The War Within

Bible Book: James  4
Subject: Christian Living

I wish we lived in a world that had no conflict, where we never got in any fights or squabbles or problems, and where there weren't any tensions or conflicts that brought about unresolved relationships. The fact of the matter is that we don't live in that kind of world and we never have.

Oh once there was a perfect world. Back in Genesis we remember that God created the world and He looked at it and said, "This is good, very good." But then suddenly the serpent comes along and he begins to tempt Eve and as he does he said, "Don't worry about that tree in the middle of the garden that God said don't eat of. No problem! You will not die." Doubting the Word of God always brings about conflict, particularly when we fall subject to that. We know the story as Genesis 3 outlines for us that Eve took a bite and then took it to Adam; and Adam wasn't deceived, he just flat disobeyed. So we fell and we live now in a world of conflict.

We know the wars, don't we? We reach back historically and we remember the Revolutionary War from which our country was born. We remember the other wars of course, World War I and World War II. We remember the conflict that our nation had against its own neighboring states, the War Between the States, the Civil War. We remember the conflict in Korea. We remember of course the Viet Nam War and we are surely aware today of the War against Terrorism.

War is nothing new. It's been around since the beginning of time. But I wonder if you've ever heard of the three wars I'm going to introduce you to. The first war is this, The War of the Whiskers. Some of you guys fought that war this morning when you stood in front of the mirror and you wondered at that time and moment if you'd ever beat that war. No, you can't win that war! But let me introduce you to another little-known war, how about The War of the Oaken Bucket! Oh, you don't remember that war? Why not? Well, let me ask you about this war, what about The War of Jenkins Ear? You wonder about this war don't you? Is it worth fighting over just because of somebody's ear? Is that the cause? Is that the reason? Every one of these three unfamiliar wars are historically documented, nation against nation, conflict, quarrel, fighting.

Some of us have failed to understand that the greater war is not one which we are aware of or ones which we are not aware of; but they are the ones we want to avoid most of all; and it's the war within. It's the largest conflict that every one of us has. This sermon topic envelops that very subject - the war within us. Some of you may be warring within because of something you ate or because of something you thought you shouldn't have eaten and there's always a solution to that. You use this "pink stuff" that says on top of it, "For over 100 years Pepto-Bismol, bringing about a cure for that which ails you." Some of us think that we can just simply take a sip of Pepto-Bismol and make the war within go away! The war inside of us, though, is not a physical war. It's not a stomachache, it's not an indigestion problem and it's not a difficulty in being able to take that which we've eaten and move   it from a burning irritation on the inside that never seems to subside.

It's the spiritual war that we are all battling. I want you to see what the Bible has to say about that because there's a wonderful solution to that war within. James 4:1-3 begins with a question, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures".

My friend, today, the worst war of all is the war within and I want to approach it from a three-fold angle:

I. The War Begins with your Selfish Desires (v. 1)

I want you to see, first of all, that the war within begins with our selfish desires. We are ignoring the very fact that what we want may be not what we need. Would you note with me that James again asks that powerful question, "What is it that causes those quarrels and fights among you?" Among who? Who is he talking to? He's talking to Christians! He's talking to people just like you and me, in the first century church, who were squabbling with each other.

You say, "Well, hey, my church is at peace." Are you really? Oh, on the outside we are, but there are little pockets of folk who are at odds about some things that aren't always going their own way. It may be a Sunday School class that got a room that you wanted and you thought your class should have because you see the new educational building should allow us at least to have an outside window, so why do they get a window on the outside? We didn't get a window on the outside. Why did we build that building anyway? Who said we were supposed to build that building? There's too much money in that building. And then what about that exercise equipment down there. Who says that exercise equipment is something that a church ought to have? What's going on here anyway? Or, what about that preacher? Why does he walk around behind the pulpit? Why doesn't he just stand still? Who in the world does he think he is?

You see there are all kinds of things that move through our minds and though we may be at peace with God, we may not be at peace with each other! There's something going on somewhere through somebody.

A. The Detriment of Desire

As we look at those selfish desires, I want to remind you that there is a detriment of "desire." I put that word desire into quotations because it comes right out of the text. In verse 1 that word desire comes from the Greek word that the New Testament was written in, and it's the word “hedone”. We get from it the word hedonism. What is that anyway? Hedonism is the notion that what is pleasant or brings pleasant consequences only is good. Now when it's taken to an extreme it is the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure (listen to this), without regard for other people. In other words I can climb the ladder of success and it doesn't matter whose fingers I may step on my way up because it's the pleasure that I get and that's what matters. That's what some of us are still thinking. I mean after all we live in America, we live in a free land, we are in an economy that brings about an opportunity for the little guy to become the big guy and isn't that the way that we're supposed to be - getting all we can?

