In addressing the false wisdom of the world, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James pulls together a quote that we do not find as exactly stated anywhere else in Scripture. However, this statement, in verse 5, “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy,” addresses a very common topic of scripture. As James has been writing, he has warned us of the inherent dangers of worldly wisdom. It often works itself out in bitterness and in James 3:14,16 it appears as “envying and strife.” The desires in the hearts of those who are pursuing the wisdom of this world is evidenced in their outward striving and envying. This “envy” is the same word that was used in Matthew and Mark to describe the hateful motivation that the Jewish leaders had in delivering Jesus to be executed. It is a malicious darkness that hides in the worldly wise motivations of those who are seeking to further themselves at the expense of others.
Surprisingly, however, the response that James uses to answer this problem of envy is not more strife. Rather, James takes us to a more gospel influenced response – the grace of God. To answer the conflict and strife brought about by worldly wisdom with more conflict and strife, would make the Christian message just another voice yelling for attention. But the response that Godly wisdom takes towards the envious and lusting spirit is nothing short of remarkable. Romans 5 tells us that even when we were His enemies, God didn’t respond with sweeping judgment, rather, He offered forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who come in humble repentance. On the one hand, those who are unwilling to relinquish their foolish commitment to the fallen system of worldly wisdom, “he resists.” But the one who will come in humility, cleansing their hands and hearts of the sinful envying and lusting, to this one, God will “give grace” and “will lift up.”
Seeking to be idolized by those around you, or seeking to establish a level of importance or popularity in their eyes is a characteristic mark of following worldly wisdom. It feeds your fleshly lusts (v.5), and almost always leads to malicious conflict between you and any who do not cooperate in your self-worship. Those who seek to follow Godly wisdom however, and trust that what He says is right and true will respond in other ways. They will see that God is most worthy of worship and that their efforts should be comprised of kindness to their neighbor for the purpose of magnifying their God.
Reflect: Read Matthew 5:16 and Ephesians 4:32. What is the wisdom of God that we see in these texts?