Thoroughly Wash Your Heart…as Well as Your Hands

In Chapter 4, James addresses something that happens in every church: conflict and quarrels. 

But instead of giving us “5 Tips for Conflict Resolution,” James goes right for the jugular: he admonishes us to cleanse the sin in our hearts. 

In the first 12 verses of the chapter, I spent time LOOKING at the words James writes, but even MORE time in prayer with the LIVE questions, examining the condition of my own heart. 

James Asks Questions to Get to the Root Problem

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” (v. 1)

Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” (v. 2a)

“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?” (v. 2b – 5)

As I look at this section, I focus on these LIVE questions, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me:

  • Am I in conflict (at home, work, school, church) with those who are friends of God?
  • Am I in conflict within? What pleasures are waging war within me?
  • Am I an adulteress, an enemy of God, in hostility (conflict) with God?
  • What am I asking for? What are my motives?

The Humility of Repentance

In verses 6-10, James quotes an Old Testament Proverb (3:34), exhorting us to remember who we are and who God is!

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (v. 6-10)

As I reflect on these verses, I ask the Holy Spirit to humble me and then I journal my answers to these questions:

  • Am I proud or humble? Have I applied God’s wisdom to receive His grace?
  • Am I (a sinner) willing to humble myself before the Lord and:
    • Submit to God?
    • Resist the devil?
    • Draw near to God?
    • Cleanse my hands and purify my heart?
    • Weep over my sin?

Let God Be the Judge of Your Brother

Verses 11 and 12 seem to sit by themselves, and yet, in context, they neatly tie up this section about quarreling and conflict. 

“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (v. 11-12)

Reflecting on these questions help me correct my heart and speech toward others:

  • Do I continually speak against others?
  • Who is my brother? My neighbor?
  • Do I need to confess and repent?

When difficulty and crisis arise, sometimes we are quick to blame and criticize those around us, leading to conflict, or prayers based on wrong motives. God’s wisdom says we should first humble ourselves and repent, then ask for His mercy to restore us.

While these are sobering words from the book of James, we can rest assured that submission  to God’s word will produce healing.

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