The Cure for Conflict

By Dr. Jack Graham

James, ever pragmatic, ever personal, speaks to us in chapter 4 of his book about a problem we all face. It’s the problem of conflicts and how to resolve them.

Some of us remember the fears of the fifties concerning the Cold War and the potential nuclear holocaust with our sworn enemies, the Soviet Union and the nations of the Iron Curtain. And even today, while the Cold War has ended, we still see daily acts of terrorism and face the prospect of conventional and nuclear war with rogue nations.

We also know political, racial, and socio-economic conflicts within our nation are increasing and regularly spilling out into the streets in violence. And, of course you cannot watch TV or engage with social media without seeing, hearing, and reading constant bickering, barking, and bullying on matters great and small.

So we wonder, “Why can’t we just get along?” And do you know why? It is because we were all born with a sinful, pugnacious nature. From the very beginning, when Cain killed his brother, Abel, history has been recorded in the blood of wars and conflicts. Of course, even the Church is not immune. We know that there has been infighting in churches, denominational conflicts, and even wars fought in the name of religion. So why do we have this self-destructive desire to be in conflict?

James answers this question head on in verses 1–3 of chapter 4:

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

The Destructive Desire for Possession

So, first of all, he says in verse two, it is a desire within all of us to possess. We think, “If I can just get a bigger house, a nicer car, a better wardrobe, or a better job, then I’ll be happy.”

Now, I want to remind you that God has given us all things in Christ Jesus to fully and freely enjoy. James says it is okay to strive for these things, but it should not become an obsession. The desire to provide for ourselves and our loved ones is normal, natural and God-given, but our desires can become distorted.

Remember what Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” If you could gain the whole world, it still wouldn’t satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart because our heart truly longs for things we cannot possess.

It’s been my observation over the years that money problems are a major cause for family conflict and marital breakup. And many of the problems that we face in our families and our marriages today are a result of this insatiable appetite for more possessions! This appetite gets our priorities backwards; we start using people and loving things.

The Destructive Desire for Pleasure

The desire to acquire is a source of conflict, but so is the desire for pleasure. Look in verse 3 of chapter 4 of James. He says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Don’t think of God as a cosmic killjoy who is just walking around the parapets of heaven trying to find someone having a good time, so He can bop them on the head and say, “Cut that out!” That’s not the kind of God that we meet in the Bible. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” A fulfilling life is promised in Jesus Christ. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). God wants you to enjoy life. In other words, if it’s a good thing, if it’s good for you, God wants you to have it.

But God often says “no” in order to protect us by building barriers to keep us from hurting ourselves. And when God says “no” in some of His commandments, He’s saying “Don’t hurt yourself.” When He says “yes,” He’s saying “Help yourself to happiness.” Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

So when James condemns pleasure, he is obviously not talking about the pleasure of knowing God and following Him, the pleasure of time off after a hard day’s work, the pleasure of watching the big game with friends, the pleasure of eating a great meal with family. He’s talking about this mad pursuit of sinful pleasure that we see all around us.

In our culture, so many people live to be entertained—they are consumed with looking for the next sizzle, the next high. Jesus said that we’re choked by the world’s pleasure. Pleasure may gratify but it never satisfies. And that’s the kind of pleasure that James says a cause for conflict. It causes this constant war—this battle that’s raging inside of us. There’s no peace when our pursuit is merely a sinful or selfish pleasure.

King Solomon is the best example of the futility of seeking pleasure. The book of Ecclesiastes is really King Solomon’s testimony of how he experimented with everything in life, trying to find happiness. He tried wine, women, work and wealth; he tried everything under the sun. He ended up saying that me without God is a big fat zero. He said, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Nothing! It’s a vapor with no meaning. This wise king concluded that the pursuit of pleasure is like chasing the wind.

My family owned a poodle that chased the wind. We got him in Oklahoma, so we named him Sooner. Eventually we moved to Florida and took our dog with us. He was a nice dog; he had a nice home and a family who adored him. But every time we opened the door, he would dart out and would not stop running. I’d run, or even drive for miles trying to catch this crazy dog. I don’t know what he was chasing; I think he was just chasing the wind! Then one day Sooner got out of the house, started running down the street, chasing the wind, and I couldn’t catch him. That was the last we ever saw of that crazy, wind-chasing dog!

Solomon said a lot of people are just like that—chasing the wind, thinking the next “thing” is going to bring them happiness. What’s around the next corner? What’s over the hill? What’s next? What’s exciting? What’s electric?

These selfish, sinful pursuits inevitably result in great loss and conflict with God and man. Let me remind you, James is talking to Christians here. In verses 2 and 3 he warns us that we could lose our power in prayer—conflict within and conflict with others results in conflict with God.

As to conflict with God, let us look to chapter 4, verse 4:

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

How’s that for political correctness? The Jewish recipients of this letter from James would have known full well that James was not merely talking about physical adultery—the prophets of Israel often warned the nation, which was figuratively married to Jehovah God, of spiritual adultery.

