From where come wars and fights among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?…
Gazing upon the fair portraiture of the heavenly wisdom with which James 3. closes, we perhaps feel as if we could make tabernacles for ourselves in its peaceful presence, that we might continue always to contemplate its beauty. Immediately, however, James brings us down again from the holy mount into the quarrelsome and murderous world. He points us to the "wars" and "fightings" that rage throughout the human family. He returns to the "bitter jealousy and faction" that eat like a gangrene into the heart of the Christian Church. For the congregations which the apostles themselves formed were tainted with the same impurities which cling to the Church in our own time.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF STRIFE AMONG CHRISTIANS. (Ver. 1) In the believing communities of" the Dispersion" there were many elements of discord. The time was one of political agitation and of social turbulence. Within the Churches there were sometimes bitter theological disputes (James 3.). And in private life these Jewish Christians were largely giving themselves up to the besetting sin, not only of Hebrew nature, but of human nature; they struggled for material self-aggrandizement, and in doing so fell into violent mutual conflict. But do not quarrels and controversies of the same kind rage still? Christian nations go to war with one another. Employers and workmen array themselves against each other in hostile camps. Churches cherish within their bosoms the viper of sectarianism. Fellow-believers belonging to the same congregation cease to be on speaking terms with one another, and perhaps indulge in mutual backbiting. How sad to contemplate the long "wars" waged in hearts which should love as brethren, and to witness those outward "fightings" which are their inevitable outcome!
II. THE ORIGIN OF STRIFE. (Vers. 1, 2.) "Whence" comes it? asks James; and he appeals in his answer to the consciences of his readers. The source of strife is in the evil desires of the heart. Usually, it is true, all wars and fightings are traced no further than to some outward cause. One nation attacks another professedly to maintain the country's honor, or perhaps to rectify an unscientific frontier. Trade strikes and locks-out are to be explained by an unsatisfactory condition of the labor market. Ecclesiastical contentions are all alike justified by some assumed necessity in the interests of truth, and sometimes also by a misinterpretation of the words, "first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17). And the personal quarrels that break out among individual Christians are sure to be ascribed to severe and gratuitous provocation. But here, true to his character as the apostle of reality, James sweeps away these excuses as so many dusty cobwebs. He drags out into the blaze of gospel light the one true origin of strife. "Wars" and "fightings have their fountain within the soul, and not without. They come of your pleasures," i.e. of the cravings of your carnal hearts. it is royal pride, or the lust of power, or sometimes the mischievous impatience of an idle army, that "lets slip the dogs of war" between nations. It is avarice and envy that foment the social strife between capital and labor. It is the spirit of Diotrephes that produces the evils of sectarianism. It is the wild and selfish passions of the natural heart that stir up the animosities and conflicts of private life. These passions "war in your members;" issuing from the citadel of "Mansoul," they pitch their camp in the organs of sense and action. There they not only "war against' the regenerated nature (1 Peter 2:11), and against one another, but against one's neighbor, - clamouring for gratification at the expense of his rights and his welfare. This truth is further expanded in ver. 2, and in a way which recalls James 1:14, 15; or which suggests the analysis of sin given by Thomas a Kempis: "Primo occurrit menti simplex cogitatio; deinde fortis imaginatio; postea delectatio et motus pravus et assensio." The first stage is that of unreasonably desiring something which we have not. The second is that of murderously envying those whose possessions we covet - cherishing such feelings as David did towards Uriah the Hittite, or Ahab towards Naboth. The third stage is that of open contention and discord - "ye fight and war." But common to all the stages is the consciousness of want; and at the end of each, as ver. 2 reminds us, this consciousness becomes further intensified. Ye "have not;" "cannot obtain;" "ye have not," - even after all your fierce strivings. The war-spirit, therefore, is generated by that unrest of the soul which only the God of peace can remove. It has its source in that devouring hunger of the heart which only the bread of God can appease. And to cure it we must ascertain what the great nature of man needs, in order to make him restful and happy.
III. THE REMEDY FOR STRIFE. (Vers. 2, 3.) It lies in prayer. If we would have our nature restored to restfulness, we must realize our dependence upon God. To struggle after the world in our own strength will tend only to foster the war-spirit within us. Perhaps we have not hitherto directly consulted the Lord about our worldly affairs. If not, let us begin to do so now. Or perhaps we have "asked amiss," in praying chiefly for what would gratify only the lower elements of our nature, or requesting blessings with a view to certain uses of them which would not bear to be mentioned before his throne. We cannot e.g. expect God to answer the prayer that our worldly business may prosper, if we secretly resolve to employ what success he sends in catering for self glorification. The things that we ask must be what we need for the Lord's service; and we must honestly purpose so to use them. The cultivation of the true spirit of devotion is the way to contentment with our lot in life. We shall secure peace among the powers and passions of the heart, if we "seek first our Father's kingdom and his righteousness." Regular soul-converse with God will exorcise the demons of discord, and call into exercise the gracious affections of faith, submission, gratitude, and peace.
1. The wickedness of the war-spirit.
2. The defilement and degradation which result from allowing selfish motives to govern the heart.
3. The blessedness of making God our Portion, and of resting contented with our allotted share of temporal good.
4. The duty of forgiving our enemies, and of promoting peace in the Church and in society. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?