What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3
The best way to destroy what God desires is to trade in His purpose for our purpose, or to push aside the truths of Scriptures and what a church is, and replace it with our own trends, whims, and reasoning. This is a favorite among the people who live to stir up dissension and strife as well as those with good intentions but the wrong focus. This may sound silly and stupid and you may ask who would do such a thing intentionally, but we seem to do this all the time. James is telling us that the root cause of conflict and division is envy. We are, in fact, changing the target that God has given us and replacing it with our own target, one that we crafted ourselves out of our expectations and experiences. Then, we contend that we are hitting the target, while our Lord is trying to get our attention to show us we have the wrong target in our sights and the wrong trophies hanging on our walls.
The divisions are usually caused by our evil desires that come from our planning and scheming. We become blind to who we are in Christ, and blind to what the church is supposed to be. This is a sin that goes against God Himself. It flows from our evil nature that pushes aside the gratitude we should have remembered. As Christians saved by grace, we should be living our lives with the utmost of gratitude in our hearts, gratitude and thanks for what Christ has done for us. But, envy fights against gratitude and the gifts that God has given. The result is that we seek the desires of the world rather than the gifts God has given us. We do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals and raise ourselves up as sovereign over and against God, confident that we are in control.
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. James 4:4
James is not telling us to remove ourselves from non-Christians, nor is this a warning against sleeping around. There are numerous other passages that speak against adultery in marriage. Adultery here refers to our being adulterous toward God. If we claim to be a Christian yet behave in a contrary manner, then we are in an adulterous relationship with God! God sees us as His bride, so we must see the seriousness of behavior that goes against Christ. The focus of desire and pleasure and the fighting against one another's desires and wills is tantalizing to people in the world; just watch daytime TV. This is absolutely wrong. Our spiritual identity becomes so confused and distorted that we accept the logic of the world rather than God's Word. Thus, what God desires for us becomes subverted or pushed aside and spiritual anarchy takes over. This passage should be a wake-up call to discovering who we are and what we can become when we go on fighting with one another.
We need to be aware that there are two possible avenues for our affections and passions in life-the world, or God. The world is the domain controlled by Satan, the immorality, self-delusion, and pleasure-seeking that is counter-productive and opposed to the will of God. It is actually a hateful attitude towards God, like a small child "hating" his parents because he did not get what he wanted. Even though the parent loves and provides for all that the child needs, and more, the child, because of his immaturity, sees only what he does not have, and not the love that seeks what is best for him. Rejecting God is something we take upon ourselves of our own free will. We see what we do not have, and we focus on what we want, regardless of its right or wrongness. This is not the rejection of the non-Christian, but the rejection of truth by Christians who know better yet still choose to disobey God's sovereign plan. These are the behaviors that some Christians model; everyone hates this behavior because of the strife and conflict it presents. The focus is misplaced; it is not on the love and maturity to which God calls the church.
You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you.Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:13
For example, I was on staff at a church where one person was insistent that we have no praise music during worship. This person was adamant and very vocal to the leadership and staff. He was an elder and a wealthy contributor to the church; thus, he had a lot of political clout. But, he was only one voice of dissent among the many wanting to upgrade our worship service. He had no biblical grounds or logical argument for his desires; he just felt it was not right. His way of reasoning was to rant and rave emotionally, and to extort with his financial influence. He complained that no one ever listened to him, but in actuality, the church would jump to most of his whims.
There is nothing wrong with either having praise choruses or not having praise choruses. I believe there are many ways we can truly worship the Lord with our spirit. The problem here was that this man was unwilling to listen to a biblical presentation of what worship is at the elders meeting, the committee's recommendations, the pastoral staff, or to the other members of the church wanting change. He was not concerned with the biblical definition of worship or the purpose of it. He was only concerned about his view and his way-period. The main reason the church wanted change was to attract new and younger people. This man's focus was on his feelings and his fears. He made comments like the proverbial "we've always done it this way."
The situation with this man, and many others in this position, is that they tend to try and elevate their personal convictions into law. To them, their views are absolute, and there can be no other decisions. Couple that with a strong-willed personality, one that is not surrendered to the person and work of Christ, and you will see a "loose cannon" on deck that can fall over and fire thus causing the ship, or in our case, the church to sink. When we insist on having our own way and only our own way, refusing to surrender even to the Lordship of Christ, then you have a church of personal will creating a church of dissent, not the church of Christ. Leaders need to realize that any form of change can be hard for people to overcome. But if there is a plan, and if that plan is sound, coupled with the atmosphere of encouragement and love, then most people will follow it. People will usually follow a well planned out strategy that has purpose and meaning. For the Christian, it must also be biblically sound.
I have been on the other side of the coin on this issue. While growing up, I was very active in my church. Every year in December, our youth group would help prepare and serve a formal, all-church dinner. This was our church's big social event and it was a lot of fun. The whole church would participate. One year, we had trouble getting people to help out, so the leadership cancelled it. I was furious. I could not believe they did that; I felt hurt and betrayed. At that time, I did not understand the mission of the church. For me, it was a social outlet and they had just cancelled my favorite activity and the main fundraiser for the youth. If I had known what the church was about, I would have still been mildly upset, but not have felt that the world was ending like I did. If the church leadership had tried to find a solution instead of just canceling it after giving a deadline for sign-up, then I would have understood.
There are so many conflicts that divide us under this issue. It can be about preaching; should the pastor preach verse-by-verse (expositorily), or should he preach as proclamation? Should the church use the NASB Bible, the King James Bible, the NIV Bible, or my new favorite the ESV, English Standard Version? Should we build a new building, or should we remodel our existing buildings? Should we change the carpet, hire a new staff member, or should we fire a staff member? In a healthy church, there should be the freedom to express ideas, for there is nothing wrong with different viewpoints on issues that have nothing to do with doctrine or the basic beliefs of the Christian faith.
The problems come when we elevate our own desires over everyone else's and we do not listen to others, or when we feel that our way is the only way and we become absolute about it. Conflict and strife take over when we insist on our own way. It leads to pride and arrogance, which turn into legalism, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy. These are the rocks that will break the stained glass windows, distort the church, and alienate the non-Christian.
What can we do? Simple, empty your will onto the foot of the Cross! Pray and seek Him as Lord of your life and church!
© 1999, 2008, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org