1 WHAT LEADS to strife (discord and feuds) and how do conflicts (quarrels and fightings) originate among you? Do they not arise from your sensual desires that are ever warring in your bodily members? 2 You are jealous and covet [what others have] and your desires go unfulfilled; [so] you become murderers. [To hate is to murder as far as your hearts are concerned.] You burn with envy and anger and are not able to obtain [the gratification, the contentment, and the happiness that you seek], so you fight and war. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2 [AMP]
‘I have often wondered that persons who make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the readiest criteria of their faith.’17th Century Jewish Philosopher Benedict de Spinoza
It seems that James is more bothered by the selfish spirit and bitterness of such quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints. The source of these are the desires that battle within each one of us. We also see James’ point here reinforced in Peter’s letters as well:
Beloved, I implore you as aliens and strangers and exiles [in this world] to abstain from the sensual urges (the evil desires, the passions of the flesh, your lower nature) that wage war against the soul. 1 Peter 2:11
In James’ day, the arguments and conflicts that were disrupting Christian fellowship could not be ascribed to righteous passion or justifiable zeal; it was selfish, indulgent desire that was responsible. When we look at these verses and distill it down, we find that he is saying this:
- You desire but do not have, so you kill.
- You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
This way of looking at it places the emphasis on the fact that frustrated desire leads to violence. It also focuses on the aspect that envy and jealousy (and related emotions) inevitably lead to hostility such as quarrels, wars, and murder.
When you look at it this way, you can see how fast things can escalate without unchecked emotions and soberness. These last couple of days of reading continue to press on the motives that back my desires. Am I clamoring for more here on this earth or are my sights truly set on an eternal hope?