Step Towards Transformation

PART 10-James 4:1-3; How Worldly Wisdom Affects Our Prayers


James 4:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)

1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet  you do not have because you do not ask.

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

So far, we have examined

  1. How To Respond To Trials,
  2. How To Seek Wisdom In Trials,
  3. How To Have Proper Prospective In Life,
  4. How To Understand & Defeat Temptation
  5. How To Look In The Mirror Of The Word And Be Doers Of The Word.
  6. How To Deal With The Sin Of Partiality
  7. How To Prove Your Faith With Works
  8. How To Discipline The Tongue
  9. How To Have Good Conduct With Godly Wisdom.

Chapter 4 of James’ letter continues the line of thinking we read in chapter 3. We observed in the last lesson the problem of worldly wisdom. Having bitter jealousy or  envy, and selfish ambition reveals that we are following the wisdom of the world and not the wisdom of God. The result of worldly wisdom is disorder and every vile practice. Following the wisdom of world not only causes ruin to ourselves as individuals, but also causes problems for a local church. As we continue to move forward through this series, this week we will examine another issue that is a problem area in the lives of most Christian people: How Worldly Wisdom Affects Our Prayers.

Worldly Wisdom Also Leads To Fights and Quarrels

James 4:1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

We live in a pleasure driven society. Do what you want to do. Make sure you are happy. Obey your passions and your thirst. James asks the question:

Where do you think these quarrels and fights come from? The answer is that your passions are at war within you.  James is speaking in spiritual terms. His concern is not about Germany attacking France or Iraq attacking Kuwait. We know this because he speaks of the fights among you. We saw in James 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” He is talking to groups of Christians, and is observing the problem of quarrels, fights, and strife between Christians.

James’ answer is not the answer we give. The answer we give about why there is strife is because of something outside of us.

  • We blame the other person.
  • We blame things that were said.
  • We blame actions that hurt us.

But that is not the answer James gives. James says that the problem resides within us. Battles and fights come from our selfish hearts and our desires for pleasure. We have passions that are ruling our hearts and bodies. The problem is that we have not conformed to the wisdom of God but have conformed to the wisdom of the world.

Illustration: I read about an African tribe that selects a new king every seven years. When they select the new king, they give him every imaginable luxury & pleasure. Then at the end of the seven years, when they select the new king, they kill the old king. You would think that in that kind of arrangement, no one would want to be king. However, many were willing to take the seven years of luxury & pleasure in exchange for his life. You say they are fools. Yet that illustrates how strong the lust for wealth & pleasure is.

Go back to James 3:17-18 and see this connection.

  • When we are operating by the wisdom of God, what will we be? Peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits (3:17).
  • What is the result of living by the wisdom of God? A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace is the result (3:18).

So where do fights and quarrels come from?

  • They do not come by obeying the wisdom of God!
  • They do not come by being wise and full of understanding!

Fights and quarrels come because of our selfish passions or desires [the root of worldly wisdom] that are at war within us.

Illustration: A boy once asked, “Dad, how do wars begin?” “Well, take the First World War,” said his father. “That got started when Germany invaded Belgium.” Immediately his wife interrupted, “Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered.” The husband drew himself up in an air of superiority and snapped back, “Are you answering the question, or am I?” Turning her back on him in a huff, the wife walked out of the room and slammed the door as hard as she could. When the dishes stopped rattling in the cupboard, an uneasy silence followed, broken at length by the son. “Daddy, you don’t have to tell me any more; I know now!”

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1).

Illustration on desires: If you are a parent, you’ve heard these words before: “Mommy, Daddy, can we get a puppy?” And, if you are smart, you responded with the following: “You know puppies are a lot of trouble. You would have to walk it at least three times a day and make sure it is fed. You would have to bathe it at least twice a week and brush it every day. You would also have to train it and take it outside to use the bathroom. And if it ever poo-poo’s or tee-tee’s in the house, it would be your responsibility to clean it up.” Although the above lecture is normally used as a doggie deterrent, most children respond by saying, “I don’t care. I wouldn’t mind doing all that as long as I had a puppy!” So we break down and buy the puppy, and a month later we are stuck feeding, walking and cleaning up after it. The exasperated child says, “I just didn’t know how much work it would be!”

The fact is that when we are being completely selfish, no amount of good reasoning will help us see things differently. We become blinded by our own desires. The difficult thing about a heart of selfishness is that it is hard to detect. We think we are being reasonable, justified, or even optimistic, when in reality we are blinded by our own wants.

