The Issue of the Heart - Notes on James 4:1-3
Review: The prior passage provided for us a contrast between earthly wisdom and wisdom that is from above. The first is characterized by jealousy and selfish ambition; the other is characterized as, first of all, pure. The latter cannot be attained by mere human effort, for to be first pure, one must be MADE pure by God through Jesus Christ.
These three short verses reflect the truths that James has already presented to us concerning earthly wisdom. Thus, this passage is a continuation of James’ discourse, but from a different angle, which can summarized in this way—“The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart” (Oswald Smith).
The core of the issue: 1) What is the source of conflict among you? Sagaciously, James provides the answer in the form of another question: Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
Evil desires or “lust,” as some translations put it, is used here by James to speak of the kind of craving for which one would be willing to kill, so that the object craved would be obtained.
How can a believer have such evil desires? James, after all, is writing to “brethren.” It must be remembered that within the community of believers, there are those who merely profess belief. In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul calls believers to stand fast in the “liberty wherewith Christ has made us free…. only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another…. Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh…. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry...and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
How are we? What characterizes our life— the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? Paul says it well: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:22-26 ESV).