Folks, according to the scripture here, if you have that kind of a desire, you are leaving out the possibility for God to get the glory and for Him to use other people in your life, instead of just using you to get what you want. So there is a detriment in a desire that you use for the wrong reason.

B. The Power of Pleasure

I want you to note with me also that there is a power that comes from pleasure. Some of us may say, "Well is all pleasure wrong?" No! There were those in the early New Testament time who said that all pleasure was wrong. That's not right at all! The reason I can say that is because scripturally we understand that it is not written that way. In fact, Paul wrote the young preacher, Timothy, and said in First Timothy 4:4-5, "There are no bad or unlawful pleasures. Everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving because it is consecrated (that means to be put to its intended use) by the word of God and prayer." Everything is good. God said He created it and it was good. Now, where does the problem come in?

The problem comes when we take God's good things and we do things that are unlawful or untimely and we snatch them at the wrong time in the wrong way. Let me just give you a basic illustration: Stealing a watermelon and eating it. Stealing it is wrong. Eating it is not wrong. The pleasure that we get from a watermelon is not bad; but the way you get it can be bad.

What we've got to do, I guess, is to look back and understand what C. S. Lewis was trying to share with us as he said, "Pleasures are shafts of glory." He was specifically talking about God's glory, beaming down from the heavens, and that God wants us to have pleasure in this world. But He wants it to be the kind of pleasure that invades the lives of others for good, instead of bad. He wants it to be the kind of pleasure that brings Him honor and not just our own selves. There's nothing wrong with desiring pleasure or seeking it; but pleasures become unlawful only when they are snatched in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Remember with me how it was a few months ago? We were all looking for the right parking spot. You know, we're all looking for that perfect place at the mall. It's three days before Christmas, you've got about ten more gifts to get and there you are and there that parking spot is! I mean only 25 yards away from the store! Ahh, thank you, Lord, thank you! You begin to pull in but you didn't see the other guy pulling in from the other side. He was looking at the same parking spot. Only one of you is going to get it. Nothing's wrong with getting that parking spot and thanking God for getting that parking spot, but what can develop, as to what is wrong, is what you do when he gets it and you don't! What do you do then? What kind of feeling goes on inside of you at that time? Oh, you know what happens to you, don't you? Of course we do, we all do.

C. The Sin of Selfishness

I want to remind you that God is at work in our lives and we've got to be working with Him in every way we can. There is power in pleasure; but I want you to also understand that there is the sin of selfishness. Selfishness is at the root of all sin. We understand that from Eve and Adam; but we also remember Achan, through the study of the book of Joshua. Achan stole that which belonged to the Lord; and God made it expediently, definitely clear that that which was in the city that Joshua destroyed for them belonged to His (that is God's) treasury. But Achan said, "You know it won't really matter ... just a few things ... I'll hide them in my tent ... no problem." Selfishness! The problem came.

He was exposed and not only did it bring physical death to him, but also to all of his family because they were in on it as well.

What have you done about that which lures you and turns your mind toward getting what doesn't belong to you? Perhaps Isaiah, the prophet, said it much better than I. He said in Isaiah 53:6, "We have every one of us turned our own way to our own selfish ways." Is that the way you've turned? It is because it's the way that all of us have turned at one time or another.

II. The War Worsens through your Sorry Decisions (v. 2)

The war begins with selfish desires, but the war gets worse folks. We're battling on the inside and we're not going to get an instant cure as we would with a pink bottle of medication. It's going to get worse when we make sorry decisions. When you make sorry decisions they may not bring sorrow to you, but they always sorrow the heart of God. God is always grieved when we turn to the ways of wickedness, when we want what we want and we're going to get it any way we can get it.

A. You Kill

James outlined for us in verse 2 four different ways that we express sorry or wrong decisions. The first one is pretty extreme; he said, "You kill." You say, "Well wait a minute, preacher, that's not me; I've never killed anybody; I'm not guilty of murder." Oh, but let me take you back to the parking lot. Now you didn't get that parking place, but he did. And then you got just a little bit angry because you were frustrated since now you were going to have to walk a little bit further than you wanted to walk. And that anger then turned toward not only frustration but toward rage; and the rage came to the point where you boiled over and you said inside of you, "I can't believe it; I could just kill that guy." Now you didn't mean that... or did you?

