************ Sermon on James 4:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 28, 2007
"Out of the Heart"
Around 1961 the Christian Grade School I attended decided to save money by sharing transportation with the local Roman Catholic School. To say this was a mistake is an understatement. We actually had fights on the bus. Of course, this was before Protestants and Catholics started working with each other against abortion and for life. In our overcrowded bus fists would fly. Noses would be bleeding. Teeth were knocked loose. Us little kids cowered in fear, hoping the big kids on both sides would leave us alone. But often we too would end up with an elbow to the ribs or a kick to the shins or something worse.
In our text James asks, "What causes fights and quarrels among you. Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1). James says overcrowding is the cause of fights and quarrels among Christians. It is not a case of too many believers on the bus but rather too many wrong desires within believers' hearts. So, this evening we want to look at what causes fights and quarrels among Christians.
I Quarreling and Fighting
A "You kill and covet", says James. When I first read these words I thought, "What kind of Christians was James writing to? What kinds of problems were they having? What were they fighting about?" It doesn't sound pretty. It sounds even worse than sharing an overcrowded bus with Catholics.
Don't forget, James is writing as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1). These were not so-so Christians. They were not Sunday-only Christians. They were not Christians because of custom and superstition. Many of them had put their lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ – they were "scattered among the nations" because of persecution (James 1:1). We can't say they were fighting and quarreling because their faith was weak and superficial.
How could such Christians possibly have "fights and quarrels"? What was going on? What was happening? This is the bride of Christ we are talking about. She is supposed to be holy and pure and dressed in spotless white. Imagine a wedding ceremony. The families have been seated. The groom and his attendants are in their places. The minister is waiting, Bible in hand. The bridesmaids have come down the aisle. The organ begins the bridal march, and everyone rises. A gasp bursts from the guests. The bride is limping. Her gown is ripped and covered with mud. Bruises show on her arm. Her nose is bloody. One eye is purple and swollen. Her hair is a mess. How can she possibly go on with the wedding? What kind of groom would want her? In the same way, how can true Christians possibly have "fights and quarrels"? What kind of groom would want this kind of bride?
We already know why the wedding goes on, don't we?! It is because the Heavenly Bridegroom loves the bride so much. It is because the Heavenly Bridegroom covers over the faults of His brawling bride. It is because the Bridegroom is so patient and kind and compassionate and gracious.
B "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1).
The reason for fights and quarrels is desires, wrongful desires, desires that battle within all of us. James talks about these wrongful desires when he says, "You kill" (James 4:2). James cannot be talking about actual murder – because no church trying to be faithful to the Lord would allow unrepentant murderers to be members of the congregation. Rather, James is talking about hate. Think of what the Lord Jesus said. Jesus said that hatred is the same as murdering someone in your heart (Mt 5:21-22; cf 1 Jn 3:15). So, James is talking about an attitude of the heart.
James also says, "You covet" (James 4:2). This is another sin of the heart. It is a wrongful desire for what belongs to another person. It is a desire that is so strong that it springs into action in order to possess the object of desire.
Do you hear what James is saying? James is saying that fights and quarrels are caused by wrong desires in the heart. Fights and quarrels happen when our heart is full of hate, coveting, lust, gluttony, laziness, jealousy, anger, greed, and pride. Conversely, fights and quarrels do not happen when our heart is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What is in your heart? That's the question I want to ask you this evening. What is in your heart? If the wrong things are in your heart the result can only be fights and quarrels. If the right things are in your heart the result can only be harmony and unity. And, congregation, do I need to remind you that what is in the heart always comes out – eventually. What is in your heart eventually becomes obvious to all. Remember what Jesus said? Jesus said, "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mt 12:34). If your mouth says or has said nasty things, unkind things, hateful things, that is because the wrong desires are in your heart. If you wish death upon someone, it is because your heart has the wrong desires. If you find yourself being jealous of another, it is because your heart is filled with the wrong things.
C We see that James continues here his discussion of heavenly versus earthly wisdom (cf James 3:13-18). Those with earthly wisdom have "envy and selfish ambition" (James 3:16). The result is disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16); the result is "fights and quarrels". Those with heavenly wisdom, on the other hand, are "pure ... peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (James 3:17).
Which wisdom is yours – the wisdom of the world or the wisdom from God? What is in your heart?
D What is in the heart? That's the question that needs to be asked. That's the question that gets to the reason for fights and quarrels.
This past week at Rotary we had a communications professor from College of the Sequoias. She blamed fights and quarrels on a failure to communicate or on a failure to communicate properly. Much of what she said was valuable. But I could not help but think it was too surface, it did not go deep enough, it dealt with superficialities. The real problem is not communication but the heart. The real question that needs to be asked again and again is, "What is in the heart?"
