How does faith work in relational conflicts?
As the parent of five children, we had to teach our kids most everything. They did not come out of the womb knowing how to speak, feed themselves, or walk. We had to teach them these things. The one thing we did not have to teach any of our children was how to be selfish or have conflict with others.
We human beings don’t have to learn selfishness; it’s already a part of who we are, hard-wired into our sinful nature. Children quickly learn the word “mine” and know how to pull a toy from another’s hands without an example to go on. Though these self-focused behaviors are easy to spot in a toddler, if we’re honest, not much changes in adulthood. James 3:16 says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
James says that our selfishness shows up in “quarrels” and “fights” driven by our emotional “passions” driven by our “friendship with the world”, driven by our “pride” as we “speak evil” and “judge” others, which is all a fight with “God” and aligning with “the devil”. Sometimes we think of spiritual warfare as incredible supernatural activity, but the truth is when we get jealous, angry, and selfish, Team Jesus is losing, and Team Satan is winning.
This passage gets right to the heart of love for self versus love for God and others. When we love only ourselves and put our own self-interests at the forefront of our lives, we are enemies of God and others. Friendship with God is, in part, humbling ourselves, drawing near to God, and repenting of our sinful bent toward selfishness and having ourselves and not God at the center of our lives and others alongside of us as equally loved by God and needing grace. Humility before God changes the tone of our relationships with others—from fights and quarrels to peace, from judgment and criticism to love.
In chapter 3, James highlighted the good fruit of impartiality and peace. He now warns against the bad fruit of loving the world and seeking our own passions and lusts over living like Christ did.
Having been a senior pastor for half of my life, starting at the age of 25 when I was way too young to be in that position, one thing I can report is simply this. I’ve seen a lot of battles between the proud and the proud, a few beatings on the humble from the proud, but never seen a brutal war between the humble and the humble. Two humble people tend to forgive one another, get over their issues, move on, try again, heal up, and enjoy their life in a way that proud people never can because they are stuck in the fight and so committed to winning that they never move on to worshipping.
You know that something is demonic when it’s a lose-lose and no one wins. You know that something is of the flesh when it’s a win-lose and one person wins at the expense of the other. You know that something is of the Spirit when it’s a win-win and both live under the grace of God in the newness of life. God is a Father who does not play favorites and seeks good for each of His children. Those who seek humility put themselves in the place where He can bless them and bless others through them so that everyone wins. As someone famously said, humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less so that you can think of God and others more.
What does God promise the humble (4:6, 10)? Honestly, do you fully believe this as an act of faith for the toughest parts of your own life?