The War Without and Within

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In the introduction to our yearlong study on the Christian Soldier we mentioned 2 specific scripture references from which we will draw our lessons – Ephesians 6 & 2 Tim. 2.  But of course there are many more scriptures, from both the Old and New Testaments, that speak to our subject.  Throughout the year I plan to consider some of these other relevant passages.  When I investigated the subject of spiritual warfare I was drawn to the words of James in James chapter 4. We can immediately recognize that he tells us about fighting and war here.

  • Read James 4:1-104 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain,”The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:  “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”  7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

My approach to these verses is both conceptual and practical.

  • PracticaI: am convinced that James is giving some very practical instruction about how to become more spiritual people. In these few verses he tells us to seriously fight temptation (resist); repent of sin (cleanse your hands); discipline and purify out thinking; don’t try to straddle the fence, but live by principles; take responsibility for your failures and sins (lament, mourn), and to obey the commands of God (humble yourselves before God).  Those are practical and applicable admonitions.
  • Conceptual: But I also see an intriguing, conceptual description of the spiritual war that the Christian is engaged in, both within and without. Notice how he develops this idea.

I.  “Where do wars and fights come from among you?” (v. 1)  Have you ever asked that question? I am going to venture that most of us have. When your kids are fussing and you shout in a desperate attempt to calm the fight, “Why are you two always fighting? Why can’t you get along?” (Maybe you follow with some practical admonitions, like go to your room, or give your brother a hug and kiss) But the question is a good one. Why do we fight? From a conceptual standpoint, James answers his question about physical war by referencing the spiritual war that rages within us.  We war with each other because there is a spiritual conflict in each of us.

A.   Our War with Lust & Pleasure: “your desires for pleasure that war in your members.  You lust and do not have.” We fight over what we want to possess. Of course, we recognize that many wars have begun over property and people that others wanted. People kill each other for money, desired power or prestige. Even Cain killed Abel because of something that Abel possessed that Cain wanted – the approval of God.

1.  James uses three words in these verses that have very similar meanings:

  • Vs. 1 – “desires for pleasure” (and “pleasures” in vs. 4) is from the Greek word, heedonee –(hedonism – pursuit of pleasure) always used in a bad sense in scripture. Barnes says  “… it is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense, and thence denotes desire, appetite, lust. It may be applied to any desire of sensual gratification, and then to the indulgence of any corrupt propensity of the mind.” Barnes goes on to say .. “the word would equally comprehend the spirit which leads to a brawl in the street, and that which prompted to the conquests of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon.” (from Barnes’ Notes)
  • Vs. 2 – “you lust”epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o); ..to set the heart upon, long for (rightfully or otherwise): KJV translates it covet, desire.  It can describe a rightful desire (Phil. 1:23 – Paul desired to go be with the Lord), but most often speaks of a desire of something evil or carnal. (lusts of the flesh)
  • Vs. 2 – “desire to have” –  zeloo (dzay-lo’-o) – to have warmth of feeling for or against: KJV – affect, covet, earnestly desire, (move with) envy, be jealous over, be zealously affected. In his use of these three distinct, but nearly synonymous phrases, James is emphasizing the danger of wanting things. It leads to war.

a. Matthew Henry states, “Hereupon, our apostle informs them that the origin of their wars and fightings was not (as they pretended) a true zeal for their country, and for the honour of God, but that their prevailing lusts were the cause of all. Observe hence, What is sheltered and shrouded under a specious pretence of zeal for God and religion often comes from men’s pride, malice, covetousness, ambition, and revenge.

b.  We can substitute ambition, or the pursuit of your rights here. John delineates the character of this spirit in 1 John 2:15-16Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16  For all that is in the world– the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life– is not of the Father but is of the world. This is the spirit of sin.

2.  James says that these desires “war in our members”, or they are resident in the struggle between our flesh (the desires generated by the body) and our spirit (what our mind knows is right). Romans 7:23  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. To follow our desires and act in our own self interest is to live in the spirit of sin and create strife among ourselves.

a.   In essence, James says that we engage in conflict, because we want to. Conflict is a symptom of our disciplined and selfish lives. Notice how Paul references these two opposing forces in the inward spiritual battle.  Gal 5:16-17I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and the se are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.   Rom 6:12-13 – Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Rom 8:1There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Vs. 5 – For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

II.   The Personal Struggle Against Myself: James uses the word “you” 7 times in vs; 2-3.  You lust; You murder; you covet; you fight & war; yet you do not have. You ask only for that which you can spend on yourselves. You are the problem.  We must recognize that the propensity for fighting and war lies within each of us. I must seriously do battle with desires of the flesh, or there can be no true peace in my life.

A.  Jesus said some difficult things about personal discipline and the threat of sin. Listen to some of them. Mark 9:43-4843 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched —  44 where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’  45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched —  46 where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’  47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire —48 where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’

B.  The wording and meaning of verse 5 is variously disputed. James 4:5 – “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (NKJ)

1.  James refers to “the scripture” which is always used as an allusion to the O.T. scripture. But there is no O.T. scripture that fits the quotation of James here. It seems best to see this as a reference to the general tenor of the O.T. teaching.

2.  “The spirit that dwells in us” – is this the Holy Spirit that dwells in the Christian, or the human spirit (mind)?  Both thoughts may fit the context here:

a.  The human spirit is prone to envy and lust. The spirit of man yearns for things it does not have.  The O.T. clearly teaches this truth. Eccl 4:4 – Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.   Prov 14:30 – A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones. Prov 27:4 – Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?” Rachel envied her sister Leah, Joseph was envied by his brothers, Aaron & Miriam envied Moses. Gen 6:5  Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. In our time, this natural tendency toward jealousy is so pronounced and common that we have sanitized and institutionalized it into the pursuit of our individual rights and material wealth.

b. Some translations of verse 5 characterize God (Holy Spirit) as the one who is jealously yearning for our spirit (that He has placed within us). James 4:5 “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (NAS)  “Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (RSV)  This presents God as a jealous God who demands that we not compromise on our commitment to Him alone. The O.T. certainly characterizes God with such jealousy.

III.  He Gives More Grace: Although the human spirit is easily turned toward envy, jealousy and war, there is hope. James 4:6“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (NKJ)

A.  The difficulties of living wholly for God in a wicked world are many, but James says that God “gives more grace” – which here seems to mean “gracious help.”  We don’t deserve it or earn it but God helps us overcome this difficulty. This is found not only in the forgiveness of our sins (as grace) but also in our efforts to keep from practicing sin (such as envy & lust). The fight against worldliness is intense, but God is on our side.

B.  This “gracious aid” God makes available, not to proud, self-sufficient persons, but to humble, dependent men. Prov 3:34 – Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble. (NKJ) or the NIV translates it as  “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”

C. we often seek after peace – we pray for it and do not see any results.  What is the first prerequisite to receiving God’s help in this matter?  It is not saying all the right words, or praying in the right building, or an association with the “right” group. It is humility.  If you want peace with your brother you need to deal with your pride first. If you want peace in your marriage, start by addressing your self-centeredness. Then pray.

1. God “resists the proud” – the term here is literally “sets Himself in battle array” against the proud. God is ready to go to war against the proud person – the rebel. He is the enemy of God as He chooses to serve himself.

2.  But God is ready to go to battle for the humble – He gives grace to the humble- to provide aid against the flesh and provide a way for peace.

Conclusion: Humility demands obedience. If you obey Him God will bless you.