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About this series
Relationships Under Pressure
Keeping it Together When the World's Falling Apart
In this series, Chip takes a biblical look at some of the many reasons why even our best and closest relationships suffer hard times. He addresses topics like why we fight with those we love, why we all struggle with anger, how to resolve inevitable conflict, that the only person I can genuinely control is me, and finally, that the art of speaking the truth in love is a gift - and goes a long way toward building great relationships that last. This series will help you understand the beauty of grace in the context of a world full of selfish, broken, petty people - including you! So, join Chip and get on the solution side of keeping it together when the world is falling apart.More from this series
I want you to allow your mind to go to a park. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, in your mind’s eye – big, fluffy, white clouds, the sky is very blue. It’s a beautiful park, with a lot of greenery.
And as the camera of your mind’s eye zooms in, there’s a bench. And in the background, there are children running, and playing, and doing what children do, but it’s white noise.
And as you zoom in, you see that there is a little girl who’s about, maybe, eight or nine years old. She has little pigtails; she’s really cute. She’s got a few freckles across her nose.
And you see a man, sitting on the bench, who is obviously her father, and he looks very uncomfortable. As you watch from a distance, he moves here, moves there, and you can tell, even from a distance, it’s just chitchat. And he has his keys, and he keeps flipping his keys from one direction to the other, because that’s what dads do when they have to say something very hard to a very young child, and they don’t know exactly how to say it, or exactly what to say.
As he prepares this speech that he’s rehearsed in his mind, over and over and over, and this is the moment of truth. He picked her up from their home that’s about a mile away. He thought the park would be the best place to break the news.
And as he fidgets and tries to figure out, as a grown man, how to break the news to this little eight- or nine-year-old, who is daddy’s girl, the silence is broken by this little, innocent comment.
And she looks up at him and she says, “Daddy?” He goes, “Yeah, hon?” She says, “Are you going to come home soon? Are you going to come back to live with me and Mommy? I really miss you.” And he realizes that all the rehearsing of his speech in his mind didn’t prepare him for this. And everything in him wants to start crying, but he holds back the tears.
He says, “Well, honey, that’s why we came to the park today. I need to tell you something. See, Daddy’s not going to be coming home. And what I want you to know, sweetheart, it’s not you. I love you. I want to be with you. I wish so much that I could be with you. But it’s me and your mommy; we just can’t get along. We’ve tried. We’ve really tried, sweetheart. And you’ve heard us, late at night, and we yell at each other, and we scream at each other. And we’ve tried everything. But we fight, fight, fight. And so, we’re going to get what big people call ‘a divorce.’ And I’ll still see you, honey. I’m going to make sure that I get to come by, and I’ll be here on birthdays, and we even have it worked out where you get to spend a couple of months with me in the summertime. But, no, honey, I can’t come home.”
And she gives him that look, that only an eight-year-old can give, that says, “I don’t understand this. You love Mommy, and you love me, and I love you, and I love Mommy. How could two people that love each other this much not be able to work out whatever you need to work out?”
And he says to her, “I know you can’t understand, but maybe, someday, you will. And I just want you to know…”
And now, those little pigtails are down on her shoulder, and now the tears – she’s not even crying, they’re just flowing, and streaming down her face. And until she is eighty years old, that picture in that park will be etched in her memory, forever and ever and ever.
And it will impact, regardless of what Mommy or Dad says, how she views herself. And it will impact how she relates to the opposite sex. And it will impact how she views God. And it will change everything about her life, to some degree. And she didn’t understand it when she was eight, she won’t fully understand it when she is eighteen, and she may never fully understand it, until she’s eighty.
Why do we fight with those that we love? Why is it that two people who honestly, sincerely, deeply love one another can get at levels of conflict that they have to give up, or choose to give up?
