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Worship Message - Handling Interpersonal Conflict

Handling Interpersonal Conflict
James Message #7

A recent devotional in Our Daily Bread centered on an experience of the author for the day, David Roper, who told about something that happened in Idaho, where there is what is called a lava tube. The only entrance to the tube is what he worded “a yawning shaft that plunges straight down into darkness.”

The experience was the author standing near the edge of the shaft and looking down. He suddenly felt drawn to venture closer to the edge, which he did. At that point, he began to lose his balance. He felt a moment of terror before being able to step away from the shaft.

The devotional author continued with the thought that sin is like that. Curiosity can draw us toward the edge. How often has that resulted in people getting too close to the edge, losing their balance, and then falling into the darkness? The result can be destroyed families, reputations, careers. What often begins with mere flirtation can turn into thoughts and actions that are wrong.

And yes, we can think we can flirt with temptation, get very close to the edge, and then just walk away, but it can be very difficult to escape. Which means the better idea is to walk away before getting to the edge. To make the decision ahead of time to not get involved with sin rather than later having to say, “I never thought it would come to this.”

Today, we are going to begin a discussion of chapter 4 of the New Testament Book of James.

Earlier this summer, we have investigated the first three chapter of James. In chapter 1 is the teaching to meet our various trials in life with joy. In chapter 2 is the teaching that we are to put our Christian faith into action. In chapter 3 is the very important teaching to tame our tongues, doing that with God’s help, so that our words are encouraging and unifying.

Now chapter 4, the main theme of which is how to handle interpersonal conflicts. Which, it seems to me, is related to what is in the three previous chapters. Conflict can be one of life’s trials. Handling conflict properly, including what we can do to avoid causing conflict, is one way to display our faith. If we tame our tongues, we can avoid causing conflict. We can avoid continuing the conflict.

Today, the first half or so of James 4, which begins with two very descriptive words of conflict. The words are “wars” and “fightings.”

What violent words those are. Words far away from what should describe relationships.

And by the way - isn’t this interesting? - remember that James wrote this book to Christians. James’ audience were not governmental leaders. His audience were not people who lacked faith. He wrote to people who professed belief in Jesus.
How sad that such people were at war, which refers to long, drawn out conflict. How sad that Christians fought each other, which refers to sudden explosions of conflict. But that is what was happening, at least in some cases. That is what James addressed in chapter 4 - violent conflict, be it long-lasting or quick - maybe not physical violence, though that can certainly happen, but at least verbal violence - and fightings - a lack of peace, a lack of unity, a lack of love, a lack of helping one another to grow in the Christian faith.

What sad ways to describe any kind of relationship. Especially a Christian relationship. Verse 1. “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?” That is what James asked his audience. His answer “Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?”

Passions. Desires. Which, if they are directed to love for God and for others, are of course alright to have, However, the passions James referred to were not good and positive. They were negative passions.

What are some negative passions?

How about the desire for power or prestige? That can happen, even in a church.

How about the desire for money or worldly possessions? In a church, that can interfere with Christian compassion. It can cause people to avoid helping those in need.
How about the passion of bodily lusts?

I do not know specifically what James’ audience was dealing with concerning their passions. Maybe it was a combination of all that was just mentioned, some people vying for power or prestige, some putting money and possessions above others, some immorality happening.

But something was going on. There was some kind of competition going on, some Christians trampling others in the rush to get what they wanted. There were some negative passions that were causing Christians to fight and be at war.

A description that continues in verse 2. “You desire and do not have, so you kill.” Probably they did not kill each other physically, but remember slander is the attempt to kill someone’s reputation or character or good name. There was likely some slandering going on.

“And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.”

In my study of this passage, I came across this explanation of the progression that is often involved with fighting and being at war in a relationship.

At first there is a desire for something. If the something is good, that is fine. The problem is if the desire is for something that is wrong. Including having my way or no way. Including wanting things at the expense of others. Including anything immoral.
At first there is a desire. If not stopped at that point, then what is desired begins to dominate the thoughts of a person. In the words of the Christian song Slow Fade, “Be careful little eyes what you see. It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings.”
That progresses to involuntary thinking of the desire. Thinking while awake and dreaming about it while asleep.

That develops into imagining schemes to obtain what is desired, and maybe how to eliminate those in the way.

The final step is putting the thoughts into action to obtain what is desired.

That is what had happened with at least some of the Christians to whom James wrote. That is what can happen in congregations even now if the progression is not stopped, preferably at the very start.

