How Fights are Stopped and Started

Bible Book: James  4 : 1-10
Subject: Conflict; Church Fights; Arguements; Disagreements

In 2005 Virginia’s Henrico County School system decided to get rid of 1,000 four-year-old Apple iBook laptop computers by selling them to the public for a bargain price of $50 each. The sale was to take place at the Richmond International Raceway and once the date was set people started lining up hours before the doors were to open. It was estimated that 5,500 people showed up in the fervent hope of getting one of the computers. One woman was so desperate to hold on to her place in line that she wet herself rather than give it up. By the time the gates opened at 7:00 a.m., desire for the iBooks had built to a fever pitch, and a terrifying mob scene took place.

Here’s a picture of what it looked like when they opened the gates. People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. You only need look at the expression on the security guard’s face in this next shot to know what it was like that day. People went crazy in their attempts to get one of the precious iBooks. Fights broke out. Seventeen people were hurt. Four required hospitalization. A young woman named Latoya Jones was there and said, “I could not move. I could not breathe. It was total, total chaos.” Witnesses said that in the rush an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone actually got in their car and tried to DRIVE their way through the crowd.

One of the winners was a man named Jesse Sandler. He ended up with an iBook, but not without a fight. Sandler beat people off with the folding chair he had brought along. The 20-year-old said, very nonchalantly, “I took my chair here, and I threw it over my shoulder, and I went, BAM! They were getting in front of me, and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just.”

Now, when we hear stories like this most of us entertain a sort of mental sneer. We think, “How immature—how foolish it is for people to quarrel like that—especially in this day and age! How could they come to blows over an old laptop! Tsk Tsk!” And if those kind of thoughts are going through your mind at the moment—then think again, because the truth is many times you and I are just as foolish and immature. Of course we don’t usually wield folding chairs as weapons or drive our cars through crowds of pedestrians in an attempt to get a good deal on a computer but we do engage in verbal battles. All of us do. In fact it almost seems as if it is our nature to fight first and ask questions later.

And this begins very early in life—I mean almost as soon as we are able to relate to others we begin to quarrel with them about this or that. How many of you remember when your precious “perfect” two-year-old toddler grabbed something out of another child’s arms and said angrily, “MINE!” Sure you do! We’ve all seen our children quarrel and fight over who got to play with what toy. Then in later years we’ve heard them argue over who got to use the bathroom first or who got to wear whose clothes. In fact, sometimes parents feel like powerless UN Peace-keeping troops trying to keep their kids from killing each other.

And—we don’t grow out of this tendency toward quarrelling over foolish things. Some of my fellow pastors have told me about grown men and women—husbands and wives—whose entire marriage relationship deteriorated to the brink of divorce because of an argument over something as foolish as where to take a vacation or whose job it was to take out the garbage.

And unfortunately this tendency to quarrel and fight is even seen in relationships between Christians—people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace. I’ve heard of believers who quarreled over everything from what color to re-stain their church’s pews to which style of worship was best. I once read about a church that fought over how to dispense the wine when they celebrated Communion. One group favored the use of a common cup while others preferred using multiple cups. The disagreement escalated until the church was divided into two camps: the “one-cuppers” and the “many-cuppers” and they could not agree so the church split right down the middle.

Several years ago here at Redland I thought we were going to lose members over which Sunday School class got what donuts. In fact the quarreling got so bad that the pastoral staff felt it was best to stop getting donuts all together until things calmed down. I can’t believe we were ever that immature! Can you? I mean a donut is just a donut! It’s bad for you—plus it’s got a hole in it. The sad truth is Christians are known for their fighting and arguing. Church splits litter the landscape of all denominations. In fact, here’s a little inside information. Most churches that split give birth to a church that titles itself “NEW HOPE.” Well we have NEW HOPE Baptist Churches and NEW HOPE Presbyterian Churches and so on. I am reminded of the young dad who heard commotion in the back yard. He looked out and saw his daughter and several playmates in a heated argument. When he intervened, his daughter called back, “Don’t worry dad. We’re just playing church.”

