THERE MIGHT BE A FIGHT
How many of you took the bus to school? Any of you take the bus? Did you hate the bus? I hated taking the bus to school. In fact, when I started high school—I went to a big high school, and I was a freshman, and I knew I was going to have to take the bus to school. Just absolutely dreaded taking the bus for all of the obvious reasons. As soon as I found some guys who lived near me that would give me a ride, I started bumming a ride to school.
But there was one day I was really glad to take the bus to school. It was one of those weird days at my school, and I didn’t go to the best school, but early on in the day there was sort of chatter among the student body and people were talking, “There might be a fight after school.” You’re like, “OK.” And then, as the day went on, around lunch, it was, “There’s going to be a fight after school on the front lawn.”
So, it was all set. And then as we’re approaching the end of the day, it was, “There’s going to be a fight after school on the front lawn. What side are you on?” I was like, “Wow, this has moved from a conflict, to a fight, to what looks like a riot.” And I had to go home, so I had to get on the bus. So, I’m sitting on the bus, and you’re high and elevated, so you kind of get to see what’s going on.
As we pull along the side of the school, off to the left is the green grass, and there’s a few dozen kids just beating on one another, and then hundreds of kids watching, trying to figure whether or not they’re going to beat on one another. And then on the right side of the bus is the school parking lot, and there are cars driving into the parking lot from I don’t know where, and people piling out of the cars, and I see a trunk open, and people are grabbing bats and clubs and running to the front lawn of the school.
People are absolutely assaulting one another, and this is the only time I’m really glad to be on the bus. And so, I’m on the bus, and the bus is driving away. And it’s like, “What is happening at my high school?” People were hurt, the cops did show up, some were arrested, and it was subdued before anyone was killed, but it was one of those very surreal days I remember as a teenage kid. A conflict becomes a fight, becomes a riot, that’s going to end up with somebody really getting hurt or even killed unless others get involved.
The truth is that this kind of thing happens all the time. It happens physically where people get in conflict, it happens digitally where they invite others to join in on the riot, and it’s part of being sinners in a sinful and fallen world. Pastor James today, as we study the book of James, is really talking about conflict. And what he doesn’t say is, “There’s a way to live your lives so you never have any conflict.”
He knows that when you’re dealing with sinners in a sinful and fallen world, and Satan and demons want to empower all kinds of conflict. You’re going to have conflict. Somebody’s going to get hurt, somebody’s going to fail, somebody’s going to misunderstand, somebody’s going to get bitter, somebody’s going to get angry. It’s going to happen. And what Pastor James is going to lay out for us is really that there are two options.
We’ve been in the book of James for almost three months, I guess it is, and today we’re in James 4:1–12, and we’re looking at Jesus’ conflicts and your conflicts, or, I could even say, our conflicts. And option number one, Pastor James is going to tell us, is worldly conflict. The second option he’s going to give us is godly conflict. He doesn’t give us a third option, no conflict. And some of you, you wish there was a third option, that you could live your life in such a way that there was no conflict, but there was, there is, and there will be.
The question is, what do we do with it? James starts talking from deep, profound, personal experience. He, as the little brother of Jesus, would have seen all the conflict in Jesus’ life. He would have seen the people who opposed him, who mistreated him, who slandered him, who ultimately arrested him, who ultimately crucified him. And so he saw worldly conflict launched on his big brother Jesus, and then he saw Jesus respond in a perfect, gracious, godly, truthful, helpful way.
James himself is aware of conflict. He’s the pastor at a church in Jerusalem. It’s kind of the mothership. It’s a big church, lots of influence. Any time there’s a doctrinal controversy, people come to Jerusalem and they hammer it out, so they’ve got theological conflict. Any time they need to deal with a pastor or a leader at one of the churches, the issue gets taken care of in Jerusalem. That’s why Paul and others travel to Jerusalem to meet with James and also Peter, and they’re ruling from Jerusalem as pastors.
There’s a lot of conflict around Jerusalem. Even if you go to Jerusalem today—anybody been to Jerusalem?—there’s still a lot of conflict there. It’s one of the most conflicted places on the earth, and it’s been that way for a very long time. And there’s James, pastoring a church of Christians, in the middle of what was still predominately a Jewish city of Jerusalem, and there’s a ton of conflict.
What’s interesting is that James ultimately would die because of conflict that led to a fight, that led to a riot. History tells us that he was a pastor, and there were some who really rose up against him, and they wanted him to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus and leading the church. And ultimately, a riot got together and they took Jesus—or James, rather, as they did Jesus—and they seized him. And then they took him to the top of the temple and they threw him off, and he didn’t die, so then the riot encircled him, beat him, and murdered him.
