STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)
In the last verse of the preceding chapter, James writes, “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (3:18) From what we read in the opening verses of chapter 4, there were Jewish Christians in the diaspora who were not bearing the good fruit of righteousness that makes for peace, but rather bad fruit that makes for conflict. Their relationships with one another had degenerated into hateful rivalries, lustful jealousies, and personal animosities. They certainly weren’t acting like disciples of Christ who love one another (see John 13:35).
From whence came this bad fruit of making war and not peace? The root problem was that they were not content with their lot in life. Selfishly desiring what this world has to offer, the rich greedily desired more, and looked down upon the poor in their midst as if they were of no account. The poor, on their part, lusted after what their rich brothers had.
As a result they were tearing each other apart, rather than building each other up by promoting a peaceful coexistence. Lusting, hating, and coveting does not enable anyone to obtain that which is truly meaningful, satisfying, and lasting.
These people, who regarded themselves as followers of Christ, were very much in need of stern admonition, and a call to repentance in the strongest possible terms. That was the reason for the probing questions of James, which were intended to cause these misguided Christians to do some serious soul searching and to learn from God’s Word where true peace and joy is to be found.
If the sinful passions that these Jewish Christians exhibited continued, their fighting with one another would go on and on. Not only would they not have peace with one another, but more importantly they would not have peace with God—peace that can come only where there is repentance and faith in Christ’s redemption.
Why didn’t these Christians receive that which gives true and godly pleasure? They didn’t receive, because they failed to beseech the Lord in prayer. God gladly provides the high and blessed things that give His children the best form of pleasure. James’ worldly-minded readers needed to learn that God’s way of pleasure far transcends and outshines the world’s way of pleasure. His form of pleasure is the peace of knowing and receiving God’s forgiveness, having His favor resting upon us, being a part of the everlasting family of God, and having the blissful life of heaven awaiting us—all of which is ours through Jesus’ shed blood and righteousness.
For those who did ask of God, they did not receive because they asked amiss. They pleaded with God to give them what was not good for them. They selfishly wanted things of this world, which cannot truly satisfy and which they would end up wasting.
Their prayers and our prayers need to focus on what God wants for us, and that His will be done in our lives. In and through Christ Jesus, God can bless us with true and lasting peace and happiness.
May God help us to live at peace with one another, rather than warring with each other.
Mark Gullerud is retired from the pastoral ministry. He lives in Sunnyvale, California.