But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.James 3:14(NASB)
James had been calling believers to zealously guard their words and actions. He encouraged them to demonstrate this through both their righteous conduct and gentle wisdom. Being zealous for the things of God and having a passion for that which is honest and true is a good thing. However, when one's passion is diverted into egotistical self-seeking, or follows in an ungodly direction, it can have a devastating effect, and so James warns, "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant - and in so doing, lie against the truth."
James contrasts wisdom and meekness of spirit with bitter jealousies and selfish ambition. He makes a distinction between the godly man or woman who displays a gentle attitude and a gracious understanding of the one who is bitter, envious, self-obsessed, inconsiderate, and egotistical. James is describing the sort of person who is critical of others and courts contention. Such people seem to go out of their way to provoke others to anger, rather than displaying a living faith through godly wisdom, understanding, a Christlike kindness, and graciousness of heart.
Too often the attitude of heart that James is denouncing is prominent in a religious-minded man or a legalistic woman. Such people are often bitter or filled with enmity. Too often they seem to delight in picking the splinter out of the eyes of others, and causing dissension among brothers and sisters, while being totally unaware of the great beam that is blinding their own vision.
James is not promoting passive weakness or resigned docility. James is encouraging us to live a life that is so in tune with Christ that His gracious Spirit shines through our life, and His actions and attitudes are reflected in all we do, until Christ is seen in and through our lives.
James is promoting the lovely qualities of godly wisdom, grace, goodness, and gentleness that are manifest in the life of one who is walking in spirit and truth, while decrying the bitter envy and self-seeking ambition of those whose lives deny the truth and whose hearts are dull towards the Lord. The eyes of such people are closed to His guidance and their ears are dull to the hearing of His voice.
The fruit of the spirit that James is promoting does not increase with advancing years. Such godly qualities are exhibited in a life that is dying to one's own self-interest, while looking to Jesus, and placing the interest and will of Christ at the centre and circumference of their heart's desire, not the promotion of one's own self-seeking ambition, adherence to the wisdom of the world, or engaging in unscrupulous controversies.
It is by immersing oneself in the Word of God and maintaining fellowship with the Father through God's grace and godly living that causes a Christian to be conformed, day by day, into the lovely image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, the person who is occupied with the wisdom and ways of the world and engages in fleshly activities, bitter jealousies, and selfish ambition, stand in defiance of the truth.
May we rigorously guard ourselves against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in our heart, and may we walk in the spirit and in truth, for our own spiritual development and for the greater glory of our God and Saviour.
Heavenly Father, keep me I pray, from any bitterness of heart or selfish ambitions, and help me to walk in spirit and in truth. Give me wisdom and understanding, so that by my actions and attitude, I may walk in Your ways and always be pleasing to You. Strengthen me and enable me to live as Christ lived, in active dependence on You. This I ask in Jesus’ name, AMEN.