There are relationships that you have shared at some point in your life where you would honestly admit before God, but not me, that if he or she were gone from the face of the earth, it sure wouldn't bug me, in fact it might bless my life. Do you know what Jesus had to say about that? He said in Matthew chapter 5 these words, "You've heard that you are not to murder (of course He was quoting from the Ten Commandments). I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to the judgment." John said it even more closely as he wrote in 1st John 3:15, "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer." Now that's pretty strong isn't it? It's not as if you've committed the act, but it is if you've thought about committing the act and so James is reminding us that every one of us is guilty, or potentially guilty, of killing another.

It surprises me that most crimes of passion, as we call them today, are not premeditated acts. In fact most homicides are not premeditated, they're not thought out, they're not planned; they just happen on the spur of the moment. "Ah, I'm going to kill you; you took my money; you're cheating on me; you're cheating on my wife; I'm going to take your life!"

B. You Covet

He said not only could we be guilty of killing, but He also said, "You covet." You know the difference between envying and coveting, don't you? Envy is when you are willing to destroy in order to gain what belongs to another; but coveting is when you willing to steal what is not your own in order that you might get it. It's idolatry. It's basically saying, "Hey, you've got something that I want.

"Our commercial advertising today banks heavily on this power. Consumer advertising is screaming at us all the time trying to demonstrate this act. I noted when I was reading through a recent copy of Sports Illustrated, as I was reading through an article toward the back, an ad for a Chevrolet truck...or is it a truck? It's an SUV. It's called Avalanche. In fact it's a vehicle that changes from an SUV to a pickup. There isn't any other one like it, according to them. In fact, they have this wonderful giant picture of it and just this phrase above it, without any other explanation, "Like a person who drives this truck needs something else to show off!" Do you get it? If you get this truck, that's all you need. I mean you're going to have everything you need. And if anybody else has one, and you don't, but you don't want it, something's wrong with you! That's all you need according to that commercial. You may own one and I may want to drive it someday. That would be a good thing, if you'd allow me to do that; but I'm not going to covet it enough to steal it from you! So just loan it to me and let me have a drive so I don't get envious about it.

This is not a problem that's come around recently. Cicero, the Roman Statesman, said many, many, many years ago, "It is insatiable desires which overturn not only individual men, but whole families...From desires there springs hatred, schisms, discords, seditions and (you guessed it) wars." Wars on the outside and wars on the inside, all because we have this insatiable desire to get something that doesn't belong to us.

C. You Quarrel

Well James goes on and says, "Not only do you kill and you covet, but you quarrel.

Note with me the quarreling that goes on. I find the pairing of these two words, quarreling and fighting, interesting because it's repetition of verse 1, but they're in reverse order. There they were fighting and quarreling, and here they are quarreling and fighting. Nonetheless, he meant them and he meant them quite well. We've got quarreling all around us. We have border disputes. We have racial tensions. We have family squabbles. We have marital spouts and spats. We have sibling rivalry. We have people who are quarreling all the time.

Maybe we ought to do what the Russians decided to do on Valentine’s Day. We ought to line up couples all over this city and decide we're just going to have a "Kiss Off." You read about that didn't you? On Valentine’s Day they had 2,226 people who participated in Moscow, the Russian capital, and they entered into a simultaneous kiss in order to hopefully break a record. But I don't believe those kisses solved the problems of their city or their country or our world. But I do know this, unless we have the kiss of God upon us, unless we move toward Him, we're going to continue to be quarreling.

D. You Fight

Then he said, "You fight." Why is there so much discord in the world? Why can't we get along in our world? James answers his own question in verse 2, "You want something but you don't get it." That's why, and that's exactly where some of us are today. We want something today. We want something desperately and we're not getting it. God tells us that He wants us to have it when it honors Him and  it won't be through a quick fix; we'll get it as He gives it to us!

III. The War Can Lead to your Spiritual Depravity (v. 3)

You see, my friend, ultimately the war not only worsens, but it can lead us to what we call spiritual depravity. Note the end of verse 2 and the beginning of verse 3. Depravity means that from which you are being deprived. In other words, it's where you are when you don't get what you think you need.

You're deprived and you know God wants you to get your needs fulfilled. He really does. There are two basic reasons according to this scripture why we don't get what we need.

