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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – What Causes Fights Among You? (4:1-3)
What Causes Fights Among You? (4:1-3)

The false wisdom that comes from envy and selfish ambition produces disorder (3:16). To put it bluntly, it leads to fighting. James therefore carries his argument forthrightly to this next issue: What causes fights and quarrels among you? The term for fights is polemos; in other contexts (as in Heb 11:34), it refers to actual armed conflict and so carries a violent image. The term for quarrels is mache; it is used in other literature only for battles without material weapons and so refers more to angry disputes. James uses the terms as a pair to make his question inclusive and pointed. It is not to be avoided.

The fighting among Christians which James is addressing is an outrageous evil. Yet I have seen it accepted complacently; one church member who saw a church breaking into factions even commented cheerfully, "Oh, I love a church fight!" In reality it is a tragedy which can cripple a church's internal ministries and external witness for years before a measure of healing and purification becomes evident.

James is not talking about disagreements—the healthy conflicts that should be expected in a church whose ministries are expanding. He is writing about fighting, which is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil" in origin, and he will call its perpetrators "you adulterous people" (4:4). So serious a crime calls for a serious response. When we Christians find ourselves embroiled in fights with each other, we should examine what we are doing in the light of this paragraph. James gives us great help by answering three questions that are hard for us to face.

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