1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:1 - 7 (NRSV)
Linus and Lucy are talking:
Linus: It says in my science book that the world revolves around the sun.
Lucy: I thought it revolved around me.
For the Christian there are really only two choices when it comes to attitude – selfish or servant. Let’s consider both:
All choices incur consequences. To choose a selfish attitude brings certain consequences that are set as a matter of God’s unchangeable nature. Here are three basic prices you pay when you opt to be selfish:
1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
James 4:1 (KJV)
Wars and fightings – what a profound way to describe the human conflict caused by selfishness. I immediately get images of the daytime shows, Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, with all the in-your-face antics.
These, according to James, are the symptoms which appear when our inner desires are out of balance. God gave us desires for food, sex, breathing and even to possess – these are necessary to life. But, when the desire becomes so overwhelming it takes over, it is out of balance – it is then lust. It controls, rather than doing what it was intended – to remind of our basic needs. It can cause life to spin out of balance.
Bedouin camel drivers in the mid-East understand how relationships can get out-of-balance this way. Camels are notoriously moody. Their selfish ways are legendary.
From time to time a camel-driver senses his camel is fed-up with the owner. Wanting to head-off an explosion, the owner will hand his own outer coat to the camel. The camel will bite, spit-at, and trample the coat into the desert floor, until all that is left is a thread or two. Once the camel’s anger is spent, the relationship can get back on balance.
Listen to how another translation describes the problem:
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. James 4.1 The Message New Testament
The price of a selfish attitude includes distorted personal relationships – wars, fightings. And,
2Ye 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. James 4.2 (KJV)
Last week James told us (3.17-18) that if we are truly seeking peace, giving in to God was the path we need to walk (Let Go; Let God). The opposite here – selfishly wanting things so badly you’re willing to go to any length to get it – is the foundation for the opposite of peace: FRUSTRATION!
James also says we don’t ask God (or pray) because instinctively we know our hearts are selfish. Did you hear about the two guys who were marooned on a desert island? After a year they couldn’t stand each other. One day Rufus found an old green bottle washed up on the shore. He rubbed it, and, voila! – a genie appeared. George saw what was happening, and grabbed the bottle – Gimmie a wish, genie.
The genie refused, saying, Rufus found me, he gets to make a wish. But, I tell you what – whatever he wishes for, money, women, power – I’ll give you twice what he gets.
George said, Sounds good!
Rufus just smiled and said, Okay, genie, beat me half to death!
You cannot ask a God of mercy and grace for blessings when you’ve got murder in your heart. That is what Jesus meant when he said,
23“So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
The personal unhappiness, which is caused by a selfish attitude, is going to be most evident in the lack of peace you have in your relationship to others. But it will also show up in…
3Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4Ye 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 4.3-4 (KJV)
There is another passage in the New Testament that is very familiar, which says the same thing. The context is about money, but it applies, because the concept of a selfish attitude is in view:
24“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. Matthew 6.24a
The bottom line about selfish attitudes, and the price you pay, is that sooner or later you come to the place where you don’t even pray, because you know God won’t answer. He hasn’t given you favorable answers to the prayers you did pray, because they were self-serving; YOU were in charge.
You weren’t praying; you were shopping! That’s too much of a price to pay! Besides the price for that selfish attitude, see:
What are the characteristics of selfishness?
Paul describes the power sin holds in a selfish person…
17But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things. 18I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. Romans 7:17-18 (NLT)
If you say yes long enough to sin and selfishness, there comes a time when you will not be able to say yes to God. I have some wild grapevines in my yard. They have grown to immense sizes, wrapped around large pine trees – well, they used to be pine trees – now they’re termite food…dead!
Those vines would have been easy to pull out by the root a few years ago. Now they are like trees, themselves. Selfishness allows sin a strength in you that – sooner or later – you won’t be able to defeat! It is powerful, and…
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves James 4.1 The Message New Testament
Notice the emphasis added on the personal pronouns. Selfishness is a personal thing. This is the self-contained life lived without Christ. That’s the attitude that hears a sermon and thinks, Wow, the preacher really told ‘em that time!
A preacher once had a member who was like that. He always had the same comment after the sermon, You sure told ‘em today, Preacher! This dear fellow was the most faithful member, always attending every time the church doors were open. But, somehow he always seemed to think the sermon was for everyone else, and not for him. The pastor prepared a sermon to speak to the issue.
One day the pastor’s opportunity came in the form of a terrible snowstorm. Nobody showed up except for – you guessed it – Brother Told ‘EM was the only member of the congregation. The pastor hauled out his sermon and pulled every trigger available. At the end of the two-man worship hour, guess what was heard going out the door? Preacher, if they’d-a-been here you sure woulda’ told ‘em this time!
The profile of selfishness is powerful, personal….and,
Sooner or later, no matter how you may attempt to hide a selfish attitude, it WILL become public. I went to serve a church where they had fired or killed the last several preachers. Do you know the biggest problem I had in reaching people as I personally witnessed in that community? It was the reputation of the church for being mean and cold.
People couldn’t believe anyone representing that church had something healing to offer when the only thing that ever came out of it was gossip, hatred and murdering of reputations.
15But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. Galatians 5:15 (NLT)
I am thankful for the genuine sweet-spirited ways of this congregation. But you need to know the seeds are there, because we are human – the seeds are always there, and we should guard against the selfishness. It will hurt in private, and also cripple the ministry when it is public. The profile of a selfish attitude is powerful, personal, public, and…
3And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. 4You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. 5What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful? James 4:3-5 New Living Translation
Do you know what the worst kind of lie is? A self-lie; it is the kind with which we create a kind of fantasyland in which we can live without God’s control.
