Pleasures That Produce Pain - Part One
Scripture: James 4:1–3
Pleasures That Produce Pain-Part OneJames 4:1-3
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
While eating breakfast you hear your spouse and teenage child conducting an argumentative discussion in another room. On the way to work other motorists are heard screaming expletives and laying heavy on their horns. Your employee flies off the handle when you ask him why he showed up thirty minutes late. At lunch a customer is in a heated debate with the young girl behind the register because her Big Mac is too light on the "special sauce." The cable TV playing in the background at the Golden Arches is discussing the many military conflicts oversees. The local station in the other room is busy chronicling several murders that occurred yesterday evening. When you arrive home you notice your son has a black eye because he refused to let the school bully steal his lunch. So needing to unwind you put in a movie and find yourself being entertained by bitter disputes.
A bit exaggerated, but not far from reality! We live in a world that is plagued by conflict. It is everywhere we go. Perhaps we find ourselves even as the cause of it.
Let me say upfront: The Bible is clear - all that encompasses unbiblical conflict is wrong: Temper-tantrums, demonstrative voices, harsh words, threats, manipulation, separation, violence, the list continues. Yet these are ingrained in the fabric of so many lives. So what is so wrong with them? First is that they reveal a defective heart. Another is that it is directly contrary to the example of Jesus Christ who is the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). Another is that it kills our testimony to a watching world. And another is that they contradict the true wisdom that we have been learned about over the past two weeks.
Remember, the wisdom from above is, 3:17, pure and peaceable and gentle and reasonable and full of mercy which can only contribute to a climate of peace (3:18). However, according to 3:15 fools seek their wisdom from below which brings out, 3:16, jealousy and selfishness leading to an environment of "disorder and every evil thing."
The world is separated from God. They have given Him a vote of no confidence. They seek their wisdom not from above, but take their cues from popular opinion or experience or feelings. We should not be surprised that the world finds "discord" in every sphere of their lives based on what we have recently learned. Scripture teaches this. The witness around us is clear.
Yet when disorder is seen surrounding Christians, we have a major problem on our hands. Something has gone drastically wrong. Call yourselves whatever you want, but it is a clear indication that the Spirit of God is not dwelling in that environment. Conflicts will come. Blessings come when we handle them biblically. But there is no excuse when we handle conflicts like the world by sacrificing Christian principles in our homes and in our churches.
In his book, "The Body," Chuck Colson relays a tragic story in his chapter entitled, "the Right Fist of Fellowship."
It was the right hook that got him. Pastor Waite might have stood in front of the Communion table trading punches with head deacon Ray Bryson all morning, had not Ray's fist caught him on the chin two minutes and fifteen seconds into the fight. Waite went down for the count at the altar where most members of Emmanuel Baptist Church had first declared their commitment to Christ…Within an instant the majority of the congregation converged on the Communion table, punching or shoving… The melee soon spilled over to an open space beside the organ… Mary Dahl, the director of Dorcas Society, threw a hymnal…the missile sailed high and wide and splashed down in the baptistery behind the choir. When Ray's right hook finally took the pastor down, someone grabbed the spring flower arrangement from the altar and threw it high in the air in Ray's direction. Water sprinkled everyone in the first two rows on the right side, and a visiting Presbyterian experienced complete immersion when the vase shattered against the wall next to his seat… The fight ended when the police arrived on the scene.
Another extreme illustration, but again not far from some of the horror stories that many churches have experienced. The place that is to be a sanctuary, a refuge from "fighting the good fight" in the world, is often sadly not much different than the world with siblings in Christ blowing each other away with friendly fire.
Sadly, the problem is nothing new. In the New Testament alone we read of the disciples arguing as to who is the greatest (Mk. 9:34). The Corinthian believers divided over their favorite preachers (1 Cor. 1:12). In 2 Corinthians Paul needed to write, "For I am afraid that perhaps when I … there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances" (2 Cor. 12:20). The Galatian church was "bit[ing] and devour[ing] one another" (Gal. 5:15). And we are all too familiar with Euodia and Syntyche who needed to be publicly rebuked by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians (Phil. 4:2).
We also read about it right here in James. In 4:1 we hear the inspired author say, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" Quarrels and conflicts were literally wars and battles. The community to whom James writes had become a battlefield. We already learned they singled people out for favoritism (Jas. 2:1-7). They were without mercy (Jas. 2:11). They were jealous over the role of teacher (Jas. 3:1). They cursed each other (Jas. 3:9). They were filled with selfish ambition (Jas. 3:16). Now the context suggests they were engaged in heated verbal quarrels (Jas. 4:1).
