The Right Friendship

James 4

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Conflicts and violence are problems we humans have always dealt with. If only there were some insights in the book of James to help us understand why, and how we might be able to help the situation.

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3 NRSV)

James says the source of conflict is the cravings at war within us. We covet things that we don’t have, and perceive that there isn’t enough to go around, leading us to take what we want by force, many times at the expense of others. We’re wired so deeply for survival that the fear of scarcity often drives us to get what we need in whatever way we can. It’s both a blessing and a curse. 

The passage goes a level deeper into the investigation and explores why we don’t have what we need: It’s because we don’t ask. That’s something I’m not good at. I often feel uncomfortable asking someone else for something, because I think it’s my own responsibility to take care of it. By not asking, I’m underutilizing one of the biggest strengths of being part of family and community. There is more than enough to go around if asking and sharing happen freely.

There’s another layer to this. Sometimes when we ask, we don’t receive because we ask with wrong or selfish motives. By chasing after the wrong things, we are fueling the fire of conflict. James is prompting us to take inventory of our desires and motives. It’s not wrong to need or want things, but the challenge is to seek the right things with a pure heart.

James continues his train of thought by contrasting “friendship with the world” and friendship with God. When we seek things with the wrong motives, we make ourselves friends of the world, and therefore enemies of God. Instead, make yourself a friend of God by humbling yourself and submitting to the leading of his spirit that lives within us. Set aside your selfish desires, as painful as that may be, and ask for truly good things.

James is offering us an antidote to conflicts and violence, advocating for a more peaceful way—partner with God (“draw near” to him) by properly aligning your desires. Seek after and ask for the right things, and have enough as you share in God’s abundance and grace.

-Jay Laurent

Questions to consider:

1. What are some things you need or want, but don’t have?

2. Do you think these needs/wants are because of selfish desires, or are they good things to seek after?

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