1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:1–4 (NAS)
In these verses James describes persons driven by their own pleasures (the Greek word from which we get our word “hedonism”). Those who would cross them are “murdered,” or better in this context, hated. It is hard to fathom a way that the people described here are believers. But in James 2:1, his audience appears to be the ‘brethren.” I see it this way. It’s much akin to finding your boys at each other’s throats. I know. I had three born two years apart, and now observe three young grandsons close in age.
The source of this backbiting was the apparent sidelining of God’s spirit in the church.
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? James 4:5
This verse is less mysterious if “Spirit” is uncapitalized, to which many commentators agree. All of Scripture points to an almighty God who is jealous to possess the “spirit” He made to dwell in us. When He’s allowed to preside over us, our longings, these tendencies to want our own way, are tempered and tamped down in deference to the urgings of His will. We finally see things with empathy rather than enmity.
He argues that His grace is greater than all the world has to offer. It alone is sufficient. Harmony in the church comes from spirit-filled humble and gracious people.
6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:6–7
Back to my three sons. There’s usually a root cause for all the tussling and yelling. Jealousy. You normally sternly say, hey, you’re brothers. Brothers love each other. Brothers share. Now apologize! Grudgingly they do, and because some grace has been extended, peace and quiet returns, and fair play resumes, if only briefly!
The family of God is no different, and James knows what it’s like to be jealous of a brother!