1. THE SOURCES OF DISORDER
We begin with the first of two points (one this week, one next week). This week: "The Source of Disorder." James asked the church rhetorically in verse 1, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" So let's examine what the Bible says are the sources of their conflict and all of our conflicts as well. In other words, where do these conflicts come from? The world has developed a bunch of lame reasons. Let's see what the Bible has to say!
The answer to the question in the beginning of verse 1 is found in a question at the end of verse 1. "What is the source of [their] quarrels and conflicts?" Answer: "Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members." Let's break that sequence down.
All conflicts start in your heart. James calls it "pleasures" (NIV-"desires" Gk.-"hedone" (hedonism). We are all wired to pursue our pleasures. We are all wired to pursue the things that we believe will make us the happiest - some good, some bad. Maybe it's a new car or a spouse or going to college or wealth or popularity or pornography or godliness or a new job or a vacation or successful kids or a doctor's visit. Even those who selfishly take their lives do so because they feel that desire is in their best interest. These pleasures and desires are strong, and the lengths we will go to pursue them is intense.
Now imagine the pursuit of this pleasure apart from God. Ultimate joy is not found in the Lord and God's guidelines are not a consideration for your daily conduct. You have been taught all your life to, "Have it your way! Attaining the pleasure has become an idol. You are deceived into thinking that it will bring you the things you desire the most, perhaps attention or power or comfort or friends or achievement or whatever. You will do what it takes to attain your goal. Your pleasures consume you. You worship them. They become your god. There is no desire to let Jesus Christ have supremacy in your heart.
Remember our Lord's words to those who reject Him? "The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life" (Lk. 8:14). Paul said unbelievers are known to be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:4).
As Christians this was our past, but thanks to the grace that is found in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ we have been transformed. Paul described our past in Titus 3 when he said, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared…" (Tit. 3:3-4).
For the believer, we know that all we need to have a satisfied and fulfilled life comes from the Lord. We then have the ability to be content whether we have or whether we go without (Phil. 4:11-13). Of course we have desires and many of those desires can be fulfilled for the glory of God, with the desires subordinated to Jesus Christ.
Here is the problem: Within the flesh these desires at times can rise up to be idols in our lives too. They become greater than God. We know what is right in our minds, but our desires begin to overpower us. An internal conflict breaks out. This is the "war in our members" (NIV-"battle") that James spoke about in verse 1. Paul spoke of this war in Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (cf. Rom. 7:19-20). If we lose this war, we will choose sinful routes to get our heart's desire fulfilled. And in the specific context, the battleground that was happening internally in the Christian's heart was spilling out and becoming and creating an external battleground in the Christian church.
In verse 2 James expands this thought and drives it home a little harder. "You lust and do not have." "Lust" (NIV-"want," Gk.-"epithumeo"), a very strong desire for something. There is something we passionately want and are unable to attain it. Oftentimes sins continue to fuel this desire, and the inability to attain something becomes even greater. We are envious of others who have what we want. We covet their treasure. The longer we go unfulfilled, the more the passion rages. It results in attacks on others (cold-shoulder, bickering, resentment, backbiting, gossip, criticism). James says in verse 2 it can even go as far as "murder."
Interpreting this one has puzzled Bible scholars. I do not deny that probably all murder is rooted in selfish desire.
We even have a great example in the Bible of this cycle in 1 Kings 21. Remember when Ahab wanted Naboth's vineyard? When Naboth refused to sell it? The text says Ahab went home "sullen and angry" (1 Ki. 21:3-NIV). Ahab even refused to eat (1 Ki. 21:4-5)! The power of unfulfilled desires! Yet Ahab's good ole wife, Jezebel, says, "I will give you the vineyard of Naboth" (1 Ki. 21:7). She sets up a wicket plot to bring about the death of Naboth (1 Ki. 21:10). Then Ahab gladly received his fulfilled lust once Naboth was murdered (1 Ki. 21:16).
Or how about the story of Cain? Again Cain's unfulfilled desires brought about jealousy and anger. Cain's countenance fell. God warned him, "Sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Gen. 4:7). Cain ignored the warning, pursued his passion and killed his brother (Gen. 4:8).
