James on Conflict

James’ insights concerning conflict management are endless in his short letter. I want to take a minute to perform a 30,000 flyover of this letter and draw out some practical applications for conflict management and resolution from James.

In the beginning of his letter, he starts out by telling his readers to “consider it all joy” when troubles come. James says that it’s those troubles in your life that mature you and make you perfect and complete, not in a literal sense of course (1:2-4). Considering trials to be an all joyous thing in life is a principle to live by in the midst of conflict. Think about it, James is saying to be joyful “when you meet trials of various kinds”. First, he says “when”. Trials will come, so be prepared to receive them with joy. Second, he says “various kinds” of trials. This means, consider it all joy when you lose your child in a car accident, when you are diagnosed with cancer, when you lose your job, when your spouse leaves you, when you break your arm, etc.; you get the point. The wisdom James is leading us to, is that even though some trials may be induced by sin, they all have the potential to lead us to complete maturity in Christ, for that we are to be joyful.

Immediately after he tells us to be joyful when any trial comes your way, he leads us towards more wisdom as to how we should approach God in the midst of a trial (1:5-8). “Don’t go at it alone”, James basically says when he writes “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God”. It seems as if James is being a little facetious by saying “if”, as he is writing to the twelve tribes, who all share the basic understanding of their limitations and need for God. None the less, he reminds us to ask God to give to us what we lack in the midst of conflict, and God will generously give to us. But this asking is to be coupled with faith in God; faith that believes and trusts that God is faithful to provide for us what we really need and trusting that what He will give to us accordingly.

In 1:12, James says that there is blessing for those who faithfully endure trials and are faithful to the Lord. The trials we endure faithfully will be our crown of life; that’s our blessing. If you want fullness of life, then “remain steadfast under trial”. The following passages explain what it looks like to not be steadfast under trials; blaming God for your temptations (vv. 13-14). God does not tempt, says James, for it’s your own lust of the flesh that entices you. That lust leads to sin, and that sin leads to death, thus, the need for Christ.

The brother who is “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” is the brother who is walking towards righteousness and is heeding God’s word with humility (vv. 19-21). I am assuming that the brother who is “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” is the brother who also becomes a doer of the word. It is also the brother who learns to expose the “dark side” of his humanity by not forgetting what he looks like and why he needed the atonement of Jesus to make him right with God. This is the brother who will be fruitful in all he does because he knows that it is the Gospel of Jesus which makes him who he is, thus prompting him to be a doer of the word and not merely a hearer (vv. 22-25).

In chapter 2, verse 13b, James says “mercy triumphs over judgement”. Much can be said about this passage. What I want to focus on is our response to others in the midst of conflict. Our tendency towards those who unjustly act toward us or others is to condemn them and slander their name to make ourselves feel better or to feel like the “justice-maker”. There is only one “justice-maker”, and His name is Jesus, who showed us mercy even though we only deserved judgement. If this understanding can bleed over into our relationships in life, it will go well with our souls. If not, we will be in constant conflict and will destroy many relationships.

Chapter 3 of James starts off by warning us about being a teacher (speaker) of the word, because our words steer the whole body and have the ability to steer others as well. “We all stumble” James says, so we need to be careful not to stumble when it comes to teaching the word of God. It may seem to be a small thing to instruct someone in the way of the Lord, but to instruct them in a way that is false or manipulative can lead towards grave destruction for people’s souls. This destruction can also be started by the poison of anyone’s untamed tongue. Our tongue can “bless our Lord” and it can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God”. Tame the tongue, and many possible events of conflict may be reconciled much easier than if the tongue is not tamed. Following this wisdom, James keeps it going in vv. 13-14:

“13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.”

James knows this all too well. He and his brother John were full of “righteous” (so they thought) ambition when they asked Jesus if they could sit at the right and the left hand of Jesus in glory (Mark 10:35-37). The result of their selfish actions led to arguments and other sinful feelings towards them from the other disciples. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition never build anyone or anything up; they only tear down, causing disorder and dysfunction. Instead, James says “by your good conduct” show yourself to be meek and wise. Leave the rewards up to God.

James addresses idolatry in chapter 4. “What causes quarrels…among you?…You desire and do not have…” (4:1a, 2a). Okay, can James put it any more plainly? Let me put James’ words in my own words while adding an emphasis on the word “you” as I could imagine James saying this in person to each one reading: “You” want something that God hasn’t given “you”, or might not even want “you” to have, and “you” are not satisfied without having what “you” want. “You” become the focus of life, and “you” are not happy! So “you” kill to get what “you” want. “You” are jealous over what others have. “You” lie to get what “you” want and cover it up in a bed of lies that hurts and destroys other people. “You” manipulate the truth to make yourself look good and for selfish gain.

What part of “you” being the focus of life looks attractive? Self-love is one of the most powerful idols in our lives. That’s why James says to “submit…to God” (v. 7). Submitting to God is how we resist the devil, and our flesh. Submission to God is making God the focus of life, after all, He is our life (Col. 3:4). Finally, to wrap up chapter 4, James says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (v. 17). So, in conflict, James says do what you know to do, for if you don’t do it, you will be sinning, and most likely, will be the source of conflict.

In chapter 5, James talks about being patient. Just as the farmer waits for his crops to grow, we should be patient as well. In our patience, James says we are to not “grumble against one another”, instead be patient in our sufferings as the prophets of the Old Testament were; sometimes. “Don’t swear” is another word of wisdom. Instead, James says, “let your ‘yes’ be yes and ‘no’ be no”, that way your word will always be good to others.

Consider God’s word as your counselor next time you find yourself in a hard spot with relationships. But before you do that, I must remind you that looking to Scripture for practical wisdom before you look to it as Good News for you to believe, will only create in you a heart that obeys for wisdom’s sake, not a heart that obeys for Christ’s sake. Once Scripture (the gospel of Jesus) is believed in faith and Jesus is your savior (not wisdom or anything else), then Scripture will be a great guide to you for the rest of your life. Take God at His word when He says: “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

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