So, when we read about conflict from Pastor James, he’s a guy who’s seen it firsthand in his brother, and he’s experienced it firsthand in his ministry, and he’s lived it firsthand in his life. And what he tells us is there’s really only two options when you have a conflict: to handle it in a worldly way or to handle it in a godly way.
So he begins with option number one, worldly conflict, and here’s what Pastor James has to say: “What causes quarrels and causes fights among you?” This is his thesis statement. This is his question. This is the big idea. The remainder of what he’s going to say in these twelve verses really is the answering this question.
How many of you have ever asked this question? Maybe you see a couple and they’re fighting. You say, “Why are they fighting? Why are they adversaries and enemies?” You see a family that’s fractured, conflicted, and separated. You’re asking, “What happened there?” You see people who used to be business partners, and all of a sudden it gets very contentious and acrimonious. You see people who were friends, and all of a sudden they’re enemies.
We all ask this question in varying ways at various times—what causes that? What causes that? And if you ask one side, they’d say, “Well, they said this and they did that.” And then you ask the other side, and they’d say, “No, no, no, they said this and they did that.”
Here’s Pastor James pulling back and saying, “I’ve got a unique perspective. I’m not the one who’s in the middle of some of these conflicts,” Pastor James is saying, “so I’m able to see some themes and some threads. So, I want to ask this question, What causes the fights and quarrels? What’s underlying it? What’s the root?” “Is it not this?” You know, he’s sort of inviting us. “Come along. Consider this.” “Your passions are at war within you,” that before there’s a problem out there, there’s a problem in here. “You desire and you do not have, so you murder,” right? And conflict, unresolved, escalates toward injury or even death. “You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.”
He continues, “You ask and you do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people”—there’s a rebuke there from Pastor James. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend to the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
When he’s talking about the world here and worldly conflict, he gives a simple definition of what it means to be “worldly.” “Worldly” means that things are put together in a way that Satan likes. That’s all that it means. It means that things are put together, organized, brought together in a way that causes Satan to be glad and causes Jesus to grieve. It’s when anything is put together and Satan’s like, “That’s the way that I want it,” and Jesus is like, “That’s not the way that I want it.” That, by definition, is worldliness. This is our natural desires, our natural proclivities.
I don’t know about you, but one of the first things I learned when I started driving a car is, if you’re on an old road that’s been traveled on for a long time and hasn’t been well-maintained, you get grooves in the road. My first car was a 1956 Chevy, and I had the old bias ply tires, not even the radials. I couldn’t afford to get radials on it yet, and man, the bias plys would just slip right into the groove, and they would get stuck in the groove, and it was hard to get out of the groove.
Worldliness is like that. This is how everybody thinks, this is how everybody acts, this is where everybody travels. These are well-worn ruts in the road, and it’s very easy to fall into them, and it’s very hard to get out of them.
3 ASPECTS OF WORLDLY CONFLICT
1. IT BEGINS WITH PASSIONS
James is going to give us some aspects, three in particular, of worldly conflict. The first, he says, begins with passions. Your emotions become untethered. You’re hurt, you’re angry, you’re upset, you’re frustrated, you’re scared, OK? True or false, we’ve all been there? We’ve all been there, and we’ll all get there again.
What he says is, it starts internally with your emotions, with your affections, with your passions, and all of a sudden your emotions are untethered, and you start reacting, you start responding. I’ve done this, you’ve done this, we’ve all done this. But it starts internally, and it starts with our emotional life becoming unhealthy, untethered, or unhelpful.
He says, well, it also then is combined with coveting, that we see someone or some group of people—and the essence of coveting is this: we want—that’s what he says—what they have. We want what they have. They have power; we want power. We’re single, they’re married; we wish we had a spouse. They’re married and have kids, and we don’t have kids; we wish we had kids. They got a job; we lost a job. They got good grades; we got bad grades. They’re healthy; we’re sick. They have something that we want, and so what happens then is, we want to take it from them so that we can have it, or we want to take it from them so that they can’t have it and we can’t have it, because if we can’t have it, they can’t have it either.
He says, “You forgot to ask God for it.” If you want whatever they have, you shouldn’t covet them, you should ask him. And he says, “And sometimes you get frustrated—we get frustrated because we did ask God and he said what?” No. So, actually, what then looks like a conflict with a person is actually a conflict with God. They asked God for something and he said yes, and we asked God for something and he said no, so we want to have conflict with them because we’re covetous of them. We’re not accepting what God had for us.
2. IT EXPLODES INTO FIGHTING
So he says it starts with our passions; it includes covetousness—all of this is within us—and then it explodes outside of us in something that he calls fighting and quarreling. In the original Greek that this is written in, the Bible uses this word elsewhere to talk about war. Sometimes it’s used of spiritual war, where Satan and demons are fighting against Jesus, God’s people, and his holy angels. Sometimes it’s actually a physical war where two armies march out and there’s bloodshed. It’s very strong language—fighting, quarreling, and warring.
