wisdom to godly wisdom, so he’s been addressing some very hard topics and what it really boils down to is they’re heart topics. He’s basically been saying that God has to cleanse our heart before we can have an impact on the world. Listen, before we have any kind of impact on the world, Jesus has to have an impact on our heart, right? Before we can have an impact on spreading the Gospel and ministering to our community, Jesus has to first rip out all of that uncleanliness that we find in our own life and in our own heart.
Main idea: submitting your life to God is the remedy to conflict.
James says that the reason we have conflict is because of personal passion.
1 – The reason for conflict is personal passion.
Personal preference is another way to put it – personal passion or personal preference. He asked two questions, and I love the way he does it. He asked the first one, you know, just a kind of introductory question: what is the source of wars and fights among you? Then he answers it with a question. You ever done that? Have you ever asked a question, and somebody answered it with a question? Yeah, we’ve all done that.
So James takes it upon himself to answer the question with a question: don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? Now, it’s rhetorical because he knows the answer. It’s kind of like – honey, did you do the dishes? And it’s rhetorical because the dishes are piled up in the sink. She knows the answer or that’s right, right?
Well, I thought of another one when I was a student, but it would be a bad example for the students in the room, so I don’t think I’m going to say it. Yeah, I’m going to say it now. I’m not going to say it. Yeah, I am. This was in college actually – so, it was a computer class in college. I was behind. The girl sitting next to me was ahead, and this was 20-some years ago. So, the way the network was set up, we could click on a folder with the other person’s name on it and see their files. So, I just copied and pasted her work into mine.
Now, I told her I was going to do it, and she was OK with it. Here’s the problem. And students, listen to me, don’t cheat because you’ll get caught. I didn’t think. I just copied and pasted. Luckily the professor was also another student in one of my other classes, so he was a friend of mine, so we didn’t get turned in, which was good. But if it had been a real professor, we would have been in trouble. He kindly asked me, did you copy and paste her work? I said no. He looked at me again. He goes, rethink it because I already know the answer. You know how he knew? When I copied and pasted, I didn’t change the name on the assignment. Her name was on mine. He asked the question already knowing the answer. That’s what James has done.
He’s asking the question – don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? And the answer is yes. That’s exactly where they come from – your personal preference, your passions. Now, the keyword, this passion, you might want to highlight it, circle it. That’s kind of the keyword. It’s where we get the word hedonism from. Hedonism is defined as a belief that pleasure is the chief end of a good life. Basically, that Word means that everything about your life, the primary goal is to have pleasure for yourself.
Now, James has been on this thread of self and selfish ambition and envy and jealousy and really promoting yourself. And now he’s adding a layer to it that the unchristian heart has these desires that lead us to advance ourselves over anybody else because we want pleasure for us. This is an indulgent pleasure. By the way, I have a desire and a pleasure to see the Panthers win a football game before I pass, OK? That’s not a bad pleasure. But the indulgent pleasure would be if I did something to harm somebody because they were losing.
OK, so not all pleasure is bad, and this is very specifically an indulgent pleasure that is going to indulge our life in a in a self-indulgent behavior that is contrary to God’s Word. What happens is, and you see this with babies, right? They have a toy – one toy, it’s their toy that brings them pleasure. If they’re screaming, maybe it’s a Binky or whatever. There’s just one toy that if they’re screaming, they’re crying, you can give him the toy, and they’re happy. So, what happens when you discipline the baby by taking the toy away? They take the temper tantrum to an unacceptable level, don’t they?
Adults do the same thing. It just looks different. Well, some of us cry, some may stomp our feet. Remember that Andy Griffith episode where Opie’s learning, and he holds his breath and Andy just kind of looks at him like he’s crazy. You know, we do that because we want something so badly and we don’t get it. So then we get frustrated, and when frustration leads to backbiting and talking bad about people, and next thing you know, you’re like those deacons out in the parking lot slugging it out, right?
You know where I see this most often? Youth sporting events. Anybody? Youth, maybe not so much now. I mean, now I go to the Y. Those are good Christian people at the Y, but I’ve also discovered soccer parents aren’t quite as intense as baseball and football, at least where I’ve been. So that’s good, but I see this, you know. You see these videos every now and then of parents fighting with coaches and my kid didn’t get to play, and that’s what I really, really, really wanted cause my kid’s the next Babe Ruth. No, they’re not, but yeah, they’re going to blows. And I’ve told you the story about me yelling at referees and it’s cause we didn’t get what we wanted.
There’s a story about a church out of Texas. There was such a great conflict that the church split, but the split was so dirty, so nasty that both sides wanted the building OK. They both were fighting. It goes to court. I mean, not church court. I mean, it goes to real United States court. They sue each other over the building and the property. The judge traces the conflict back to a church meal. They served deviled eggs, I think. There was an old man, an older man, who got infuriated. This is a true story, by the way. It was one of the papers down there. An older man got infuriated because the piece of ham that he was given was smaller than what the little child was given beside him.
