Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
James opens this chapter with a rhetorical question. He asks, from where do conflicts and arguments with others originate? And after asking the question James immediately gives us the answer. They come from our self-centered lust and desires, stemming from a heart still focused on the world. James is carrying on the same line of reasoning from the previous chapters. Because the self-centered desires and lust to which James is referring to, stem from a heart not given over to the Lord. From a heart not controlled by the Holy Spirit, but instead led by the fallen world in which we live. From a heart seeking after the wisdom which is human centered and created by a world which is at enmity against God. Notice that James in these passages is using several important keywords to drive home the point and help us with our understanding. In verse one James first makes it clear that he is speaking to the church when he says, “from among you.” Then he uses the words “war” and “fights.” The word for “wars” is the Greek word “polemos” and the word for “fights” is the Greek word “mache” (makh’-ay). The word “polemos” is where we get our modern word “polemic” and it means to attack or be in a constant state of war. Always on guard, ready and waiting to make the next attack. In addition, the word “mache” means an individual attack or hand to hand combat against a single person.
With these words used together James is painting the picture of church members, each one individually in a constant state of readiness. Ready to attack their fellow brother and sisters in Christ. But why? Why is this happening amongst fellow believers? James tells us why as he holds up a mirror to our own faces so we can see ourselves. It’s because of our self-centered desires. The Greek word James uses is “hedone” from which we get our modern word “hedonism” which refers to the pursuit of self-indulgence, self-gratification and pleasure. In other words James is confirming what he told us in chapter one. That our sinful desire gives rise to sinful thoughts which give birth to sinful actions and a sinful attitude. And what’s important for us to understand, is James is referring to the end result of those who do not submit to the will of God. Those who are not obedient to God and those who do not follow the advice given by James in the previous chapters. James is describing the actions of someone who has not fully turned their life over to Jesus and is still holding on to a fallen world, which is passing away. Someone who does not follow the promptings or the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Obviously those who reject the authority and guidance of God’s word. Therefore, that person displays the works of a life given over to following the world. A life of relying on the world’s wisdom, which is influenced by Satan whom the Apostle Paul calls “the prince of the power of the air.”