And as I tell that story, for some of you – we have all kinds of different ages – you were that little boy, or you were that little girl. And for you, maybe it wasn’t that you were eight – you could have been five, or maybe you were twelve, or thirteen. And you remember being on the receiving end of one of your parents – your mom or your dad – telling you that it’s just not going to work.
And maybe it happened in the bedroom, or maybe it happened in the mall, or maybe it happened in a park, but it’s etched in your mind. And it has shaped a lot of you.
And for others, it’s, you weren’t the little boy or little girl. You remember when you were the mom, or you were the dad, giving this speech to one of your kids. And it seems like a long time ago, and because your mind is made by God, and you have an amazing, amazing ability to repress, sometimes you can push it way down deep. And maybe that was then, and you’re in a second marriage now, and things are better, but, as I told that story, some things got really, deeply uncomfortable inside of you that you haven’t thought about in a while.
And it keeps bringing back the question – and I’m talking about Christians – why do we fight with those that we love? Spouses fight against spouses. Why is it, in some of our homes, our children fight against each other? Why is it, when kids get to be teenagers, that they tend to fight against their parents? Why is it, when you get to be an adult, and you have grown parents, that sometimes you fight with your grown parents?
Why is it that people in the same churches, that love the same God, that were paid for by the blood of Christ, can just rip churches apart when someone thinks someone said something about them, or someone is doing something with the building, or one of the buses, or we disagree about what should happen to a staff member?
Why is it that there are families, who live within three to five miles of one another, and you don’t even speak? You don’t even speak to one another. Why do we fight with those that we love? Because the fact is that we do.
And what the Holy Spirit is going to say, through Jesus’ brother, who wrote the very first book of the New Testament, James – he’s going to explain to us not only the cause of fighting among us, as God’s children, he’s going to talk about the consequences of what happens when we fight with one another. And then, here is the good news: he’s going to give us the cure. He’s going to give us very direct, clear instruction about how we can stop the conflict, about how we can stop it, and those things don’t have to go on, and restoration can occur.
So, with that, open your Bibles, if you’re not already there, to James chapter 4, and let’s dig in together. And you’ll notice how James begins. He raises the very issue. He says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” Rhetorical question.
And, by the way, it’s in the tense of the verb that says these things are presently occurring in this church. This is written to a church. And he says, “Well, what is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” In other words, it’s happening right now.
And then, he’s going to answer the question: “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” Will you circle the word pleasures, and then circle the word war?
Literally, he says, “Isn’t it your passions that wage war in your members,” or, literally, “among you? You lust and you do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.”
And then someone’s thinking to themselves, Now, wait a second, James. I pray. And he says, “Yeah, you’re right, there is a second category. There are some of you that ask, but you do it with the wrong motives.” “And you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives” – why? – “so that you can spend it on yourselves.”
The summary of that is: the root cause of interpersonal conflicts, according to James, is our consuming passion for self-gratification. Jot those two words in, will you? Self-gratification.
He says – this word – what is the cause of wars? It means “a protracted” – the word for wars, here, is “a protracted state of hostility.” Why is it, in the Church, there are literal wars going on among the members? What causes the fighting? These are pictures of little outbursts of anger that break out. And it’s in the plural, here. It is happening within and among them.
He says, “Is it not your pleasure or your passions?” And I had you circle that, because we get our word hedonism from it. The Greek word is hēdonē. Hedonism is one who lives for pleasure, the passion for lust, to fulfill one’s desires, the cravings of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It’s an addictive self-love.
He says, “The source of your quarrels is your own selfish gratification. It’s the ‘me first’ mindset. You fight because you want this and someone else wants this. It’s your lust; it’s your passions.” He says, “You envy” – or, literally, “you covet, you want what someone else has” – “and then you don’t get it, so you commit murder.” Isn’t that strong? Those are strong words for a church, isn’t it?