As I studied this week one other example came to mind. Have you ever heard of a pastor named J. Frank Norris? Rev. Norris was a very popular preacher in Fort Worth, Texas in the 1920′s and he LOVED conflict. He was always arguing with someone about something or other. The best example of this was seen in one of his sermons which was entitled, “The Ten Worst Devils in Fort Worth Texas—Names Given.” Can you imagine seeing that printed in the bulletin when you come into church one Sunday? Well, this sermon lived up to its title and one of the “devils” Rev. Norris mentioned in this message was the current Roman Catholic mayor of Fort Worth. After Norris commented from the pulpit that the mayor wasn’t fit to be the manager of a hog-pen, one of the mayor’s friends threatened Rev. Norris by phone. Not getting any satisfaction, he came over to Norris’ office in the church. After a heated argument, Rev. Norris pulled a revolver out of his desk and shot the man dead. A jury let him off, saying it was self-defense—and I wasn’t there of course so I can’t say whether or not this was a fair and just trial. I mean the guy may have attacked Norris with a knife or something but I never have figured out why a pastor would need to keep a pistol in his desk in the first place. The only “weapon” we’re supposed to use is the Sword of Truth!

I don’t know about you, but hearing about all this fighting and feuding among Christians makes me agree with evangelist Billy Sunday who once said, “It’s amazing God is doing as well as He is with the crowd He has to work with.” We laugh but the unfortunate truth is we are ALL a part of this crowd of quarrelers. Each of us have this tendency toward fighting over foolish things. And if you’ve ever wondered why—I mean, if you’ve ever snapped at your kids or your spouse or your neighbor or co-worker or the Christian in the next purple seat—if you’ve ever snapped at them over some little thing…and thought, “Where did that come from? Why did I say that?”— then I would advise that you pay close attention this morning as we study the fourth chapter of the book of James—because in this text God uses James to help us understand this troublesome aspect of our character. In fact not only does James tell us WHY we behave like this and WHAT happens when we do, He also tells us HOW we can stop it—what steps we can take to quit quarreling.

Of course James had personal experience when it came to quarrels—first in his own family back when he and his siblings initially disagreed with Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Remember? It was only after Jesus’ resurrection that James put his faith in our Lord. James also had experience dealing with conflict in his role as pastor of the church at Jerusalem…conflict over whether or not a Gentile Christian had to obey the Jewish law.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to James 4. Let’s see what God used James to teach us. We’ll be looking at verses 1-10.

1 – What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 – You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 – When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 – You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 – Or do you think Scriptures say without reason that the Spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely? Or as the JERUSALEM BIBLE words it, “…the Spirit, which He sent to live in us wants us for Himself alone.” 6 – But He gives us more grace. This is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 – Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 – Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 – Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 – Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Did you catch James’ comment about the REASON behind our feuding? It really very simple.

I. The Reason for Feuding

A. He says we fight and quarrel because we don’t get what we WANT.

Look at verse 2 again, “You want something but don’t get it. You cannot have what you want—so you covet and quarrel and fight and kill.”President Abraham Lincoln once walked down the street with his two sons, both of whom were crying. A passerby asked, “What’s the matter with your boys Mr. President?”Lincoln replied, “Exactly what is wrong with the whole world. I have three walnuts and each boy wants two.”Well you and I are just as selfish as Lincoln’s sons—but these days we WANT far more than just a couple walnuts.According to a survey taken back in 1900, Americans WANTED 72 things but considered 19 of those things important.A similar survey in 1950 revealed that Americans WANTED 496 things and considered 96 to be essential.And I know for a fact that the “want and need” list has been increasing ever since because if you took the time to do it, you could come up with a long list of things we have now that people got along fine without 30 or 40 years ago—things that we now consider absolutely essential to life. For example:smart phones, i-pods and pads, huge LCD Flat screen TV’s with super-fast processors in every room of the house, Blue-ray DVD players, TiVO’s and DVRS, three or more cars per family and homes several times as large as they used to be. I mean, we are always adding things to the “need” list—things we covet because we believe must have them in order for us to survive.

Sue and I were talking this week about the fact that a day will dawn—in 10 or 20 years—when our house will be too big for us. The kids will have their own families and homes so we’ll have bedrooms and bathrooms we don’t need anymore. I told Sue,“Here’s something ironic. When that day dawns we should move back into the apartment we lived in when we first got married: one bedroom, one bath, a living room/dining room combo with a small kitchen and no yard. About 800 square feet all on one level.” And we may do something like that in a couple decades. By the way that first apartment was owned by Southern Seminary in Louisville and was called “Seminary Village.” It was an apartment complex about a mile off-campus that the seminary had bought for students to live in. It was originally built in the 1940′s and at the time the apartments were considered “luxury” apartments and the closet in the bedroom of these “luxury” dwellings wasn’t any wider than this pulpit. Back then, that small of a space was considered big enough for both husband and wife to store all the clothes and shoes they would need. It was a luxuriously sized closet!

