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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Loyalty and Quarrels | James

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:1-3



Do you ever read a passage of the Bible and think ‘wow, this really hits the nail on the head’? Or maybe even a ‘this is like you’re seeing into my very heart’? This is one of those passages for me.

James is writing about disagreements and disputes between Christians, and the causes of these. He uses the language of ‘war’ and ‘killing’ not because those he was writing to were literally at war with each other, but because the language of war is the only language that can suitably convey the damage done by such actions. They rip apart the very fabric of community, destroying families and other previously healthy relationships.

And what are the causes of these wars? James gives a distressingly ordinary answer: ‘they come from your desires that battle within you.’ Public problems, more often than not, have private causes. Here is a reminder that we are fundamentally selfish – self-seeking, forever on the lookout for our own interests and our personal gratification. We fight for number one. We seek what James calls ‘pleasures’ above anything else.

I am learning, slowly learning, that so many arguments – with friends, family, and, of course, strangers on the internet – can be diluted or even prevented entirely if, before I reply, I ask: ‘am I cross with this because it is fundamentally unfair or unkind, or because it goes against what I want or shows me to be less than perfect?’ More often than not it is the latter. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Such quarrels lead to more than just disagreements within the church community, however. Our relationships with other believers are a direct indication of the health of our relationship with God. For if we are seeking personal satisfactions over anything else – an indication of which is disputes with fellow Christians – then God is not the one to whom we are most loyal.

The problem, as ever, is a spiritual one. When we re-align our priorities, re-focus and re-centre our hearts on God, we find that other things slip into place.

Easier said than done, right? Especially with the pressures of lockdown life, economic uncertainty, and ongoing tricky relationships. But James goes on to offer this incredible promise: ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you.’


Nell Goddard


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