“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” James 3:14-16
James warns us there are two ways to live – according to the wisdom from above, or according to earthly wisdom. And he warns us that, ultimately, following earthly wisdom will lead to every vile practice as we let ourselves be led by jealousy and selfish ambition.
James warns us that jealousy and selfish ambition must be guarded against strongly. He teaches that they are the first steps upon a dangerous downward spiral to disorder, unspiritual practices and then every vile practice.
It should not surprise us that wisdom that is demonic starts with jealousy and selfish ambition. You see, at the heart of every sin there is an idolatry issue – sin is seeking something other than God to satisfy our needs and desires. Sin is denying the Lordship of God. And the first person to do that was Satan, who followed that path to the very end, leading to his complete and utter rebellion against God which got him thrown out of heaven. Jealousy and selfish ambition will always lead us to rebel against God and His plans for our life. We must be on guard against them.
Jealousy and selfish ambition can easily creep in, even as we try to serve God, and can derail our efforts to preach the good news of forgiveness through the death of Jesus on the cross to those around us. We can see others have more success, gain more influence or have a bigger impact and envy can set it. We see the ministry they set up take off and we get jealous that our efforts seem in vain. The devil can use that envy to take us out of action and neuter the impact we could have had to reach friends, family and work colleagues. Once we start down the path of envy and jealousy it can destroy us, as we no longer serve God with a pure heart aiming to glorify Jesus, but rather seek to make a name for ourselves.
We need to remember we are not out to advance ourselves but to advance the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. We are to follow the example of Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death in a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8. The wisdom that is from above, the wisdom we are called to strive after, is seen in the example of Jesus. He gave up His position, and rather than seeking His own ambition He surrender to the will of the Father. He made foolish the wisdom of the world by His act of unconditional love on the cross (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
When we are following the example of Jesus we may appear foolish to the world, but ultimately at the end of time earthly wisdom will be shown to be unspiritual, demonic and result in destruction. We must make sure to seek and follow the wisdom that is from above, fleeing from all envy, jealousy and selfish ambition as we strive to follow in the footsteps of Jesus our Saviour.