There is an old story about a happy little boy who went out into the field. He had on his baseball cap and was carrying a baseball and bat. And on his face there was a look of tremendous confidence.
Cocking his bat, he tossed the ball into the air, saying, I’m the greatest batter in the world! Then he swung and missed. Strike one, he said.
He picked up the ball, examined it, and then threw it into the air again. As he swung, he repeated, I’m the greatest batter in the world. Once again he missed. Strike two, he said.
This time, he stopped to examine his bat to make sure there wasn’t a hole in it. Then he picked up the ball, adjusted his cap, and tossed the ball into the air for the 3rd time.
He repeated again, I’m the greatest batter in the world, and swung with all his might - and missed for the 3rd straight time. Wow he cried, What a pitcher. I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!
We may tell ourselves many things, but selfishness is a hard pill to swallow. However, if the stakes are big enough, we may be convinced. Have you seen the movie, The Matrix? I can’t really recommend it because of the violence and language. However, the point is made about how perverted the human mind is willing to go for personal comfort:
In the movie computers (called the Matrix) take over the world. The computers keep their human slaves in bondage by plugging wires into their minds and creating for them a false reality. The humans think they are free, but they are actually entombed in little pods where the computers feed off their energy.
A few humans have escaped and are battling the machines, but life is hard in the real world. Instead of the dreamland of the Matrix, the world is full of sweat and stress and combat with the computers at every turn.
In one scene a human, named Mr. Reagan, who knows the truth and has spent nine years on the side of freedom, considers going back over to the side of the Matrix. Even though he knows it's not the real world, it is an easier life.
Sitting at a table in a fancy restaurant, Reagan negotiates with a computerized agent about the decision. The Matrix agent, dressed in a suit and not eating a thing, asks, Do we have a deal, Mr. Reagan?
Reagan, looking like a balding motorcycle gang member and eating a juicy steak, says, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? — he bites the steak and sighs — Ignorance is bliss.
Then we have a deal, says the agent.
I don't want to remember nothing, says Reagan, nothing! You understand? And I want to be rich. You know, someone important…like an actor.
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.
The biggest self-lie is the lust for comfort, power or things. That is because lust is never filled. Jesus told that to the woman at the well:
The biggest self-lie is the lust for comfort, power or things. That is because lust is never filled. Jesus told that to the woman at the well:
13Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: John 4:13 (KJV)
Howard Hughes, the first of the billionaires, was asked one time, How much money is enough? His answer described the profile of selfishness: Just a little more.
Choices, like living in airports, are like friendships. You can get on the plane – or not; you simply cannot do both.
The same can be said of Christ – you can go to Him, or you can live a worldly, comfortable, selfish life…you just cannot do both!
If you choose Christ and His way, the next part is for you…
I want to share with you a few principles about how to have a servant attitude…, which is about as far opposite from a selfish attitude as you can get:
Genesis to Revelation is all about conflict. From the time Cain killed his brother…to the Corinthian Christians who sued each other in the courts…to Euodia and Syntyche, sisters in the Philippian church who were constantly sniping at each other, probably over who was going to wear the purple dress on a given Sunday…right down to today…conflict is normal. The question is, How are you going to deal with the inevitable conflicts in life?
In God’s economy there are only two ways to deal with conflict, selfishly or as servant. Cain was the selfish example. He didn’t like the approval his brother got from God, so Cain got rid of Abel. He killed him – the first murder in the history, recorded on the pages of Genesis.
The servant model is found in many places. The prototype for us, however is Jesus. In John’s Gospel (Chp 13) we find Jesus dealing with the selfishness of the disciples. Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, and preparing the disciples for life without his physical presence to comfort and guide them.
What were the disciples doing? They were dividing up the executive perks – arguing over whom was going to sit in the seats of power in the kingdom.
Jesus got up from the table, put on a towel and – to the amazement of his followers washed twelve pairs of dirty, stinky feet – even the feet of Judas!
You say, I can’t do that! I say, You’re plumb on target!
6But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4.6-7
Humility isn’t an easy thing. The word humble in the language of the New Testament comes from a few words linked together which mean, literally, face in the dust.
When Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency, by the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sam Rayburn took him aside.
From here on out, you're going to have lots of people around you. They'll try to put up a wall around you and cut you off from any ideas but theirs. They'll tell you what a great man you are, Harry. But you and I both know you ain't.
There’s a human tendency to hide our low-down ways, and exalt our more noble attributes. Where I was raised we had a good, old fashioned term for that – braggin’.
To receive grace is to put your face in the dust. It is to turn everything upside down from the way the world gives its approval. It is to recognize the truth about you and sin…and agree with God.
Thomas Linacre was king's physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England. To say the least, he was among the most respected men in all of English society of that time.
Late in life Linacre decided to enter the Catholic priesthood. In those days the common people did not read the Bible – only the priests were allowed to read. As Linacre entered the monastery, he was given a copy of the Scriptures. He began reading the four Gospels for himself. Linacre was amazed and troubled. His remark:
Either these are not the Gospels, he said, or we are not Christians.
So, the question before the house, then, is, am I ready to follow Christ all the way? Am I ready to exalt my low ways (confess my sins), and hide my good points (not depend on my self-goodness)? Am I?
 MELVIN M. NEWLAND, in a sermon, SermonCentral.com
 The Matrix (Warner Brothers, 1999), rated R, written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California, PreachingToday.com
 Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker)
 Citation: Os Guinness, The Call (Multnomah, 1998), pp. 109-110