TO CHEW ON: "But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above but is earthily, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there." James 3:14-16
James calling "bitter envy and self-seeking" wisdom snags my attention. Of course we catch his undertone of sarcasm, for envy and self-seeking aren't wisdom at all—or are they?
It's certain that they're not godly wisdom. A sidebar article in my Bible underlines the source of such wisdom:
"This text notes both envy and strife—their source and the impact they can make. Ultimately the "devilish" source of both indicates satanic enterprise finding human cooperation" Billy Joe Daugherty, "Avoiding Strife," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1755.
One result of the wisdom of envy and self-seeking is "confusion."
[The Greek word transliterated confusion is akatastasia. It means instability, a state of disorder, disturbance, confusion.]
That word is used four other places in the New Testament.
- In Luke 21:9 it is rendered "commotions" and describes the riled up condition of the world before "the end."
- In 1 Corinthians 14:33 where Paul says, "for God is not the author of confusion but of peace…" it's after an appeal to the Corinthians to give way to each other during church ministry and not seek the limelight for themselves.
- In 2 Corinthians 6:5 Paul use of akatastasia is transliterated "tumults" in the list of things he has endured as a Christian.
- And in 2 Corinthians 12:20 it figures as "disturbances"—along with "strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance"—in the list of things Paul fears he will find when he visits the church in Corinth.
It's easy to see why envy and self-seeking cause confusion. For if we're all seeking to stroke our own egos, the goals of the group are fractured in as many pieces as there are members. But if the purpose of each is to honor and glorify Jesus and advance His kingdom with no concern about who gets the credit, unity and cooperation will result.
The trouble is, this wisdom of envy and self-seeking is not only ingrained in our society but it seems to be stamped on our very psyches. It's part of our human nature. That's why the end of our reading is important. James, after tracing the dead-end path of this demonic wisdom, even into prayer and pseudo-devotion (James 4:1-4) gives the prescription for our envious, selfish tendencies (James 4:8-10):
1. Seek God: "Draw near to God."
2. Confess: "Cleanse … hands, purify … hearts… lament, mourn, and weep"
3. Humble yourself: "Humble yourselves in the sight of God."
PRAYER: Dear Father, I have been guilty of envy and self-seeking. Help me to take a dose of Your medicine every time I find myself defaulting to this demonic wisdom that always leads to confusion. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.