And whether that literally was happening in this context, or whether he’s speaking of murdering people – as Jesus said, “If you say, ‘Raca,’ to your brother, if you have hatred in your heart toward him, you’re committing murder.” But whether it’s a metaphorical murdering with your tongue that is slander, or murder in your heart out of hatred, or whether it got to be literal – I’ve seen it become literal.
How many of us heard of a story, in a local church, where someone gets bent out of shape in a church conflict – right? And they come in on a Sunday morning. I’ve heard of this at least four or five times in the last ten years. They come in on a Sunday morning with a gun, and either shoot the preacher, or shoot one of the elders, or leaders, or deacons, or whatever they call them in the special churches. And this is a church, and I bet, if you do the research, everybody in the room is born again.
That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? But we don’t have to imagine it. This is reality. And he says the cause is that you want. You’ve got this pulsating desire, I have this pulsating desire, even as a believer, to satisfy, or gratify, my own way. We covet.
And this is a strong word. It’s the idea of not the wholesome kind of God-given pleasure, but the sinful, self-indulgent pleasure, the hot desire to possess something for your own ego and self-gratification.
And you can’t obtain it – in other words, you get blocked – and so you wage war. And then, you don’t have things, and he says, “You know why? Because you’re trying to get it from other places, instead of from God. And some of you, you try to get it from God, but you do it with the wrong motives.”
And so, he says the source of interpersonal conflict is self-gratification. And if you wanted to summarize it – I’ve put some notes down. Our problem – just write two words: selfishness, selfish pride. That’s our problem. It’s the inner passion within each of us that craves our own way. And behind that craving is the belief that pleasure, and fun, and sensual fulfillment must be achieved at all cost.
The symptoms are conflict. Conflict. And the conflict is evidenced in broken relationships. We want something, our goals are blocked, our desires are frustrated, and so it leads to violence. Competing desires. It’s the classic picture of one cookie and two, two-year-olds.
And what James says is, that one cookie and two, two-year-olds mentality – and it might be a position in the church, it might be about money, it might be about sex, it might be about a number of different things – but that same passionate desire to possess and get your way, and me wanting to get my way, is at the core of interpersonal conflict.
Third, he says, what’s the strategy? Our strategies are two-fold. First, we attempt to fulfill our desires, apart from God. We want something badly. Maybe we want something in our marriage. Maybe we want it from our boss. Maybe we want it in the church. Maybe we want it from one of our kids. Maybe we want something badly, as a single person. And he says, “The wrong strategy is, you try and get it, apart from God.”
Notice the line that he said? He said, “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” There are some ways, through either manipulation, or intimidation, or image management, that we try and get what we want, instead of going to God and saying, “God, this is my heart’s desire.”
The second way, in terms of strategy, is not just attempts to fulfill desires, apart from God, but we try to use God to fulfill our selfish desires. We try to make God our self-help genie. God, I’m praying that You will give this to me. And the goal isn’t the glory of God. The goal isn’t the agenda of God.
And, by the way, I have never seen this more popular than it is in our day. And I’ll tell you what, it sells. “Jesus can make you happy. Jesus can help you lose weight. Jesus can make you rich. Jesus can make you healthy, wealthy, and wise. Jesus can eliminate all your problems. You know what? God is not the center, or the core, or the Infinite One who is holy in the universe. You are the center of the universe, and He is your errand boy. And we will give you a little formula, and tell you what you do: You get Him to run your errands for you.”
And it is being preached, and it is being taught, and it is being gobbled up, because I’ll tell you what, there is something in all of us, right? And maybe Jesus is that ticket. I’ll be happy – Jesus is the ticket to – if I love Him, and follow this formula, I’ll have this big house on the hill, and I’ll have another house over here, and I’ll drive this kind of car, and I’ll have this kind of watch, and these kinds of clothes, and then a beautiful woman is going to jump in my car, or, handsome hunks are going to serve me butter that we can’t believe it’s butter. And Jesus is my ticket to self-fulfillment.
