A Tale of Two Desires

While studying James 4, I noticed a verse that’d never sunk into my soul before. In my estimation, it is the most beautiful verse in all of James.

The chapter starts out with James addressing Jewish converts who are trying to navigate new territory as Christ-followers in a region that sees them as blasphemers. Most were low on money and tensions were high between them and the Jews with whom they shared land, history, and blood.

It’s not hard to believe that the pressure-cooker atmosphere outside of the small body of believers made things heat up within the body as well. Hence, James’ letter.

It seems there was quite a bit of fighting between believers. I think this because James says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1). Astute, no?

James is not looking for specific answers to specific disagreements. He is talking broadly about human nature. And, since you and I are human, his answer speaks to us too.

“Don’t [the fights and quarrels among you] 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,” (James 4:1-2).

It begs the question, why can’t we have what we want? Especially in affluent, liberal America. If we want something, surely we can just go buy it or go experience it in the name of “it makes me happy”.

It’s interesting James says our desires are battling within us. This implies we have opposing desires… On the one hand, we love God and desire to do His will for us. We long to obey Him and please him. This desire is supernatural, given to us when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

On the other hand, though, we are still humans. We retain our natural desires, which are entirely rooted in selfishness. We want to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. We desire happiness and have the pride to believe we deserve it.

And, so, we see our two desires are at odds with one another. The first is focused on God; the latter is focused on self. Mutually exclusive.

We can’t feed both desires. And neither could James’ audience. They didn’t have what they wanted because they wanted it both ways. They wanted their selfish desires to be blessed by God.

A modern day example would be earnestly asking the Lord to bless your affair. Because it makes you happy. And your spouse would be crushed if they found out about it. “So, Lord, if You could just keep my secret from my spouse, that’d be best for everyone. We’d both be happy.”

Too extreme?

How about a different example… How about the pastor who loves the Lord with all His being, who feels called to lead a mega-church, who desires to be used of God to spread the Gospel for the Lord’s glory, who prays for blessings upon his church while he hopes God turns a blind eye to the pastor’s internet pornography habit he pursues in the privacy of his own home.

His desires battle within him… he is frustrated because God doesn’t bless. He quarrels with those around him because things aren’t going how he’d planned… but he doesn’t want to give up his “hobby”.

James addresses this man. He says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Strong language. But what does it mean?

“Friendship with the world” means subscribing to and participating in practices, ideas, and beliefs that go against God’s heart.  We commit spiritual adultery – we cheat on God – when we choose “worldly” things over biblical things.

Right about now you’re wondering where that beautiful verse is I was talking up at the beginning of this post. You feel convicted and sinful and could use a word of encouragement.

God knows. So He gives it.

James 4:6 reads, “But he (God) gives us more grace.”

BUT he gives us more grace.

But HE gives us more grace.

But he GIVES us more grace.

But he gives US more grace.

But he gives us MORE grace.

But he gives us more GRACE!

Praise the Lord Jesus Christ that He gives us more grace to WIN the battle that rages within each one of us. And when we lose on occasion, praise God He gives us more grace to go on by forgiving us when we humbly repent. And praise our Father that he gives us more grace – more blessings – than we deserve, in spite of our all too often choosing the world instead of Him.

Lord, may your grace enable us to win the battle today.


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