What Love is Not

“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 4:1-3)  [This is self-love]

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 sensitive to 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 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. And 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. 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 saturated with the influence of Satan whom the Apostle Paul calls “prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians chapter six.

See I Corinthians 13:4-7 ; Galatians 5:19-26. How do those two passages correspond with what James is saying here?

2 thoughts on “What Love is Not”

  1. You wrote: “James is describing the actions of someone who has not turned their life over to Jesus.”

    But in context, does it not seem to you that James’ whole letter is to the church (as shown by multiple repetitions of “my brothers,” his opening greeting “to the twelve tribes,” as well as immediate context here.)?

    He’s dealing in this letter with some serious issues inside the body of Christ: favoritism, the question of faith versus works, the power of the tongue (clearly they had issues with this!) and related to the tongue, perhaps some superiority/arrogance issues (his caution against many of them being teachers).

    When he comes to the paragraph you’ve got above, I would suggest that the entire context must go all the way back to 3:13 where he begins to contrast worldly versus godly wisdom (despite some bible translations that break the argument in half by adding the chapter – I’m looking at my NASB and seeing this very thing). The very disorder that he points to in 3:16 seems to again comes to his mind for 4:2 when he brings up fights and quarrels (this kind of thing in the body of Christ is chaos/disorder to me).

    And when he finishes exhorting these believers not to draw their wisdom from the world, but from God (4:5-10), he points out that they need to set aside their selfish desires and ask in prayer for their desires with right motives. These believers are all still very obviously capable of that kind of fleshly behavior, so much so that they warrant an entire letter of correction.


    There’s no tone of voice in text, so I’ll just add I’m conversing with you in kindness and eagerness to mutually learn from and share God’s word and not in any way to “be right” or “be better than.” 🙂 Thank you for the post.

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    1. Thank you for citing that quote. I misspoke and corrected it. It was my intent to describe one who gives assent to, but lacks full commitment to the Savior. It is my position that the entire letter of James is written to the church.

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