Let me submit to you there are some ways that we contribute to fighting, quarreling, and warring. One is questioning the motives of another. We can see people’s actions, but sometimes their motives are only seen by God. And we know this about ourselves, right? Let’s say someone comes up to you and says, “I know why you said that. I know what you did that. Because this was what was in your heart.”
Our first response is what? “Don’t pretend that you knew my motive. You can’t read my heart.” But we then quickly do that to others. “You know why they said this? You know why they did that? Because this was what was in their heart. This was their motive.” Sometimes the fighting and the quarreling contributed to by speculation. We know part of the story, and we feel free to write the rest of the story. Sometimes the warring is contributed to through exaggeration. Well, that did happen, but actually you added a little to it. You put some things in there that weren’t entirely true, so it took what was true and then caused it to be something that was not entirely accurate.
3. IT INVOLVES HALF-TRUTHS AND GOSSIP
Sometimes we contribute to the warring through half-truths. We tell half the story, not the whole story. And I don’t know about you, I think we’re all prone to this—I certainly am. If it makes me look bad, those tend to be the facts that I conveniently overlook or omit in the story.
In addition, what contributes to fighting and quarreling is gossip. This is where we talk about someone rather than to someone. What we’re looking for are people to join our side of the fight, not trying to reconcile but to have victory. And all of this comes together, and I would submit to you that in a digital age, it’s more complicated. It used to be you lived on a farm miles away from your neighbor, and you’d have to really work pretty hard to get a war or a riot.
Today, it’s not so hard. It’s a lot easier. This is what happens when there’s worldly conflict: nobody wins, everybody loses, Satan dances, and Jesus weeps. And he has this amazing line—if you guys could give me the next slide. “Whoever wishes to be a friend to the world makes himself”—what? “An enemy of God.”
So what he’s saying is, if we decide to have worldly conflict, we think we’re fighting our enemy, but we’re really fighting God, because God doesn’t want us to be fighting, or if we are fighting, he doesn’t want us to be fighting like that.
I’ll tell you a story. There’s a tradition in some tribal societies called spearing, OK, and here’s what happens: One tribe lives over here, one tribe lives over here, and at some point, there’s conflict between the tribes, and one tribal member harms or kills the member of another tribe, usually in a battle with a spear. And then, the tribe that had someone die, they wait, and they plan to send one of their members into the other tribe, usually more quietly and secretly, and stab one of the members of that tribe. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. You killed one of ours; we kill one of yours. And then they go back to their tribe, and they’re revered as a hero. And then the other tribe puts together a plan that one of their soldiers is going to, when they’re vulnerable, sneak over to the other tribe and spear one of their members.
This goes on, and on, and on for years, for decades, for generations, and the body count just goes up. And if Jesus were to show up, the first thing that both tribes would want to do is say, “Here’s who they killed.” OK, go over to this—OK. “No, here’s who they killed.” OK, OK. “Here’s who they killed.” OK, OK. “Here’s who”—you could do that forever. Jesus would show up and say, “You don’t kill them, “and you don’t kill them. “I’ll die for both of you. Stick the spear in me.”
The Lord Jesus goes to the cross, and he dies for the sin and they spear him so that there can be peace and reconciliation instead of worldly conflict. Worldly conflict is where people spear one another and don’t rejoice in the fact that Jesus was speared for them both. So, they keep spearing one another, and the result is they forget that Jesus said, “It’s finished.” That’s worldly conflict, OK?
CONFLICT CAN’T BE AVOIDED
I’m guilty of it. Anybody else guilty of it in your life? Is there an option? Well, there’s worldly conflict and there’s godly conflict. And before I get into godly conflict, let me submit to you that some of us want a third option, and that is no conflict.
You are a sinner. I am a sinner. We’re all sinners. Everybody we meet is a sinner. We’re in a fallen, sinful world. There’s going to be conflict, amen?
Some of you, in an effort to not have conflict, what you will do is you’ll retreat and you’ll isolate. You’ll say, “If I don’t have relationships, then I won’t have conflict.” This is where people grow up in a home and they see so much conflict between the parents that they never want to get married. This is where people grow up in a home that has so much conflict, they don’t even want to have a family. This is where someone feels betrayed by a close friend, so they realize, “You know what? Friendship equals conflict, equals pain. I’m going to isolate. I’m going to retreat. I will not leave an opportunity to be hurt. Nobody’s going to spear me because nobody’s going to be close enough to get the spear in me.”
