Mean girls. These two words instantly conjure images of the catty, unkind, jealous type. To call someone a mean girl is in essence to call them selfish and proud. Have you ever dealt with this kind of girl? These friends can bring much hurt to our hearts. But, more importantly, have you ever acted like one? Would it be a stretch to admit that at some point or another, in a moment of sinful pride, we have laughed at someone else’s expense to make ourselves feel better – rendering ourselves to be that which we disdain – a mean girl?
The writer of the book of James, known by his friends as “James the Just” for his commitment to righteousness, was concerned with teaching early Christians about wisdom, worldliness, and relationships in the church. The MacArthur Study Bible teaches that the book of James is divided into thirteen tests of true conversion, and our passage today provides one of those tests – the test of humble wisdom. James 3:13-18 offers a specific contrast of the two types of wisdom that can be seen in life. One is “wisdom” from the world, and the other is true wisdom that is from above. When considering relationships, we must assess whether we are acting in the wisdom of the world, or if we are acting with the humble wisdom from above.
The Relational “Wisdom” of the World
James provides two simple ways to identify those who display worldliness in relationships – and those two things come directly from the heart: bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Jealousy is the state of being unhappy “because someone has something…that you want.” James adds the word “bitter” to describe this jealousy to underscore that it is often accompanied by a deep twinge of anger toward the other person. He also tells us that ungodly relationships are characteristically marked with selfish ambition. When walking in the flesh, humans who are bitter and selfish deal with others on the basis of completely self-centered motives.
But not only do we see the way to identify worldly relational wisdom, we see its source and its fruit. Read verse 16 quickly, and you’ll find that the bitter jealousy and selfish ambition described here is literally from Satan. The woman who is consistently unhappy because she doesn’t have something someone else has, and finds herself angry because of it, is thinking only of self and not of honoring God and loving others. The fruit of that, as verse 16 sadly conveys, is “disorder and every vile practice.” Backstabbing, fighting, gossiping, slander, withholding friendship – any painful action toward another – are the fruit sins of a jealous, bitter, selfish heart. To those who exhibit this type of “wisdom” which really is not wisdom at all, James says in verse 14, “do not boast and be false to the truth” or in other words, don’t proclaim you’re really a Christian because your actions show otherwise.
The sins of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition often play out in the friendships of women. A great example of a mean girl who acts this way comes from the character of Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Caroline likes Mr. Darcy and is threatened by another girl with whom she pretends to befriend – the main character, Elizabeth Bennet. Throughout the story, Caroline tries to persuade Darcy that Elizabeth does not belong in their circle of friendship. Her words drip with self preservation when she says to him, “Elizabeth Bennet…is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own;…it is a paltry device, a very mean art.” Darcy, seeing right through her, replies, “Undoubtedly there is a meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.” In case you didn’t catch it, Darcy was saying to Caroline’s face: you’re being despicable. What a great reminder that our jealous, bitter hearts are often on display for all to see, and we need help outside ourselves or rather a wisdom that comes from above.
The Relational Wisdom From Above
The opposite of worldly, relational “wisdom” is what is called, “the wisdom from above.” Notice that the source of this wisdom is not ourselves but God Himself, and His wisdom has an effect on our everday conduct. If we are to walk in a kind, compassionate way with others in friendship, we need an impartation of knowledge and understanding from God and His Spirit. In contrast to the worldly type, this action toward others is not self-centered but is pure. It seeks the best for others without manipulating the circumstance favorably towards oneself. The woman who is “wise and understanding” seeks peace, is gentle (in the original language: equitable and yielding), is willing to consider the other side in an argument, is compassionate, does not show favoritism, and is not a hypocrite. Proverbs talks about this type of woman in chapter 31 and how the wisdom from above characterizes her relationships. Verse 26 says this wise woman “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Her heart of wisdom is reflected through kind words and sincere, loving actions toward her best friend, her sister, her mother, her coworkers, etc. This isn’t to say that she never fails at gossip or anger, unkindness, or even manipulation. But when she does fail, she recognizes once again her need for Jesus, the personification of Wisdom Himself.
While we all have acted in bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, we have a great High Priest who lived the perfect life that we have not. He is the only Human who has walked completely in the godly wisdom from above in every relationship He had on earth. When you are discouraged that you have not been peaceable or gentle or compassionate, think upon Christ. He always obeyed and loved God, and He always humbly loved others. But the good news doesn’t stop there. Not only do we have a sufficient Savior but we also have been given the Holy Spirit. If you feel the distress of your self-centered sinfulness, seek God in prayer and repent. Accept by faith the gift of the Spirit and His fruit. You cannot live the holy life that God desires from His children, but He can in you. So with the Apostle Paul, I encourage you to “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
Almighty God, I praise You for the grace You have bestowed upon me through Your Son, who always obeyed You perfectly, who took my place on the cross, and who arose victorious over sin. I thank You for the Holy Spirt – my Guide. Help me, through Your Spirit, to turn away from any bitter jealousy or selfish ambition in my relationships, and fill me with pure motives, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, impartiality, and sincerity toward others. Do this, oh God, in me for Your glory.