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James Exposes Christian Hedonism as the Cause behind Christian Conflict
Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Behind the Conflict

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your hedonism that wage[s] war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your hedonism." James 4:1-3

The word "pleasures" in the above passage has been replaced with its original Greek word, "hedonism", or "hedone" to be more precise. In truth, James is explaining to the Christian Jews that the cause of the quarrels among their church members is their pursuit of hedonism.

Let us again be more precise. As Christians, these men and women were chasing after pleasures, literally: hedonism. Therefore, James is chastising them for pursuing Christian hedonism.

"Youíre just playing with semantics!" the critic will surely object. Yet, let me assure you, I am not. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasures, generally as the primary motivation for action. When Christians do this as the motives for their actions, it is Christian Hedonism. Just as extramarital sex between believers could rightly be labeled "Christian Adultery."

And it is this hedonism by Christians that James tells us is the basis of Christian quarreling and Christian warfare. In fact, if a Christian asks God for anything purely out of hedonism, James calls it "wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures". Wrong motives. Will God grant you your pleasures just to spend them on yourself?

Consider this scene. A young man enters a corporate worship service and asks God to give him a glorious emotional experience. Does God grant this to him? Possibly not if the man intends to spend this emotional experience on himself, as his own pleasure for his own pleasureís sake; his own personal hedonistic experience.

Emotions, like all the good gifts from God, are meant to be spent in the service of our neighbors, our brethren, and God (Romans 12:1-4). When we waste them exclusively on our ourselves, to make ourselves feel good, as if experiencing pleasurable emotion was in some way a respectable end goal in itself, we have spent Godís gift with wrong motives on our own pleasures. Truly, this is hedonism; the kind of hedonism James decries.

Contemplate the verses of James 1:14 and 15. The desire for pleasure is the very lust that is the root of all temptation and all sin. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." (James 1:14,15)

Do not deceive yourself. Even the doing of "good works" solely for the hedonistic result of feeling good is solemnly warned about in Scripture: "Do nothing from selfishness" (Philippians 2:3a). It is selfish desire (lust, hedonism) that caused Eve to sin and it is the same hedonism that causes quarrels and warfare among Christians.

A sincere question can be raised, "Am I not allowed to feel good about doing good works in obedience to Godís Word?" Of course we will often "feel good" about our obedience, because emotions result from and flow out of our actions and our thoughts. Similarly, unpleasant feelings, like guilt and greed, flow from our impure actions and lusts. God has given us emotions and even a conscience to help us motivate ourselves and to self-regulate our actions. "Feeling good" about something we do is acceptable, if we first compare the things we have done to God's Word to ensure we have actually done the biblical thing for the right reason.

Again, a sincere questioner might ask, "Can't I do good works just to get the reward that God promises?" This question is best answered with a question, "And what reward do you think God has guaranteed for each good work you do?" Not all good works will be rewarded on Earth; most passages that describe our rewards explain that these are withheld until after the judgment following our death. And we certainly have no list of specific rewards that God might grant in Heaven for specific good works done on Earth. Clearly, our works will be tested as if by fire, implying we will receive a reward for those that do not burn up (are the ones that burn those we did for selfish motivations?). And certainly we are told to run the race of life in such a way as to be like "winners" worthy of receiving prizes.

If you are going to work here on earth and willingly endure pain and hardship for the gospel motivated only by the rewards that God promises He will give in Heaven, then do not call yourself a hedonist. Hedonists pursue only pleasure all the time, they do not defer pleasure for some future unnamed benefit. God's future rewards are incentives for right action on Earth, but they are bestowed as gifts after we leave this life. Hedonists are motivated out of selfishness to receive as much pleasure as they can here and now. For two thousand years Christians have been motivated to defer worldly comforts and pleasures during this life by a love of God, a fear of God, and the promises of His future mercies. In no sense can the putting off of pleasures for a lifetime be called hedonism. As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord God motivated not by hedonism, but by love for Him, fear of Him, and the hope that we can live with Him some day.

We know God will reward us and recompense us far beyond what our meager earthly actions are actually worth; but we also know that we obey God because He is our Lord. He commands, we obey. He guides, we follow. He loves, we return that love. He corrects, we repent. He is the Potter, we are the clay. He is the Master, we are the bondslaves. He is God and we are His soldiers. Soldiers serve for the good of others and for the Master, not for their own hedonistic pleasures.

Put off Christian Hedonism. Put on selflessness. Put off the pursuit of pleasures. Put on obedience to God. Put off lust. Put on the attitude that others are more important than ourselves.

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." James 4:1-3

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