Jamesby Douglas Estes
The opposite of loving God is loving ourselves. When we love ourselves, we allow selfishness to take root in our lives. That selfishness grows and consumes our way of thinking (it becomes a source for our wisdom) and living (it becomes the motivation for our actions).
James opens this section with two questions (James 4:1). The first is open-ended, encouraging his readers to think about why there are ″fights and quarrels″ (v. 1) even between fellow Christians. The second is closed, with no room for debate. It pushes his readers to admit something they would rather not: when strife occurs between us and others, it springs from the cravings within our own hearts. The ″desires that battle within″ (v. 1) us are signs of our double-mindedness; this is a struggle we all face.
These two questions set up the hypothetical scenarios that follow (v. 2). They contain some of the strongest words in James' work.
″You want something but don't get it.″
″You covet, but you cannot have what you want, so you kill.″
″You quarrel and fight.″
In each of these scenarios, James implies that our selfishness does not lead to getting what we want, but rather to dissatisfaction and discord. His use of ″you″ here is pointed. While we may be tempted to think he is addressing a specific situation at the time, James' letter is intended for a wider audience (1:1). These scenarios happen to all of us, whoever we may be.
Now James bites his readers with sarcasm-we don't have because we don't ask God (4:2). Yes, it is true that we should ask God for whatever we need, as He wants to provide for us. But is it really God's intent to provide the things for which we lust and covet? The reason that we want and don't receive is that our hearts are in the wrong place. We are asking not out of need, but out of selfish desire (v. 3). If our purpose is to please our unbridled passion and selfishness, God will not grant our request.
Again, James' words echo-and illuminate-what Jesus taught. God wants to help with our needs (Matthew 7:7-11). We are to approach Him boldly, believing that if we ask for what we need, He will give (21:22). In James' day, as in our own time, people heard Jesus' words and tried to apply them far outside their intent-praying for ″needs″ that benefited themselves, not others. We ask God to meet our needs and to meet the needs of others (5:42).
We live in a world that encourages us to love and put ourselves first. The message of the Bible, seen here in James, is the opposite. To love others is greater than to love ourselves. Doing this is not easy, but it is God's plan, and He will give us the strength to see it through.
What are some examples of cravings that can cause conflict in our lives?
How can we differentiate our wants from our needs, to better approach God?