As we get close to landing the plane in this series, I would like to suggest that the greatest joys that you will ever experience on this tiny window of time on this planet will be in some relationship.
And I am going to suggest that the greatest sorrows and the greatest pain that you will ever, ever experience will have to do with a relationship. And I don’t care how much money you could ever make, I don’t care how famous you could ever get, I don’t care what you could own, how many people would know your name, whatever is in your mind that would be the pinnacle of success, whether you could marry the right person, have untold wealth, go public, all your kids fulfill all your dreams – here’s what I can tell you: if you don’t have deep, loving relationships with the people who matter most, your life will be a tragedy.
And the challenge is is that there are all kinds of things that pull every, single day and it’s in the air, it’s in the water that pull you away from all the things it takes to have great, deep, loving relationships.
I want to take you on a little journey. If you don’t mind you can, you can close your eyes, but I want to take you to a park in my mind’s eye. I want you to imagine there is a beautiful park, it’s one of those days where the white, puffy clouds are moving rather briskly in the background.
As the camera zooms in there is a little eight, nine-year-old girl with pigtails. She has got some freckles across her nose. There are children in the playground who are playing but it’s kind of white noise and the focus is on this park bench with this little eight or nine-year-old girl and there is a man that, as you observe this, it’s obvious that he is the father.
He seems very nervous. He keeps flipping his keys back and forth. They are having a little chit-chat and then as it happens, the camera begins to zoom in and you get to eavesdrop on the conversation.
He is nervous and he is trying to get out a message that he has rehearsed multiple times. And just before he can break the ice, this cute, little girl who is the apple of his heart, that is his daughter, looks up to him and says, “Daddy? When are you going to come back home and live with me and mommy? I miss you so much.”
And the little rehearsed speech that he has melts into oblivion. And he holds back the tears and he looks her in the eye and he says, “Well, sweetheart, that’s why we came to the park. That’s why I picked you up. I’m not going to be coming home. It’s not you. I want you to know I love you and Mommy loves you. It’s not you at all. But you just can’t understand now, but your Mommy and I just don’t get along. We have tried really hard. I love her. She loves me. But I’m sure in your bedroom you have heard us argue. We yell at one another. We can’t agree on things. We used to love each other so much but we have just drifted apart and so, now, honey. There are a couple months in the summer you’re going to get to be with me. And you’ll understand someday. You really will. And I love you so much. But Daddy is not going to come home.”
I would suggest that that little girl will remember that moment on that park bench the rest of her life. And if the research is correct and I think it is, she won’t understand when she is eighteen, she probably won’t understand when she is twenty-eight or forty-eight or even sixty-eight. And that will mark how she views men, that will mark her self-identity, that will mark her adult life as she waits for the other shoe to drop in every relationship about love.
And for some of you, you were that little girl or that little boy. For others, you gave that speech. And the fact is is that that couple loved each other. That couple was Christians. They loved God, they loved their little girl, they loved each other. Why is it that we fight with people who we really love?
And it’s not reserved for marriage, is it? I have seen pillar Christian families who seem to be the ideal for all of us and I have watched the matriarch or the patriarch die and there be a big swath of money and I have watched people who seem to really love God and really love each other attack each other in ways that have astounded me over money.
I have seen brothers and sisters, over menial, miniscule, crazy issues have such anger that they live in the same city, they don’t talk, they don’t visit, there’s a schism.
I have met people who have been in a small group for five to seven to ten years with other Christians, they loved each other, some gone on vacations with one another, and someone said something about someone that came to this and it grew and it grew and it grew. And they hate each other!
I have seen whole churches, literally, divide over crazy things. Why do we fight with those who we love? Why do we do that?
I remember the story a few years ago as a grown man and his father were watching a football game and in between the halftimes, there was a debate about a quarterback and whether he should be able to renegotiate his contract before it was up. And they got in such a heated debate one of them ended up shooting the other.
I could give you four or five examples in the last ten to twelve years in church contexts, people who love God who, in a moment of anger and violence have walked in and either shot the pastor or shot leaders in the church. Murder among believers. Violence among believers. Why do we fight with those we love?
See, I think it would be unwise to talk about the four kinds of love, to talk about the barriers of love, to talk about communication, and then to talk about how to find the right person and keep love alive without just pausing to say there are a lot of forces that cause us to fight. What are they? What are the consequences? And what is the cure?
