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
A few months back I launched this new website called greaterthings.today. The vision for Greater Things was about building faith, answering a higher calling, and living a more abundant life. On the surface the idea is simple – exchange the lesser things in life for greater things in life. Life is filled with trade-offs. This was the premise behind 40 Things to Give up for Lent. "40 Things" was giving up the things that bring us down for the things that uplift and fulfill us.
It is not that we go down the road of choosing outright evil. It is more that we pursue things in life which are trivial and matter little in the scheme of eternity. Think about the passion Americans have for television. Considering the amount of time the average family spends watching television, it would seem like there is an incredible passion for it. Imagine if we took half the commitment we had to watching television and devoted it to God's work. What an incredible difference that would make in our world. This is just one example. On the last day, there will be many more ways we will have wished we made better use of the time God gave us on this earth. We will question why we didn't devote ourselves to things that mattered more.
In the last part of James 3, we read about bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. These are contrasted with wisdom that comes down from above. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition steer us away from making better choices.
The word jealousy by itself is not a bad word. The Greek word used here can also be translated zeal. Zeal is related to passion. As long as passion is passion for the right things, it is a good thing. We often describe Christ's suffering and death for us as "The Passion." Passion will motivate us in positive ways, but will also motivate us in negative ways.
The problem with the passion described in James 3 is its link to bitterness. We can agree that bitterness is not a good thing. Nothing ever good comes from carrying bitterness inside you.
Most of us have probably heard about the recent Ashley Madison leaks. If you are not familiar with this story, Ashley Madison was an online website where people signed up to have an affair. Recently some hackers got into the site and exposed the names of those who had created accounts.
The whole idea of signing up online to have an affair stems from bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Attempting to have an affair is not a rational decision. The potential grief and pain that could result is not worth momentary sensual gratification. Who in their "right" mind would choose such a thing? But when you add emotion, fueled by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, it becomes easy to throw rationality out the window. The result is exchanging the greater thing (marriage) for a lesser thing (an affair).
Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are powerful motivators. They will cause us to intentionally choose the lesser things over greater things. They lead us to exchange lasting reward for instant gratification. It is easy to point out the sin of those who hold Ashley Madison accounts, but we all make poor decisions when fueled by the emotions stemming from misplaced passion and selfish ambition. So many times we have pursued what feels good at the moment. We choose the path of least resistance taking hold of something that is less satisfying. The greater choice was filled with too much difficulty or resistance. Because the greater things seemed too costly, we went for something cheap, but easy to grasp.
It the end, it goes back to what fuels our passion and drives our emotions. We will always make irrational choices because of the mix of emotions. But if the Spirit directs our passion we can be confident we will make the greater choice. This is the wisdom from above. It is not to be wiser. It is to have a greater passion that fuels us. Ask God to give you his Holy Spirit to motivate you to choose what God would choose – the greater thing.
Questions for Reflection
- What greater things have you exchanged for lesser things?
- Do you have an example where you have pursued instant gratification over lasting reward?
- How do we move from bitter jealousy and selfish ambition to wisdom from above?
- Share your thoughts below.