The result is, we withdraw emotionally, we withdraw relationally. This is where someone was hurt in a church, and all of a sudden, they leave and they never go to church again—no church. The only way to avoid conflict is to avoid relationship.
If your goal is, “I’m not going to have any conflicts,” then what you’re saying is, “I’m not going to have any relationships.” Part of the cost of a relationship is conflict. This is true with coworkers, this is true with spouse, this is true with friends, this is true with people in your Community Group, your Redemption Group. This is inevitable, and the more relationships you have, the more conflict you will have.
Let me submit to you that the goal is not to avoid all conflict, but to have godly conflict, if and when that opportunity is set before you. And so Pastor James proceeds from worldly conflict, which is the well-worn rut in the road, to godly conflict, which is an entirely different path. Worldly conflict is natural; godly conflict is supernatural. Worldly conflict is easy; supernatural conflict is hard.
Here’s what he says about godly conflict: James 4:5–10, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says”—and this isn’t a direct quote of any Scripture. This is him pulling a theme from all of Scripture. “‘He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says”—and he quotes Proverbs and Peter quotes this verse as well—“‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil.” A lot of people who have worldly conflict forget there is a devil. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning.”
Sometimes if people are having worldly conflict, they’re joyful, they’re celebrating, they’re gloating, they’re laughing, and God is weeping. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
When it came to worldly conflict, Pastor James said it’s very simple: you get emotional, you’re frustrated with somebody, they have something that you want, and so you go to war to get it. He’s going to give us a lot more things to enjoy, appreciate, and examine when it comes to godly conflict.
HOW DID JESUS DEAL WITH CONFLICT?
He’s going to say, first of all, the Holy Spirit is in you. He uses this language: “The Spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” What he’s saying is, we don’t need to just be governed by our emotions. We can be governed by the indwelling person, presence, and power of the Holy Spirit.
If you look at the life of Jesus and you ask yourself, “How did he do it?” and if you’ve not read the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the biographical sketches of Jesus, if you do read them, true or false, for those of you that have, you’ll see Jesus has conflict. Can we all agree on that? Jesus had a ton of conflict. Some of it was private, some of it was public, some of it was with one person, some of it was with a mob. How did Jesus have godly conflict? How did he do it? Jesus never had worldly conflict. He had conflict, but he never had worldly conflict. I’ve had worldly conflict. You’ve had worldly conflict. Jesus, no worldly conflict.
How did he do that? By the power of the Holy Spirit. God became a man. In addition to his divinity, he added humanity, and he walked humbly on the earth. He walked as we must walk. He didn’t cheat, leaning into his divinity. Instead, he lived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, what this means is, when our passions are flaming and we’re emotional, whatever the case may be, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit is in us and to invite and to ask the Holy Spirit to govern our emotions and to govern our reactions.
GOD GIVES MORE GRACE TO THE HUMBLE
The second thing that he says is that God is gracious. It says, “He gives more grace.” Now, what happens in worldly conflict? Well, it’s not the Holy Spirit who’s in charge, and grace is not present. But it says, “He gives more grace.” So, what it’s saying is, when there’s a conflict, God pours out—he dumps out of his bucket of grace more grace—grace for everyone involved, grace for both tribes that are spearing, because he loves them both.
So when you hear, “He gives grace,” don’t think, “Yes, there’s grace for me but no grace for them.” No, there’s grace for them, too. There’s grace for everyone involved, and God is saying, “I love everyone. I want to help everyone. I want to serve everyone. Maybe everybody else in the high school picked a side and is going to have their riot. I’m trying to serve, love, and help everyone because I’m not on anyone’s side, and no one’s on my side.”
When people are having a conflict, they want grace, but they’re prone not to give grace, and God’s not like that. The third thing he says is, “Choose humility.” He quotes Proverbs 3:34. He says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Worldly conflict is marked by pride, and godly conflict is marked by humility.
Four things I would say on pride. Pride says, “I am more important.” OK, how do I know that? Because I’ve done that. Pride says, “I am better.” Pride says, “I am right.” And pride says, “I will win.” That’s pride. OK, what’s consistent there is, it’s about me, it’s not about we. It’s about me; it’s not about we. It’s not, “We need to win.” “I need to win.” It’s not, “He needs to win”; it’s, “I need to win.”
Friends, this happens, again, in friendships, it happens in marriages, it happens in families, it happens in businesses, and as Pastor James says, it happens in churches. Again, pride is a well-worn groove. We’d even found a way to make it noble—self-esteem. “God opposes the proud,” he says, “and he gives grace to the humble.”
9 THINGS HUMILITY ALLOWS US TO DO
Worldly conflict is all about pride; godly conflict requires the pursuit of humility. One author says it well: “No one can ever say, ‘I’m humble,’” right?
