Conflicts have always plagued the church. Members fighting members. Leaders fighting leaders. Churches fighting churches. James recognizes the devastating effect of church fights. More importantly, he helps us understand what is happening inside a Christian who chooses to battle other Christians. When we fight in church, we are . . .
I. Dominated by selfish desires (v.1)
James traces all prolonged fighting and flare-ups to an individual pursuit of self-gratification. My opponent is not my greatest enemy. The real enemy is within.
Common indicators of this problem include:
- A Wrong Attitude: Party Spirit. Persons with this attitude measure opponents only in terms of their ideas. As a consequence, they will quickly sacrifice relationships in pursuit of their objective. In contrast, the New Testament prioritizes relationships in the church.
- A Wrong Approach: Political Methods. Parliamentary procedures and political machinations are poor substitutes for prayerful conversations when working out a problem.
- A Wrong Aim: Personal Promotion. Rather than lifting up the Lord, fighting is often a poorly-masked attempt to elevate self.
II. Driven by dissatisfaction (v. 2)
According to James, the person who chooses to fight is never satisfied. Others are viewed as obstacles, not brothers. Prayer is completely absent or abused.
III. Discouraged in prayer (v. 2b-3)
Some persons who fight are frustrated because they do not bother to seek God in prayer. Others are frustrated because they do take time to pray and nothing happens. James explains that our needs are met as we pray according to His will. Christians are called to submit their wills to His will. They are never simply to fulfill their own selfish wants.
IV. Denied intimacy with God (v. 4-6)
Spiritual adultery is the ultimate result of yielding to selfish desires. When we fail to seek God's will, the Holy Spirit is jealous of our misplaced energy and affection. Fighting is often the result of substituting a worldly, selfish pursuit in the place of a passion for God. If I allow pride to destroy my relationships in church, I am setting aside the Lord's will that I walk in fellowship with my brothers and sisters.
Fighting in churches hinders the advance of the good news of Jesus Christ. Driven by root causes of pride and the pursuit of personal goals, fighting Christians will damage and dismantle a church's witness in a community. Do you want to renew the fellowship of the church? Make personal repentance and the mending of broken relationships a priority!
Beating one another
Jim Whittaker was captured in 1942 by the Japanese during World War II. During his internment at a labor camp in Burma, his battalion was part of the construction of the famous bridge over the river Kwai. Describing the brutal treatment of prisoners, Jim recounts the time when a soldier checking knapsacks was startled to find a snake, which was being kept as a future meal by a hungry inmate. The prisoners laughed.
Angry and embarrassed, the Japanese guard made the captives line up and beat each other! The other guards watched to make sure the beatings were authentic and not faked.
Al Zdon “Building the Real Bridge on the River Kwai,” The Minnesota American Legion [online], July 2002 [cited 6 August 2002]. Available from the Internet: http://www.mnlegion.org/paper/html/whittaker.html.
The 1904 revival in Wales was the beginning of an evangelical awakening that would encompass the world. In less than 10 months, approximately 100,000 people joined the little chapels in Wales that were filled to overflow capacity. Could it happen again? Could it happen in America?
One of the starting points of the worldwide revival occurred during a prayer meeting when a young, college student named Evan Roberts prayed, “Bend me!” Later Evan would write, “"I fell on my knees with my arms over the seat in front of me, and the tears flowed freely. I cried,' Bend me! Bend me! Bend me!'” Broken churches can only be healed by broken, praying hearts.
James Stewart “Invasion of Wales by the Spirit through Evan Roberts,” Sammy Tippit Ministries [online], cited 6 August 2002. Available from the Internet: http://www.gospelcom.net/glia/2001/rp/rp_021201.shtml.
Killing over the book of psalms
After successfully starting a number of Christian communities in Ireland, the monk Columba fought with another cleric over possession of a copy of the Psalms. While the details of the conflict are not entirely clear, the dispute escalated to the point of bloodshed. Over three thousand men lost their lives in 561 AD at the battle of Culdrevney. Distraught over the massive loss of life, Columba accepted exile in the north country of Scotland. Over the remaining years of his life, Christianity was introduced and firmly established among the warrior Picts in the region.
Michael McGinty “The Story of St. Columba,” St. Columba Church [online], cited 6 August 2002. Available from the Internet: http://www.stcolumbasandiego.com/saint.htm.
When the pastor 'loses'
Citing conflicts over control and personalities, a LifeWay LeaderCare survey conducted in 2000 revealed that forced terminations of pastors had declined over the previous year. Nevertheless, hundreds of pastors are terminated each year as a result of church conflicts.
Charles Willis “Forced terminations of pastors, staff leveling off, survey results show,” LifeWay.com [online], August 2001 [cited 6 August 2002].
Related biblical texts
Matthew 23:11-12 - The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Galatians 5:14-16 - For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another. I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
1 John 3:14-16 - We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.
Application ideas for life stages or situations
If You Are in the Fight Now. It is an inappropriate use of your position to fight personal battles from the pulpit. Do your part to reconcile with your opposition and pray for God's wisdom as you approach this matter in God's Word.
If You Are Anticipating a Fight. Address what the scriptures teach on this subject with wisdom and a tender heart. Set your heart to shepherd all persons involved in the dispute. Use this passage to help people understand the true source of division in the church.
If You Are Aware of Persons Who Have Fought in the Past. Do not direct your message to a particular individual or group. Broadcast the truth positively while leaning on Him to convict and do the deeper work in the hearts of your hearers.