Getting to the top

Emphasizing this part of James “would not be warmly received in the modern church,” writes one commentator (K.A. Richardson).

That’s an interesting thing to say. Surely those of us in the church wouldn’t shy away from listening to any part of the Bible, would we?

Here’s the verse he’s talking about: “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14).

At first glance, the verse might seem relatively harmless, but as we look closer we start to realize the author was probably right.

Jealousy and ambition. They’re things you see in the real world, right? One employee envies another’s promotion and does what he can to undermine him. A corporate ladder-climber’s unbridled ambition leads her to step on whoever gets in her way. You’ve seen this happen too many times. It starts on the playground and continues through life, reaing its head on the college social scene and in the corporate boardroom. It’s scary what people will do when they’re jealous or overly ambitious.

Oh, but it doesn’t just happen out there, of course. It’s part of our sinfulness that doesn’t get washed away in the waters of baptism. It’s certainly forgiven, but the impulse remains with us.

And so we sometimes see it in the church. Which means we see it in ourselves.

Can you think of a time when you found yourself being jealous of something good happening in a fellow believer’s life? It’s not hard to weep with those who weep, but rejoicing with those who rejoice doesn’t come naturally.

Sometimes preachers are guilty of letting ambition drive them to compare themselves to other preachers, measuring success by numbers or baptisms or busy schedules. Others in church leadership might fall prey to the same sin.

Remember Diotrephes? He was the apostle John’s nemesis who liked “to put himself first” in the church (3 John 9). He embodied jealousy and ambition.

People like that wreak havoc in a church, which ought to be characterized by humility and selflessness.

If we’re going to fix it, where do we start? With ourselves, of course, the only people we really have any control over. We ought to spend time in prayer that God will help us overcome our pettiness.

That he’ll rid our hearts of jealousy and selfish ambition.

That he’ll fill us with love and a servant’s heart.

We’re not surprised when we see it in the whispers at work, but the church ought to be free of it. I suppose it hits pretty close to home, which is why the writer said we church folks might not like to hear it.

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