Respectable Sins: Pride
According to Thom Rainer, Founder and CEO of Church answers, these are 25 Things Church Members Fight Over.
However, there are some appropriate reasons for church splits (i.e., heresy, unresolved sin issues of the pastor or leadership, a denomination is not holding to biblical truths, and so on). One thing for sure is, church splits or even inner church conflicts end in a healthy manner, they are almost like a divorce.
James 4:1 - 3
Quarrels and Fights
Verses 1- 3: There were struggles in this church community, there were people sowing discord among the congregations. They were starting fights and causing divisions for their selfish reasons without concern for how many congregants they hurt in the process. This was a problem, so James addresses the topic, and he asks the question, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Unhealthy disunity, conflict, or division, especially in a church, is almost always birthed out of selfish desire and disregard for others. Just look at some churches and ministries today, there are conflicts and division over all kinds of issues, but I find it ironic that one of the most common causes for strife in the church is due to the styles of music played for worship. Congregations argue, fight, and split over something that is designed to draw believers together and into the presence of God. Some churches divide over communion, placement of the pulpit, or even if there should be a pulpit at all?
Douglas Moo writes, “The seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher Spinoza observed: ‘I have often wondered that persons 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.’ Some battles to be sure, need to be fought. But even they must be fought without sacrificing Christian principles and virtues.”
The source of these quarrels comes from one place… The selfish desires that war within us. Maybe the individuals James was writing to felt justified in their fights? Maybe they thought they were noble in their efforts or zeal for something to happen or for change but apparently, they were not honoring God.
Now, in the second verse James expands on the nature of these sinful desires and he uses some strong language to describe their actions like envy, kill, and covet. It is uncertain as to whether these people were killing one another out of selfish desire (which isn’t entirely improbable) but we can safely assume that he is using an analogy as he described a person as a murderer or as one who hates his/her brother or sister in Christ. A person who holds animosity in his heart towards another is just as guilty as the person who commits murder. This is most likely what James is suggesting.
All this arguing essentially is fruitless because as they are seeking God’s counsel in all of this they are asking with wrong motives. They were not seeking God’s will, instead they were seeking God to bless what they were doing. They were asking for God’s stamp of approval on their selfish motives.
The Problem: Frenemies
Verse 4 – 10: “You adulterous people!” Some versions say, “Adulteresses!” These are strong words, and they have deep implications for the body of Christ. If you recall up to this point James has referred to this group, he is writing with affection by calling them “brothers” and “my dear brothers”. Now he speaks harshly to them because in all their escapades of warring and fighting with each other they are acting like the rest of the Godless world around them.
Christians and especially the Church, are called to be unique from the world because of our love towards one another. Instead of loving one another they are embracing the world’s ways of doing things thus committing spiritual adultery with the world. Spiritual adultery always ends with those involved in an adulterous affair with the world becoming an enemy of God. Being an enemy of God not only shows God’s hostility toward someone but also shows hostility of someone towards God.
The recipients of this letter have been living worldly lives up to this point. They have been showing partiality to the rich, neglecting the poor, speaking negatively to others, and starting fights in the body to fulfill their selfish desires. When the church start living as the world lives we are showing where our allegiance truly lies and God will not take a backseat to anything.
In verse 5 James cites a portion of Scripture that is not known to be a verse in the Bible. According to theologian D.A. Carson, (James) must either be citing the general sense of Scripture, or else a book he knows about, but which is now lost. This is a particularly difficult passage to translate and understand because it could have two possible ways of reading it. In a nutshell, one reading (the NIV) may refer to the human spirit and its tendency to be envious, which is true. However, the second way of looking at it (the ESV) seems to refer to God’s jealousy for his people. God has given each of us a spirit and he jealously longs for our pure worship in return.
The Solution: Repentance
God is always willing to give grace to those who humble themselves before him, but He is opposes those who are prideful and self-dependent. God will pour out as much grace needed to those who humble themselves and submit to Him. This is called repentance, and repentance is what James calls his readers to do and it is what God desires from us.
When we follow the words of James, we see that fellowship or friendship can be restored between a person and God. We must note that this portion of scripture is not a method for salvation because some key components are missing (i.e., faith in Jesus and public confession of sins) this is intended for restoring fellowship with God.
Skipping down to verse 10 James returns to the act of humbling oneself before God. When we recognize our spiritual deficiency without God is when we truly can stand in humility before Him. When we can stand humbly before God in spiritual poverty then and only then will God lift us up and exalt us thus victorious Christian living.
There is a lot packed into these 10 verses and I have merely scratched the surface, but these are very practical applications to us in these modern (or post-modern) times. We know that church fights, splits, and disunity happen. It has happened since the beginning of the Church age. Unfortunately, it will continue throughout time. However, we have the key right in front of us in knowing how to avoid disunity happening in our midst. It is important for us as a church to seek unity in Christ together, to not be divisive in our words, slanderous in our talk, and not be hypocritical in our worship. We should not seek friendship with the world, instead we should be single-minded in our devotion to God. We must submit to Him and his will (not our selfish desires), be Spirit-driven so we can resist the devil in his attacks, draw near to God in our time of worship and in our private times with Him and then be humble before the Great and Mighty King knowing our place before him. In doing this He will lift us up and bless us both individually and as a congregation.
 Moo, p. 181
 Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.) (Jas 4:1–10). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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