Pastor Jason West
Lead Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
It seems that the world is in a constant state of conflict. We have conflict within ourselves, conflict with others, conflict with Satan and the world is even in
conflict with God. Every time you turn on the news, there seems to be another riot,
another war, and another escalating drama. Because we know little about conflict,
or even how to deal with it, we often find ourselves at a loss for effectively resolving
differences around us. Why is there so much contention, strife and division in the
world? How do we deal with conflict once it begins? Here are a few insights from
God’s Word on the subject found in James chapter 4.
James examines the source of conflict by asking the open question, “What
causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (James 4:1). He answers the
question by saying that “your passions are at war within you.” Our desires and
passions will lead us to be in conflict with others. Sometimes these involve
possessions. James says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and
cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2-3). God has created us to love
people and to use things. When we start loving things and using people, we’ve got it
backwards. Using people could include manipulating them, controlling them, or
moving them around to get something they desire because things have become
more important than people. People however do not just have a passion for
possessions, they have a desire to feel good, to be comfortable and to have their
senses satisfied. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it
on your passions” (James 4:3). When pleasure becomes the number one goal in life,
you are asking for conflict. If it is not possessions, or pleasure, it is most likely pride
that is leading to conflict. We live in a world where people are wrapped up in
themselves and there is an ever-present “me first” attitude. However, “God opposes
the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Putting our possessions, pleasure, or pride above other people will undoubtedly lead to conflict, but it also leads to unfulfilled desires. James says, “… You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…” (James 4:2a-3). What contributes to this dissatisfaction? The first reason James gives for unfulfilled desires is that we do not pray. Often this is because we believe we are self-sufficient and thus are looking to the wrong source. When we look for others to fulfill our needs instead of looking to God, it will lead to conflict. Paul reminds us that God “will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). The second reason James gives for unfulfilled desires is that we pray with wrong motives (vs. 3). If we are asking God for something with a wrong motive, or a sick and diseased attitude toward God, His answer will be most certainly be no. Often this is because of a prideful heart. Pride not only causes conflict with other people, it also causes conflict with God. When James says, “God opposes the proud…” (vs. 6), he is reminding us that God declares war on selfishness. To be in opposition to God is a dangerous place to be.
Lastly James reminds us that the conflict we are experiencing may be because of a broken relationship with God. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship
with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the
world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Having a love affair with the
world will not only leave your desires unfulfilled, it puts you on a collision course
with your heavenly Father, to which you are being unfaithful. We can see the causes
of conflict and the origins of unfulfilled desires clearly from the Scripture, but now
let us look at the cure.
First, James emphasizes the need for grace and reminds us that God gives
grace to the humble (4:6, 10). Grace is when we are given what we do not deserve.
This gives us the power to change. Whatever we need to change in our relationships
– be it in marriage, in our family, in dealing with those in the church, or in the
workplace, grace is the key and power to change. The way to receive grace is to
humble yourself, and “he will exalt you” (4:10). This is the opposite of sinful pride
and requires not having an inflated opinion of ourselves. Paul put it this way in
Romans 12:3 – “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to
think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober
judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” God will
resist the proud, but he freely gives grace to the humble.
James also reminds us that the second solution to conflict is to give in to
God. “Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:7a). To submit is to yield to the
authority and will of another. When we are in conflict with others, we are to yield
our lives and will to the authority and will of God. Rather than obeying our fleshly
desires, we are to obey God. This means giving God control of your life and your
conduct. Instead of trying to run our own lives, we instead yield ourselves to God.
We allow God to complete transform us from the old creation into the new. Paul
says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin
might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans
6:6). Conflict that is happening with other people on the outside, may be the result
of a deeper conflict on the inside. “Your passions at war within you” (James 4:1).
Finding peace within will allow us to be at peace with other people. Paul said, “Let
the peace of Christ rule in your heart” (Colossians 3:15). When we have the peace of Christ reigning in our hearts, then we don’t have the same desires as we once had. We no
longer have to manipulate others and try to control them to get what we want out of
life because now God is in control, and not our fleshly desires.
Next James tells us to resist Satan. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from
you” (James 4:7). If you have not submitted to God, it will do you little good to resist
Satan. Submission to God must come first. Paul tells us that one way to resist the
devil is to be wise to his schemes. “So that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for
we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We are to be aware and alert,
realizing what he is doing and seeing him as a source of the conflict we are
encountering. The devil wants to destroy your marriage and every other
relationship that you have. “Resist” is a war term that means to stand against. First we give into God, and then we get ready for defensive action by resisting the devil
and realize what he is doing. Paul reminds us that we are to “Put on the whole armor
of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do
not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of
evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Through faith we can give in to God and
get wise to Satan’s schemes.
Following the plea to resist Satan is the encouragement to draw closer to
God. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you
sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). Satan does not
want you to draw closer to God and grow more intimate with your Creator, because
the closer you get to God the better you will know Him. The better you know Him
the more like Him you will become. James says that to draw closer in relationship to
God, we should cleanse our hands. This represents the outward man and how we
live our daily lives. James also tells us to purify our hearts. The heart is the ‘inward
man’, which controls the ‘outward man.’
Sometimes lost in the midst of a disagreement is the understanding that it is
acceptable to be sorrowful for the conflict. “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let
your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9). Often we
get so caught up in being right, that we leave the other person wounded and hurting.
In verse 2, James says you want something and you kill to get it. You have such a
strong desire to have something that you are willing to destroy others in order to
obtain it. It is good to spend some time crying, mourning, and repenting over the
hurt and pain that was caused by your self-centeredness.
Another key step to conflict resolution is not being critical or judgmental
of others. James says, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who
speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and
judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge”
(James 4:11). Only He who made the law can rightly judge among us. We often do
not know all of the facts, and thus lose our right to be critical or judgmental of
Finally, if we want to resolve conflicts in our lives and get along with other
people, we need to learn to ask forgiveness from God and from those you hurt. If
you want to change, the way to begin that journey is to humble yourself and go ask
for forgiveness. God gives grace to the humble and He will lift you up (4:10). The
way to honor is humility. Paul puts it this way- “Do nothing from selfish ambition or
conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of
you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this
mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5). By putting
aside our own selfish ambition and conceit, we are pushing pride aside and getting
to the heart of both resolving conflict and becoming more like Christ.
If we handle conflict God’s way; peace, sanctification and the preserving of
reputations will be the result. If we handle conflict our way, we can expect chaos,
warfare and divisions. By humbling yourself and counting others more significant
than yourself, the cure for conflict is within your grasp.