The Source of Strife
Robert Wurtz II
“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 earthly, sensual, demonic.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:14-18)
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults. (2 Corinthians 2:20)
James makes it clear that where bitter envy and strife exist, we mustn’t lie against the truth, excuse the behavior, or pretend it is noble or spiritual. Instead, we must recognize it for the earthly, sensual, and demonic behavior that it is. An envious and self-seeking person can never be inspired by God, no matter how spiritual they sound or how well they defend their actions. James is saying in a nutshell that this behavior is not inspired by God’s Spirit but by Satan.
In Romans 2:8, Paul lists self-seeking (Greek epitheia) as one of the primary causes of God’s wrath and indignation upon a person. In Galatians 5:20, it is listed as a sin of the flesh that, when continued in, disqualifies a person from the Kingdom of God. This is a nice way of saying that the person will go to Hell. Why? Self-seeking people impose their will in place of God’s will or believe they have exclusive insight into God’s will when it’s Satan inspiring them. They are influenced but not by the Holy Spirit.
Satan Filling Hearts
Satan can fill people’s hearts and inspire them to sound spiritual and authoritative. Unfortunately, the person under his inspiration may be deceived to the point that they confuse their will with God’s will and may contentiously work to impose it. This is how people do evil, believing they are doing God a service.
Satan, filled with pride, tried to set up a kingdom within God’s Kingdom. He wanted the glory that belonged to God. So he inspires people to covet God’s glory and call it something else that makes them feel spiritual. He never condemns people for being proud but instead encourages it. He wants to make Christians, especially leaders, little versions of himself while deceiving them into thinking God is inspiring them. So we mustn’t lie against the truth, excuse self-seeking and bitterly envious behavior, or pretend it is noble or spiritual. Instead, we must recognize it for the earthly, sensual, and demonic behavior that it is.
The Damage Caused by Self-Seeking
The Holy Spirit inspired James to speak to self-seeking and added one of the greatest enemies of the churches, which he calls akatastasia, which we translate as confusion or tumults. In the passages above, I underlined three words translated from the Greek word akatastasia. The TDNT (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament), which most scholars consider the end-all of Greek Lexicons, defines the word as “a disruption of the peace.” This makes sense as we apply that definition to each passage.
For example, to the Corinthian church, Paul writes that God does not author “disruptions of the peace,” but He authors peace itself. Peace is harmony and concord. This agrees with the wisdom that comes down from above that is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:17-18). Later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians again, saying he feared that when he came to them, he would discover many bad things, not the least of which was akatastasia (confusion/disruptions of their peace). In other words, there would be conflict.
Conflict and Confusion
James takes up the same subject in James 3:16. He then adds; where bitter envying and self-seeking are, there is confusion and every evil work. Where there is bitter jealousy and a party spirit (rivalry), there is both akatastasia (confusion/disruptions of their peace) and every evil practice. Bitter envy, rivalry, and a party spirit destroy the cohesive love holding the community of Saints together. Once the “glue” (love) is gone, all kinds of evils flood into the churches and among the Saints.
Paul points to Satan as the author of confusion, but people within the churches yield to him, which causes the destruction. They move and act with the same ambition and self-will that got him kicked out of Heaven. So yes, Satan is behind the events that bring conflict into the churches, but he uses people who are bitterly envious and self-seeking to carry out his aims. Once conflict begins, confusion and evil soon follow. James says there will be confusion and every kind of evil.
Selfish Ambition and Judgment
Satan filled Ananias and Sapphira’s hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5. If he can fill their hearts to do evil, he can fill any person’s heart who opens the door through selfish ambition, vain glory, or strife. Both husband and wife were struck dead. God wanted the people to know that He meant business. He is concerned about His churches. This is not a man’s kingdom. Jesus purchased the churches with His own blood, and we do well to put all of these things away and be constantly vigilant to guard against any thought or attitude that harms the churches.
The churches can withstand enemy attacks if love binds the Saints together. We can blame the devil, but people yield to him and make his plans work. A church or organization filled with selfless people who desire nothing but to do God’s will and operate in love can withstand the gates of Hell. However, we must be careful regarding who or what we allow to influence us. Envious people talk. Bitter people talk. They will poison your mind causing your heart to close off toward people, and then you become an agent of confusion among the saints. Don’t let it happen!
Destroying the Temple of God
An epistle is an occasional letter. James wrote about things he witnessed firsthand. He dealt with problems by exposing the root cause. Discord and disunity are often, if not always, caused by bitter envy and strife. “Bitter” envy is envy with a harsh and cruel feeling added. Strife is simply a feud or party (functioning) spirit. James addressed these threats to the congregation of the Saints for whom Christ died. One may ask, “Is it I?” If you have envious and or bitter feelings towards a person that impacts how you love and treat them, then repentance is in order.
When a pastor or leader is jealous or envious of other pastors and leaders, they view them as a threat and will seek to destroy them and their ministry. Paul warned about this destructive behavior when writing to the Corinthians, who destroyed the Temple of God by tearing one another down (1 Corinthians 3:12-18). The only solution for bitter envy is confession and repentance. Anything less and the person(s) moving in it will destroy everyone with their envious ways, and in the end, God will destroy them.
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