A reality of the human experience is the ubiquitous presence of conflicts, quarrels, infighting, and animosities. Although we might readily identify such situations at work, amongst extended family, or even while out shopping, the presence of conflict also exists within the church. Every New Testament epistle we have was written to address some set of problems or circumstances which contributed to a breakdown in church fellowship. In the epistle of James, we get a straightforward question asked of us: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” The Apostle James did not get caught up in the presenting symptoms of verbal battles and animosities. He went to the heart of the trouble (James 4:1-3).
James said that the root of trouble is our desires that battle within us. The word for “desire” that he used is the word from which we get our English word “hedonism.” Hedonism is the belief and practice that pleasure is the chief good in life. It is a consuming passion to satisfy personal wants, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to obtain those wants. The early church was fighting because of their hedonistic practices. Certain people wanted what they wanted and they would do whatever it took to get it.
Selfish hedonistic pleasure-seeking is the disease that creates infighting and trouble. In February 2009, a 27-year-old woman from Fort Pierce, Florida, walked into a McDonald’s restaurant and ordered a 10-piece McNuggets meal. The person behind the counter took the order and received payment. The McDonald’s employee then discovered that they were out of those bite-sized, warm, tasty McNuggets. The employee told the customer that the restaurant had run out of McNuggets, and she would have to get something else from the menu. The customer asked for her money back. The employee said all sales are final, and she could have a larger priced item from the menu if she wanted. The customer got angry. She wanted McNuggets—not a Big Mac, not a McRib, not a Quarter Pounder. She hedonistically desired her McNuggets and, so, this was clearly an emergency, and she knew what to do in an emergency: she took out her cell phone and called 911. Apparently the 911 workers didn’t take her seriously because the McNuggets-loving woman called 911 three times to get help! She never got her McNuggets that night, but she did later get a ticket from police for misusing 911.
Maybe McNuggets are not a weak point for you. But something is, and a hedonistic pursuit of that thing can twist our perspective and skew our judgment. It can grow like a cancer in the Body of Christ. It can make small things big and big things small. Will we do anything it takes to gain satisfaction? A passage in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters has the Senior Devil giving his understudy, Wormwood, some advice: “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is God’s invention, not ours. He made the desires; all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced and get them to go after them in ways in which He has forbidden. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”
James gave an alternative to no-holds-bar pursuit of hedonism. He said that you do not have because you do not ask God. And even then, if you still hold onto the hedonistic stance through prayer, you will not get what you ask for because you ask with wrong motives. Prayer that is nothing more than cozying up to the world is simply spiritual adultery; it is talking to God, but having a spiritual mistress on the side to meet the needs that God does not seem to care about.
So, then, it must always be borne in mind that it is terribly easy to wander from the truth and go the way of indulging our hedonistic pleasures – even in the church. Sometimes we need a reality check because God cares just as much about why we do what we do, and how we go about it, as he does the actual thing. When we call people back to their senses and bring them back to godly well-ordered desires, remember this: we save them from a multitude of sins.