Thursday, August 22, 2013

Of Quarrels and Fights

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us ? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

James 4:1-6 (NIV)

Pastor Dan preached a wonderful message this past Sunday about what causes family squabbles, using the fourth chapter of James as his scriptural reference point.  I guess that message inspired me to look again at those verses and their profound implications for our lives as disciples.

I have often in these pages and elsewhere grieved over the "consumer mentality" that often seems to permeate the modern church.  What I mean by that is we come to church with expectations about what God will do for us, rather than expectations about how God might use us to minister to others -- how God might use us to advance and build His Kingdom. It reminds me of a great quote from President John F. Kennedy that went something like this:  "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

The problem, to be sure, is that we are "double minded."  There is a part of us that wants to be in alignment with God's values and desires, but there is also a part of us -- and all too often the bigger part -- that is concerned with our own selfish desires.  Part of the problem is that we do not get what we want.  But, the bigger problem is that we want the wrong things.  And, those wrong things come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 

We want the things that we think will satisfy the cravings of our flesh.  We want the things that will bring instant gratification.  We want the new car and the better job.  We want to be "better" than our neighbor.  We want to win the argument.  ("When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.")

The problem, as James makes so painfully clear, is that we cannot love the world -- or more particularly the material things that we think will make us happy -- without being an enemy of God.  Indeed, James describes our love of the world and its pleasures as "adulterous" -- when we love the world we are cheating on God!!

When we were talking in our Men's group a couple of Saturdays ago, my friend Mark mentioned the scene in Genesis where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for basically a bowl of soup.  This story reminds us that love of the world not only causes quarreling and enmity with God, but it is the root of a great deal of sin.

At first blush one might think that Esau was just dim-witted to exchange his birthright for a bowl of soup.  The problem, though, was not that Esau was stupid; but rather that in the moment he was deceived into believing that satisfying his fleshly desire -- his hunger -- was more important than his birthright.  And the truth is that we all regularly give up eternal treasures in exchange for earthly ones.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. ) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)

I am not at all saying that we should not have fun and enjoy life.  By no means!  Jesus came so that we might have life, and have life more abundantly.  John 10:10.

What I am saying is that our motive in all things should be to bring glory to God.  When we put God first in our lives there is simply no reason for us to quarrel and fight.  And, when we do have disagreements there is no reason for them to become ugly or confrontational.  We have a common goal -- which is to love God and one another in the circumstance.

I readily confess that I struggle greatly with this myself.  I want a comfortable life, financial security, and even "toys" as much as anyone else.  I enjoy spending time with my family, playing guitar and even watching sports every once in awhile. (I can't wait to see Washington and RGIII beat up on the Cowboys this year!).  When I have disagreements with other people, EVEN IN CHURCH, I want to be right -- I want to win.

But I hope that my focus in life is on serving God.  I hope that I have the courage, conviction and will to strive to be the radical disciple that God calls me to be.  I hope that  I am willing to put my own feelings, rights, comfort and pride aside if to do so will advance the Gospel. I hope that the desire to be all things to all people for the Gospel's sake will always be more powerful than the selfish desires that so often stir my heart.

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