Well, as you know, since then things have changed. Forget the word luxury. These days we think everyone NEEDS master bedrooms with two walk-in closets. This tells me that we now believe we NEED far more CLOTHES than people did in the 40′s—which doesn’t make sense. I mean if you factor in global warming we should “need” less clothes—right? This is just one more example to prove the fact that each of us is continually, selfishly seeking to accumulate things. We are never satisfied with what we have. By the way, this self-centered WANTING doesn’t just include material things like clothing. No—we yearn for non-material things like popularity and prestige and power as well. And the sad truth is when we don’t get what we want—whatever that THING is—then, just as James says, quarrels and disputes ensue and people get hurt.

A tragic example of this misery was seen several years ago at the World Cup tournament. Columbia had a team that had made it to the tournament largely because of this man—one of their defenders, a player whose name was Andre Escobar. In one of the final games they were playing another top team—and when Escobar tried to block an opponent’s kick—he accidentally kicked it into the goal instead, scoring a point for the other team. A week later, after he returned home to Columbia, Escobar was found shot to death. While we don’t know exactly what made someone want to shoot him, we do know someone WANTED something, and they didn’t get it. When they didn’t get it, their selfish desires led to violence and murder.

Now, I know none of us have ever killed because we didn’t get what we wanted—but I’m sure there have been times we WANTED to. And I know if we were honest we’d all have to admit that we have been willing participants in selfish disputes with other people. Sometimes these disputes have turned into feuds that lasted for several months or years, simply because someone’s selfish desires weren’t satisfied. If you doubt what I’m saying then watch yourself in the coming days and see if this is not true. Whenever you sense a surge of anger toward another person ask yourself, “Am I feeling this way because I didn’t get something that I wanted?”

I think you’ll find out that selfish wanting is usually behind our anger. It may be your wanting something foolish or something important or even something you feel that you rightfully deserve—but the truth is we are all wanters, cravers, and desirers. From the high chair to the high court—from the nuclear family to nuclear war—this principle is the same. Quarrels arise because we WANT something and we don’t get it.

And James says that one of the worst CONSEQUENCES for Christians who embrace this selfish attitude is that it brings our spiritual growth to a standstill by polluting our PRAYER LIFE. Look at verse 3: “When you ask God for what you want you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James knows that selfishness can warp our understanding of the purpose of prayer so that we look at it merely as a way to get the things that what we want. In 1727 John Ward, a member of the British Parliament died and among his papers they found a prayer he had written. It went like this:

“O Lord, Thou knowest that I have mine estates in the City of London, and likewise that I have lately purchased an estate in the county of Essex. I beseech Thee to preserve the two counties of Middlesex and Essex from fire and earthquake; and, as I have a mortgage in Hertfdodshire, I beg of Thee likewise to have an eye of compassion on that county. As for the rest of the counties, Thou mayest deal with them as Thou art pleased.” Is that a self-centered prayer or what?!

Now—don’t get me wrong, we ARE to pray honestly to God about our needs and even our wants but the correct ATTITUDE to have when we do so is to seek God’s will instead of our own. We should say, “God I want this—but I know that You know if I need it or not so I’m taking this to you but trusting Your answer to be best.” Prayer’s main purpose is to deepen our relationship with God—not to treat Him like some kind of omnipotent genie. Productive prayer does not say, “Lord, please do what I want for me.” Instead it says, “Lord, please do what YOU want WITH me.” I love the prayer that former baseball star Bobby Richardson once prayed. He said, “Dear God, Thy will be done, nothing less, nothing more, nothing else. AMEN.”