There is no sin that has no consequences for those around you. Fights& quarrels are the consequences of our selfish passions or desires. People are obeying their passions and obeying the wisdom of the world, rather than submitting to God’s wisdom. We are seeking our own physical pleasures, our own power, our own honor, our own reputation, or some other selfish pursuit.

Illustration: A man met Jack, who had recently been converted. He said, “Well, Jack, old fellow, I hear you have given up all your pleasures.” “No! No!” said Jack, “the fact lies all the other way. I have just found all my pleasures and have given up only all my foolishness.”  So instead of looking to the pleasures of this world for fulfilment, we should look to the Lord For Godly wisdom.

James is saying that you will not resolve conflict until you correctly identify the source of it. If you blame the other person, you have not yet correctly identified the source. You must look within and see that your own selfishness is at fault

Why You Do Not Have

2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet  you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.


James explores further our sinfulness.

  • We desire and do not have so we murder.
  • We covet and cannot obtain, so we fight and quarrel.

James again points out that there is a problem of self-centered thinking. As we pointed out in verse 1, I do not think James is speaking about literal fist fights and warfare. James is spiritualizing the language to show the gravity of the sinfulness in quarreling Christians. I believe that James is not speaking about literal murder. I do not think that there was an epidemic of murder breaking out among Jewish Christians. I do not believe Christians were coming to church with weapons to take each other out in the parking lot. I believe James is using hyperbole to drive home how sinful and evil their actions are.

Notice in the first two sentences there are parallels. “Desire and do not have” parallels “covet and cannot obtain.” Also, “murder” parallels “fight and quarrel.” What James is doing is revealing the malice and animosity in some of these churches. So James is using some shock value in the same way that Jesus did in Matthew 5:21-22. Jesus taught that hating your brother was a sin just as murder.

James explains why they do not have. There are two reasons.

  • In verse 2: First, they do not have because they do not ask.

It appears that the prayer life of these Christians had completely died. They were not asking God for the things that they needed. They had desires just running amuck without any control or discipline at all. They just want, want, want. The writer of Proverbs said, “The leech has two daughters: Give and give” (Proverbs 30:15). We just want and want. We think we deserve to live in houses and drive cars. And not just houses, large houses in nice neighbourhoods. The degree of materialism we can show is overwhelming and sinful. We also desire power, respect, honor, popularity, and the like. James is asking us to examine our desires. Are we asking God, or are we self-seeking?

Illustration : Mr. Jones Goes To Heaven: There’s a little fable about a Mr. Jones who dies and goes to heaven. Peter is waiting at the gates to give him a tour. Amid the splendor of golden streets, beautiful mansions, and choirs of angels that Peter shows him, Mr. Jones notices an odd-looking building. He thinks it looks like an enormous warehouse-it has no windows and only one door. But when he asks to see inside, Peter hesitates. “You really don’t want to see what’s in there,” he tells the new arrival. “Why would there be any secrets in heaven?” Jones wonders. “What incredible surprise could be waiting for me in there?” When the official tour is over he’s still wondering, so he asks again to see inside the structure. Finally Peter relents. When the apostle opens the door, Mr. Jones almost knocks him over in his haste to enter. It turns out that the enormous building is filled with row after row of shelves, floor to ceiling, each stacked neatly with white boxes tied in red ribbons. “These boxes all have names on them,” Mr. Jones muses aloud. Then turning to Peter he asks, “Do I have one?” “Yes, you do.” Peter tries to guide Mr. Jones back outside. “Frankly,” Peter says, “if I were you….” But Mr. Jones is already dashing toward the “J” aisle to find his box. Peter follows, shaking his head. He catches up with Mr. Jones just as he is slipping the red ribbon off his box and popping the lid. Looking inside, Jones has a moment of instant recognition and lets out a deep sigh like the ones Peter has heard so many times before. Because there in Mr. Jones’s white box are all the blessings that God wanted to give to him while he was on earth … but Mr. Jones had never asked.

“Ask,” promised Jesus, “and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). “You do not have because you do not ask,” said James (James 4:2). Even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, if you didn’t ask Him for a blessing yesterday you didn’t get all that you were supposed to have. That’s the catch-if you don’t ask for His blessing, you forfeit those that come to you only when you ask. In the same way that a father is honored to have a child ask for his blessing, your Father is delighted to respond generously when His blessing is what you covet most.

  • In verse 3: The second problem is not only were they not asking God, but when they did ask of God, they were asking wrongly.