If I came to you today and I started my sermon, “Hi, my name’s Pastor Mark. Welcome to Mars Hill Church. You know, I’ve been your pastor for seventeen years. A couple things I’d like you to know about me. First of all, I’m humble.” True or false, that would sort of negate my entire thesis? Well, a humble person wouldn’t tell us how humble they are. We can never say, “I’m humble.” All we can say is, “I’m a proud person pursuing humility by the grace of God.” It’s like perfection. No one can ever say, “I’m perfect.” All we can say is, “I’m an imperfect person pursuing perfection by the grace of God.” When it comes to humility, he says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
1. SEE OUR SIN
Here’s what humility allows us to do: humility in the middle of a conflict allows us not just to see your sin but to see mine, too. Because when our emotions and our passions get enflamed, we’re so aware of how they’re wrong that we tend to overlook that we might be wrong, too.
2. GET QUIETER, NOT LOUDER
Number two, humility allows us to get quieter, not louder. You can tell when it’s going from a conflict to a fight, to a riot because it gets louder. I mean, literally, even if it’s just two people, you can tell that they’re going to have a serious riot because what happens to the volume? It goes up. “I’m going to win.” “No, I’m going to win.” “No, I’m going to win.” “No, I’m going to win!” You’re like, “It’s getting loud.” Humility turns the volume down. Humility says, “If you’re going to get louder, I’m going to get quieter, and I’m going to invite you to get quieter so we can have a conversation that’s a little more private and doesn’t invite the whole riot to get involved.”
3. LISTEN MORE, SPEAK LESS
Number three, humility allows us to listen more and speak less. What can I learn? What do I need to hear? What’s true in this? What’s helpful in this? It allows us to listen more and speak less. It’s interesting because previously in James 3, he talked a lot about the tongue and he said that we’re like wild horses, right, and that God needs to get a bit in our mouth to keep us under control, particularly our speech, our tongue, our language, and our communication.
What humility allows us to do is to see that as a good thing, not, “I need to spit this bit out of my mouth, and I need to run out of the pen, and I need to be free to run passionately.” No, it’s “I need to be under control. I need to be under authority. I need to be broke in.”
4. SUBMIT TO GODLY AUTHORITY
Number four, humility allows us to submit to godly authority. You shouldn’t submit to all authority, but you should submit to godly authority. We all should. Humility allows us to submit to godly authority because in certain moments, we want to be our own authority, or what we want is victory, so we ignore other authority.
I mean, the riot at my high school—everybody knew you weren’t supposed to have a riot. I mean, you didn’t need to read the manual for that. It’s like, you know, you don’t need to hand a student a manual that says, “Do not call your relatives, have them drive into the school with baseball bats to club your fellow students.” You don’t need a manual. Everybody knows that, but what happens when the goal becomes winning, then you have to jettison and reject all authority. You may feel—we feel, I’ve felt—in a moment, that’s a good thing, but long term, it’s a very bad thing.
This is where a husband will not listen to the leadership of the church and the way he is treating his wife is just not right. He’s like, “Well, the heck with that church. I’m out of here.” Well now, what he wants is his wife to be under his authority, but he doesn’t want to be under authority. That means she’s in danger. Humility allows us, particularly when our emotions are raging, to be under authority, to be under the authority of godly people.
Number four, Pastor James says, “Submit to God.” Submit to God. All right, here’s what this means: conflict is never about winning. I wouldn’t have told you this some years ago because I didn’t believe this. Conflict is never about winning; it’s about worshiping. Conflict is not about winning; it’s about worshiping. It’s not, “How can I emerge victorious in glory?” but it’s about, “What honors the Lord? What glorifies the Lord? What pleases the Lord?” When he says, “Submit yourself to God,” that’s what he’s saying. Worldly conflict is about winning. Godly conflict is about worshiping.
5. RESIST THE DEVIL
Number five, it says to, what, the devil? Resist. And this is language of combat, OK? When there’s a conflict, there’s a fight, but here’s the thing to remember, Christian: You’re not fighting the person. You’re fighting the devil. This is where Paul says in Ephesians, “Our war is not against flesh and blood.” It’s not against people but against powers, principalities, and spirits. When he says, “Resist the devil,” this is language like a military engagement where he’s telling the soldiers, “Don’t retreat. Hold your ground,” because Satan’s going to launch an assault.
This is what happens in a military campaign. The army gets together, and they all march forward, and their hope is that you will retreat so that they can have victory. What he’s saying is that, really, behind the marching army is the enemy, and you’ve got to resist him because you’re not fighting those people. Those people are captives in war. And resisting the devil means, very practically, he’s going to hand you a script for worldly conflict, and he’s going to want you to read that script.
