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Warning against jealousy and selfish ambition

September 9, 2022

Daily Scripture

James 3:13-16

13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

James believed we can tell the difference between the kind of wisdom God gives people and natural, earthly (even demonic) wisdom. Scholar William Barclay said verse 16 gave clear standards for identifying false, destructive wisdom. “The most notable thing about it is that it issues in disorder. That is to say, instead of bringing people together, it drives them apart. Instead of producing peace, it produces strife.” *

  • Those who urged violence against Rome cited an obscure Bible text. “The Maccabees and others used Phinehas as their model for violent zeal for God (Numbers 25:11, 13; 1 Maccabees 2:26–27, 54).” ** Numbers 25 did seem to say God praised zealous Phinehas for brutally killing an Israelite man and his Midianite wife. But that didn’t fit at all with Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:43-47, Luke 23:34). As in Acts 15:13-21, James chose to follow Jesus’ teaching. Do you?
  • James twice repeated “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (he left out “bitter” the second time) as a key to identifying the wrong kind of wisdom. When have you seen “selfish ambition” (that is, ambition for personal honor and recognition, and not some worthy cause) almost naturally produce jealousy? Is it even possible to harbor selfish ambition and jealousy without producing strife rather than peace?

King Jesus, the apostle Paul urged his Roman readers to “be the best at showing honor to one another” (Romans 12:10). Guide me to follow James, Paul and Jesus, not all the voices that urge me to “watch out for #1.” Amen.

GPS Insights

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Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is the Entry Points Program Director at Resurrection, a self-proclaimed foodie, a bookworm, and is always planning her next trip. She has the sweetest (and sassiest) daughter, Carolina Rae, a rockstar husband, Austin, and a cutie pup named Thunder. She loves connecting with others so let her know the best place you've ever eaten, best book you've ever read, or best place you've ever been!

I love the word ambition. I love goals, I love growth, I love learning, I love succeeding. I would definitely define myself as a very ambitious person. I want to be a strong female leader in my community and workplace, I want to connect with and help others, I want to change the world.

But ambition is super sneaky. What starts out as a drive to be the best we can be somehow transforms into being the best at all costs, about beating others, about winning, about succeeding for our own image and own status. We start to believe our ideas are the best ideas all the time, we start to find ourselves asking less questions and seeking less learning opportunities from others, we find ourselves pulling away from our teams and thinking we have it all and can do it all.

I have found myself on the wrong side of ambition before. Unfortunately, it usually has been brought to my attention by someone else. A friend, supervisor, mentor, or even my spouse has come to me and pointed out that I missed an opportunity to be a team player, or to delegate, or to ask for help, and it resulted in some kind of failure. Because that’s the thing–when it becomes all about us, it is destined to fail.

I heard a podcast once where the speaker was a very ambitious, young female leader. She mentioned that she has changed her prayers from one of specific requests for earthly successes to a simple: “Use me, Oh God, no limits, no distractions.” I have made that prayer my own by asking God to use me for what He will, to do His will, and to remind myself not to be distracted by the gold stars here on Earth (that are usually less shiny than they seem anyways).

We are meant for big things, friends. We are meant to dream big dreams and work hard and be utterly ambitious. We have so much potential inside of our souls, we all have a fire inside waiting to be ignited. Do not diminish that. Just be careful that your big dreams and hard work align with God’s will for us and the forward movement of God’s mission. Can you imagine what our world could be if all of us were full of Kingdom-focused ambition? Striving to make our world brighter, kinder, more welcoming? Dreaming of looking more like Jesus? Working hard for others?

Let’s get to work.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 94.
** Comment on James 3:14 in NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.