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What is the source of wars and fights among you? Are they not from this source, your pleasures that wage war in your members? (James 4:1)
What is the source of wars and fights among you? This refers to strife and contention of all kinds, not military war. What is the real-life situation behind this counsel? The answer, of course, is given in part “b” of the verse. Some have tried to suggest that what the apostle describes here, are the skirmishes and subversion that existed among the Jews, which led to an eventual rebellion against the Roman authority and the conquest of the Jewish nation. General Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., killing a million Jews and taking a hundred thousand captive to Rome. However, this is not likely what James is referring to local scuffles and the strife of factions and parties, the quarrels, debates, clashes, disputes over disagreements, which took place among the Jewish people. There were even possible moments of actual violence among themselves. We must remember that only Jewish persons were Christians for the first 3.5 years after Pentecost. Cornelius, in 36 C.E., was the first Gentile Christian. And over the next 2-3 decades, mostly Jews converted to Christianity, more so than Gentiles. So, when James wrote his letter before 62 C.E., it had only been 24-26 years since Pentecost. The reference “among you” is likely referring to the Jews in the community, maybe friends and relatives of the Jewish Christians, but not necessarily the Christians themselves involved in the “pleasures that wage war.” It refers to the Jewish people and refers to the strife and contentions that had prevailed among them as a people. However, this placed the Christian converts in great danger of feeling the need to take sides and participate by being sucked into their disagreements and sharing in the conflicts that existed among their people. How hot were the contentions in Jerusalem? This letter is just four years before the major Jewish uprisings. The Roman army assaulted Jerusalem and its temple starting in 66 C.E., under General Cestus Gallus. The temple was the “holy place,” and the abomination was the Roman army “standing where it ought not to be.” As for the “desolation,” this came in 70 C.E. when General Titus of the Roman army completely desolated Jerusalem and its temple. Specifically, what was this “abomination”? Moreover, in what sense was it “standing in the holy place”? (Matthew 24:15) So, yes, some severe contentions existed among the factions of Jews and the more radical Jewish factions, like the political group called Zealots. So, this warning to the Jewish Christians and Christians, in general, to guard against such a spirit, naming this source, “your pleasures that wage war in your members,” was very timely. Because of Jesus’ warning, we must remember that the Christians left Jerusalem before the Roman General Cestus Gallus laid siege to the city, and no Jew could escape. We can take those principles then and apply them to our day effortlessly.
Are they not from this source, your pleasures? The usual meaning of the word (ἡδονή hēdonē) is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense and thence denotes sexual desire, pleasure, appetite, lust. However, this word can be applied to any feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state and then to indulging any unethical tendency of the mind. The lust or desire of pillage, plunder, motivation, name, and reputation, and a more extended sense can be equally supported in the word’s meaning. The word can similarly be understood to refer to the spirit, which leads to a clash of ideas, beliefs, values, nationalism, and even become physical, leading to the Roman General Cestus Gallus laying siege to the city. Politically, at that time, the Herodians were in the middle, opposed by the Pharisees and Jewish zealots who supported a Jewish kingdom entirely free from Roman control and by those who promoted total absorption of Judea by the Roman Empire. All this is the same attitude and spirit manifested on a larger or smaller scale before 62 C.E.
That wage war in your members? The word member (μέλος melos) denotes, properly, a body part, limb (Matt. 5:29; 1Co 12:12; Jas 3:5); member, someone who is part of a larger group (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1Co 6:15; 12:27; Eph 4:25; 5:30; Col 3:5) The word war (στρατεύω strateuō) means to engage in war, wage war, fight, battle (2Co 10:3; 1Ti 1:18; Jas 4:1; 1Pe 2:11); be a soldier (Lk 3:14; 1Co 9:7; 2Ti 2:4). It can refer to the battle or war between those obsessions that are fleshly, worldly, and the beliefs of the mind and conscience that then produce a state of distress, excitement, and conflict.
Those unethical desires that are fleshly, worldly, James says, are what contribute to war. From an argument to a physical fight to the point of a war, it all stems from the corrupt, twisted desires of the mind. There is the desire of plunder, the passion of victory, political and religious office ambition, and the pleasure of vengeance. These lead from little conflicts of the early 60s between the Jewish factions to the point of the Roman conquest in 70 C.E. The wisdom from above: justice, impartiality, the Godly fear, the spirit of true Christians, do not lead to conflict. However, but the corrupt, twisted desires of men have made the earth a place of continual conflict that has ruined many hundreds of millions of lives. If the wisdom from above was found in all men, there would be no war. Jesus Christ will put an end to war. It will be no more.
We have spoken of wars because it is related but on a grander scale. But it should be noted again that James’s readers were not literally involved in wars, but rather murderous hatred for others. Clearly, this letter was intended for an audience that lacked unity. Early on, James dealt with those who were showing favoritism to the rich. This congregation or group of Christians did not possess the love that Jesus had spoken of when he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) A few in the congregation were wrongly judging some, while a handful ignored the needs of others. Within this group of Christians, there was a spirit of contention that should not have been. Jealousy and selfish ambition had grown in the congregation. Consequently, peace was interrupted. Therefore, the question begs to be asked is the basis of this infighting and aggression among these Christians is?
James answers our question by naming the source of this warring and fighting among Christians, i.e., a battle within the heart. In other words, these ones were struggling with the desire for personal pleasure (ἡδονή hēdonē). From this Greek word, we get hedonism, devotion, especially self-indulgence of pleasure and happiness as a way of life. These ones sought immediate gratification without any regard of whom it might affect. We are imperfect, possessing human weaknesses, and are mentally bent toward evil, with the natural desire toward wrongdoing. This creates turmoil within a Christian, as Paul put it,
Romans 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 I find then the law in me that when I want to do right, that evil is present in me. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive in the law of sin which is in my members.
These Christians were craving the fleshly desires of self-importance, materialism, nationalism, which caused an explosive atmosphere with their brothers and sisters. When a Christian fails to maintain control over his member, these cravings set in, causing conflicts within the Christian congregation. . Moreover, if there were any semblance of a conscience left within these battling their fleshly desires, they would be struggling with a spiritual turmoil themselves.
 See Luke 8:14;Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:13
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