A few weeks ago, my wife and I had spent an entire day in a low-simmer fight.

It started when I got the perfect vision for a newly renovated patio. I wanted to use an extra pile of blocks we had to extend our patio out from our house. Because we were in a busy season, she did not want to add that to our “to-do” list. Even if she was interested in it, we had very different ideas about the size, location, style, quality, and layout about the patio.

I wish I could say that those kinds of fights are rare in our house. By God’s grace, they are more infrequent than they used to be, but every once in awhile my wife and I will regroup after a fight and ask questions like, “What happened? Why didn’t we let that go? Was that really worth it?”

This study is about the causes of fights, which should help us to avoid these potholes in our relationships.


James 4:1-2 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

This is one of the most insightful ideas about humanity that I have learned. Every single human fight is caused by a desire that we do not have fulfilled. That desire does not have to be evil by itself, but when it becomes so important that we are willing to fight to get it, then it is wrong and sinful.

Anyone with children can easily see this point. Kids generally get a long until one child has a toy that the other child wants. Grown ups may not fight over dolls and army men, but we may fight over money, jobs, free time, vacations , house projects, sex, movie choices, etc. Although they are more abstract motivations, we most commonly fight when we do not feel like we are being loved and respected.

Did anyone else come to the middle of verse 2 and say, “Wow, that escalated quickly” (I’ll give you a moment to scroll back up).

Did someone say, “Murrrder?”

We have no records that actual murders were happening in these churches, but many ideas in James correlate to Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5-7 and 23: pride, hypocrisy, the love of money, pure religion, giving to the poor, honesty in oaths, enduring trials well, wisdom, and fights.

Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

In Jesus’ explanation of God’s law, he shows that it is not enough for us to follow the Ten Commandments in action only, but we also need to follow them in desire and thoughts. Through this passage, we see that although the outcome of anger may look different — whether murder or insults or bitterness — the essence of anger is always the same kind of sin.

In Jesus’ mind, fights are the same as murder because they have the same essential quality of anger, even if their outcome is different. James takes this idea and reminds us that our fights are not merely disagreements, petty squabbles, or personality differences, but they are also transgressions of God’s law.

In the low-simmer fight that I had with my wife over the patio, I preferred a particular layout and size for the patio, but my wife preferred a different layout. I immediately thought that she was selfish for her desires and began to question her motivations. I don’t think I ever completely lashed out at her, but in typical lawyer fashion, I tried to argue my way to my goal. In doing so, I insinuated that she was selfish and didn’t care about my desires. Although we apologized several times throughout the day, I was not sincere and still maintained a willingness to tear her down in order to build up my patio my way.

The primary symptoms listed in the first few verses are fights, quarrels, anger, bitterness, insults, and murder. In the next post, we will examine the secondary symptoms, which finally show us what the true problem is underlying these issues.