James 4:1-3 (NKJV)
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
This week many of us have watched with dismay as Russian President Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. Many of our contemporaries believed that we were beyond such barbaric times; that our new global economy would prevent a full-scale national war. But such a belief reveals that many of us have not reckoned with the depth of human corruption.
What is the basic problem in the world? Is it poverty, ignorance, religion, economic inequality? Where do wars and fights come from? The question James poses is a question that the modern world continues to ask. Unfortunately, the answers given are rarely helpful, usually only partial truths. Consequently, our solutions are impotent. We put a band-aid on the visible wound but fail to stop the bleeding within.
So where do wars and fights come from? James tells us plainly: they come from covetousness, envy, desiring the good things that God has given to others. “Wrath is cruel,” Solomon informs us, “and anger is a torrent, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Pr 27:4) How does James describe this for us?
First, he says, “we lust and do not have.” We look around at all the good things God has given our neighbor and, rather than rejoice for them, we lust for ourselves. Whether what we desire is their Tonka truck, their mp3 player, their nicely proportioned body, their spouse, their car, or their mansion on the lake– we hunger for what they’ve got. And this hunger, this lustful desire, is the source of wars and conflicts – on a personal level and on a national level.
How so? James tells us. “You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” In other words, having eyed your neighbor’s car, his intelligence, or his new sneakers and having desired them for yourself, you proceed to wish ill for your neighbor. “Oh, if only he would die and leave his money to me.” “If only his wife would die, and I’d come comfort him and he’d marry me.”
And then, having wished this evil upon our neighbor, it is simply a small leap to perpetrating the evil. Imagine you’re envious of a new game that your sibling received but won’t play with you. “Oh, I’m sorry brother, I didn’t realize that was your game I was stepping on.” Imagine you want that promotion at work but Jenkins stands in your way. Why not just lie to remove him? “Boss, I thought I should let you know, that I’ve observed Jenkins playing games on his computer during work hours.” Imagine you’re Putin longing for the glory days of the Soviet Empire; why not just lie to justify your ambition? “The Ukrainian people are mistreating the Russian speakers within their borders, and so now I am justified in invading their country like I have wanted to do all along.”
What is the solution to this type of lustful desire? It is to turn one’s eyes to God and trust Him to supply all one needs. “You do not have,” James declares, “because you do not ask.” But beware. Why are you asking? Are you asking for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom, or are you asking simply to satisfy your lusts? Because if the latter James declares, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Reminded that covetousness is a sin and that it is the source of quarrels and conflicts in marriage, in the home, in the workplace, in the church, and in the world, let us kneel and confess that we have coveted our neighbors’ goods. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.