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Cravings and Conflict, Part 2 (It’s Simpler Than You Think)

Last time, we looked at how James 4:1-2 teaches us that relational conflict from a biblical perspective is worse than you think. But it is also simpler than you think. Let me explain.

Relational conflict can sure seem complicated. It can certainly feel complicated when you’re in the midst of it. I cherish my bride of more than four decades. We have had a most blessed and romantic four decades of marriage by the grace of God. But we are also familiar with conflicts in the midst of those decades. And there have been times when in our attempts to resolve the conflict we can’t even agree on how the conflict started and it started just 20 minutes ago! And there have a few occasions where as I have presented my perspective of the origin of the conflict that a smile has appeared on Carolyn’s face because what I’m communicating confidently is so confusing its amusing. Conflict can just feel so complicated, appear so mysterious, and seem so confusing.

James is here to help. James provides us with the biblical perspective of relational conflict. James isn’t confused. In James 4:1-2 we discover that relational conflict really isn’t confusing. It is not mysterious. It is not demonic. And its not necessary to remember how it began.

James locates the source of conflict for us in verse 1. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” There it is, the source or cause: it is within you. Now, so there is no misunderstanding, I’m assuming you are participating in the conflict. You don’t have to participate. You have the option of not participating. I would encourage you to take that option.

But if you have either initiated or you’re actively participating then there is wisdom from above in this verse for you. The “cause” of the conflict is not somewhere else. It is not because of someone else. Its within you. That is where we need to begin our examination and evaluation of a conflict where we are participating.

And did you notice that James describes the root issue three times in just two verses?

v1-“Your passions are at war.”
v2-“you desire and do not have.”
v2-“you covent and cannot obtain.”

The source of relational conflict is the sinful cravings within those participating. And applying this can make all the difference when you find yourself in a quarrel, so remember this: remember that most likely it is worse than you think, and secondly discerning the cause is actually simpler than you think because the root issue is not complicated, its not somewhere else and not in someone else. It is within you.

See, conflicts don’t create sin, conflicts reveal sin. And what does conflict normally reveal? Conflicts reveal a certain unsatisfied sinful craving. James wants his readers to discern the cause of their quarrels and fights. The original readers lacked discernment as to the cause of their conflicts. Perhaps you need discernment as to the cause as well. I know I do. What causes quarrels and what causes fights? Sinful cravings within are the cause of quarrels and fights and recognizing that can make an immediate and significant difference in both avoiding conflict and resolving conflict. This can make all the difference.

David Powlison helps us to understand the difference this discernment can make when he writes:

“One of the joys of biblical ministry comes when you are able to turn on the lights in another person’s dark room. I have yet to meet a couple locked in hostility (and the accompanying fear, self-pity, hurt and self-righteousness) who really understood and reckoned with their motives. James 4:1-3 teaches that cravings underlie conflicts.”

That last phrase is worth memorizing. David’s summation of the discernment revealed in this passage is so helpful. Cravings underlie conflicts. He goes on:

“Why do you fight? It’s not because of my wife or husband. It’s because of something about you! And couples who see what rules them (cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life) can repent and find God’s grace made real to them and then learn how to make peace.”

If you look underneath an unresolved conflict you’re going to find a sinful craving. Underneath every conflict is an unsatisfied sinful craving. Its really not complicated. Why do we fight? Here’s why: because we don’t get what we want. That’s why. Nothing complicated about it. Why do we fight? Because we don’t get what we want. That is the root issue. There is nothing deeper than this. It is so very kind of the Lord to reveal this to us so that we might give attention to our hearts in the midst of conflict for the purpose of resolving conflict.

Actually, resolving conflict is easier than we think. Yep, you read that right. More on that next time.

This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville entitled Cravings and Conflict.