When social scientists look at fights and quarrels they lay the blame on low income, high unemployment, lack of education, illness, substandard housing. But like the communications professor at COS they are only scraping the surface. Consider this:
Topic: CrimesSocial scientists are only looking at symptoms. They need to look deeper. They need to look at the heart. What is in the heart?
Subtopic: Against the Nation
In his book, "Crime and Human Nature", James Q. Wilson and co-author Richard Herrnstein found that one neighborhood in the '60s had the lowest income, the highest unemployment rate, the highest proportion of families with incomes under $4,000 per year, the lowest educational attainment, the highest tuberculosis rate and the highest level of substandard housing of any area in San Francisco. The area was called Chinatown. If poverty is a cause of crime, surely this was a formula for criminal meltdown. Yet in 1965, there were only five persons of Chinese ancestry committed to prison in the entire state of California.
The last couple of months the news has been full of famous people saying or doing the dumbest things. Mel Gibson got stopped by the police on suspicion of drunk driving and said all sorts of things against Jews. Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer in the hit TV series "Seinfeld" stunned a comedy club audience when he said racial slurs during a stand-up comedy routine. Isaiah Washington from the TV show "Grey's Anatomy" created an uproar with his use of a gay slur in reference to a costar. In her autobiography, Ali McGraw recounts her sad personal love stories. Her "male addiction", she says, led her to cheat on every man she was ever with. Every one of these stars entered some kind of rehab for addiction. But addiction is not the real problem. The real problem is what is in the heart.
In 1996 there was a playoff game between the New York Giants and the San Diego Chargers. New York fans became upset when their team was losing and threw thousands of snowballs on to the field – 15 people were injured, 15 fans were arrested, and 175 fans were ejected. Officials say the incident was disturbing because many ejected fans held responsible jobs: teachers, lawyers, stockbrokers, and fire fighters. The real problem is what is in the heart.
II What is in Your Heart?
A "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1). Fights and quarrels come out of the heart. Fights and quarrels are the result of what is in our heart.
Jesus said the exact same thing. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law were upset with Jesus because some of His disciples did not give their hands a ceremonial washing before eating. Jesus responded by saying that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean; rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.
(Mark 7:21-23) For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, (22) greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (23) All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'
There is not a sin we commit that does not in some way first take place in the heart before it becomes an outward action. Some sins, of course, stay in the heart and are never acted out, but every sin that we have ever committed has first required some thought or desire inside of us, even if it was only for a moment.
Let's talk about the sins we commit. Why do we gossip? Because our heart is full of slander and malice. Why do we swear or curse? Because our heart is full of evil thoughts. Why do we hit someone in anger? Because our heart is full of hatred. Why do we commit adultery or have pre-marital sex? Because our heart is full of lust. Why do we steal? Because our heart is full of greed. Why do we dishonor our parents? Because our heart is full or arrogance and folly. Why do we tell lies? Because our heart is full of deceit. Why do we have fights and quarrels? Because our heart is not full of love and peace and submission.
What is in the heart?
B In a 1995 poll two options were placed before 198 sprinters, swimmers, powerlifters and other athletes – most of them either on the U.S. Olympic team or hoping to be on the U.S. Olympic team.
You are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance, with two guarantees: (1) you will not be caught, and (2) you will win. Would you take the substance? 195 athletes said yes; 3 said no.
You are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance that comes with two guarantees: (1) you will not be caught, and (2) you will win every competition you enter for the next five years, and then you will die from the side effects of the substance. Would you take it? More than half the athletes said yes.
What is in the heart?
C How do you stop fights and quarrels? The world says we need to communicate better. Social scientists say we need to get rid of poverty. Doctors say we need to handle addiction. Teachers say we need to spend more money on education. But Christians know better. Christians know they need to change the heart. Because a clean and pure heart is so important, so desperately important, we should pray as David did in Psalm 51:
(Ps 51:10) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.Or, as we say in the song we sing:
Into my heart, into my heart,Ask God, in Christ, to come into your heart, to give you a new heart, and God will give it to you just like He promises to give wisdom from above (James 1:5).
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
When our heart is right then we look and act like the bride of Christ should look and act. When our heart is right then we are holy and pure. When our heart is right then disagreements can be worked out, but in a Christlike fashion. When our heart is right then every difference in opinion is handled with Christlike humility and patience.
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1).
What causes fights and quarrels among you? It comes down to the heart. So, I ask you again, what is in your heart?
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