Think about that for a second. He had such desire, such personal preference, to have a bigger piece of ham than a little kid. They could just have, you know, if you’re in the cafeteria of the school, you just ask to trade, right? I’ll give you a small piece of ham and a cookie for that big piece of ham. That would have been a simple way to solve the issue.
So that’s what we get to, and so here’s what I just want to share with you. He goes on to say that this is a war within us. Christians, we have a war within us. It’s in our heart because we still have an old nature. We still have a nature that says I want what I want the way I want it when I want it. I can tell you a secret. That doesn’t go away when you decide to follow Jesus. It wars within you. As you grow in your faith, you begin to allow the Spirit of God to help you overcome those desires.
But James says, it’s this war within your heart, and this war in your heart is causing wars in our churches. This war in our heart is causing wars in our families and our businesses, our schools, in our government and our nation. This war in our heart is causing wars in our life and it leads to this:
Personal passion leads to problematic actions.
Look at verse two. It says you murder and you covet. You fight, you wage war. Like that little child, you take these unmet desires and these displeasures, and you raise them to an unacceptable level.
Now a lot of people that I read this week really think that James is talking about verbal back and forth. He’s not saying that this is very literally strong war-like language, that we’re going to kill people. We’re going to murder. We don’t have, so we’re going to go take. Most commentators think he’s being very metaphorical in that he’s really just talking about verbally assassinating somebody.
You know, Jesus talks about this some in the sermon on the Mount, where he takes murder to a whole another level. It’s not just killing somebody physically. It’s assassinating their character, and that’s probably what James has in mind, but the more you study and the more you read, you understand that there are members of this early church who were religious zealots. They were zealots, and there were Jewish zealots, and these zealots were very confrontational. They were very, if I don’t get my way, I’m going to kill you. And so knowing that there are members in the church who are who are struggling with becoming more and more like Jesus, it is conceivable to think that yeah, there’s members killing each other.
The language is so literal that he’s really addressing harsh physical confrontations between the members, and so this passion is leading to problematic actions. For us today, I don’t think there’s any zealots in the room, but today it really is verbal assassination. It starts with the words that we use. It’s why James focuses so much on taming the tongue.
And then you look down at verse 11 and 12, and James says don’t criticize one another. He uses this phrase “brothers and sisters,” which I’ll point out that he uses something different in a minute. He says that anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer, defames and judges the law.
Here’s what he says in verses 11 and 12 – when you slander somebody’s character, when you lie about somebody, when you spread rumors, when you criticize harshly, you are putting yourself above God. You’re putting yourself above God. You’re putting yourself above God’s law.
Namely, love your neighbor. That’s what happens when we have conflict. It is that we are basically elevating my desires, my wants, my needs above what God wants and what God knows that we need.
Personal passion leads to problematic praying.
We also see that James points out that it leads to problematic praying. Personal passion leads to problematic praying – that you ask and do not receive because we ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Before that, he says you don’t receive because you don’t ask. There’s a lot of reasons we don’t pray. There’s a lot of reasons we don’t ask. Some of it, we don’t ask because we just don’t trust God, right? We don’t ask because we don’t think God will answer that prayer, so we just don’t ask. Some of us don’t ask because we think we can do it on our own. We think that we have the ability to fix this or meet our needs. But then when we ask, we don’t receive, because we ask with the wrong motives.
You know, if I prayed for a Mercedes-Benz over and over and over and over, and God didn’t give me a Mercedes, does that mean God wasn’t faithful? No, it just means I didn’t want to use it for anything. I just wanted a Mercedes. And if you have a Mercedes, I’m not talking bad about the car. I love the car. Or, I pray to have $1,000,000 put in my bank account tomorrow. What’s my motives for that? What’s my motives?
I heard it said this week that, and I think I’ve said it before in one way or another, prayer is not getting our wants and needs met by heaven. It is when we pray, we’re trying to bring heaven to us, heaven to earth.
When we pray, we are showing a dependence upon God and as you develop a prayer life, and as you grow and pray and pray more and learn how to pray, you’ll be amazed at how your prayer life will align with God’s will for your life and all of a sudden, you’ll see answered prayer after answer. You might not get the Mercedes, but you’ll begin receiving blessings from God that you can in turn use to bring glory to God and impact others with the Gospel.
