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Lesson Nine: Why Do We Hurt Those We Love

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This section of James addresses two issues with which we are all familiar: violence and violated relationships. The question he asked over 1900 years ago is still being asked today at every level of society, "What is the source of all the fights and conflicts among us?" Why are children killing children? Why do husbands beat up on their wives? Why do we tend to hurt those we love the most?

In the book Love Must Be Tough, James Dobson, recorded an illustration that graphically demonstrates how deeply these issues are affecting society. He tells of a sixth-grade teacher who gave her class a creative writing assignment. Each was asked to complete a sentence that began with the words "I wish."

The teacher expected the boys and girls to express wishes for bicycles, dogs, television sets and trips to Hawaii. Instead, twenty of the thirty children made reference in their responses to their own disintegrating families. A few of the actual responses were as follows:

  • I wish my parents wouldn’t fight and I wish my father would come back.
  • I wish my mother didn’t have a boyfriend.
  • I wish I could get straight A’s so my father would love me.
  • I wish I had one mom and one dad so the kids wouldn’t make fun of me. I have three moms and three dads and they botch up my life.
  • I wish I had an M-1 rifle so I could shoot those who make fun of me.

Love Must Be Tough, page 13.

Although James specifically had in mind the conflict that leads to battered congregations and split churches, his words apply equally well to abusive families and broken homes. The same passions that lead to church disputes are at the root of all conflicts. Affairs of the heart, whether against God or a spouse, are remarkably similar. Following the steps James prescribes for dealing with these issues in the church will also extend their benefits into our homes and society.

I. The Source of Conflict – Verses 1-3

A. Selfish Passions (1-2a)

  1. Universal desires – lusts that war in [our] members.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, the Bible states that they died. They became independent creatures cut off from the life of God. From that point forward, they had to find life from within themselves. They had to satisfy their own desires. The desire to be somebody. The desire to have security. The desire to be loved. The desire to do something worthwhile. Instead of resting in contentment with all their needs supplied by God, they entered a struggle to find life where it doesn’t exist.

How often have you heard someone say, "You haven’t really lived until you’ve ______." "I’ll be happy when I become _______; when I have ______; when I have experienced _______."

  1. Unfulfilled desires – ye have not …cannot obtain …ye have not.

Our inability to fulfill these desires leads to frustration and hostility. James says, "Ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war." Frustrated by people and circumstances, we lash out at those around us. We become willing to hurt and destroy in an effort to meet our needs. After all, since we are all competing for the same things, we will do anything to eliminate the competition. We envy what we think others have, grieve as long as we don’t have it, and continually struggle to find a way to get it.

B. Sinful Prayers (2b-3)

  1. Asking not.

Prayerlessness is a symptom of our independence. I am going to do things my own way. I will decide what’s best for me. I am perfectly capable of running my own life. This is such a little thing; I can handle it myself.

With the statement "Ye have not because ye ask not," James gives us a vital reminder. As long as we look for fulfillment in life from any source other than God, the conflict will never cease. We will never be content with who we are, what we have, where we are headed, or what we have done. We will continue to feel frustrated and others will be hurt.

  1. Asking amiss.

To ask amiss is to ask with the wrong motive. Instead of a prayer yielding to God’s plan and purpose, it is a prayer to gratify our own desires. It is an attempt to put a spiritual "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on our struggle to satisfy our own desires. If God were to answer such prayers, it would only serve to strengthen us in our independence.

How would you finish this sentence (honestly): For to me to live is _________. Is life for you defined as a job, a goal, a possession, another person? Or can you honestly say that life for you – the fulfillment of all your desires – is Jesus Christ. Not to be like Christ. Not to serve Christ. But to receive from Him all you need. Are you still struggling to meet your own needs – fighting, warring, crushing the competition – or have you learned to rest in His sufficiency?

