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1 What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2 You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.
We sometimes think the early Christian groups were totally innocent and peaceful. James’ letter shows instead (as Paul’s letters did), that one of the main reasons the apostles wrote these letters was to help resolve tensions and quarrels in the early Christian congregations. Conflict? Disputes? Evil intentions? When those things happen, the human inclination is to say, “They started it.” James didn’t see it that way: he speaks twice about “your cravings” as the source of conflicts.
Lord Jesus, free me from the need to always be blameless in any conflict. Give me the capacity to honestly look at my role, and to control what I can control: my attitude and emotions. Amen.
Do you remember a time you were wrong in an argument? In second grade, I was knee-deep in a verbal battle with Brian about whether Santa Clause was real or not. With great passion and zeal, I laid out all of my reasons. Why, Santa visited me every Christmas. I had stories and proof beyond a reasonable doubt of why I was right. I stormed home after school, pushing my mom into our laundry room, away from my younger siblings (just in case). I bluntly asked her if Santa was real or not, ready for her to affirm my argument so that I could proudly walk back into class the next day to tell Brian how wrong he was. If the look in her eye wasn’t enough, her response of, “Are you sure you want to know the answer?” almost killed me on the spot.
It was the moment of realization that I had been wrong this whole time. I don’t blame my nine-year-old self for being ignorant–I was operating on the information I had been given. But I sure wasn’t going to let my classmate Brian know I had been wrong. The conflict we shared now had much more to do with what stirred within me than the words between us. I had shaken the bottle of conflict like a soda can until it was overflowing due to my pride in the subject, leaving me to feel like a fool. Maybe as adults we don’t argue about Kris Kringle, but when I find myself often facing tense conversations with those holding differing perspectives than my own, sometimes it feels like a challenge to be kind about it.
“How can they be so [insert emotion here]?”
“How can they possibly believe that?”
“Why don’t they understand it like I do?”
Conflict is defined as a serious disagreement or argument. Where does the conflict begin? Before they utter a word, before we do, before our brain forms an opinion, our lived-experiences have settled something in our hearts that trigger an emotion. We are operating with the information we have. Conflict isn’t always bad, but it is almost never easy. Why? It forces us to slow down and react in ways that go against what we feel in the core of us. As James said, it’s easy to “commit murder” with our words on the battlefield of a subject we feel passionate about. It’s difficult to stop and ask ourselves, “What if they are right?” That feels unnatural–we feel justified in our ways. Stick and stones may break bones, but words hurt too.
While I wrote this, I kept waiting for that big take-away idea that never came. Truthfully, there are days this feels really hard, and other days when I feel content knowing I chose kindness rather than being right. So whatever it is you’re discussing this week, remember that we are gifted a grace that allows us to change our minds, slow our words, and apologize when we happen to get it wrong (sorry, Brian).
* David A. Hubbard, The Book of James: Wisdom That Works. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1980, p. 93.
** Comment on James 4:2 in NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.