A. You Don't Ask The Right One (Ask God)

The first is that you don't ask the right one. James said in the last portion of verse 2, "You don't ask God." Sometimes we ultimately get to the point where we ask God, but before we do, some of us are turning first to our parents (there's nothing wrong with that), our teachers, our textbooks, our websites, our friends, even our ministry staff, sometimes our bosses and, in some extreme cases, some of you are turning to spiritual hotlines in order to get somebody's answer that you don't think you can get on your own. God is our source! The problem, then and now, that we don't get what we need and the reason we're fighting and we're quarreling and the war is within us is because we fail to turn to the One who can answer the loudest and the best.

Have you asked God for the things that you need most or have you decided that you're strong enough, smart enough and wise enough to get it on your own? You may think you encircle yourself with enough spiritual people that they should be able to give you what you need. Friend when we fail to ask God, we fail to ask Him for the very solution that we need the most. The Psalmist said in Psalm 45:8, "The Lord is near to all who call on Him and to all who call on Him (listen) in truth... in truth."

B. You Don't Ask The Right Way (Wrong Motives)

That guides us to the second understanding of spiritual depravity, which is, first, that you don't ask the right way. Before we go there I just want to stress that the purpose of prayer is not to get man's will done in heaven, but to get God's will done on earth. Somehow or another we think with enough whining and enough crying and enough pouting that we can change the mind of God and maybe we can persuade Him to do it our way when all the while He is saying, "If you'll do it my way, you'll be far, far ahead. Ask me." But note with me also not only do we not ask the right One, but some of us are not asking the right way. "If you don't ask the right way," said James, "you've got impure, wrong motives." You want to line your own pocket. You want God to bless you and give you a better job and more money and more substance and more in the way of social standing so that you and your life might be honored, rather than God.

Friend, I find that those who are the most humble before the Lord are the most used of God. And those who cry out for more from Him and rebel when they don't get it are much like the prodigal son that's outlined for us in Luke. He inherited everything that the father had for him and he took it to a foreign land and spoiled it all, and wasted it all, and spent it all on women and wine and pleasures of his own worldly nature. So he found himself, ultimately, completely drained of all of his finances. Then at the point where he was slopping the pigs, he finally got to the point of brokenness and said, "It would be better to be back with my earthly father now. At least then I had a roof over my head and I had someone who cared for me." You know the rest of the story. The father had been looking daily and waiting and hoping and stretching his arms out in open desire that the son would come back to him, and the son did. You know in some cases some of you need to come back to a heavenly Father who is there with outstretched arms waiting for you. You don't have what you ask and plead for because perhaps you're pleading for your own desire, your own pleasure, in wrong motives, and God wants to bless that which will bless Him. If we do it for our own pleasure and gratification, rather   than for helping others and bringing pleasure to God, than I share with you in love that God will not bless that kind of praying because it is the wrong kind away from His honor.


I have three questions as I close.

(1) What decisions do you need to make right? Some of us have made some sorry decisions in life and today God has pointed some of those out to you (wrong relationships, wrong financial decisions, wrong place with the wrong person at the wrong time) and now you have an opportunity to make them right. You can pray, "Father I turn to you and I come back to you."

(2) The second question is are your motives pure? Are they absolutely pure? If they are, God will bless, encourage and help you and answer you because He loves you.

(3) The third is will you go to God right now - right now! You see some of us have been running from God rather than running toward Him. Right now you can do what He has called us to do.

My eyes were glued on the television whenever I was able to watch the Olympics and as I was watching the last hours I was absolutely amazed at the men's super-G. It's the fastest downhill course that's ever been put together at an Olympic competition. There were teams from Austria, Switzerland, America, Sweden and all around our world. I noticed that the fourth one off and out of the shoot came down representing the United States from Sugarbowl, California. He was in second place. The commentators were saying, "He can't hold it because there are too many strong Olympic hopefuls who are coming behind him." As he stood there the camera kept panning back and forth to him as the first skier after him came down and missed one of the gates. The second skier came down and he also missed one of the gates. They were going full speed, fast, moving in and out of the slalom course. These professionals had prepared for at least four years, if not a lifetime, to get to   the bottom the fastest they possible could and some of them were instantaneously disqualified because they missed the gate. Some of you have missed the gate. I'd like to tell you that Darrel stayed in second place but he didn't. He made it to the top ten, but only because some missed the gate!

Friend, you'll miss the gate if you do not have Christ as your Savior. You'll be skiing full speed in life and look like you're fully qualified on the outside; but if you don't come to Christ, you will not be a partner with Him. If you have come to Christ but you have wandered away and made wrong decisions, He's calling you back and today you can get back on the course, get back up, and bring Him honor.