You say, but James was writing to the church. Ahab and Cain were unbelievers. Would believers actually murder someone if they couldn't get what they wanted? Remember the story of David? Didn't the "man after God's heart" (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14; Ac. 13:22) commit second degree murder when he intentionally placed Uriah in the front lines and then commanded all the other troops to withdraw (2 Sam. 11:15)? Again, why did he do it? Because David's all-consuming desires: Lust for his wife Bathsheba and the glory of his own reputation.
Yet if these believers to whom James writes were actually killing each other, I and many others really find it hard to believe James would give it so little attention. Many interpreters look to the dependence James had on Jesus and interpret "murder" as Jesus did (which loosely fits the context) and describes it as any form of "anger" against another (Mt. 5:22). John put it this way too, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 Jn. 3:15).
Others have said that James is speaking of a hypothetical possibility. The ultimate end result of all lust is murder. This was the course they had charted and the final reality if things were not checked.
Another example of this cycle is provided in the middle of verse 2: "You are envious and cannot obtain; you fight and quarrel." Again the same progression: Want-can't have-envy-fighting. Unchecked, unfulfilled desires lead to sinful emotions which lead to division and conflict in the community.
It starts with the heart. We need to deal with the heart because the heart is always lusting for something. The heart is always telling you your life will never be complete until you receive whatever it is. It becomes a vicious cycle of promising but never delivering. I am sure once Naboth received his vineyard; it was what, days, maybe a couple weeks, before he wanted something else!
Can we learn this lesson once-and-for-all from Solomon? "I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men - many concubines. Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun" (Ecc. 2:4-11).
It was Dr. Samuel Johnson who said, "Of all that have tried the selfish experiment, let one come forth and say he has succeeded. He that has made gold his idol, has it satisfied him? He that has toiled in the field of ambition, has he been repaid? He that has ransacked every theater of sensual enjoyment, is he content? Can any answer in the affirmative? Not one!"
Our purpose for life must be found in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and we must trust Him to submit all of our desires to His will. Here are some practical examples of what happens when we do not.
If wives are not seeking their ultimate satisfaction from the Lord, they will expect it from their husbands. They will demand of these men only what God can deliver. They will place their husbands in a position where they are destined to fail because it is a position only God can fulfill. The wives will often resort to all kinds of sinful tactics to get what they want. Conflict!
If husbands are not filled with the Spirit they will often go in one of two directions with their family. Instead of living as a biblical leader by example and service (as we just learned on the retreat), they will either dominate or remain totally passive. The pleasure of satisfying self becomes the primary focus either way with the Lord and the family somewhere in the distance. There is bound to be conflict!
Children by nature want to go their own way. The older they get, the more confident they become in charting their life course. If they discard the biblical instruction that they need to listen to and honor their parents (Pr. 23:22; Eph. 6:1-3), a perpetual war will wage in the home with the parents and children on different pages. Conflict!
How about the church? "I wanted to be chosen for that ministry position." Sinful traits manifested: Jealousy and coveting. Result: "I won't do what that ministry leader says." Conflict! "My opinion is better than everyone else's." Sinful traits manifested: Pride and arrogance. Result: "I'll fight to get my point across." Conflict! "I will never reconcile with her." Sinful traits manifested: Unforgiveness and bitterness. Result: "I'm leaving the church if she stays." Conflict! "Don't expect me to contribute anything around here." Sinful traits manifested: Laziness and selfishness. Result: "I'll attack those who threaten my sin." Conflict!
You get the point? The desires for what we think will make us happy begin to control us. The flesh wins out and produces its own fruit (Gal. 5:19-21). In the flesh we go all out to attain these desires and gratify self. We will fight all that stands in our way. The result is an environment of conflict and disorder. And the major problem with all of this is that it is an indication that we are not finding our driving pursuit for pleasure from God. It is an indication that self is seated on the throne of our hearts instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today I basically explained the problem. I believe it is one we can all identify with, and I hope one that all of us detest as much as the Lord does. Next week and the weeks that follow I will unfold the solution from James 4.
If you are not a believer you need to come to Jesus Christ. Only He can give you a new heart. Only He has the power to restrain your out-of-control desires. Only He can give you new desires. Only He can forgive your sins and begin to bear in your life the fruits of wisdom that lead to peace, first in your heart and then in your home.
Please understand that there is hope for all of you in Christ. We recall His words: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:34-35). And where the Lord commands, He empowers for His glory. And He glorifies Himself not by removing our desire for pleasure, but by revealing the foolishness of lusting for the temporary pleasures of this world. He then allows us to see and have our greatest pleasures met in Him.