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But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth. (James 3:14)
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts. The Greek (πικρός ζῆλος pikros zēlos) is referring to a resounding vicious or hostile greed or prideful longing for something that belongs to another, which would also include intangibles like a skill. This is beyond the usual jealousy, which goes into resentful, envious, intense, fierce, raging jealousy. And being combined with (ἐριθεία eritheia) selfish ambition, which refers to a powerful drive for personal success without moral inhibitions, your evil heart is extremely wicked. If you have a fierce, unholy zeal against others; a spirit of ambition that causes you contention and conflicts, you are on your way to this being your characteristic.
Do not boast. This (κατακαυχάομαι katakauchaomai) boasting is excessively proud and self-satisfied talk about one’s achievements, possessions, or abilities. There is nothing more harmful to your desire to be an effective teacher than a boastful, haughty, prideful spirit.
And tell lies against the truth. This (ψεύδομαι pseudomai) telling lies against the truth (ἀλήθεια alētheia) is not the apostasy where one is actively working against biblical truth. This is lying about your qualifications as a teacher, pastor, church leader. You should only seek the position of a church leader, pastor, and Bible teacher with the whole truth about you being known.
James asks his audience to take a personal inventory to see if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts. James points to the heart because the outside can often conceal these attitudes and emotions of the flesh but have a raging evil on the inside. James uses the word bitter in connection with jealousy. This kind of jealousy is not just a mere one-time feeling but rather a deep-seated emotion firmly rooted in the heart. James asks these believers to take inventory of themselves to see if this type of jealousy resided in their hearts. Though man may be able to hide the bitterness that he holds in his heart for others, God sees all things, even the very motives of the heart and the malice that can reside there.
James primarily applies the words in verse 14 to those who were overly confident in their abilities as a teacher of God’s people. He is saying that these need to take an inventory of their hearts. Were they hiding bitter jealousy? One aspect of bitter jealousy is an excessive desire to exalt themselves and their personal view of things instead of giving God the glory as they work on behalf of his people. They do not seek to build up the faith of others through accurate knowledge of God’s Word. Some of “the works of the flesh are enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,” for which Paul warns us ‘not to envy one another.’ (Gal. 5:19, 20, 26) These qualities might bubble forth in excessively enthusiastic beliefs and dogged fanaticism for one’s own views, as they interject their opinions into the Word of God, rather than taking what the author meant out of Scripture. Bible scholar F. J. A. Hort makes this insightful observation:
The mere possession of truth is no security for true utterance of it: all utterance is so coloured by the moral and spiritual state of the speaker that truth issues as falsehood from his lips in proportion as he himself is not in a right state: the correct language which he utters may carry a message of falsehood and evil in virtue of the bitterness and self-seeking which accompanies his speaking. (Hort 1909, 83)
Bitter jealousy and strife are at odds with the meekness of wisdom. Your heart is the center of both, but you cannot have envy and wisdom residing together in the same heart. Holy zeal and bitter jealousy are as different as eternal life eternal destruction. The steps are bitter jealousy, which brings about contention; contention attempts to justify itself by boasting and lying. Suppose this has begun to surface in your personality. In that case, it isn’t time to be seeking a position of responsibility within the church but instead a private prayer and a counseling session with the pastor.