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.
Much speculation ensues in the modern world as to the cause of strife and warfare. Listen to the pundits analyze world affairs, and you’ll hear numerous reasons proposed for why the latest firestorm has lit up the night sky. The folks are just so poor. These folks are religious zealots. The high price of food is causing riots. If only they were better educated.
What is the basic problem in the world? Where do wars and fights come from? The question that 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 tell us plainly – they come from covetousness, envy, desiring the good things that God has given to others. 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.
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 suddenly 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. “Boss, I thought I should let you know, that I’ve observed Jenkins playing games on his computer during work hours.” Imagine you’re Hitler during World War II. “The Czechoslovakian people have repeatedly harassed the Germans living within their borders, and so now I am justified in taking the Sudetenland like I wanted to do all along.”
“Wrath is cruel,” Solomon informs us, “and anger is a torrent, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Pr 27:4)
What is the solution to this type of lustful desire? 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.