Arguing and Quarrelling

by Catherine McNiel on November 22, 2021

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
                                                                                                                    —James 4:1

I love reading Bible scholars and theologians, but one of the statements I’ve found most insightful about Scripture is attributed to the novelist Mark Twain. He said: It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

These wise words came to mind as I read today’s chapter in James. We Christians argue about all sorts of doctrinal, social, or political differences, and often believe we’re defending truth, defending God. But James has our number. He tells us that all our arguing and quarreling comes from our broken and unfulfilled desires. We can’t have what we want, so we fight each other.

Then he outlines the way was ought to behave. First, before God: Submit to God. Be humble. Come near to God. Wash our hands and purify our hearts. Be broken before God.

Then, with our hearts and our desires submitted and lain at God’s feet, how should we treat each other? Don’t slander each other. Don’t speak against each other. Don’t boast. Rely on God.

You don’t have to listen for long before one thing becomes obvious about us today: we spend an enormous amount of time and effort quarrelling and arguing with each other, slandering and speaking against each other (in person and online). But according to God’s Word in James, these tactics do not defend God, His Word, or truth (however “correct” we may be). Instead, we should submit our hearts and desires in humility, then serve each other. That’s where we’ll find the truth; that’s where we work for God. Like Mark Twain implied, it’s not hard to understand, but it’s hard to do.

A thousand years or so earlier in 1 Chronicles, David had a desire: build a temple for God. Sounds like a good desire, right? But when he submitted himself to God, he learned through wise counsel that God had other plans. Instead of arguing with Nathan or slandering him, David submitted in worship. May we do the same.

Questions for reflection and discussion: Why do you quarrel and argue? What desires are underneath your anxious or angry responses? How can you submit your desires instead to God? What parts of the Bible are easy for you to understand but hard to follow?

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