“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
God absolutely loves us. It is the one truth that ties all the scriptures together, encompasses all of the commandments, and ensures his faithful disciples of their salvation. We know he loves us because he offered his beloved son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus, the full embodiment of God’s love, willingly gave himself over to a horrific death to demonstrate the depth of his love for us. It is that very love that beckons us out of darkness and into God’s glorious light. Our obedience to Christ’s command to love is what reflects that light and draws the lost to us so they can hear the truth and be saved.
If we are called to love one another as Christ loved us, enough to suffer indignity, forgive any offense, and lay down our lives for each other, what causes fights and quarrels among us? James 4:1 tells us that the root of our discord comes from the desires battling within us. The Greek for the word desire in this passage means lust or desire for pleasure. When we give in to those yearnings and allow ourselves to covet what we do not have, we destroy the unity that Christ so fervently prayed for (John 17:19-26) in order to obtain what we think will please us. The desires that war within us take many forms: desire for leadership, recognition, possession, money, comfort, sympathy, more time, relationships, and the desire to be right and to have things done our way.
When we see others attain the status, recognition, and possessions we long for a hearts can begin to envy. When our obligations and commitments demand the time we would rather spend doing something else we can become embittered. When our desire to be right supersedes our desire to be righteous before God we give in to pride. We long for what we do not have and it wages war within our hearts. Instead of supporting our leaders we grumble against them. Rather than give sacrificially of our time and effort, we withdraw our hearts. Instead of acting in humility and considering others as greater than ourselves, we pridefully justify our unloving attitudes and actions towards our brothers and sisters. In those moments we cease to be content with all that God has already given us, and his grace is no longer sufficient. Instead of being selfless, we imitate the world and pursue selfish ambition. We are no longer acting in accordance with the spirit, but have once again become worldly (1 Corinthians 3:3).
James 4 goes on to tell us that when we covet something we do not have, we are willing to quarrel, fight and even kill to get it. It is hard for some of us to imagine going to the extreme of killing someone to get what we want, but consider this, the Bible says the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It does not say the wages of some sins or only the really “big” sins is death. All sin comes at a cost, from the little white lie to acts genocide, and death is the penalty that must be paid. It is because of sin that Christ had to die. When we harbor selfish desires in our hearts or fight to obtain them we, we are crucifying Christ, and the destruction, unfortunately, does not end there. There remains a fate far worse than physical death. In our selfishness we kill others spiritually and further condemn an already dying world. Since anyone in Christ has eternal life, it is not our lives that we forfeit by our sins if we repent. Now ask yourself, if all sin leads to death, and the death paid is not your own, who are you willing to kill? Are the souls of your coworkers, friends, roommates, parents, siblings and children worth your earthly desires?
Wanting something is not inherently bad. It is when our desire for something becomes more important than our righteousness before God that we cross the line into sin. It becomes sin when winning an argument is more important than being unified, when your spouse/roommate leaving a mess leads to discord in your home, when your personal time becomes more important than making meetings of the body, when having a boyfriend/girlfriend is more important than having a right relationship with God, and when someone getting raised up instead of you is enough to make you withdraw your heart. There are many more examples, but they all come down to one thing. Anytime something you desire leads to disunity, jealousy, bitterness, or fighting between believers, it has become more important than Christ’s sacrifice. You’ve traded his life for your pleasure.
James 4:2-3 explains clearly why we do not get the things we want. It tells us that, “we do not have, because we do not ask God,” and when we do ask, “we do not receive, because we ask with wrong motives, that we may spend what we get on our pleasures.” God longs to give us the desires of our heart and will willingly grant them as long as they are in accordance with his will (1 John 5:14-15). All we have to do is simply ask (John 14:13-14). Instead of allowing frustration and bitterness to undo the work of the Spirit within us, we should submit ourselves to God by examining our hearts, humbling ourselves before him and petitioning him for what we desire. Only then can we love one another as Christ calls us to and be the light that this dark world so desperately needs.