II. The Seriousness of Compromise – Verses 4-6

A. It resembles adultery (4-5)

  1. It is infidelity. Verse 4
  2. Adultery occurs when one person looks outside the exclusive relationship of marriage to get his emotional and sexual needs met. A third party is added to the relationship that does not belong.
  3. Spiritual adultery occurs when Christians look outside their relationship to God to get their needs met. A third party, the world, is invited into the relationship.
  • The world refers to the philosophies and practices that fallen men have devised in their effort to live apart from God. Thus, they are against God (anti-God).
  • To embrace the world (especially in this context of fulfilling our desires), is like inviting a hated rival into the marriage bed.
  • When we crave acceptance from the world, we reject God and set ourselves against Him as though we were His enemy.
  1. It is insensitivity. Verse 5
  2. James reminds us that the Holy Spirit, the very Person of God, lives within us; and He is jealous of our relationship with Him.
  3. When we look to any other source to meet our needs, we are treading on the feelings of our lifelong companion, the divine Comforter.

B. It reveals our arrogance (6)

  1. The meaning of grace.

Most Christians have a good understanding of grace as it applies to salvation. They understand that God did something for them that they could never do for themselves. He erased their sin debt. He gave them a righteous standing before God. He made them spiritually alive so that they could enjoy intimate fellowship with the Father.

We tend to be a little more fuzzy-minded when it comes to grace in the Christian life. We tend to view grace as God covering up for our failures, or helping us to do or endure difficult things. Somehow we fail to understand that grace in the Christian life still means God doing for us that which we could never do for ourselves – which is everything, because Jesus said, "Without me, ye can do nothing."

James writes, "God gives more grace." He is ready to take control of our lives, meet our needs, put an end to our struggles – to become everything we need for life, the thing Adam lost in the Garden.

  1. The means of grace.

God gives grace to the humble – those who admit their helplessness and begin to look to God to meet their needs. Instead of continuing in their independence, arrogantly refusing to admit the impossibility of a satisfying life apart from God, they begin to walk in dependence upon Him for everything.

God hates independent living. That is why he resists the proud. Independent living is what sin is all about, and God will not support his children in an independent lifestyle. He forces us to choose between the world and Himself.

III. The Steps to Correction – Verses 7-10

A. Be submissive (7a)

It is unfortunate but true that Christ can be in our lives, but not be in control of our lives. Just as it took an act of the will to choose to accept Christ as Savior, it takes an act of our will to yield to Him as Lord. We must give Him permission to whatever he wants with our lives, telling Him that more than anything else, we want His will for our lives – whatever that means, whatever it takes. It means giving God the right to choose our circumstances, our health, our measure of prosperity, our location, our job – everything – knowing as He takes control, He puts and end to the conflict that characterized our lives. Because we are no longer depending upon ourselves to find life, the frustration and hostility we experienced ends.

B/ Be separated (7b-8)

  1. Resist the devil.
  2. Satan initiated the lie that says we can be like God, that we don’t need God.
  3. He is the one who keeps trying to get us to live independent of God – to struggle to define life on our own terms.
  4. Resisting the devil begins with rejecting the lie and accepting the fact that we can’t have real life apart from God.
  5. Receive God’s grace.
  6. Drawing near to God means that we go to Him to meet our needs, to supply us with whatever we require to face any circumstance.
  7. As we draw near to God, we find Him more real to us. We cease having a religion and we discover we have a relationship – a bond of life.
  8. Reject sinful attitudes and actions.

The order in which James put these commands is important. First, we resist the devil – we reject the lie he continually tries to feed us. Second, we draw near to God, allowing Him to do for us all the things we discovered we could not do. Only then, as we rest in dependence upon Him, do we find the power to overcome sinful habits and reject the sinful attitudes that filled our hearts.

C. Be sober minded (9-10)

Why does James give a command to "mourn and weep," to be miserable? Why does he tell us to turn off the laughter and turn on the tears? Because, until we take these issues seriously we will never find the solution to the wars and fightings that devastate churches and divide families. We must be honest about the nature of our problem and accept God’s solution.

When we respond in this way, humbling ourselves before God – admitting that any kind of satisfying life is impossible apart from God – then He lifts us up from the shattered, broken pieces of our lives and puts us on display as a trophy of His grace. He makes bitter hearts sweet and ruined lives profitable. He puts an end to the conflicts among us and we cease to hurt those we love.

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