James chapter 4, if you have your Bible you can open it. And what you are going to see in James chapter 4, this is the very first book of the New Testament written. It is written by Jesus’ half brother. He grows up with Jesus. He was an unbeliever. He comes to Christ, the Church is exploding, and the very first letter or epistle to the Church, these converted Jews, living in a hostile environment, he writes to them about how to live this new life.
And it’s interesting, by chapter 4, he is talking, not in theory, but there are a lot of quarrels and fights and wars going on inside the early church. And so he writes in verse 1 of chapter 4, “What causes wars and what causes fighting among you, these quarrels and fights?”
The word for wars here is: protracted states of hostility. The word for fighting is: specific outbursts of anger and violence. “Don’t they come from your evil desires at war within you?” Circle evil desires. Above evil desires, write the word hedonism. That’s where we get this word.
“You want,” or, “you lust what you don’t have so you scheme and you,” literally, “kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong, because you only want to get it for your own pleasure.”
He is going to answer the question: Why do we fight with those we love? And the answer is penetratingly simple and very painful. The root cause of our quarrels and our fights with one another is self-gratification. The root cause.
It’s that simple. I want my way; you want your way. The older we get the more sophisticated we are. In fact, what he is going to say is that it is hedonism. It’s a belief system that if you could have its pleasure at its highest, you getting what you want, me getting what I want becomes the most important thing. And when other people or circumstances or anything could threaten how you feel and what you want, we fight.
Our problem is our inner passion that craves our own way. It’s the belief that pleasure, fun, sensual fulfillment must be achieved at all cost. If you wanted a simple two words to put in there under our problem just put: selfish pride. And we all have it.
The symptoms from verse 2 are conflict. Broken relationships. When we don’t get our way we get frustrated. I call it the “one cookie and two two-year-olds” syndrome. Right? In fact, it could be two cookies and two two-year-olds. What will happen? And it’s not like you have to send them to a class, right? “Now, when this cookie is there, what I want you to do is want all of it and not give any to the other person,” right? From birth, the Scripture says, “The heart is deceitful above all else, desperately sick. Who can know it?”
There is something in our human hearts that want our way. And it’s the problem in your marriage. It’s the problem with your boyfriend. It’s the problem with your kids. It’s the problem with your co-workers, it’s the problem with fellow Christians. At the end of the day you get slick like I am and we are sophisticated and we can mask it a dozen different ways but in your heart, in my heart, we believe that pleasure and getting what we want is what we are really going to have. And it is my selfishness and your selfishness that is at the core of every relational conflict.
Notice as we would go on, the strategy here is to attempt to fulfill our desires apart from God. Did you notice what it says? He says, “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” I don’t need God, I need a great education. I don’t need God, I need money. I don’t need God, I need a great body. I don’t need God, I need great sex. I don’t need God, I need a big house. In fact, I need another house. I need a remodeled house. I don’t need God, I need a hot car. I don’t need God! These little, tiny earrings need to be bigger ones that have bigger diamonds in them. I don’t need God, I need…
And all those drives do damage to your relationships because you can’t run after all that stuff and have the kind of selfless, loving, loyal, deep intimate relationships that you want with a brother or a sister, with a mom, with a dad, with a boyfriend or girlfriend or a husband and a wife.
It is attempts to fulfill your life apart from God. It doesn’t mean you don’t go to church. It’s like, Oh yeah, that’s a little slice. Oh yeah. I come to church, God. I believe in Jesus. I have checked the box. But how I actually live and what I think is going to deliver real happiness, there’s a whole system out there. I need to look like that. I need to have that. I need to own that. It’s what hedonism is.
The second way for the more religious is he says, “Not only have you attempted to fulfill your desires apart from God, you try to use God to fulfill your desires.” So, oh, you pray. Jesus, make me happy. Jesus, give me a great body. Jesus, give me a great mate. Jesus, make all my kids turn out. Jesus, help me get them in Stanford, Yale, or an Ivy League school. Jesus, would You please take away all the pain, all the health issues, all the problems? Jesus, will You give me upward mobility? Jesus, I want to go public. Jesus, I…
And so Jesus is like this little self-help genie and God is a cosmic vending machine. And the whole goal of Jesus is to make my world and your world what we want it to be. And in the name of Jesus, we subtly become god and God becomes our errand boy. It’s called the Prosperity Gospel. It really sells on TV.
There’s just a formula. A-1 – like the machines – A-1, B-4, C-34. Read the Bible a little bit, give a little bit of money. Usually they want you to give them the money and they will talk about how it will multiply back to you as they go off in their jet.
