James series – “The Litmus Test for life”
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
Today as we focus first on the worldly wisdom that fails the faith test we will see several characteristics, starting with roots.
- Roots of test-failing wisdom (14)
Did you know that tree roots can spread out until they cover an area up to three times the height of the tree? Many of us don’t realize the reach that roots can have because they are unseen below the surface. Often, it’s not until one of those roots pokes into your sewer line, lifts your sidewalk or cracks the foundation of your house that you realize the reach and power of those roots. We’ve all seen people pour concrete next to trees without even thinking about it. Then the next thing you know, the tree roots have cracked and destroyed that sidewalk. Why do people do foolish things like that? Because they didn’t see the roots hidden below the surface. They exist quietly beneath the surface servicing everything above the soil. Every other part of the tree exists because of what is carried to it by those hidden roots. If the roots are diseased, the tree will be diseased. The trunk, the bark, the branches, the leaves and even the fruit will be diseased. The same is true of our heart, the hidden part of our innermost being, who we really are. James tells us that the root of test-failing wisdom has to do with an unhealthy heart, that has become infected by the disease of bitter envy. Bitter envying is the disease of divisive jealousy. It’s the picture of a thorny thicket that grabs a hold of you, piecing your flesh with its sharp thorns so that the more you struggle the more stuck you become. Bitter envy is a jealousy that keeps you in jail. It results in selfish ambition, and while in and of itself ambition isn’t a bad thing, this is an ambition motivated by self not service. It’s the kind of ambition that seeks to serve self so that we become number 1. It’s a glory grabbing not a glory giving ambition. Where we spotlight self not the Savior. It’s a combative and competitive ambition not a cooperative and caring one. It’s a cancer that kills the church instead of cultivating. If you want a modern-day picture of what this kind of selfish ambition looks like turn on your TV and watch the commercials. It’s what they all feed, they tell us it’s all about us. Our feelings, our fun, desires, dreams, pleasures, happiness, and prosperity. The Bible also shows us several painful pictures of worldly wisdom anchored in selfish ambition:
- The building of the Tower of Babel
Gen 11:4 “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” On the surface it seemed like a wise idea but its roots were rotten. Because the seeds they sowed were rooted in self-glory not God’s service. They stated that the goal was unity, it’s a great goal but it wasn’t grounded in God it was grounded in self. Self-glory doesn’t bring unity it brings the disease of division. The real goal was that they wanted to make a name for themselves; instead of lifting up the name of God. Today we are still trying to create unity through self-glorification instead of through service to God
- What about the story of Lot.
Both Abraham and his nephew Lot had large herds of cattle, and their herdsmen quarreled over their pasturelands. In his wisdom, Abraham suggested that the two separate. Being the godly man he was, he gave Lot his choice of land. The Bible tells that Lot in his wisdom chose the lush, fertile, land of the Jordan River valley. The grass may have looked greener but greener is not always good. Sometimes the grass is greener because it’s growing over a septic tank of Sodom. You know how the story goes, Lot’s self-seeking decision led him to lost everything including his wife turned back to look and turned into a pillar of salt. Worldly wisdom leads to ruin because it is rooted in self-gain not God’s service. And like Lot worldly wisdom will lead you to wickedness
- Who can forget man’s first recorded act of poor judgment in the Garden of Eden.
God was clear when He said: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And when the snake questioned the women repeated God’s command but when she listened to the wisdom of Satan who said they would become like God, she saw that the fruit as good, pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, and so she ate it and also gave some to her husband.
Earthly wisdom is a result of being self-focused instead of God-focused! The Greek word for what James describes as “selfish ambition” means “a party spirit”. It was used by the Greeks to describe a politician canvassing for votes. It basically means, “Vote for me!” This self-seeking spirit may be prevalent in politics but there is no place for it in the Lord’s church. It promotes envy, jealousy, strife, and dissension instead of peace and unity of the Spirit. Earthly wisdom says, “I’m smarter, stronger, and better than everyone else”. Earthly wisdom promotes getting to the top no matter who you hurt or how you get there”. Worldly wisdom promotes self-fulfillment as the most important thing in life. When the people attempted to build the tower of Babel, they wanted to make a name for themselves. When Lot chose the Jordan valley, he was looking out for his own self-interest. And when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree, they saw that it was “desirable for gaining wisdom for themselves. But the wisdom they sought was self-seeking and forbidden by God.It’s the wisdom that seeks the self-glorifying spotlight on the stage. It’s a heart that’s rooted in the wrong kind of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that the world glorifies. Is your heart caught up in the bitter barbs of envy and jealousy? Does it selfishly elevate you above others? James says that this kind of wisdom results in a hard heart that is completely incompatible with being a Christian.