Likewise, we are married to Jesus Christ. We are promised to fully and faithfully follow Jesus Christ and yet, spiritual adultery is a common problem—and it results in breaking our fellowship with God. Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. That’s a battle you can’t win. Our arms are too short and weak to box with God. I mean, He is the Almighty, all powerful God.

More Grace

Verses 5 and 6 says:

“He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

That word opposes, or in some translation resists, is a strong word. If there is pride or conflict with God in our hearts, He will hold us off and we can’t get through to Him, even in prayer. Remember in verse 3 when James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”

If you ask most people what prayer is, they will say, “Well, that’s when you ask God for stuff.” No, prayer is worship; prayer is communication with our eternal Lord and Savior. Now, God has promised to meet our needs “according to His riches in glory in Jesus Christ.” He’s going to abundantly provide. But prayer should never be motivated by selfishness. Sometimes we just lay our plans and say, “God, here are my plans, bless them…”

Then we get mad if He doesn’t do what we want Him to do! This is what James was talking about! In chapter 14 of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet said that if you want to have power with God in prayer, you must get rid of those idols in your heart. You might say, “Well, I don’t bow down to idols. I don’t remember the last time I did that.” But an idol of the heart is anything that you put above God in your life. Anything you love more than God, worship more than God, service more than God. It can be anything, even something good. But if it’s an idol, God says tear it down. Remember, the Psalmist said in 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

If I have some area of disobedience to God, I can’t expect God to hear me when I pray. And one reason that some of you don’t seem to get through is you’re just talking to yourself. This is because you haven’t dealt with sin or an area of rebellion in your life, and you need to come and bow before God and receive His grace.

But there is great news in this passage; for it says in James 4:6, “But He gives more grace.” More grace! Don’t we all need that?

The problem is we’d rather fight than pray. We’d rather struggle; we’d rather figure it out; we’d rather try to fix it; we’d rather fight with each other and duke it out; rather than simply humble ourselves before God and ask Him to reveal His way and His will. The solution is grace.

The Recipe for Resolution

Typical of James, in verse 7–10 he gives short, staccato sentences that tell us how to apply grace to our conflict and resolve it. To resolve conflicts, we must unconditionally relinquish control of our life. That’s what it means when it says in verse 7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” So say, “God, I give myself to you.”

The word submit in this passage means to come under rank or under authority, as in the military. So we come to God and say, “I want to be under your authority—I want to stop running and ruling my own life.” So we relinquish control by submitting to God and saying, “I’ve messed up my life. I’m empty. I’ve tried all of these things, but it’s just not working.” God says, “I’ve got grace for you.”

If my ego is ruling my life, I’m going to have this constant conflict and battle with myself, others, and God. But if I can somehow get self and ego off the throne of my heart and give Christ His rightful place of preeminence there, then that’s when peace and grace will begin to flow in my life.

This especially applies to conflict in our marriages. If you come to God about your marriage and you say, “God, all we’re doing is fighting. We love each other, divorce isn’t an option, we’re not going to break up this family, but God, we’re miserable! How do we get out of this battle? How do we quit fighting?” And God says, “Give up yourself. It’s not your wife, it’s not your husband—it’s not their problem, it’s your problem. It starts on the inside. Surrender your life to Me. Give this to Me. Let Me work on your life and your marriage.”

Secondly, to resolve our conflicts with God and each other, we must resist the enemy. In verse 7, James writes, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” You do have an enemy! And he is an evil enemy. Realize that Satan wants to do you harm. You say, “Well, I’ve never met the devil.” That could be because you’re going the same direction he is. If you go around and go the opposite direction, then you’ll come face-to-face with the devil.

The devil, the great deceiver, comes and he says, “You’re never going to win this battle, you’re never going to make it in your marriage, you will always feel in conflict. Just remember what sins you have committed. You are never going to change.” Well, the next time the devil reminds you of your past, you just remind him of his future! Because when I read about his future, he comes under the judgment of Almighty God and is banished forever! Resist the devil in the name of Jesus Christ!

If you want to reduce conflict and experience abundant grace, then you must repent and resist sin in your life. In verse 8, He says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Deal honestly, sincerely and sorrowfully with sin. In verse 10 it says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” By His grace, He will never put you down. He will always lift you up.

Then finally to resolve conflicts, we need to restore fellowship with God. I love verse 8: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” I love that! I’ve made an amazing discovery in my life—the closer I get to God, the better I get along with people. If you’re in conflict with your spouse, children, coworkers, or friends, then spend time with the Prince of Peace. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

You might ask, “How do I draw near to God?” It is simple: spend time in Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, fellowship with believers and worship.

If you have backed off from your faith, run away from God, or tried to do things your way, but now you’re ready to come back home, then I urge you to restore your relationship with God. You will restore that relationship by humbling yourself, getting on your knees and praying, “God, I’m coming back to You.” And God in His grace will give you a new beginning of peace in your relationship with Him, others, and yourself.

Dr. Jack Graham serves as Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest and most dynamic churches in the country.

This article was originally published in “Visible Faith” by Dr. Jack Graham. If you are interested in receiving a free copy of “Visible Faith,” please contact Jack Raymond at jraymond@prestonwood.org.

Leave a Comment

*