However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. (James 3:14-15 CEB)
Have you ever noticed how radically different the Bible reads in comparison to how we tend to want it to read?
Take for example our seemingly unquenchable thirst for “relevancy.” We yearn for “what to do” to be spelled out to us. We expect sermons to be filled with the “how to” dimension of things and we call for teaching to be saturated with “points of application. We want an “explanation.”
But the Bible rarely speaks in such terms. In fact, what you typically find as you engage Scripture (and not merely writings or teachings about Scripture) are a multitude of statements without any “how to” statements attached whatsoever.
This passage in James is a perfect example. James, writing to Jewish Christians scattered across the Roman world of his time, tells them that he’s aware of pervasive jealousy and ambition among their ranks. These are not surface problems, but are harbored in people’s hearts and are points of deep bitterness. Further, these pervasive problems are resulting in ways of living that deny the truth of God’s good news and even well up to the point of their bragging about it!
You can almost hear the Christians addressed so ask James, “What are we to do, James? Tell us.” And James says, “I’m glad you asked. Stop it.” And that’s all he says.
Not once does he illustrate or give example of the sort of thing he’s talking about. He doesn’t provide a ten step “here’s how to change your life” plan as a solution. He doesn’t lead us through a series of references to positive elements we can plug into our life that will help push out the sin that he sees in us. He doesn’t provide a list of resources or aids available to us that will assist us in making this “stop” happen. He simply says:
“... then stop ...”
Stop bragging. Stop denying the truth with your life. Stop filling your heart with selfish ambition. Stop nurturing and coddling bitter jealousy in your spirit. Just stop it. Period.
This, I believe, is a very good thing to do still today. It was good enough for James and his Christian brothers and sisters then and it should be good enough for us as Christians today. And let me tell you why: the silence of no “how to” challenges us to discover the way ourselves.
It’s this simple: the things we discover for ourselves are the things that typically work the best for bringing about real change in our lives.
The way will be different for each of us. Some of us will find our greatest help to be in the companionship of solid Christians. Others of us will find our great change-making strength to come through private prayer. Still others of us will find it comes through saturating our lives with Scripture so that we’re more mindful of what God wants of us all of the time. And the list can go on and on, but it basically boils down to this …
The who we need to focus on is not us, but the Lord and the thing we need to hear is not so much the how as it is the what.
Now stop … and think about that.
Father God, prevent me from burying your good news underneath a mountain of words not from you. When I, as a little child, cry out incessantly to you “Why” or “How,” remind me with love of your perfect will and call me to trust you. May this be enough for me to do just that and to show it by my actions. This I pray in my Lord’s name. Amen.
Look at your heart and see if you coddle bitter jealousy and strain to have things your way. See if you’re focused on talking big about what you can do or what you don’t do. See if you live in such a way that denies God’s truth. And if you see such things, stop them for you know that any “wisdom” they appear to have isn’t from God, but is earthly, empty, and evil. (James 3:14-15 DSV)