And it’s a perversion of the gospel. And it’s a perversion of the truth. And it’s not new. This is the first book written in the New Testament. And what he is saying here is: your wrong strategies are, one, you try and get your stuff, apart from God, or you try and actually use God. You’re asking God to do things, but it’s not for Him. It’s with perverted, wrong motives.
And then, finally, the results are, our passions, and our drives, and the blocks of people’s goals result in frustration within, and fights without. He’s saying to this local church – let’s remember, this is a local church – “You have fights without, and you have frustration within, because the root cause of interpersonal conflict, in marriage, with children, in the Church, at work…” He says, “At the core is self-gratification,” or, literally, “hedonism,” this commitment that, I’ve got to have my way. I need to fulfill my sensual lusts.
And in our honest moments, we all have to admit, this is true of all of us. We can make it very sophisticated, and we can put some verses around it, and we can act a little more pious, but you have conflict in your home; I have conflict in my home. If you’re married, you have some conflict in your marriage; I have some conflict in my marriage.
And for years and years – not really years and years, but as I tell the story, making it bigger and bigger to make it better and better – for years and years, I said the whole key to our marriage was if Theresa just wasn’t so selfish. She’s just so lovely, and pretty, and nice, and kind, and sweet – and that’s what everyone thinks. But down behind that beautiful, blonde hair, and sweet countenance, and wonderful mother, and, now, grandmother, there is a very strong woman who wants her way!
And in private moments, with probably a few ladies, of trusted confidants that she really prays with, there has probably been at least a moment or two that, despite her husband’s role, and his job of teaching God’s Word, and working hard at being a good dad, some of the conflict – I think she would say, You know, the problem is, [18:03] Chip is, down behind all that, is this really selfish guy that wants his way.
And when I want my way, and she wants her way, guess what that is called. Conflict. Now, as you mature in Christ, you handle it in a lot better ways, right? But, hey, people, let’s not act like this passage is for someone else. All right? And a lot of times, what happens is, we hit those conflicts, and the reason you don’t argue about them is, they produce such conflict, you don’t even talk about them anymore.
And I watch marriages that are on parallel tracks, with very little intimacy, or I watch families on parallel tracks, where, “Oh, yeah, we don’t argue with our kids. That’s because we’ve decided, anything that causes conflict we’re not going to talk about.”
So, the kids are gradually going off their way, and you’re going off your way. And then, when they land over here in the ditch because you didn’t want the conflict, you pull out your Bible, and Proverbs 22: “Train a child up in the way he should go, and he won’t depart.” God, I don’t get this. He departed! Oh, really? Because at the heart of every little boy – “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,” right?
And so, you have to confront issues. You have to realize, I have to realize, I’ve got to confront issues in me, and you in you, and then all of our relationships, that we are people of the flesh, despite this wonderful thing that God has given us, this new birth, where the Spirit of God lives in us, and the Spirit has sealed us, and He’s given us gifts, and we have power.
But we live in a fallen world, and there is a tempter out there, and we will do things, and we will struggle in areas that will cause interpersonal conflict. And at the heart of it is not, The devil made me do it. What does James 1 say? “You sin when you’re carried away by your own lusts.”
Well, let’s get on the diagnostic side, and then we will quickly move to the solution side. James is going to say, “Okay, that’s the cause of quarrels.” Now he’s going to give us God’s diagnosis. Our constant quarrels reveal three different things. He’s going to say there are some consequences, but these quarrels are going to reveal something, and they are going to reveal something all the way over here. He’s going to say that you have a belief system, and in your belief system, because when you have this frustration within, conflict without, you have a belief system that you have believed a lie.
And he’s going to tell us what that lie is, in just a minute. And at the core of that lie is that we have believed the lie of hedonism, and I’ll address it in a second.
Once you believe a lie, there’s a series of behaviors that have you beginning to move farther and farther and farther away from God, and closer to the world, and the world system. He’ll call it the kosmos. It’s this world system.
