Pursue Pleasure at Your Peril

James 4:1-12

Jerry A Collins




v                 Is pride ever appropriate for a believer?

v                 What does pleasure seeking reveal about what we desire?

v                 Why is humility the remedy that God requires for the proud?


None of us is surprised to discover that there are wars, fights, and quarrels even amongst believers. We have even gotten caught in the crosshairs of such experiences ourselves. It is not a pretty picture and unfortunately does not even startle us when it happens. Perhaps James deliberately chose the phrase be slow to anger in vs 1:19 because it was potentially such a big issue within the flock of scattered Jewish believers. So James embarks upon his elaboration of the last of the big three—quick to hear 1:21-2:26; slow to speak 3:1-18; and now slow to anger 4:1-5:6. After all, he already told us that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God 1:20. Instead what it does produce are the very conflicts he immediately addresses.


1. The source of our quarrels is our pleasures v1. The question is where do these quarrels among us come from? The answer: from your desires for pleasure. These desires for pleasure he says wage a campaign within us—that is in our members. The same thing Paul said is Romans 7:23. Now not all pleasure is evil but the pursuit of pleasure in this context is. These pleasures are the kind connected to the world’s philosophy of happiness vss 3-4. God will not enter into your pursuit of worldly pleasure. That kind of pleasure only promotes conflict and divisiveness. James tells us that the pleasure ethic of the world will always bring quarreling. Any place where you pursue pleasure you will have quarrels. If you want pleasure from church, from your mate, your parents, your children, or from your car, or job, you will have quarrels. The world only has limited resources for you to compete for and so you can never be satisfied. Your mate will disappoint you. Your children may use you. Your car will rust. Your body gets old. With only limited resources available from the world to make us happy we try to win at the expense of someone else. So we become discontent, frustrated, competitive, and angry. Our desires to attain something pit us against one another.

2. What we want is out of reach v2. We go on lusting to attain the pleasure we want but it is ever out of reach (Picture: Bonus, bigger house, healthy body, name recognition). We then become envious and we quarrel—we commit murder. Just as Christ said and John declared whoever hates his brother is a murderer 1 J 3:15. Our jealous hostility toward one another James says is a murderous spirit. All that is left is bro to bro conflict—we fight and quarrel. So we turn the church into a battlefield. Worse still, we do not turn to God to meet our needs—we do not have because we do not ask. We cannot let God determine whether my desire for something is in my best interests or not, and is the reason for so much prayerlessness—what if this is not what God wants for me even tho I want it so badly? So, we have a problem with one another—quarreling over limited resources to assuage our pleasure pursuit—and a problem with God because I cannot trust Him for my best interests—resulting in prayerlessness. One reason why you stop praying is because when you prayed for something you were particularly interested in, God did not come thru in a way you perceived that He agreed with you, and you stopped praying. On the other hand….. 

3. Prayer will not help v3 when you do bring God into it, prayer will not help because your motive for praying is selfish. You ask badly and prayer is not for the purpose of pursuing your pleasures with God’s help. God will not give you what will cause quarrels.

4. You commit spiritual adultery to have your pleasure v4-5. So you become friends with the world because the world will give you pleasure. James had already warned us to keep oneself unspotted from the world 1:27 immediately followed up by a rebuke of favoritism. What emerges is a demeaning portrait of believers from James audience—materialistic in outlook; cultivating wealthy connections for advancement; while pursuing financial success for themselves—all of which is worldly to the core. James says this friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God—creates hostility toward God. You cannot have it both ways. Craving materialism, immorality, wealth, or acclaim is spiritual adultery—you adulteresses. The same sin God accused Israel of. God is not indifferent to this v5. God does not want you to have the pleasures from association of the world. If God is jealous, His Spirit is also. God’s indwelling Spirit yearns jealously for us and He is grieved by our prideful pursuit of the friendship of the world.


1. This grace is inexhaustible v 6. There is no need to compete for grace because it is a limitless resource. God never runs out of grace, never exhausts it’s supply, He always has more to give. The arrogant should not expect any—only judgment—but to the humble He makes it abundantly available. This grace is in the form of whatever it is you truly need—God sees to it that you are supplied. Our problem is letting God determine what it is we need when we think we know what that is. No one will ever be proud of something in heaven. Pride leaves God out and promotes independence and autonomy. It is Satan’s lie to us and we believe it. None of us is independent of God. Pride assumes you have achieved it and Pride is never good for any reason. Humility assumes it is a gift from God and always realistically remembers God as part of the equation.

2. Repenting is the cure for one pursuing worldly pleasure 7-10. He commands the following steps:

(1) Begin with submission to God 7. The cure for conflict is vertical not horizontal. When you are the cause of quarrels, you have a problem with God and the needs to be attended to first. (2) Resist the devil. He will flee from you. He is not invincible and His attempts to throttle you comes form the allurement the world offers to you. (3) Draw near to God v8 and He will reciprocate with tokens of His nearness. (4) This is done by confession of sin and then cleansing hand from sin, purifying your hearts from double-minded mentality. Get the world out of your system. This is how you draw near to God. (5) Be miserable, mourn and weep as you deal with your sin. It is a serious matter to attend to. It is not a time for frivolously admitting wrong and going on your way but understanding the depth of your wickedness in God’s site while pursuing the contaminated ways of the world v9. (6) The objective is to ultimately humble ourselves in His presence—that is within our spirit and heart. While you make yourself low God promises to lift you high. God will certainly repay humiliation with exaltation in His time and choosing. In other words, God obligates Himself to meet your needs and serve your best interests. And He determines those needs and those interests. Instead of proudly setting yourself against God by worldly pursuits of pleasure, humble yourself & He will take care of you.

1. Don’t ever pursue the world’s philosophies, allurements, or solutions to meet your needs. It will get you in trouble with God.

2. Recognize God as the source of all you need and repent every time you forget that to be true.