Friday, October 2, 2015

The Source of Conflict

4 year old Adrian spies a shiny red fire truck in his playmate’s hand.  After a quick glance over his shoulder to locate the nearby adults, he pinches his friend, hard.  Squalling, the other child wallops Adrian over the head with the truck leaving behind not only a red welt but an indignantly wailing Adrian.  

I know this is a familiar story to all the moms out there.  I suspect it was a familiar story to James too… 

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

James (in a most unflattering portrait) says that we are like little kids fighting over toys.  We want everything we see; we don’t want to share, and we demand our own way.  We could have all that we need and more; we have a loving Father who wants us to ask.  But like any good father, he’s not going to offer us more toys to quarrel over. 

In the past when I considered this passage it was in light of the question “Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”  To which the answer might well be, “Your motives are wrong and selfish and God is the giver of GOOD gifts not the enabler of greed.”   

For all that this is true, maybe it would be better to start with James’ own question instead.  Where do quarrels come from?  

Inside of us.  

When we watch preschoolers at play, we know that their quarrels come from the attitudes of their hearts However, grown-ups muddy the water.

When Carly’s husband lost his job last year, she had to really tighten the budget.  Their marriage is on solid footing but Carly is growing more frustrated with the vacation they couldn’t take, the car that needs repairs and the school that is nickel and diming them to death.  Two pews over, Sharon’s family just bought their 3rd new car in 6 years.  Every time Carly sees it, her gut tightens. Rather than acknowledge her envy, she begins asking friends at church to pray for Sharon’s family, citing the fact that her husband misses Bible class to work, and they seem materialistic. 

Sharon’s husband works a lot of overtime. The strain is showing in her marriage.  She wants him home more, but all he wants are toys.  Every time she sees Carly’s husband tuck his arm around Carly, she wants to scream.  When the rumors of Carly’s “prayer requests” come around to her, she corners Carly on a Sunday morning and in a whisper heard round the foyer, lets her know that her family is no one’s business but hers.

Church conflict.  From Carly’s point of view she is “just concerned about Sharon,” and Sharon’s angry response has strengthened her feeling that the sin is on Sharon’s side.  From Sharon’s point of view the sin is on Carly’s side; how dare she gossip about a situation she knows nothing about? From James’ point of view it’s all about envy, lust, and greed.

Although our culture has no room for either honest introspection, nor for calling the motives of a friend into question, James’ words call us to both.  When conflict arises, we need to examine our hearts plainly.  Quarrels reveal a darkness lingering in the shadows of our hearts; this darkness puts us in great danger. 

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

I fear what is very obvious to Paul, that strife, disputes, factions and envy are works of the flesh, is much less obvious to us.  We tend to excuse ourselves and blame others when conflict arises. Not to mention how we escape our responsibilities to deal with conflict when it does come up (Bouts of Conflict-Jesus our Referee).  Change comes here from the heart.  

A clean heart is not sullied by the sins of thought that lead to strife.  A tender heart recognizes the wrong it has done and seeks to be reconciled.  An honest heart welcomes the examination of its motives and accepts correction.  Although my heart is not always so good, the Holy Spirit is at work in me. Walking in the Spirit (as opposed to those deeds of the flesh) simply does not produce quarreling and strife (Galatians 5:19-26). 

The next time I am at odds with others, I am going to have a different perspective on the problem! I am going to be looking for envy or lust in my heart (and perhaps in theirs). We both need to examine our motives, accept correction, and humble ourselves.  We need to recommit to walking in the Spirit and the love that is to be the hallmark of disciples.  The path to peace is a path of heart change.



  1. WOWOWOW! What a powerful illustration of that scripture in James. And the back and forth...REAL. REVELATION.

    Thank you. Hugs, Susan

  2. Writing these can be tough because they are so convicting! I have been looking back (with shame) at a number of times I was in conflict with someone and OF COURSE blaming them and refusing to examine my motives carefully. I'm so glad that the example helped make a James clear!!!
    Thanks a million for the encouragement, Susan!

  3. Amen! Timely and anointed post. Thanks for sharing and thanks for joining in at Christian Fellowship!

  4. Terrific illustration that shows how we can feel so self-righteous even in our sin. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Very well-written and great illustration! Thanks so much for sharing at Artful Homemaking!