Tuesday, 6 August 2019
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. James 3:14
James, still addressing teachers, has just said that the wise among them should “show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.” Now, he shows a state which is contrary to that by saying, “But if you have bitter envy.” The word translated as “envy” is one which can have a positive or a negative connotation, zelos. It is where the word zealous is derived from. Attaching the word “bitter” to this shows that it is a negative zeal. Instead of good conduct, there is bitter envy.
Along with that, he says, “and self-seeking in your hearts.” The word translated as “self-seeking” signifies seeking followers by the means of gifts. Thus, it is one who is self-seeking or who looks to divide into factions. This then is in contrast to the meekness of wisdom mentioned in the previous verse.
James says that if someone has such attitudes in his heart, he shouldn’t “boast.” This is exactly the type of spirit which disqualifies a person to teach. Rather than boasting, he should get a shovel and learn to dig ditches. Such a person is unqualified for the more perfect duties of teaching the word of God.
James then finishes with the thought that such a person should not “lie against the truth.” His words in this verse will be explained in the next verses. In understanding what they say, it is seen that “the truth” here isn’t just a simple statement concerning general truth. Rather, it is speaking of the truth of God in Christ. That will be made perfectly evident.
Therefore, this person’s “lie against the truth,” is a lie against Christ Jesus – who is the embodiment of truth. It is He who is revealed in Scripture, and this person James speaks of is such a self-seeking teacher who is ultimately lying against. He is engaged in a war to divide the body for self-interest. As the church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), this person will be held accountable for his unholy attempt to draw souls away from what belongs to Christ.
Life application: If we are truly humble in our hearts, then what we do will naturally be for the benefit of others and there won’t be any envy or ambitious intent which satisfies the selfish soul. As Eliphaz the Temanite says in the book of Job –
“For wrath kills a foolish man,
And envy slays a simple one.” Job 5:2
When we are self-seeking, several things occur all in the same action:
1) We dishonor God by attempting to draw recognition, power, and glory to ourselves rather than directing our efforts towards glorifying Him.
2) We dishonor our neighbor who we are trying to subjugate to our own faction, rather than directing him towards the truth of God in Christ. In this, we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves. Rather, we are attempting to rule our neighbor for ourselves.
As James said in Chapter 2, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (verse 8).
Paul, likewise acknowledges this in Romans 13:10 with, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
James’ words show that if we act contrary to this, we should neither deny it nor boast about it. What is needed is a heart change and a new attitude. If you are suffering from envy or selfish ambition, you need to lay it before the Lord and seek instead to glorify Him.
Lord Jesus, help us to be satisfied with the life and blessings we have received. Take away our envious eyes and our selfish hearts and replace them with loving hands which build bridges, caring words which edify others, and gentle, thankful spirits which bring honor to You. This we pray that You will be glorified. Amen.