Now throughout this book, James has called them brothers and sisters, very gentle – brothers and sisters as we saw in verses 11 and 12. In verse four, he says, “You adulterous people.” That’s strong language. We all know what adultery is in in the context of the world we live in. What does it mean here? He’s basically saying you have these personal desires. You’re fighting with each other. You’re punching each other. You’re killing each other. You’re verbally assassinating other people. You adulterous people – you’re cheating on Me with the world.
That’s what he says. You are cheating on Me with the world, and he says you cannot be friends with the world and be friends with God. If you’re friends with the world, you’re God’s enemies. If you prefer to live in this world, to be accepted by this world, act just like this world, then you are enemies and in conflict with God. That’s the heart of what he’s saying. You’re cheating on God with the world. And if you’re sitting there thinking, well, I don’t know if I’m that or not, I’ll ask you this question: do you feel more at home in the church or out in the world? Where are you more comfortable? Is this hour or two on Sunday mornings uncomfortable for you? Do you dread coming to church?
I don’t want to be harsh because I think everybody goes through dry spells in our faith. We’ve all gone, myself included, where we just didn’t want to go to church. We just didn’t want to pray. We didn’t want to read our Bibles. We’ve all gone through that, and we’ve all gone through experiences where we just feel more comfortable in the world.
But that is a problem. And as we grow in our faith, we just continue to pursue God. And sometimes you just gotta grind through that pull of the world. You just gotta keep trusting and keep praying and keep studying and keep going.
But again, it boils down to your heart. Is your heart more in love with the world or is it in love with the church? I mean the church is on a collision course with the world. We have been blessed in the United States to freely worship for a long time. That could continue for a long time. We can gather on Sunday mornings free of persecution. But what will you do when it’s no longer free to do it? You say that would never happen here. Well, pretty much everywhere else in the world, they’re not allowed to do it. They have to meet in homes. They have to meet in huts. They don’t have buildings like this or places of worship like this. The rest of the world is much different than the American church. Would you still go to church if it was like that? If you had to sit on the dirt instead of in a padded pew.
Where is your heart? Are you in love with the world and worldly things, or are you in love with God? Because if you love the world, you’re going to act like the world. And the world is in conflict. The world is in conflict, but there’s good news because the remedy to all that conflict is submission to God.
It starts with God’s grace. I love that. God created us. He created you. He knows the hairs on your head. He knows your name. He knows everything about you. He knows how sinful you are. He knows how sinful your heart is. And He still sent His Son to die for you. That’s grace. That’s getting something we haven’t earned, or we don’t deserve. I say it all the time. I’m not giving my only son up for you guys, y’all. And from my human perspective, you’re not worth it. I love you, but God says I love you, and you are worth it. Because I’m going to send My one and only Son to hang on a cross to end the conflict first and foremost between God and humanity.
So James says to submit to God and draw nearer to God. I mean, that’s it. If you want to fix the conflict in church, stop submitting to your own personal preferences and desires. Submit to God’s will. If you want to end the conflict in your families, submit to God’s will for the family. That’s not going to all go away. I mean teenagers are going to be teenagers and parents are going to be parents. But it’ll go a whole lot smoother when everybody is submitting to God’s will. If you want to end the conflict in your heart, submit to God’s will.
So this is just a question. Have you submitted your life to God? Have you given your life to the Lord Jesus? As you study James and as you study the Gospels, you really do see some differences in what we think. We don’t see disciples praying the sinners’ prayer. That’s a good prayer. We don’t see these, other than a few one or two places – we don’t see massive alter calls, but most of the time we see individuals simply submitting their life to God. We see individuals simply saying that today I’m going to follow Jesus. Today I’m going to stop following the world. I’m going to stop following my passions and my preferences and I’m just going to follow God. I’m going to follow Jesus.
That is the first step in salvation. Do you believe and will you follow? And if you’ve never decided to follow Jesus, then today is the day for you to commit your life to Him, to submit and to surrender, to say I’m going to end this conflict. It’s going to be done. And I’m going to let God transform my heart. I’m going to let God transform my life. And so, all these other conflicts that I experience, I’m just going to give it to God and let God fix it. It’ll be hard; it’ll be messy, but I’m going to put my faith and trust in Him. Have you decided to follow Jesus?
Let’s pray together. Father, I pray now that if there’s anyone here who’s never made the decision to follow You that they would step forward, that they would accept You as their Lord and Savior, that they would surrender their life and submit their life to You. And Father, for Christians who are here who are involved in in the conflicts of life, help us to submit to Your will. Help us to seek Your ways and Your guidance, and we know that You can help overcome the conflicts in our families and our businesses, that You can help overcome the conflicts in churches. God, Your will be done, not mine. Father, we just pray that You would continue to work in this world. Help this church and the other churches in this community, state, nation, and around the world. Help us to impact the world with our faith because there’s still a lot of people who need to hear about You. We ask all this in Jesus’ Name, amen.