James’ stark description of Christian living made it clear that a choice to follow Christ was not only a choice to swim against the tide of normal human existence, but also a conscious decision to suffer for one’s beliefs. His opening statement, “My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2) might have seemed like a slap in the face to the many Jewish Christians that were experiencing extreme persecution as a result of their decision to openly identify themselves with Jesus, the Savior of the World. It seems probable from reading James’ letter that conflict had deteriorated the spiritual health of the church located in Jerusalem. James’ harsh depiction of the ravages of an unbridled tongue may have come from real life experiences that had prompted him to address the problem in a practical way, through a reminder of the lesson Jesus taught his followers in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3, 3:10-12).
James associated spiritual conflict with a lack of humility and an imbalanced prayer life. Apparently, people were selfishly seeking God’s blessing on their own lives and neglecting to intercede for the needs of their friends and family members. James stated, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3). The Greek word James used that is translated lusts, hedone (hay-don-ay’) means to please. This word is linked to the ethical theory of hedonism which suggests that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life. James was probably not trying to convince Christians that the pursuit of pleasure was wrong, but that it was disruptive to the pursuit of godly living in the sense that suffering was actually good for them because it would lead to spiritual growth.
James chose to illustrate the spiritual conflict that selfishness produces by likening it to an internal battle or civil warfare. The phrase “war in your members” (James 4:1) suggests that spiritual warfare is more of an internal than external battle. It’s possible that James was referring to the voices in our heads that tell us what to do. To a certain extent, all sin is a type of temporary insanity. We know we shouldn’t do it, and are often times aware of the negative consequences that will result from our bad behavior, but we go ahead and do it anyway because we think the pleasure it will bring us is worth it. James argued against hedonism when he stated, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The Greek word translated enmity, echthra means hostility and denotes the opposite of God’s unconditional love (G2189). Another way of stating James argument would be to say that you hate God when you choose to ignore his commandments.