James 4_1-12 (How To Get What You Want)

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James 4:1-10 “How to Get What You Want”

Being the practical thinker that he was, James identified a problem in the church.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?”

The words that James uses to describe the problem range from a simple dispute to all out war.

And these were believers that he was writing to.

He moves immediately from asking a rhetorical question to giving the answer.

“Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you.”

The Greek word for “desires” is hedone (hay-don-ay'); it speaks of the gratification of the natural or sinful desires. 

It is where we get our English word, hedonism; the self indulgent pursuit of pleasure.

This attitude of self-gratification was causing serious problems within the body of Christ.

It not only has the potential to draw one away from the Lord; according to James it can drive a wedge between believers.

But hedonism is nothing new; it has become an integrated part of the Western Culture.

The philosophy basically says, “If it brings pleasure, then it is good; if not, then it is bad.”

Gal 5:16-17 Paul gives some insight into the problem.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

For the believer, there is a battle that takes place in our person every day.

It is this battle that determines how we handle other encounters as well.

When we lose a battle between the flesh and the spirit, in our own heart, it can easily spill over into other relationships.

It might rear its ugly head in the form of anger taken out on someone we love; jealousy over the blessings that God has given another; or pride that tries to compensate for spiritual battle lost; and in a variety of other ways.

 James 4:2  James put it this way in verse 2,

“You want something but don't get it.

You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

The Greek word for “kill” literally means to be a murderer; to kill or to slay.

Now, I don’t know if these believers were actually killing each other to get what they wanted.

I am hoping that James is using a hyperbole, which is an exaggeration for effect.

Similar to what John wrote.  I Jn 3:15 “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

We know that “hating” someone is not the same as literally “murdering” them.

But when it is someone we are supposed to love it basically has the same effect.

It cuts them out of our life just as if we had killed them.


* Hedonism yields a lack of contentment; which fuels the fire of covetousness even more.

One reason is that the gratification of the sinful nature leads to the desire for more gratification.  It is a vicious cycle that continues until it is broken by the spirit.

Another problem is with unfulfilled desires.

If pleasure is perceived to be a “need”, as opposed to a “want”, then when it is not fulfilled it promotes a cycle of unhappiness and discontent.

But true happiness comes with the ability to be content in whatever situation we are in.

True happiness is not found in circumstance but in faith that God is ultimately in control.

* After identifying the problem, James reveals the reason for it!  (God was not involved)

4:2b “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”

Last week we discovered the importance of “asking”.

One of the ways we receive wisdom is to ask God for it.

If we want forgiveness, we must ask God for it.

If we truly have unmet needs, we should look to God first.

Matt 6:31-33 Sermon on the Mount when Jesus was teaching about worrying.

“So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Our first order of business with every need of life should be to take it to the Father!


James 4:3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Have you ever felt like God doesn’t listen?

Sometimes we pray over and over for the same thing; yet with no visible results.

Here is something to consider.  Prayers are answered in different ways and at different times.

The answer may be “yes”; it may be “no”; it may be “later”.

But all prayers of God’s children are answered… aren’t they?

I Jn 5:14-15  “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us-- whatever we ask-- we know that we have what we asked of him.”

It is when we read scriptures like these that we wonder; why doesn’t God answer my prayers?

The key may be found with further inspection.

In the scripture read from John, we find that God hears us, but we also find that our request must be “according to His will”.


* You see, every answered prayer is predicated upon certain behavior.

I Jn 3:21-22 “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”

It appears that the power of prayer is found in obedience!

* Everyone wants a “yes” when they pray, because we all pretty much believe that we know what we need.

4:3 “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

The Greek word for our English word “spend” is the same one that Jesus used when He taught about the prodigal son.

The prodigal son squandered and wasted his inheritance on riotous living.

Even his brother accused him of spending his money on prostitutes.

It is hardly fair to expect God to bless a prayer that is full of lustful pleasures.

James 4:4

“You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

James had some strong words for his fellow believers.

He called them “adulterous people” because they were cheating on God.

Idolatry is the worshipping of other god’s

As a matter of fact, anything that steals our allegiance from the Lord is idolatry.

* James reminds us that we have a choice. (4:4)

If we “choose” to be a friend of the world, we become an enemy of God by default.

We don’t have to announce it or proclaim it; we don’t have to mention it in any way; it just happens when we choose the world over God.

But what does James mean by “the world”?


I Jn 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world.

If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

For everything in the world-- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-- comes not from the Father but from the world.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

Within the “world system” we find physical appetites, desires of all kinds, and pride.

All the things that have the potential to destroy our relationship with God and each other.

* But we can’t be friends with both the world and God; we have to choose one or the other.

It is what James describes as a double-minded man.

A person who can’t make up their mind and wants the best of both worlds.

They want the pleasures of this world which make for immediate gratification and the hope of eternity which can only come from God.

The problem with straddling the fence is that it is repulsive to God.

In the Revelation Jesus said that He would “spew” the “lukewarm” believer out of his mouth.



* After James identifies the problem and reveals the reason for it, he then offers a solution.

* “Submit yourselves, then, to God.”  (7)

The Greek word for “submit” is a military term that means “to rank under”.

It is an act of the will that voluntarily says, “I choose you Lord; I surrender to your will.”

It involves the decision to place oneself under the authority of God as a soldier does his superior officer.

It appears that part of the problem is that many believers had given into the world for so long that they had forgotten to submit to God!

* “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (7)

Resisting the devil doesn’t mean that we challenge him.

Challenging the devil would be flirting with disaster.

It does mean that when temptation comes, we “stand opposed to” Satan.

If we resist him, he will flee from us; if we show our weakness and give in, he will persist.

* “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (8)

We have to invite God in before He will come. 

He has given us the power to accept Him or reject Him.

If we reject Him, He honors our wishes, but we will pay the price.

If we accept Him in humility, then He will not only come near to us, He will lift us up.

“lift you up” is a metaphor that means…

a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity

b) to exalt, to raise to dignity, honor, and happiness.

In other words, when the believer draws near to God, he will be calling on the One who supplies every good and perfect gift; his motives will no longer be self-centered but God centered; and his prayers will be answered because God has promised to provide the desires of his new and improved heart.


* Ill. Monkey in North Africa captured by a gourd with nuts in it.

I wonder if we are sometimes trapped by our desire to hold on to the things of this world.

But some things are more important that others aren’t they?

The monkey was so wrapped up in his next meal that he didn’t realize that he had a choice.

He could have chosen to “let go” and gained his freedom; but instead he held on to something that would only satisfy for a short period of time.

* Sometimes the best way to get what you want is to let it go!

Let go of the physical appetites that are not condoned by God.

Let go of the desire for the things of this world that are not beneficial to Him or his people.

And let go of pride that wants to lift ourselves up; and instead, lift up the One who truly deserves glory, honor, and praise…God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ through whom we have life eternal.

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