James 4:1-3 - Warring of Passions
The problem is not passions per se, but the way in which our passions are oriented and whether or not they have been sanctified unto the Father.
This is the thirteenth of an 18-part devotional series. Sign-up here to have these devotionals sent straight to your inbox.
What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
The wisdom spoken by James in the above passage addresses a sin issue that has plagued followers of Jesus since the days of his earthly ministry. In The Gospel According to Mark we read that while Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road to Capernaum they were quarreling among themselves about who was the greatest.
Sadly, they weren’t engaging in some theological debate about which of the prophets or kings of Israel was the greatest, but which of them was the most important. They had been with Jesus for nearly three years, and still needed to be reminded that the call to follow Jesus is a call to service and humility, not self-aggrandizement.
Even though James is writing about Christians fighting with each other, he does not situate the source of the disagreement in any sort of difference that exists between Christians. Rather, he sources the disagreement to the sinful warring of passions within one’s own soul.
He does not say “You and your brother in Christ are fighting because he wants A and you want B.” Instead, he is saying, “You and your brother in Christ are fighting because you want A, B, C, and D.” There is a gluttony of desires within their hearts. There is a seedbed of lustful passions in the human heart that might allow room for Jesus, so long as he is seated next to desires A, B, C, and D, and not above them.
Christians throughout Church history have understood that sin turns us in on ourselves. Because of sin we are separated from God and enslaved to passions and desires, focused on anything other than God and his glory. But the problem here is not passions, per se. While reading the Old and New Testaments we come across dozens of passionate characters: Moses, David, Elijah, Peter, Paul, Martha, Mary, John, and so on.
The problem is the way in which our passions are oriented and whether or not they have been sanctified unto the Father. If we do not first and foremost desire the glory of God and blessing we receive from him, our passions will devolve into greater and greater coveting, infighting, and, as James points out, even death.
Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “purity of heart is to will one thing.” The point he is making is that the pure heart allows one thing, and one thing only to be ultimate. And from that place of ultimacy it arranges, either properly or improperly, the cascade of passions which flow from the human heart.
Although only three verses, this passage from James gives us a great deal to ponder. What do we ultimately want? The Father’s glory, or our own? Who do we want to obey? The law of God, or the mercurial law of the human heart? Are we allowing our loves, desires, and passions to be purified by the Holy Spirit in the process of sanctification?
With these questions in mind, it might be helpful for us to consider all that we have been given as sons and daughters of God. We have been given a spirit that cries “Abba! Father!” to help us in our time of need (Gal. 4:6-7). Through our union with Christ we are recipients of an inheritance greater than anything we could imagine (Eph. 1:11-14). We know that whether we are in times of suffering or ease, God is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28). May our desires and passions be for our good and great God.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate with Ministry to State and co-host of The Will & Rob Show.