At the heart of why we fight with one another, the problem is not out there, the problem isn’t the person, the problem isn’t the circumstances, the problem isn’t my mate, the problem isn’t my boyfriend, the problem isn’t my sister, the problem isn’t Hollywood, the problem isn’t education. At the heart of why I fight and you fight is the root is my own selfish pride. I want my way; and when you are little – now.
Well, look at the consequences. Turn the page because James doesn’t leave us with simply diagnosing what the issue is. He then moves and says, Okay, this is what these quarrels, this is what this fighting reveals. He says, “You have got fighting without, frustration within, the root cause is selfishness.” And he is going to tell us that our constant quarrels reveal that we have believed a lie. And just write the word: hedonism.
Hedonism is a worldview that promises that I will be fulfilled by pleasure and I will do what feels good, no matter what the cost. It’s the lie that sensual pleasures will fill my inner longings for fulfillment, significance, and happiness.
As some have said, it’s the desire to have possessions, the desire to feel pleasure, and the desire to be power. Sex, salary, and status drive us and when sex, salary, and status drive us, our relationships crumble.
Not only have we believed a lie, but we have betrayed a trust. See, that’s what the world offers. That’s the seduction. If you had this, if you look like this, if you own that, if you achieve this, if your kids go to this school, then you’ll be a someone, then you will be happy. It’s the world system. And when we love the world, we betray our first love: Christ.
And then, finally, when that happens, unknowingly, naïvely, we actually shift positions in our relationship with God. And instead of being our Father who we are dependent on, who wants to bless and help us and give us the deepest joy. Jesus said, “I came that you could have life and have it abundantly.” He says we actually become an enemy of God. Is that crazy?
Notice, Where in the world do you get this, Chip? Look at verses 4 through 6. This is what he calls them, “You adulterers.” He is talking to a church!
“Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, if you want to be a friend of the world,” it’s in the middle tense, “you make yourself,” it’s a voluntary thing we do to ourselves, “you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning when they say that God is passionate, that the Spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him?” You might circle that word passionate. The word literally is: God is jealous. God is jealous about the spirit that He has placed within us.
And then, notice, “And He gives grace generously as the Scriptures say,” so grace is God giving us both the “want to” and the will to live our lives the way He wants us to so that it honors Him and really is for our good.
And so, notice, it says, “And His grace is generous. He is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So my selfish pride is the problem in relationships with God and with others, but God is gracious.
When it says, “He is opposed,” write above that: A-N-T-I. That’s the prefix on this word. Anti. It means: to be against. It’s a picture in the Old Testament of God putting on holy armor and array to go against His enemies. When I am proud, when I am of the “me-first” mindset – my way, my stuff, my pleasure, my agenda – God literally says, “I take on holy array and I am against you. You have become my enemy.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but that is serious stuff. Because He is jealous. He calls us adulterers. The Old Testament picture of Israel is they were wedded to God who gave birth to this great nation called “Israel.” And when they would worship idols and take their children and throw them into the fire, and when they would get involved with the fertility gods and all manner of sexuality and they began to compromise, He told them: “You are committing spiritual adultery.”
And James, being thoroughly Jewish, looking at this Early Church, seeing what his half-brother, Jesus, the Son of God, fully man, fully God, died, rose from the dead – he says, “He is our first love and you are living as though the world system is going to deliver.” Jesus said, “I came that you could have life and have it abundantly.”
When you do that, here’s what God does. You betray the trust. Some of us have, I think, completely missed the issue of sin. Sin, the word just literally means: missing the mark. It’s the picture of an archer and there is a target. And you reach back and you let it go and it falls short of the target.
Much of Christianity, quite honestly, has turned into behavior modification. And so the question that we tend to ask is: How close to sin can I get without it doing damage or being really wrong? So if I’m dating someone, how far can we go? Or if it’s about greed, well, how much can I have?
And we miss the whole point. You might jot this little phrase down: Sin is always fundamentally a relational issue. It’s not a behavioral issue. It’s a relational issue.
See, it’s the difference, let me put it this way. How many of you, let’s say you have a boyfriend, a girlfriend? I imagine a number of you either have been married or are married.
And let’s say your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your marriage partner came to you and said, “Hey, I think we’ve got a great relationship. I would like to flirt just a little at work. Not a lot. Just casually. In fact, I would like to limit my flirting at work to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and I would like to wear something semi-provocative to get a lot of attention.”
So what would your response be? “Oh, wow, it’s only three times instead of some people do ten times. Or some people have an ongoing affair.” What would your response be? It’s the betrayal of the relationship.