A progression that, for James’ audience, was affecting even their prayer life. Yes, they were praying, but - verse 3 - “You ask [you pray] but you do not receive, because you ask wrongly. You ask for things that can be used to satisfy your passions.”

What is the goal of life? If it is to satisfy our own personal pleasures - to gratify our personal desires, which apparently that was the goal for the Christians to whom James wrote chapter 4 - there will be strife and division. If, on the other hand, the goal of life is to submit to the will of God - which it should be [remember the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which were, “Not My will, but God, Your will be done,” which is to be what we say - there can be peace and unity.
Of course, that does not mean every Christian, even in this congregation, will agree on everything. But we can continue what we have displayed in the past, which is acting civilly toward one another. That can happen as we not only say, but believe, not our will, but God’s will be done.

James’ point in verse 4 is that if our prayers are only for the gratification of our desires, they are selfish and God will not answer them. It is when our prayers are for God’s will that He will answer what we pray.

Two more descriptions of those who ask wrongly - those who cause wars and fightings - are in verse 4 and verse 6. They are “unfaithful creatures” and “pride.”

Unfaithful. Not true to Jesus. Not living out the Christian faith that is professed.

Being proud. That means trying to show oneself above other people, refusing to see that maybe I have some spiritual needs, too. It refers to cherishing independence rather than relying on God. Rather than trying to encourage others.

Wars, fightings, passions, coveting, asking wrongly, being unfaithful, having pride. All those things were evident among at least some of the Christians to whom James wrote. I think chapter 4 is included in the Bible because any and all of those things can happen in any congregation, through history and even today.

They are things that are to be avoided. Verses 5 and 6 explain that from the viewpoint of God. Verse 5. “God yearns jealously over the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.” Verse 6. “God opposes the proud.”

God does not like human pride, especially when we put any of our passions above Him in importance to us. God is jealous. He loves us with such passion - good passion - He cannot bear any other love in the hearts of His people. He is so jealous, He will oppose those who have pride in themselves.

That is how strong God’s love is. That is how strongly He will take action against those who disregard that love. Those who do not give Him full devotion.

Remember the gist of chapter 4. It is to teach how to handle interpersonal conflict. One part of that is for us to avoid causing such conflict, which means to not allow pride and desires into any of our relationships.

*       *       *       *       *

What we have talked about up to this point has been the warning part of the chapter. But James did not stop there. He gave some practical advice. Some positive suggestions of what to do to avoid doing what is wrong.

That part begins in verse 6. Yes, God opposes the proud, “but He gives grace to the humble.”

Humility. Knowing we need God’s power, including the power to battle the temptations of desires that can lead to wars and fightings and passions and pride and all the other bad things we have talked about. Knowing we need God to avoid reacting negatively - reacting in the same manner - when faced with such things from others.

Power that can be ours - that will be ours - when we obey verses 7 and 8. We are to “submit ourselves to God.” We talked about that earlier. “God, not my will, but Yours be done.” And this challenge. We are to “draw near to God.”

Now, there are some things that go along with that.

For instance, verse 7. “Resist the devil.” Relating that to the opening story, that very likely means walking away from sin before you get the edge of it. It means walking away rather than taking the risk of falling into the darkness.

But listen to the promise. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

I am not exactly sure of the exact meaning of that promise since we will always be facing various temptations. But maybe it refers to the growth we can experience in our Christian lives. The growth of strength. As we resist the devil once, it should be easier to do so the second time. Which should make it easier to do so the third and the fourth times. On and on it should go.

Resist the devil. That is needed for us to draw near to God. Verse 8 and verses 9 and 10 add some more teachings.

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Sinners here refers to hardened sinners. Those who choose to live in disobedience to God and His standards. Those who love corruption. I think in the context of chapter 4, it applies to those who cause conflict. Maybe it also refers to those tempted to react negatively to those people.

“And purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” Men of double mind are those who claim Christian faith, but work and pray for themselves and their desires rather than God’s will.

The demand is for clean hands, which refers to our actions, and a pure heart, which refers to our words. The teaching is that our words, our actions, even our emotions and our thoughts, which come out in our words and actions, should all be pure. Inwardly and outwardly we must be clean.

Verse 9. We are to be “wretched,” we are to “mourn,” we are to “weep,” we are to be “dejected.”

Those are not very happy words, are they? They are not very positive or pleasant. But listen to what they mean.