So—James says the REASON we have this tendency to quarrel and fight is because we are all selfish wanters. We wants what we wants when we wants it! And the stark truth is—that’s the way our fallen world operates. As I said last week, the popular philosophy of humanity is to look out for number one. This is why, at this point, James says an amazing thing. He tells us that when Christians live this way—when we constantly quarrel as we seek to satisfy our WANTS, we change! Instead of people who seek first the kingdom of God, we become people who seek first the kingdom of the world, and when that happens,

B. …we become involved in a quarrel with GOD Himself.

Look at what he says in verse 4, “You adulterous people—don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” You see the world says GET. But God says GIVE. The world says focus on YOUR wants. God says focus on the NEEDS of OTHERS. The world says store up treasures that moth and rust corrupt. God says invest in things that last forever. The world says HATE. God says LOVE. And I could go on and on quoting opposites because the truth is our fallen world and its purposes are contradictory to the things of God. So when we center our days around getting and wanting—and hating when we DON’T get what we want—when we conform to the ways of this world, our loving God is offended. To Him it is as if we were cheating on Him. It’s as if we were collaborating with the enemy.

In his book A Faith That Works, B. J. Chitwood writes: “When we become a friend of the world, we take our stand in defiance of God. And God views it as an act of an enemy—an act of espionage against Him. It is as if we were conducting guerilla warfare against the Lord. We are abiding and abetting the enemy—the same sin committed by Judas. We ask, ‘How could a man be so evil-hearted as to betray Jesus with a kiss of brotherhood?’ We are aghast at this, the most infamous deed in human history. But is that deed any more treacherous than for us to name the name of Jesus Christ but to serve the camp of the enemy?”

Friends, the truth is, when we fight and quarrel and feud we ARE putting ourselves into opposition with God—for as a church—as Christians—we are CALLED TO PEACE. And when we ignore this call of God we are disobeying Him and living according to the desires of the devil. God has commanded us to be peace-makers—to live holy lives—lives that are different than the fallen world around us. Do you remember Jesus’ orders? “You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy. [That’s the way the world operates!] But I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other.”(Matthew 5:43, Luke 6:27ff) And, do you remember the command in Philippians 2? “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” So you see, friendship with the world and friendship with God are mutually exclusionary. There is no middle ground here. Friendship with the world—satan’s domain—is hostility toward God. The fact is we can’t live with God as the Lord of our lives AND conform yourself to the patterns of this world at the same time!

About 60 years ago, a notorious gangster named Mickey Cohen, ran Los Angeles much like Al Capone did Chicago. I believe there is a movie that just came out about him. Cohen handled a half million dollars every day from his gambling casinos, floating crap games, private gambling clubs, and legalized poker games. Well, he loved associating with famous people so he attended a revival meeting in Beverly Hills which was being led by Billy Graham. Cohen liked Graham’s sermon style and after the service both Graham and people on his crusade team talked to Cohen about salvation, and eventually this gangster SAID he put his faith in Jesus Christ. The news of his conversion made quite a sensation. There was only one small problem. Nothing in Mickey Cohen’s life really changed. He continued to live the life of a gangster. When his new Christian friends confronted him about this, Mickey complained: “You didn’t tell me I would have to give up my work. You didn’t tell me I would have to give up my friends.” You see, Mickey had heard of famous Christian ATHLETES and famous Christian ACTORS and Christian BUSINESSMEN—and he just assumed he could be a Christian GANGSTER.

Of course he was wrong. We cannot be friends with God—AND the world. We can’t follow Jesus as Lord—AND continue to live lives of selfishness at the same time. We can’t be FIGHTERS and PEACE-MAKERS. We have to choose. We have to make a conscious decision to live counter to our culture—to live our lives according to the will of God.

Okay, enough with the negative—how can we stop fighting? What can we do to neutralize this tendency we have toward selfishness and quarreling? James tells us three steps we must take.

II. The Way to Stop Fighting

A. First, he says we must SUBMIT to God.

Now, “submit” is a military term and it means give someone with superior rank the respect and authority that is due them. In this context James is saying we must treat God in a way that befits His rank as our superior Officer. When I was in the Army National Guard I was a lowly 1st Lieutenant and I had to learn that there is a certain protocol to follow when it comes to being in the company of superior officers. For example, I remember getting in a car once with my CO. We were going to pay a visit to another guard unit and I got in the wrong seat. I sat where my superior officer was supposed to sit and he reprimanded me for it. There are also rules about walking. My memory is a little fuzzy but I think it called for me to walk to the right and a step behind the Colonel who was our unit’s company commander. Well James is saying here that one thing we need to do to neutralize our tendency to selfishness is to walk through life in such a way that we acknowledge that God is our Commander in Chief. In other words, day in and day out we need to submit to His authority and obey Him as Lord. In this text James is ALSO saying that we need to walk in CLOSE relationship with God, so we can HEAR His orders and directives.