Resisting the devil says, “No, by the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, following the example of the Lord Jesus, I want to respond in a way that is godly, not worldly.” Some things that Satan is going to do—we’ll call them tactics. He’s going to make us defensive. “You don’t understand. Let me explain. No, let me—” Stubborn. “Well, I’m not going to—I’m not going to—I’m not.” Self-righteous. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Their way was—let me tell you what they did.” And/or, again, Satan will want us to come out from godly authority and to be our only authority, or to pursue ungodly authority.
Every dad who’s got a teenage daughter who’s dating the wrong guy, knows exactly how dangerous this is. “Sweetheart, he’s not the right guy.” “Oh but, Dad, I’ve decided I trust him, and I’m going to follow him.” “No, don’t do that.” “But I—” what’s the teenage daughter always say? “I feel—” Dad’s like, “That’s why I’m here. Your emotions are leading you to be under authority that is not helpful for you. They’re going to use you; they’re going to harm you.” So, we’ve got to resist the devil.
I would ask you, how does he tend to tempt you? Let me ask you a question. Can the devil use a Christian? Yes or no? Yes. Now, he can’t possess them in terms of owning them. Once you belong to Jesus, you belong to Jesus forever. He says, “No one can snatch you out of my hand.” But you can belong to Jesus, and on occasion, even as a Christian, even a mature Christian, even a godly Christian, have an ungodly moment where Satan uses you.
This becomes very confusing because you’re like, “Well, they’re a great person, and I know they’re a Christian, and maybe they’re right,” or maybe, in this instance, not to malign their whole character, not to attack them, because we’ve all done this. Have you said or done anything you regret? I have. We’ve all had these moments. There’s one recorded in Matthew 16:23. OK, Jesus and Peter are going for, let’s say, a walk. They’re having a conversation. Jesus looks at Peter and says something that the other guys probably had a conversation about later, and it was, “Get behind me, Satan.” They go, “That’s not his name. His name’s Peter.”
Are Peter and Satan the same guy? No. Did Peter belong to Jesus or Satan? Jesus. But in that moment, who was he speaking for? Satan. The context is that Peter was saying something that Satan wanted him to say, and Jesus got right to the heart of the matter and said, “That’s not what I told you to say. Satan told you to say that, so get behind me, Satan.”
So, Jesus is resisting Satan speaking through Peter, and he’s inviting Peter and the disciples to make this distinction and to do the same. Resist the devil. “Get behind me, Satan.” That’s Jesus’ language. And he makes a promise, if you will resist the devil, he will what? Flee, but you got to hang in there awhile, OK? You got to hang in there a while. It’s like a fight. It’s like, if you don’t run and you don’t quit, eventually the other guy might. And here, it promises that Satan will.
6. DRAW NEAR TO GOD
Number six, he says, “Draw near to God.” In ancient military campaigns, this nation would go out, and this nation would go out, and as the battle raged, you didn’t know where you were because it’s just overwhelming, it’s exhausting, it’s hand-to-hand combat. You’re like, “Are we over there? Are we over there? Where’s my guys? I don’t even know where to go.” You completely lose sight of where you’re at and where you’re going. It’s disorienting. So he says, “Draw near to God.” He says, “In the middle of everything, find the Lord,” right? Get to the Lord. Stick with the Lord. Stay close to the Lord.
You ever read in the Scriptures or sing some of those songs that talk about the Lord and his banners or “His banner over me is love”? What they would do in a military campaign is some guy—I think he drew the short straw. He didn’t get a weapon; he got a flag. It’s kind of hard to—you’re like, “They have a sword, and I have a flag. I don’t feel like this is going to go well for me.” But the guy with the flag—his job was to get the flag up. And you’d say, “Well, there’s my flag, so I need to get over to my team. And I know where my team is because I know where our flag is.”
What he’s saying here is, “In the middle of the conflict, look up, find the Lord, and get to him.” The only way out of the conflict is to get to the Lord. I don’t know what that looks like for you—prayer, Bible study, maintaining relationships with godly people, seeking godly counsel, spending time in prayer and song to the Lord. Sometimes those are the first things that we get rid of when we need them as our first priority.
7. GET CLEANED UP
He says, number seven, “Get cleaned up.” He uses, actually, some strong language. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” When we were in Ephesians, I told you that almost every time in the Bible that God speaks to believers, he calls us saints and not sinners because our identity is saint, and sometimes our activity is sin.
But here, James uses strong language. He says, “You’re sinners.” And what this means is that even saints have moments where they act like sinners. Saint may be our identity, but sometimes sin is our activity. And what he says is, “You’ve got to cleanse yourself. You’ve got to get this cleaned up.”