Wretched. That is not not a call to gloom and doom. It is a call to be disciplined to do the things of God rather than strive for the luxuries and comforts of life.

We know the benefits and the results of discipline. Disciplined study produces a scholar. You don’t study, you don’t learn. Disciplined training creates an athlete. At least most of the football players, for instance, we enjoy watching have honed their skills through disciplined workouts. Spiritual discipline produces a Christian who knows how to use the world and its gifts correctly, resulting in unity rather than wars and fightings within a congregation.

Mourn. When we realize our sins - even past sins - there should be remorse and grief. In fact, if there are sins in our lives now, there should be mourning. Even dejection. That is needed to persuade us to reach out for grace and mercy.

Weeping. We are to be that sad about the griefs and needs of others. That is needed to persuade us help others, even at the expense of own pleasure and comfort.

And verse 10. “Humble yourselves before the Lord.”

Here is something I found on that. Only when we humbly know our ignorance will we ask for God’s guidance. Only when we humbly realize our poverty in the things that matter will we pray for the riches of God’s grace. Only when we humbly realize our weakness will we be willing to draw on God’s strength. Only when we humbly realize our sins will we realize our need for a Savior and for God’s forgiveness.

Cleanse your hands, purify your hearts,be wretched, mourn and weep, be dejected, be humble. All that is part of resisting the devil. It is also part of drawing near to God. But listen to these words of hope. Back to verse 8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

Do we appreciate the significance of that? We have talked about this before, but if I wanted to talk with our president, there is no way that would ever happen. If I wanted to talk to any of the candidates hoping to be our next president, there is no way that would ever happen. It is the same with leaders of business and with sports heroes. I am not nearly important enough to talk to anyone famous. Any national or international leader.

But if I draw near to God, the promise is that He will draw near to me. Wow. I can have a close, personal relationship with God. God, who created me and everyone and everything else in the universe. God, who saved me and is willing to save anyone and everyone else. God, who even now leads and guides and teaches and reminds.

And it is not just me. It is you, too. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Did I say it? “Wow.”

*       *       *       *       *

And this, which is critical. The way the first part of chapter 4 has been presented in this message, it might be interpreted - it might be assumed - that we cannot draw near to God - that He will not draw near to us - until we have cleansed our hands and purified our hearts and become wretched and mourned and wept and felt dejected and become humble.

Listen. All those things are goals we are to attain. They are things we are taught to do. But may none of us think we have to become that perfect before we can draw near to God. Before we can become Christians.

In fact, consider the order. Drawing near to God and having Him draw near to us comes before all those other things.

The point is to accept Jesus as Savior. The point is to believe what He taught and what He did. The point is to follow Him.

The point is to make the decision to accept, believe, and follow, even if you are not perfect. Do that and He will lead you into all the things that are necessary to continue being close to Him.

Let me put it this way. Many years ago, when I was a regular person, I went to a neighbor with my pastor at that time. The pastor presented the Gospel to her. He did a very fine job with that. At the end, the neighbor said, “I am not ready to accept Jesus because I am not ready to give up some of the things I am doing that are wrong.”

That ended the visit. How I wish I knew then what I know now, which might have led me to share that we do not have to become perfect to accept Jesus. The point is to accept Him. That decision will give Him permission to work with you to perfect you. To work with you with such patience that the journey can be one of spiritual joy.

Do not cause wars and fightings. Control your passions - passions that are against the will of God.

If you are the victim of wars and fightings, do not respond in unfaithful or prideful ways.

To accomplish either or both, draw near to God. First of all, accept His Son Jesus. Do that now if you need to. Then follow Him to become clean and pure and in a right relationship with God and with others.
That is the teaching of the first part of James 4.

*       *       *       *       *

Today’s closing song is Bind Us Together. May it be our prayer that we will be bound together. That should make it easier to avoid wars and fightings as we continue, together, to draw close to God.

Bind us together, Lord;
Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord;
Bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together with love.

There is only one God.
There is only one King.
There is only once body,
That is why we can sing:

Bind us together, Lord;
Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord;
Bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together with love.

In a later message, more about what is taught in chapter 4 of James.

For today, let’s remember that obedience to worldly passions causes wars and fightings, which drive people apart. Wars, fightings, driving people apart? Those are sins. Do not get close to them. Turn away from them before you fall into its darkness.

But obedience to the will of God? That draws people together. May that be our goal. Amen.


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