When Strife Shows Up with COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Orders

Everyone is home. Your spouse. Your kids. Your roommates. Yes, everyone is home. Probably either all the time or definitely much more than usual. And how’s that going for your household? You probably know where I’m going with this. While I personally am loving this stay-at-home order, I recognize that some reading this may really be struggling with it. And it might not be due to the comfort of not being able to get out of the house, but rather due to the conflict within the house. 

James has much to tell us about our conflict and our response to conflict. Turn to James 4 and go ahead and read verses 1-12. It will help you see what James draws out as we consider our experience with conflict. If you remember, James 3 ended with him giving us two pictures of wisdom (wisdom from the Lord and wisdom from the world). Now, James opens his next chapter with giving us two pictures of friendship (friendship with the world and friendship with God). 

Look at verse 1 of James 4. James asks the question that many parents have probably already asked their kids today, “Why did you two get in a fight?” James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Isn’t that the same question you ask yourself or others? And isn’t the answer the same? The fights are caused by the desires. Why does the toddler throw a fit? She doesn’t get to play with her new American doll. She doesn’t get what she wants. And friends, we are no different. Conflict arises when comforts go unmet. Anger surfaces when apparent needs remain threatened or withheld. Fights happen when fleshly desires aren’t fulfilled. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and read verses 1-5 again. Our sinful desires of our flesh only serve as a catalyst for our friendship with the world. These sinful desires are dangerous. Yes, I’m referring to verse 2, but no, James is probably referring to hyperbole with the vivid language he uses. The point is simply this: our conflict surfaces when our comforts (our desires) remain unfulfilled.

Look at verse 4. James explicitly says that “…friendship with the world is enmity with God…” (James 4:4). When we pursue friendship with the world, we not only have conflict with others and within ourselves, but we also have conflict with God himself. James goes so far to say that our friendship with God results in spiritual adultery against God when he addresses his readers as “You adulterous people!” (James 4:4). Throughout the book thus far, James has addressed his recipients as “brothers” but now he refers to them so very differently. And why does he do so? Ultimately, because our God wants what is best for his children, namely himself. Check out verse 5. James reminds his readers that God jealously longs over the spirit that he made to dwell in us. And this isn’t a kind of jealousy that we often see today (think social media, think reality TV shows, think jealousy at work/at home, you get the idea). This jealousy instead is based not on comparison, covetous, and insecurity but rather on the character of God – he is ultimately good and wants ultimate good for his children. 

And then to encourage us all, James reminds us that in spite of our “friendship with the world,” we can have hope. Why? Because of who God is and what God does. Look at verse 6. James says, “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6). Friends, this is incredible news. In spite of us, God remains gracious. He gives more and more grace. He gives us what we don’t deserve time and time again. And to whom does God give grace? The humble (James 4:6). Those who are needy. I think of a professor who gave me grace in seminary when I was really struggling. I was needy, aware that I needed help. I needed a miracle of sorts. And he gave me grace. And how much more does our merciful and loving God give us abundant grace in our time of great need?

Last night, Tanner and I finished eating a venison roast. Yes, we eat deer. It’s actually quite delicious. That aside, this roast really didn’t have much flavor. I followed a well-respected recipe, and yet, the roast lacked flavor. Too simple of a recipe in my opinion. Not enough ingredients. Well, this is not true of how James speaks of humility. He’s not lacking in “ingredients” or clarity of what a humble spirit looks like. He instead gives us several commands that reflect humility, multiple commands that portray submission. For the note-takers, you love this. For all of us wanting to grow in our love for God, we should all love this. These verses don’t lack flavor. They are sharp, bold, and so very clear. Read verses 7-10 again to see these commands. James tells us to resist the devil (James 4:7), draw near to God (James 4:8), pursue purity (James 4:8), see the severity of our sin (James 4:9), walk in humility (James 4:10). These commands thus help us to walk in humility, as friends of God and not friends of the world.

I recently finished reading Mere Christiantiy with my apologetics class (a.k.a. my CSW C.S. Lewis Reading Group). One central theme that stuck out to my students and me was that of pride. C.S. Lewis encapsulates the heart of pride when he writes, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). Pride breeds itself upon comparison and leads to both a lack of love for God and love for others.

James then connects our speech with our humility in James 4:11-12. He commands us in verse 11 to “…not speak evil against one another…” (James 4:11). James recognizes that when we are humble before God and others, it directly affects our speech. When we see ourselves and our sin accurately, we will speak to others and about others in a way of humility rather than arrogance. Our friendship with God will thus overflow into our friendships with others. Think James 3. Yes, I’m specifically thinking of James 3:9-10. With our words come both honor and dishonor. And of course, the encouragement is that God gives more grace (James 4:6). 

In the midst of conflict, how do you respond? Do you walk as a friend of God in repentance that James outlines in James 4:7-10? Or do you walk in arrogance, as a friend of the world? Where do you need to respond in greater humility, recognizing your faults and sin before God and others? May this season of stay-at-home orders and extra time with our household compel us all the more to both recognize the source of our conflicts and respond in humility before God and before others. And this is the good news – He gives more grace. For all the conflict we observe and/or encounter, our God gives more grace. May we receive this grace from our Father who deeply loves us and gives this grace to those around us who deeply need it. After all, we surely need it. We are all really needy. And our God is really sufficient.

 

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