“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.” James 4:1,2
I’m in the middle of the fourth decade of my life, but I can still act like a toddler.
Now, before you laugh at me, I’ll bet you can relate, at least in some way.
Here are two situations that can potentially bring out my inner toddler:
• Not getting what I want when I want it
• When people don’t do what I want
Have you ever seen a toddler throw a yelling, kicking tantrum when they don’t get their way? (Especially in a restaurant or grocery store!) Or maybe you’ve heard their supersonic screams when their parents won’t take them where they want to go? Not a pleasant experience!
You know, it’s a sad reality, but many adults can sometimes act like selfish, immature toddlers. We probably won’t throw a tantrum, but if we don’t get our way, we can easily get mad and start an argument, which is basically the adult version of a tantrum.
Or maybe…we get passive-aggressive.
So…why do we act this way?
Well, because in either scenario we come face to face with the harsh reality that we aren’t in control. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Such was the situation in James 4. The gatherings among these Jesus-followers teemed with conflict. “Fights” and “quarrels” characterized their interactions with one another.
And the root cause of the dissension?
James’ answer: “You want something but don’t get it. You cannot have what you want” (James 4:2).
Sounds like selfish toddler behavior to me.
Like a loving father would with his toddler, James is chastising them for their conduct. Eugene Peterson, in his introduction to the book of James, writes:
“Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with.”
James is shining a light on this kind of behavior. He knows it cannot be ignored and cannot continue.
But this isn’t just a problem for the ancient Church.
Conflicts and quarrels still abound among believers today. This behavior plays out in our churches, in our homes, on social media, etc.
Sadly, oftentimes, we don’t act any differently than non-believers, do we? (Incidentally, when we do this, we undermine our witness to a watching world.)
Allow me to state the obvious:
This is not the way Jesus intends for us to behave.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes His disciples as “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Each of us is called to manifest the peace of Christ in our little corner of the world. Not only are we to make peace, but we are also to maintain peace, and de-escalate conflicts while “making every effort to live at peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14).
With this in mind, when our inner toddler gets agitated, we don’t respond with childish immaturity, squabbling with those around us. Rather, we pause long enough to calm down, letting “the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,” govern our behavior and rule over our relationships (Colossians 3:15).
Imagine if this is the way we truly acted?
What if we did it on a more consistent basis?
Don’t you think the world around us would notice?
And in the future, when my inner toddler threatens to show up, I will remember what Jesus said – that I am to be a peacemaker.
What about you?
Written by Jonathan Munson, Executive Director, RFTH