36. Battling Desires

Meditations in James: 36 : Battling Desires

Jas 4:1,2     What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

Honesty about oneself is quite difficult. The trouble is that it’s us living this life and we find it difficult to be objective about ourselves. To know yourself is difficult, but of great value when you do. If you know yourself you know how far you can be pushed and you step back before your grace runs out. If you know yourself you know the gifts and talents you have and rejoice over them and give thanks to God for His provision of them. Yes, if you know yourself, you know that any goodness you have is from God. If you know yourself you know that deep down there are harbouring things that belong to darkness which should never see the light of day and which only God can deal with. Being honest with yourself, we have already said, brings humility. Being honest with yourself brings a greater reliance upon the Lord. Being honest with yourself is about knowing what you are like on the inside, for it is what goes on in the mind, in the heart, in the soul, that makes us what we are, and it is sometimes  very difficult to be honest with what we are really like.

Our problem is that we like others to think that we’re nice and we like to think ourselves that we are nice. This is a problem because when something comes to the surface which runs contrary to that belief, we panic or make excuses and justify ourselves instead of facing it and dealing with it. In other words we allow it to continue instead of putting it to death with God’s help.

Every time you struggle to cope with some other person, it is because something in you is not right. If you get angry, hostile, resentful, envious or generally upset over some other person, it is because something is not right in you. This is what James is referring to when he says, What causes fights and quarrels among you? A fight or quarrel is something that starts inside you. We’ve already talked at length about the tongue which expresses that hostility and brings it into the open and establishes it, but the hostility itself is within you. Whenever we feel resentful about another person, it is because we have something wrong on the inside. James goes on to give us an answer why this happens: Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? Everything, he says, in this context happens because you have desires that are struggling within you. Now this isn’t the sort of desire that wants a new car, this is desire that simply wants or needs things for self. This is about desires to be accepted, desires to feel good about yourself, desires to feel in control. Consider each of those.

We have a desire to be accepted. If we have poor understanding of God’s love we will not realize that we are utterly accepted by Him, and therefore our life is based on gaining acceptance. We want to feel good about ourselves, but that good feeling will only come when we feel that others take us as we are or, even more, look up to us. If we really don’t know who we are in Christ, we will struggle and struggle to become someone, and that includes being in control. When you are insecure about yourself you try to feel in control because then you can feel safe. If we have never some to the place where we know that God is in total control and that He is for us and with us, then we will feel insecure and will be constantly battling to create a sense of control to create this feeling of security.

All of these struggling inner desires are linked as part of our old sinful self which is warring in the world for achievement. What makes it worse, as James says, You want something but don’t get it. There is a sense of frustration that drives us on. We want to achieve, we want to be well thought of, we want to be someone, but it never seems to be happening and so we struggle and battle, struggle and battle and, in the world, that is what we see when people move into criminal activity. It’s as James says, You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. That killing for many is character assassination. We put down others in our desire to climb higher to achieve prominence, to achieve success, to be someone. These things are all part of the same package. For a few who allow Satan to totally dominate them, they literally kill and we hear of such things daily on our TV screens, but it’s all part of the same thing.

This is very real, and is the practical working out of our lives. James will go on to give answers but, again, he first wants us to face the malaise before we see answers. Many Christians shy away from this and pretend everything is all right, but deep down they know it’s not. You know you haven’t come to a place of wholeness in Christ, a place of security, if you feel uncomfortable with other people, if you find them impossible to be nice to, if everything in you goes tense in certain situations involving people. Don’t run away, this is simply an area to expose to the Lord’s love and let Him deal with. If you feel uneasy or worse with certain people, it may possibly be because you don’t know the social etiquette and don’t know how to respond in the circumstances, but mostly it is because you haven’t yet come to peace with God over who you are. Can we face that? Can we be honest about it? Can we bring it out in the open and confess it to the Lord so He can come and fill us with His love and acceptance? Let it be.

18. Injuries Inflicted

Lessons from the Law: No.18 : Injuries Inflicted

Ex 21:18,19 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.

From capital crimes the Law moves to minor injuries and four situations are envisaged in verses 18 to 27, two involving fights and two involving slaves or servants. First, the first of the two fight situations: the Law recognises that sinful men will have upsets and disagreements and in the heat of the moment it will turn violent. Murder and manslaughter have already been covered, so now we consider lesser injuries incurred during such upsets. In our verses above there is an argument which turns violent and one man sustains injuries that confine him to bed. Very well, says the Law, that happens and it is no big issue, but there are two things to be considered.

The first is the fact that the man confined to his bed to recover from his injuries will not be able to work and so he should be compensated for his loss of work by the other man who caused the injury. Second, and this is quite delightful, the man who caused the injury is to go to the injured man and “see that he is completely healed.” In other words, he is to care for him, and that means have contact which, by its very nature, gives an opportunity for rebuilding a relationship after the upset. The picture of the one caring for the one he has injured could well be included in our own modern laws. It is part of the reconciliation work that is sometimes being done today in the legal system. Perhaps we are slowly catching up with God’s law.

The second ‘fight situation’ occurs a few verses later:  If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Ex 21:22-25) i.e. should the pregnant wife of one of the men (for that is the likely scenario) seek to intervene and stop the fight and be injured and give birth prematurely but there is no other injury, then a fine shall be imposed on the other man for having caused it, assessed as a compromise of what the husband demands and the court agrees. For more serious injuries caused, the penalty is to match the injury.  This is a ‘limiting law’, given to limit there being revenge.  The idea is that the punishment should equal the harm caused and no more. It thus stops worse happening through revenge.

Next we move on to the situations involving servants or slaves: If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. (Ex 21:20,21) i.e. if a slave is killed by a master the laws of murder and manslaughter will apply. If it is a temporary injury there is to be no penalty. To us today, parts of this appear quite unfair and I think it is right to say that it is unfair. It is, of course a law legislating for a situation that we would not want to happen today but which would continue on for thousands of years.

Slavery is an outworking of a sinful Fallen World. In a redeemed world it would not happen. As I have commented a number of times in other places, I believe the Lord tolerated slavery (never commending it) simply because to abolish it would mean the complete changing of the mindset of a particular nation or series of nations and it would be many years before that could come about. The Lord never forces us to change our thinking and so slavery was an unpleasant face of humanity all over the world for a long time. Thus this law is inhibiting the behaviour of slave masters for they would be fearful of killing a slave because of the repercussions. Striking a slave in the heat of anger, presumably because of disobedience, was not what God wants to happen, but is tolerable in as much as slavery was tolerable until ‘civilised mankind’ could eventually see otherwise.

Finally the second of the servant laws here: If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.” (Ex 21:26,27) If a servant is injured, the penalty to compensate for that injury is that the servant is to be released. As one commentator has said, slavery in Israel was ‘rural, domestic and small scale’, yet the Law made sure it still was concerned for the welfare of such workers. In the Jewish community, the slave was not without rights as was the case with slavery elsewhere in the world. Yes, slavery may have existed, but the Israelite master who had slaves had to care for them and where his own sinful nature resulted in them being injured, the Law was there to speak up for them. This is not a comfortable area of law but it is law that seeks to work within the failures of a Fallen World and do what it can to protect those without power.