Selfish Desires or Humility?
Lesson 8: James 4:1-10


James talked about peacemakers in the latter part of chapter 3. But not everyone is a peacemaker. In fact, James will now focus on fights, quarrels and envy. Among Christians? Yes, even among us there can be strife and wrong motives. James’ language is very strong as he calls people who have wrong motives and a quarrelsome nature an “adulterous people.” With such language from an apostle, we must pay close attention.

So what must be done? James will focus on humility. He gives us a list of commands to follow, all centering on the thought of humility. We must get the focus off of our selfish desires and on God. Pride is not part of God and he will oppose the proud. He will lift up those who already think they are standing tall.


1. James says that fights and quarrels come from our inner desires. Is this always true? Illustrate this in family life. Illustrate this in the church.
Most of the time, our fights and quarrels come from our inner desires. This is true for countries as well as individuals. We are by nature selfish people, and so our desires can easily dominate us. So when someone or something gets in our way, we get angry and try to remove the offending thing or person. Often fights and quarrels are the result.
Children are a good example of this. It is easy to see when two children want the same toy. It becomes a struggle of the will to see who wins. Anger, screaming, pushing and shoving are often the result. Adults may not act as obviously, but the same things happen.
It is difficult to be selfless. We want our way in the world. Being selfish comes so easily. So it requires others to educate us about humility and sharing and giving. We need to see role models. And we have to be committed to living this lifestyle.
It ought to be easy to get your class to suggest examples of this at home. Examples of selfish desires leading to anger and quarreling are common too. Think of the anger that often results from worship styles, money issues, etc.

2. How do these desires affect our prayer life?
What is the connection between our prayer life and these desires? We often don’t receive what we want because what we want is based with wrong motives. We want things to spend on ourselves, not to use to serve others. So our desires affect our prayer life by changing what we ask for and why we ask for it. Then, after not receiving what we selfishly wanted, we get angry with God and give up, thinking prayer is worthless. So these desires can really damage how we pray or if we pray.
Our hearts must be in tune with God when we pray. But we are often self-focuses and so God answers our prayers with “No.” This is not the only reason that God says “no,” but it is one. There are times when God says “no” to a legitimate request.

3. What does James 4:1-3 say about Christians in the workplace?
This ought to be an interesting discussion. Many people can tell stories of power games in the workplace. And usually money is a factor–raises, bonuses, etc. Desire is a central motivator for workers, and often honesty and fairness are set aside to accomplish objectives. Companies also can become greedy and maximize profit in unfair or deceptive ways. How should a Christian business be run? How should Christian workers carry out their faith in the workplace? For many people, this is when we stop preaching and start meddling!!

4. Why does James call these people “adulterous”?
Calling someone “adulterous” is pretty strong language. I don’t think James has the literal act of adultery in mind here. I think he is using adultery as a metaphor for unfaithful, much like we see in Hosea and Amos. Israel was unfaithful to God just like a wife is adulterous to her husband. When our selfish desires take over, we are focused on what we want instead of what God wants. These desires become idols to us; we worship them instead of God, just like Israel did.

5. James says that “friendship with the world is hatred with God.” What does this mean? How should Christians relate to the world?
James draws a pretty stark contrast between the world and God. No middle ground. This is shocking to us because we think that friendship is a good thing. Shouldn’t we be on friendly terms with the world so that we can influence it? Aren’t there good things in the world that we can enjoy as others do?
But the “world” to James is more sinister than that. The world is controlled by the evil one. It is set up against God and God’s kingdom. So friendship cannot be allow for those who follow Christ. This world is not our “home.”
Yes, there are good things in the world, but envy and quarreling and selfishness are not good things. James is calling these Christians to put those evils away.
I think that Christians must be very careful how they interact with the world. It is too easy to be seduced and blinded to what is happening in our world to the point that we buy into it without thinking. That is why we must keep meeting together regularly so that we can be reminded of what God’s will is so that we won’t be deceived by the world.

6. Relate James 3:14-16 to James 4:1-10.
These verses are closely connected. In James 3, 14-16, you have envy and selfish ambition leading to all kinds of evil. In James 4:1-10, you have some specific examples of envy and selfish ambition–how it leads to anger and quarreling. It also shows what God’s wisdom is and what the world’s wisdom is. The world sees no problem with having desires and getting them however necessary. If we are to be wise, we must listen to God.

7. James lists ten commands in James 4:7-10. How do these address the problems he had discussed? How do we live these 10 commands today?
Here are the 10: (1) submit to God, (2) resist the devil, (3) come near to God, (4) wash your hands, (5) purify your hearts, (6) grieve, (7) mourn, (8) wail, (9) change your laughter into mourning and your joy to gloom, (10) humble yourselves.

8. James draws a petty stark contrast between the world and God. No middle ground. This is shocking to us because we think that friendship is a good thing. Shouldn’t we be on friendly terms with the world?

Have your class discuss this question but make sure scripture is the basic for our conclusions.

Brentwood Hills
Church of Christ
5120 Franklin Road
Nashville, Tennessee 37220
Phone: (615) 832-2541
Fax: (615) 832-2583