Illustration: An example of asking amiss is an unmarried or single woman praying for a child, God does not support that and such request may never be granted. A junior employee who is not ready to be corrected or adapt to company policy fervently praying for a promotion, a housewife coveting another’s husband and praying for him to notice her in return…. all these are asking or praying amiss and those requests are never granted, at least not by God, of that I’m sure.

It is not necessarily the thing for which we are asking that is wrong, but rather the reason we ask for it.

Illustration:A member in a church where I was pastor expressed a concern for the salvation of her husband. She had gone to several members of the church, asking them to pray for his salvation–a legitimate request supported by 1 Timothy 2:1-4. One day I asked her why she wanted her husband to get saved. She answered, “Because we would be so much happier in our married life. We could share the same interests, and life for me in the home would be much easier.” I am not critical of that woman for wanting those things. A home is doubly blessed when husband and wife walk together in the Lord. But to pray for her husband’s salvation for the reasons she gave was selfishness on her part.

Illustration : Suppose I invite you to my house for desert. I told you we were having angel food cake. I was going to make it. Just suppose! I told you I would need pancake mix, baking soda, brownie mix, water, milk, vinegar. You would think I was crazy. Those ingredients don’t make angel food. Why can’t I make it the way I want too? God says love and obey me, I’ll give you such happiness that you can barely handle it. But you tell Him you want to do it yourself. I’ll put anger, hostility, sex, narcotics, pride, and we wonder why it don’t work. God says you don’t have what you want because you demand to do it your way and you have not come to Him. You create hell on earth and most of the time blame God when the cake of life you make is a disaster and don’t taste good anymore.

Illustration: One scriptural example of praying amiss would be where Jesus talked with some who trusted in themselves. He spoke about a Pharisee and a Publican going into the temple to pray. As the Pharisee prayed, he listed off all of the things that he does, even in the prayer itself, he says that he’s thankful that he’s not like other men, so there was great pride in the Pharisees heart. As the Publican prayed, he was very humble and didn’t even look up, he smote his chest, and prayed for mercy because he knew his sinful state and where his hope is. Jesus said that the Publican was justified and the other was not, and He goes on to talk about those who will be exalted and those who will be humbled. (Luke 18:9-14).The examples of the prayers themselves show an acceptable prayer, and praying amiss.

Have you ever thought about the possibility of praying wrongly?

We might think that -all that matters is praying. But how we pray does matter. James says that they prayed asking for things that they could spend on their passions. To state this another way, they were praying selfishly. They were not praying toward God’s will or what would best for them spiritually, they just prayed selfishly.

Some examples of this type of praying would be this:

  • We may ask God for health, not so that we may serve others, but that we may be able to engage in riotous living!
  • We may ask God for wealth, not for the purpose of feeding the hungry and helping God’s work, but for the purpose of living in luxury and spending on ourselves.

God will not honor such selfish prayers. I do not mean by this that is wrong to pray for ourselves or things that are going on in our lives. What I mean by selfishly is that they were praying to fulfill these passions and desires. It is the picture of turning God into the genie of the lamp who will fulfill our wishes.

Do we only run to God when we have a selfish need? Or do you have a relationship with God so that making requests of God comes from a love for him? It is the difference between our children who have a loving relationship with us so that we want to give to them when they respectfully ask of us and show appreciation and children who are bratty and ask of you only because you have the money, not because they love you.

It is very easy to neglect all the other aspects of prayer.

  • How often are our prayers just words of praise to God?
  • How often are our prayer thanks to God?
  • How often are we praying for others?
  • How often are we seeking God’s wisdom?
  • How often are we asking God what certain passages of scripture mean?

I don’t mean to upset you, but all of those things I just mentioned are supposed to be part of the normal day to day life of a Christian.

Illustration: There is an old legend that Midas, one of the Phrygian kings, performed some acts of kindness for which the gods promised to give him whatever he should ask. His request was that everything he touched should turn to gold. For a while it seemed that he was most fortunate in his request, but as the very food he touched was changed to gold, he soon besought the gods to take back their fatal gift.  Aren’t you glad that our God does not give us everything we ask? How terrible it would be if God did answer our selfish prayers. We ought to thank Him that He doesn’t instead of complaining against Him.

Illustration: Have you ever not wanted to pray about something because you are afraid God will say no? You finally decide to pray about it, then, just as you feared, God said no.