So, start by washing your own hands, looking at your own life, saying, “Hey, did I do anything wrong? Did I say anything wrong? Is there anything I need to fix, apologize for, get right, in the future, do different?” Only through humility is it possible to even pursue that, because in the middle of a conflict, our hands are filled with what? Mud, and it’s just a lot of this . . . And James says, “Hey, look at your hand. It’s covered in mud. Time to put the mud down. Time to wash your hands.” What this means is if we’re wrong, we own it. If we think we’re wrong, we own it. If the godly mediator says we’re wrong, we own it.
8. BE PATIENT
Number eight, be patient. Here’s what he says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Some of your translations will say, “And he’ll exalt you when it’s time.” I don’t know about you, but the first time I heard a gunshot—you ever been around when there’s a gunshot? Not like at the range or out duck hunting—an unexpected gunshot.
First thing I did first time I heard a gunshot, I went down. I’m not smart, but I know that less of me is advantageous right about now, OK? You know, the wrong guy’s like, “Huh, I wonder what that was.” Get down, right? The first thing they tell you in combat: you hear bullets fly, get down. When there’s conflict and bullets start flying, what he says is, “Humble yourself. Get down. Stay down.” Don’t rise up; fall down. What he says is, “And he will lift you up when it’s time,” meaning the Lord loves you, and he says, “You know what, just stay down right now. The bullets are flying. And when it’s safe, I’ll come, pick you up, help you out, and move you forward.”
9. REFRAIN FROM JUDGING
Then he ends with a great question. He starts with a great question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” That’s a good question. And then he ends with another really good question: “Who are you to judge?” Now, we say this all the time, right? And what we mean is, “I’m judging you. Who are you to judge me?” He’s saying this to how many people? Everybody. “Do not speak evil against one another.” Wow. In my worst moments, I would say, “This is true.” But is it negative, is it critical, is it hurtful? Well, then it’s evil. “Do not speak evil against”—whom? One another, fellow Christians, brothers, family.
How many of you grew up in a family that had conflict? If you didn’t have conflict, you didn’t have a family. Families are going to have conflict, but nobody should die, be kicked out of the family, quit the family, or set the house on fire. “The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only”—how many lawgivers? One. Oh, that job’s taken? I applied for it. I was hoping. Well, how about judge? Is judge still open? Oh, judge was filled, too. “He who is able to save and to destroy.”
Here’s his question. His first question was, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” His last question is, “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” Do you know all the facts in whatever conflict you find yourself in? How many of you have said, “I’m going to judge this case,” and then as you dig into the facts, you’re like, “There are some facts I did not know.” I’ve used this story many times, but I really learned this the hard way as a new pastor.
Sitting down with a couple—I’ve told you the story—she says, “He grabbed me.” He’s like, “Yeah, because she hit me in the head with a plate, grabbed a steak knife, and was going to stab me.” Oh, that’s a variable, right? Because when she just told me, “He grabbed me,” she forgot, “He grabbed my hand with the steak knife as I was plunging it toward his heart.” And that’s a really important piece of information, particularly according to him.
Do you know all the facts? Have you heard the other side of the story? Proverbs always says, “Everybody seems right until you hear the other guy.” And the big question is, why do we think that we have the right to be the judge? Because here’s what happens in worldly conflict. Something happens and somebody decides, “I’ll be the judge, I’ll convene a jury, and I’ll render a verdict.”
How many of you have done this? I’ve done it. Sometimes we convene a jury physically, talk to people. Sometimes we convene a jury digitally, try to get everybody on our side, whatever the case may be. And what happens when you go to a court, where does the judge sit? The judge sits in the high seat, OK? So, it takes a little pride to get up to the high seat. “I’ll be the judge, I’ll sit in the high seat, I’ll convene the jury, I’ll render a verdict, and I’ll execute a punishment so that there can be justice.”
Jesus walks in the courtroom and is like, “What’s going on?” “We’re holding court.” “I didn’t get invited. Who’s on the bench?” “Well, they are.” “I didn’t appoint them. In fact, that’s my seat. Why are they sitting in my seat?” “Well, we’ve rendered a verdict!” Jesus said, “That’s my job. I give the law and I judge. There’s only one. There’s only one, and that’s no one else.” That’s how worldly conflict goes.
Here’s how godly conflict goes: Jesus walks in, goes up to the bench, “You’re dismissed. You’re now former judge.” He sits down, looks at both parties, and says, “You’re guilty.” And the other side cheers, “Yay!” And then he says, “And you’re guilty!” You’re like, “What?” “You’re all guilty and the punishment is death. And I’m going to die for you both, so put your spears down. It’s not about winning; it’s about worshiping. And I’m going to reconcile with them, and I’m going to reconcile with them, and you’re going to reconcile with each other.”