The world system is Primetime TV, walking out of the grocery stand, People, Cosmo, Forbes. There is a world system that says the way to significance, fulfillment, and satisfaction is how you look, what you make, who you know, how many people report to you, what you own, and it’s, “When you can have the pleasures of the world, then you’re a somebody. You’re just a house remodel away from being happy. You’re just a better sex life away from being happy. You’re just that first child away from being happy. You’re just getting married – you’re single now, but, man, if you were married, then you would be happy.”
You’re just something out there. And the world paints, every evening in Primetime, and now on a hundred and fifty cable channels, and magazines, and romance novels, and billboards, and songs. And they’re all telling you a web that the world is saying: “This is what will deliver real happiness and fulfillment.”
And God says when we buy into that, we become spiritual adulteresses. We leave our first love, and we embrace and fall in love with the world, and we lose our relationship, and our heart for God.
He says, “We believe a lie, we betray a trust,” and then it gets, actually, scary. He says we actually can come to the point where, even though we are God’s people, we become enemies. God will literally, in this passage, you’ll see in the next few verses – God will literally put on battle array when His children are being wooed away from Him, and beginning to live like the world. He will put on battle array, and go to war against us.
It will be out of a heart of love, and He will do what I call “the velvet vise.” It’ll be a vise, and it’ll have velvet on the outside of it. And He will bring about a velvet vise of pressure in your life to get you to change your mind about what really satisfies, and to return to Him. It’s called the “Hebrews 12 experience”: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Now, you say to yourself, Where did he get that? That all flows out of the passage, here, in James 4:4 through 6. Follow along, as I read. Notice, he’s just told us, the quarrels, the cause, the pride: “You ask with the wrong motives.”
Listen to this judgment – verse 4: “You adulteresses” – it’s what he is calling the church, the people in this church. This is strong. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world” – notice this – “makes himself an enemy of God.”
It’s in what is called “the middle voice,” and it’s something that we do on our own. We willfully, intentionally, out of our own choices, we make ourselves an enemy with God, even though we’re believers.
“Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit, which He made to dwell in us’?” See, you are a child of God. His Spirit dwells in you.
And when you, or when I, when we get infatuated, when we start to flirt with the world, and the world system, and we start to buy the lie, and after we buy the lie, we begin to betray the trust; and after we betray the trust, we begin to live the antithetical kind of life, as a Christian; and then God loves me, and loves you, so much, He will bring the velvet vise of discipline, because He’s jealous over the Spirit that’s in you.
When you prayed to receive Christ – remember? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will open the door” – right? – “I will come into him and sup with him, and he with Me. Unless a man is born again a second time, he ought to be born of the water” – physical birth – you have to be born of the Spirit. The Spirit of God comes in. You’re sealed with the Spirit. You’re marked off as God’s possession. You’re sealed as a part of His – His Spirit dwells in you. He jealously guards that; you are His.
And it’s just like a husband, when he begins to watch his wife flirt, or begins to watch his wife go on a date with another man. A good husband goes after that wife and says, “Hey, you know something? This is totally unacceptable.” But, notice, His response is, He gives more grace. He gives more grace. Well, how does He give the grace? “Therefore it says” – and he quotes the Old Testament here – “God is opposed” – literally, He is anti – “He is against the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”
Literally, he goes, “Adulteresses are unfaithful creatures, don’t you know…” Circle the word friendship, will you? That’s our word phileo. It’s the affection with the world system and its sensual pleasures. It means you are in hostility. You’ve become an enemy of, or you’re in hostility with, God. You make yourself an enemy. Then, he goes on to say, “He yearns jealously for the Spirit that He puts within us.” And this word, if you want to circle it, “God opposes the proud,” it’s a picture, as you study this phrase, of, literally, God going into battle, and putting on holy array in battle, to come against that which is opposed to what is good. And there are times in your life, and there are times in my life, when we do that.