  • The head cheerleader really needs help with chemistry. If her grades do not improve, she is off the squad. She REALLY needs help with chemistry. So you help her. She appreciates the fact that a smart guy doesn’t make her feel dumb. Her grades improve. She appreciates you even more. Then, she has that “ah ha moment.” She understands. She never thought she would understand chemistry, but she does. Now she appreciates you even more. You pray, “God, if I’m ever going to ask her out, this is the time. I know she’s not a Christian, but maybe I can witness to her on a date, when we’re not thinking about chemistry… when we’re not thinking about THIS chemistry…” Thus saith the Lord, “NO!” When you ask to date a non-Christian you are asking for the wrong thing.
  • Maybe high school is just a dim memory for you. You’ve already married the girl of your dreams. Now, you’re dreaming of a boat. You start working overtime. If you keep tithing on your regular income, the overtime pay will just be enough to make those payments. You pray, “Lord, my boss likes fishing. If I had a boat, I could invite him to go with me. We can enjoy your creation together, then I could witness to him. His tithe would be a lot more than my overtime tithe…” Thus saith the Lord, “NO!”

You ask, but do not receive, because you are asking for the wrong things. The words, in the Greek, could mean asking for the wrong things or, probably, asking for the wrong reasons, with the wrong motives.

  • It seems like it is impossible to make ends meet. You keep the kids while your husband works during the day. He keeps the kids while you work part-time evenings. You pray, “O God, life would be so much easier if my husband got a promotion. We could even go to prayer meeting on Wednesday nights…” God may know that you really have other plans. You and your husband may have already planned that if he gets the promotion, he will go playing cricket on Wednesdays and you will join your friends for “girls’ night out” on Thursdays. Thus saith the Lord, “NO!”

Verse 3 specifically says, If you ask for things from God with the wrong motive, asking for them just so you can keep feeding your passions, God is not inclined to give you anything.  In fact, a lot of times He just says no.

Think through what you ask God for, examine your heart, look for real to figure out your motive and the return to God either to ask for nothing, to confess your sin or ask God once again assured you know just why you are asking.  So, let’s make this a moment of action or mission- Ask God to show you where you ask with poor motives.

Conclusion:  Why Prayers Go Unanswered

Reason #1: Selfishness – How would you like it if you went to God and asked Him for 50000/- and He asked you what you were going to do with it? Would you tell Him that you’re planning to donate half to the Church and some to the needy when you’re actually planning to buy that flat screen TV that you’ve had your eyes on? What if God told you that He would give it to you with the restriction that you needed to use it for the betterment of others versus yourself? Would you still want it? Some of us would take it, buy the flat screen TV; invite our friends over to watch the game and claim we are bettering their lives because they only have a regular color TV. Our justification is that our friends can now see the game in a much more clear and focused format.  As you continue having your conversations with God when you are petitioning Him for something, ask yourself what is the real reason you want what you’re asking for and if you had it, would anyone other than yourself benefit from it.

This is not a recipe for getting what you petition God for, but a gut check for you to monitor your own motivations.

Reason #2: Praying Outside Of God’s Word.- Let me give you an example. God word has promised me that He will supply my needs. If I need a car, I can go to God and pray confessing His word that He has promised to provide my needs. Once I have prayed this prayer, I can begin searching for transportation while allowing God to work out the situation. Praying this prayer does not mean I can go out and lease a brand new luxury car because that is not what I need. I might need a good used vehicle that I can easily afford. You see the difference?

Reason #3: Praying Without Understanding Our Authority- What does this look like in the natural? Let’s say that you have been hired as a manager over ten individuals. You are responsible for those ten individuals as it relates to their hiring, firing, promotions, annual raises and conflict resolution. In order words, these are your employees and you are totally responsible for them. You are the middle manager and you have a director who is your supervisor who is likewise responsible for you. Now, what would happen if it came down to you firing someone for bad performance and you went to your supervisor and asked them to do it because you were afraid to or you just wanted them to do it? What would happen if it was time for you to give merit increases to your employees and you asked your supervisor to do it because it made you uncomfortable? It would not take long for your supervisor to reach the decision that you are not fit at this point to be a manager. You do not understand your authority or you are refusing to walk in it.     This is where many Christians are today. It is much easier to ask God to do something that we are supposed to do and then get angry with God when He does not do it.


  • What causes quarrels in you and your church or home? What can you do to commit to a way to stop them before they escalate?
  • Have you ever considered that when your desires are bad, you are cheating on Him?
  • What desires and passions have you had trouble with that get in the way of our growth in Him? How can we know whether our desires line up with God’s desires?
  • Is there a sin in my life for which confession and repentance is needed?
  • What can I model and teach? What does God want me to share with someone?

Next James Bible Study Part 11: James 4:4-6;How Worldly Wisdom Affects Our Relationship With God.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2020 by in JAMES BIBLE STUDY and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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