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You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You desire, and yet you do not have, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2)
You lust and do not have. This (ἐπιθυμέω epithumeō) is an intense desire to have something that is not yours, for which you have no claim. It is to desire greatly, long for, desire; lust, covet, an evil desire. This could be a physical object, some form of employment, a political office, a person’s significant other, and so on. The desire is so great that it moves the person to take it, even if by force if necessary. This certainly causes the strife and contention mentioned in 4:1.
So you commit murder. This could be a case of literally killing another if the envious lust is taken too far. This expression could be taken in the sense of having a murderous mental disposition, or a murderous spirit, or a murderous inclination, or a murderous nature. This means that the envious lust is there, the desire is there, but it is a murderous desire that has not gone to the point of carrying out the desire. However, if an unforeseen opportunity presented itself, the person could act on it.
You desire. That is an envious, lustful desire for the possession of others.
And yet you do not have. The desire for what others have that you do not have is normal to a degree. However, this not having here is an evil obsession by the person. Much pain and suffering could be avoided if we would simply be content with what we have and work toward what we do not have.
So you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. This person engages in fights and quarrels because they are unable to get what they seek. If they were seeking what is needed in a Christian life from God, all they would have to do is ask, and they would obtain it. But this one is seeking things that are not necessary, with no means of securing it, which ends fights and quarrels. If we are seeking beyond what we have to acquire it, or it is not ours to have (e.g., another’s wife), we will not get any divine help from God. The only proper way to seek something is to seek it through prayer that is in harmony with God’s values and his will and purpose for us. Then, follow up on that prayer by acting on behalf of it by a fair means of obtaining it through hard work and honesty. We do so with a pure heart as well, and due respect and concern for others.
However, these ones that James speaks of have desires for things for which they should not and had no means of fulfilling that desire, at least not honorably anyway. These cravings were allowed to grow and fester within the congregation. This greedy, envious longing in these Christians built up until it gave rise to an unbearable, murderous spirit. Again, these ones lacked the love that Jesus said his disciples would have, ignoring fellow brothers in need, clinging to what they had while coveting things that were simply out of reach. The apostle John had this to say on the subject,
1 John 2:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
More murders than we would like to count have been committed because of wrong desires. This holds true of secular history and God’s people, both in the history of the Nation of Israel and Christianity. Think of the desire of coveting another man’s wife, another man’s position, another man’s wealth. You can see by this one wrong desire millions of murders have taken place, from a robbery gone bad to one nation trying to conquer another nation for its wealth. The wrong desire of hatred moved Cain to kill his brother Abel. Then, we have King Ahab being encouraged by his wife Jezebel to kill Naboth for his vineyard. (Gen. 4:8; 1 Ki. 21:2-16) Think of all the atrocities committed by the bishops, cardinals, and the Popes throughout the Medieval Times because they lusted for the worship of others, or they wanted a higher position within the church hierarchy.
The congregation James wrote to was unable to acquire the things that they lusted after because they had wrong desires, and there was no way they were going to be blessed by God while acting in such a manner. Because their greediness and malicious, detestable ways left their cravings unsatisfied, they kept fighting and warring to attain the unattainable. The Christian congregation can suffer the same strife if heavenly wisdom, unity, and peace are not pursued by applying the Word of God. This is especially true of those who are chosen to take the lead. (Heb. 13:7, 17; Acts 20:28-30) Leaders are the backstop to the congregation’s purity because those who slip into these wrong desires can go to the point where their formalistic prayers are not being heard by God and will need help to recover spiritually.
 (Mt 13:17; Lk 15:16; 16:21; 17:22; 22:15; 1Ti 3:1; Heb 6:11; 1Pe 1:12; Rev 9:6)
 (Mt 5:28; Ac 20:33; Ro 7:7; 13:9; 1Co 10:6; Gal 5:17; Jas 4:2)