The story is told about a young man who applied for a job with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. His application was accepted and he was given the job of painting the white lines on a nearby roadway by hand because all the machines were temporarily out of order. The first day he painted eight miles. The second day he painted four miles. The third day he painted two miles. The fourth day he painted only one mile. In the beginning his supervisor was very pleased with his performance but as his production level began to slide, he got curious and asked the man what was going on. The young man explained, “I’m painting less and less because the paint can is getting farther and farther away.” He would have done much better if he carried the paint can with him wouldn’t he?! Well the truth is, we do better at living a Christ-like life if we walk NEAR to God—in close daily communion with Him.

And I want you to notice another thing—in verse 8 James says when we draw close to God, He will draw close to us. This is a wonderful truth because it means we couldn’t possibly want to be close to God as much as He wants to be close to us. He yearns to come into our lives. As Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” So, the first step to overcoming our quarrelsome nature is to take God up on this, and DRAW NEAR to Him. And then James says at the same time we must also PULL AWAY FROM the adversary.

B. This is what he means when he says our second step must be to RESIST the devil.

You see when we fight and quarrel the truth is we are pleasing the adversary. We are furthering his evil purposes. You know, the truth is when we become Christians we receive a new Savior but we also receive a new enemy. When we decide to live for God we make ourselves satan’s enemy—but satan is a coward. He is vulnerable. When we stand on the Word of God and make it the pattern of our lives, satan will flee from us. It’s as simple as that.


Now let’s review briefly what the Bible has to say about our enemy.

First of all it says that he is REAL.

I mean there IS mystery about how satan came to be and how he came to fall but there is absolutely no mystery about his presence. From the moment when he made his appearance to Eve in the Garden of Eden to the time when God will destroy him in the final consummation, the Bible teaches that satan is a real and powerful force in this world. Pastor Kevin and I were talking about this a few days ago and we agreed that most Christians underestimate the influence our adversary can have, especially on non-believers. This is a very foolish thing to do because both the biblical witness and our own human experience testify to the reality of the devil. We ignore that fact at our own risk. satan is real.

But not only is he REAL he is also REBELLIOUS.

The Bible teaches that the devil is doing everything he can do to defeat the Lord’s work. He is our opposition. He hates us as Christians. He hates righteousness. He hates God. He hates the Bible and everything it stands for. He is out to defeat us. To do this he lies and tempts and confuses. We must never forget that. satan is rebellious.

Thirdly he is RELENTLESS.

In other words, he never gives up. Peter says the devil constantly, “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But remember—the devil is a defeated enemy. He may be strong but he is nothing—NOTHING compared to our Lord. As 1st John 4:4 says, “Greater is He Who is in you, than he who is in the world.” The devil has no power over Christians other than the ability to make evil look attractive. Once we submit to God, all we have to do to thwart the devil’s evil purposes in our lives is resist him. If we do, just as God’s word promises, he will flee.

And then, James says the third thing we must do to overcome our tendency to quarrel and fight is to REPENT of our sinful selfishness.

One thing we see here in this text is that true repentance involves FEELING BAD about our sin. Look again at verse 8-10: “Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” You see, true repentance is when we realize that our actions: our selfishness; our quarreling and fighting; is a painful affront to God—that as the old song lyric goes, Jesus DOES still feel the nails of the cross piercing his hands and feet when we fight and quarrel.

As a parent, doesn’t it hurt YOU when your kids fight? Well that’s the way it is with God! And repentance involves understanding this and thinking, “My sin has hurt my loving Heavenly Father. I feel bad about that—guilty—embarrassed—ashamed and so I’m ceasing that behavior.” This is the attitude expressed by evangelist Sam Jones around the turn of the century when he said, “Repentance means being so sorry for your meanness that you ain’t going to do it anymore.” We should MOURN over our sin because as Charles Spurgeon wrote, “There is a vital connection between soul-distress and sound doctrine. Sovereign grace is dear to those who have groaned deeply because they see what grievous sinners they are.” Okay—we DO all have this tendency to fight and quarrel. And as anyone knows who’s been involved in a feud with another person. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It feels horrible to be in a constant, ongoing argument with another person. It’s all we can think of—a sort of constant nightmare—but James says it can stop—we can end all this when we do these three things: submit to God, resist the devil, and repent of our sin. When we do we will experience God’s peace—peace with Him, peace with ourselves, and peace with others.
Let us pray.