“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” What a great question! It comes from James 4:1 in a context where James had been discussing wisdom and comparing the wisdom of this world with the wisdom that comes from above. He noted that wisdom from above is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy, and the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18) It’s unfortunate that when chapters and verses were added to the Bible they put a chapter break between this statement about wisdom from God and the following words about quarrels and conflicts.
It seems to me that James has stated the ideal of people acting like God leads them to act. But then he looks at the reality that between people there are often quarrels and conflicts. This is true no matter what area of life you may look at. In this political season it is obvious that there are huge conflicts and quarrels between the political candidates and those who are now in the offices. I listened to a man on radio bemoan the fact you couldn’t get democrats, republicans and tea party leaders all together in one place. Why can’t we just get along? As distasteful as it is to see and hear the ads from candidates about their opponents, quarrels and conflicts aren’t limited to the political arena.
During weeks when the calls and meetings with couples who are having troubles in their marriage, many of which are preparing to call it quits, I wonder where the people are with good, healthy marriages. But the conflict in the home isn’t limited to conflicts between husbands and wives. It is often between wives and her in-laws or husbands and their in-laws. It may also be between parents and their teenaged children or even their adult children.
Anyone who has ever worked in a factory or in an office knows that conflicts and quarrels are common in business. It would be one thing if we just had conflicts with those who were our competition, but that is hardly the case. The conflict may be between partners in the company or between labor and management or it may just be between two people in the same office.
Go to the schools your children attend or even the PTA meetings and it won’t be long before you see and feel the animosity between different people in the group.
One might think that the one place where this surely wouldn’t be the case would be at church. We go to church to worship God and praise His name. But conflict in church is not at all unusual. People can get angry and frustrated with each other over the most insignificant things you could imagine. It amazes me to hear the disgust in many conversations as they talk about what songs are used in the worship assemblies.
Where does it all come from? Why do people who love each other deeply have such a hard time getting along with each other? Listen to the rest of what James said on this subject in James 4. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
If you try to boil down what James said three things jump out. First, it is selfishness that drives most of the things he mentions. We want what is pleasurable to us. Our passions are alive for the things that will make us feel good. If you consider the life and heart of Jesus one of the primary characteristics he demonstrated was unselfishness. He said for us to treat other people the way we would like to be treated. He emptied himself to become a man and went even further to be a servant among us. He went the full distance when he went to the cross and took upon himself the sins of us all and took the punishment for our sins so we could be saved. Paul said in Philippians 2:1-4 that if we would have one mind we must not look at our own interest alone but also on the interest of others and that we should count others as better than ourselves. The man who started the Salvation Army, William Booth, was scheduled to speak to a convention in the United States. A huge crowd had gathered to listen to him. When someone went to the microphone and announced that Mr. Booth was ill and wouldn’t be able to come a sigh went across the crowd. But the man said the good news is that he had sent his message in a telegram to be read to the group. Everyone sat anxiously waiting as the man opened the telegram, looked at it and read the one word message to the crowd. Booth had written the word “Others” as his whole message. It is a message we all need to hear.
The second word that stands out is the word “envy”. Our envy and jealousy toward others brings on conflict and quarrels. We want what we think they have. We sometimes seem to think that if we just had the things that others have we would be happy and get along. But things never solve conflicts. Go to the biggest house in the richest neighborhood with the finest cars and the very best furniture and you will still find quarrels and conflicts. Truthfully you may find more happiness in the poorest part of town with those who have very little of this worlds goods. It is what is inside the heart of a person that counts not what they have. The right attitude for anyone who follows Christ to have is to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Compassion is one of the greatest virtues anyone can have.
Third, if we wish to overcome the quarrels and conflicts we need to spend time on our knees together in prayer to God. It’s true that we often pray for things and see nothing happen. James said the first problem we have with prayer is that we don’t pray. “You have not because you don’t ask.” But he also said, “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so you can spend it on your own pleasures.” Prayers that are like a childs list for Santa won’t bring answers from God. Too often the things we ask for would do us harm if we received it. Check your own prayers. How much of your prayers are about you and your family? We all need to broaden the scope of our prayers. Pray for the one that you have the conflict with. Pray for God to bless them and guide them. Don’t pray that they will learn to agree with us. It is hard to stay angry at a person we constantly pray for.
Quarrels and conflicts can’t always be solved because they involve at least two people and you can only control the thoughts and actions of one and that is you. If we change ourselves it will often result in a change in the other person as well. But, no matter what the other person does you should do right and drop out of the fuss.