“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.“ (James 4:1-2b from James 4:1-10)
Miserable, like a petulant child, seeing what others have and wanting that. Throwing a tantrum if their desires are not instantly met. Spoiled, like a teenager who has never been told ‘No!’ never realizing it is for their own good that they are being stopped from doing something or getting something that is not wise or health for them. Indulgent, like an adult who has never had to work hard to achieve, or face consequences is something goes wrong. While James stopped short from calling his readers/listeners spoiled brats, the tone is there.
I have to wonder as I read these verse now, and as I did five years ago (this posting is a rewrite of what I wrote then) why does James speaks so sternly? Were the Christians who writer of James directs these letters falling so short of the Christian life? Or were they new converts and just learning how to practice and live out their faith? Or maybe it was the faith that was new, still establishing it boundaries and guidelines. New faith systems often do not have established mores and rules, but rather work from the gound up deciding what is right and wrong to do.
We talk about the Christian life as if we know exactly what it should be like. But the truth is we only know because we have read about what other Christian have done and have emulated that life. But being the first generation of anything is very hard. Especially when the example you have before you is perfect, completely and divinely perfect. And when the raw materials, that is ourselves, we have to work with are imperfect and need to be disciplined constantly, it is great challenge to live up to that example.
In Greek and Roman culture and philosophy the idea that one need to exert control over one’s self was a fairly new concept. The variety of lifestyles spanned from strict stoicism to no-holes barred good time hedonism. And this new Christianity was trying to figure where its place was. We in our modern day have the hindsight of over 2000 years of faithful people trying to figure it out. Stories and stories of saints and sinners trying to get it right. And we know we have grace, that we do not have to get it perfect – we just have to keep longing to be perfect.
But if the writer of James in firm and stern, he also has it right. We are at war within ourselves, battling the “me me’s” that threatened to drown out the voice of wise living. It is just as true then as it is now. And with all the good example of Christian fore-bearers, we still mess up – conflicting, disputing, craving, coveting, and wanting, and doing whatever it takes to get us what we want.
May you, gentlest of readers, conquer the willful you so that the God-lead you can come forth and live in right relationship, justice, and shalom. Selah! And shalom for your day.