By Toby Crowder
James 3:14 “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.”
How long has it been since you invited someone to attend church with you? That question may not be as easy to answer as we assume. Do we even realize that we may be bringing unwanted visitors to the church house? Just to clarify, I am not talking about inviting a co-worker, friend, or acquaintance to join you for a church service, but rather the visitors that we may bring to church with us unintentionally at times. Either knowingly or unknowingly, they go with us everywhere that we go because they live deep inside our hearts. Do we ever give thought to the attitudes and mindsets are we bringing with us when we attend God’s house? We are living in a society that is deeply divided and we must be vigilant that we do not allow this division from outside to affect our churches in these challenging days.
In the book of James, the author has been writing to those who are scattered abroad. He has spoken of perseverance in trials & temptations, diverse lusts, and sin, and now he will begin to exhort the followers and give instruction on how to live steadfastly and in accordance with God’s Word… even amid trying times. James makes a very broad statement in 1:22 that we are to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. By the time he comes to chapter three, he devotes the first twelve verses to warnings related to the tongue and our speech before dealing with the thought of wisdom. What a perfect place for James to nestle in a very concise warning in this verse about bitterness, envy, and strife!
Notice here that James connects bitterness to envying. The first mention in the Bible of bitterness is found in Gen 27:34 when Jacob steals Esau’s blessing: “And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, [even] me also, O my father.” And it remains as such today. We become bitter when we feel we have been wronged. It starts as a seed thought and when nourished it grows into an attitude that will cause much division within a relationship, a family, or sadly even the body of Christ. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to seek our fulfillment in Him and be a people of genuine love and forgiveness, even when others fail us. If bitterness comes into our assembly, it comes with us as an unwanted visitor. Have you invited bitterness?
James also mentions envying. This word for envying is only used five times in KJV Bible and two of those are in this passage. It refers to a type of jealousy or a contentious rivalry. Envy wants to have what someone else already possesses and we certainly see this attitude and quality all around us in the world, but it does not belong in the church body! Author and Pastor Dr. Erwin Lutzer had a great thought when he said “Envy is rebellion against Gods leading in the lives of his children. It is saying that God has no right to bless someone else more than you.” If an envying spirit comes into our assembly, it comes with us…as an unwanted visitor. Have you invited envying?
Finally, James warns against strife, which is the product of bitterness and envy. Strife can be defined as a quarrel… or dispute. We see strife appear early in Scripture between Lot and Abrams herdsmen Gen 13:7-8 “And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle:” These men could not agree on how to divide the land, and it created a division. Notice that this visitor, just like bitterness and envy… is “in your hearts” and only comes to church when we allow it to come with us… as an unwanted visitor. Have you invited strife?
Whatever may be the cause of our strife, I am sure that somewhere close to it, we will find the spirit of bitterness and envy. If left untended, strife is something that can pull at the fabric of a church until it begins to unravel. Most of us would never intentionally invite bitterness, envy, or strife into our church, yet we must be vigilant to keep these unwanted visitors out of the body of Christ.
Toby Crowder serves as Pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Spruce Pine. He and his wife Leslie have been married for 26 years and have two daughters, Emilee, and Katy. He can be contacted via the church’s website MCfamilyforChrist.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
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