Mind Your Manners

Jon J. Polk
Dec 7, 2019 · 2 min read

James 4:1–2a
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.


Outraged by people who keep cutting in front of him to use the pay phone at a Chinese restaurant, TV’s Seinfeld character George Costanza loudly proclaims to no one in particular, “You know, we’re living in a society! We’re supposed to act in a civilized way.”

Even neurotic, self-absorbed, slacker George gets it.

James focuses his attention on the conflicts and quarrels that apparently plagued the early church in Jerusalem, where he was the leader. He pointedly announces the source of the discord: selfishness and greed.

James proclaims this is the root problem behind all of our disagreements, “You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”

We live in a culture driven by marketing and promotion. Children want the trendiest clothing. Teens desire the newest tech devices. Adults fight for the best job in order to drive the ultimate car and live in the biggest house.

We live in a culture driven by outrage and offense. A word misspoken can set us off. The tiniest misstep can result in a cavalcade of online abuse. We want our rights protected regardless of the impact it may have on others.

We want to be right and we want others to know we are right. We want to get what we desire and we want others to provide it for us. We want our world to work on our terms and provide for our needs.

We’re selfish creatures. James is right in stating that the conflicts that arise between us start from the sinful conflicts that exist deep within us.

One of the most famous presidential quotes in US history is from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Regardless of political preference, we understand the selfless sentiment that Kennedy expressed during an anxious time in US history.

Too often in life, business, politics, and society, selfishness and it’s cousin greed reign supreme rather than the Christ-like virtues of selflessness and generosity.

According to James, the antidote for our selfish desires is found in humility and submitting ourselves to God (4:6–10). Living together in a civil society requires that we exorcise the demons of selfishness and greed that often motivate our behaviors. We cannot live as double-minded people, attempting to both serve God and satisfy our own cravings.

Instead… ask not what your God can do for you. Ask what you can do for your God.


Originally published at https://theparkforum.org.

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