That’s the verdict of the judge. That’s godly conflict. You say, “Where’s the justice?” At the cross. “Well, who’s going to pay?” Jesus already did.
FAMILY, NOT ENEMY
You know, I’ll tell you a story. I thought I was done. I often think I’m done and I’m not. This week, Grace and I celebrated 26 years together since our first date. If you’re new, Grace is my wife’s name, also my best friend. And when we got married, we were between our junior and senior year of college, flat broke. Flat broke. College broke. And so we rented a little cabin—cottage off the Oregon coast, drove down to get a few days together before we drove off to college to finish our senior year. And I was so excited to get married, so looking forward to it.
We went to the Oregon coast and we checked in at this little kind of bed and breakfast cottage off the beach, and didn’t know it, but it was run by a Christian woman. Very sweet, pleasant, likeable lady. So, you know, filling out the paperwork, and she says, “So you guys were just married!” I said, “Yeah, we were just married.” She said, “Well, I’ve been married”—I don’t know, 30 years, 40 years, whatever it was. To me being married 30 minutes, 40 minutes, very impressive. All right, very impressive.
So I ask her, “You got any advice?” She said, “Yes I do.” And it was one of the moments I felt like the Holy Spirit gave her wisdom to deposit into our family. She said, “Right now, you’re a family.” And I knew Grace was going to be my wife, but I hadn’t thought of the fact that we were a family. I thought she is my wife, but we are a family. Yeah, we are. We’re a family. I have a family. We’re a family.
She said, “The key to your marriage is to know that when you have conflict, that they’re your family, not your enemy.” She said, “There are times that they’re going to feel like your enemy.” Twenty-six years later, yes, OK? Any of you married and say, “I felt that.” We’ve been married 21, been together 26. She said, “There’ll be times that they’re going to feel like your enemy,” she said, “but they’re not your enemy.” She actually made us face each other. She said, “You’re not enemy; you’re family.”
And she said, “But you do have an enemy. You do have an enemy, and the enemy wants to turn the family into a bunch of enemies.” She said, “That’s Satan’s tactic and trick for the family is to cause you to think that your family is your enemy.” She said, “Family is not enemy. You have family, and there’s an enemy, and the enemy will attack your family, and your family needs to resist your enemy, and he’ll flee from you.” She quoted this verse.
I felt, “What a wise woman.” I remember that moment. I thought, “This is a gift.” There have been times in our marriage and in our family that, quite frankly, Grace and I have had conflict and we felt like enemy. Any married people been there? And I keep going back to the Scriptures and the wisdom of the Spirit-filled woman, saying, “I choose to be family. I choose to not see as enemy.” And the times I’ve gotten it wrong, I’ve then repented to Grace to get it right. Because if it’s family, even if you made it wrong, you can always make it right, because that’s what families do.
James here is speaking, and here’s what he’s saying: “Church is a family, and the family has an enemy. And if you forget that, you’ll act in a way that is worldly and not godly.” The times that I have not believed that or not walked in that, I have acted in a way that is worldly and not godly.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND
So, what we’re going to do together now is we’re going to respond as a family. We’re going to collect our tithes and offerings. After that, we’re going to take Communion. When we take Communion, we remember Jesus was speared by me. Not just for me, by me. And he was also speared for the one that I would consider my enemy. And together, he causes peace, he reconciles, and he makes us family. And I would say, if you’re here, and there’s someone that you’re with and you’re in conflict with, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to begin that process of reconciling, apologizing, loving, and being family and not enemy.
Then we’re going to sing, OK? This is our way of submitting ourselves to God. This is our way of looking up and seeing the Lord Jesus sitting on the bench, high and exalted, saying he has condemned us all, he has died for us all, he has risen for us all, he has forgiven us all, he has loved us all, he has embraced us all. We get to rejoice.
Father God, thank you for an opportunity to teach the Bible at Mars Hill Church for 17 years. Thank you, Lord, that your timeless word is always timely. Thank you that the Scriptures are not just for the people, but they’re also for the pastor. And I thank you for Pastor James and this wonderful Spirit-inspired, truthful, helpful, insightful letter that he has written.
Lord Jesus, I have to believe that he endured a lot of worldly conflict and he responded with godly conflict. Help me and help us to do the same. And Lord Jesus, thank you that James is with you right now, that he gets to hang out with his big brother. And we look forward to the day when we get to meet the entire family, and all is made whole, good, and well in the presence of Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
Conflict happens. Whether it’s physical or digital, conflict invites others to join in on the riot, and according to Pastor James, this is just part of being sinners in a fallen world. But, he says, conflict need not be worldly—we can engage in a kind that’s godly.