Chapter 4 begins with this question - "Where do wars and fights come from among you?" James is not talking about wars between nations where soldiers fight to the death. He is talking about strife and quarreling (though the principles he teaches would certainly apply to physical warfare also). The question is essentially this: What is the source or origin of verbal conflicts and arguments? The question is answered with another question.
"Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?" (4:1). Bickering and quarreling originate in our own physical desire for pleasure--for getting what we want and for having things our own way! A powerful truth is revealed here. The cause of all conflict is selfishness. The word selfishness is not in this verse, but the concept surely is. When a person has a desire for something and they intend to get what they want at any cost, then conflict is inevitable, unless everyone else simply gives in to that person's desires.
Let me give you an example of this from the history of the church. We know that Jesus established His church in approximately A.D. 30 (Acts 2). We also know that Jesus only set up one church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4; 1:22,23). But, sadly, when one looks around at the religious world today, division, strife, and conflict are seen everywhere. Jesus only instituted one church, but today man has literally created hundreds of them.
Okay Stephen, but what does that have to do with James 4:1? Simply this: How do you think the religious world got into the condition that it is in today? How did we get from the one church that Christ built to the hundreds that are in existence today? Through selfishness! Through men and women wanting to have things their own way religiously! And, when they didn't get things their way, they would leave the original group and start a new one! In the first century, there was only one church, and the followers were simply called Christians. Jesus Himself prayed for the unity of all believers (John 17:20,21). The apostle Paul preached that there were to be no divisions but that all Christians should be of the same mind and the same judgment (I Cor. 1:10). But, over the years things have changed! No one can deny that. However, if man had strictly followed Jesus and His apostles' teachings, then today there would still just be one church and all believers would go by one name--Christian. Sadly, little by little, man started tampering with God's plan for the church over the years. Man started bringing in new ideas and changes that God never authorized, and that's where the problems began. When man left the authority of the New Testament and just started pleasing himself in religion and doing whatever he wanted in worship, conflicts arose, division resulted, and denominations were born and continue to be born.
The reason why there are hundreds of churches today instead of just one is because of man's selfishness and desire to please himself. We all have the same Bible. God is not a God of confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Thus, He gave us the Bible to be understood. In God's word, He tells us the right way to do things--for life in general and for worship. If all believers would simply be content to live and worship according to God's word, there wouldn't be hundreds of churches. There would just be one. Of course, true unity will never exist until people are willing to give up their own selfish desires and simply be content to practice and preach what the New Testament authorizes.
Even within the Lord's church today there are conflicts that exist only because of the selfish desires of one or more individuals. Friends and brethren, this should not be! We ought to be able to submit to one another in love in matters of indifference. May we never be the originators of unnecessary conflict!