But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
— James 3:14
Many years ago, I worked as an associate pastor in a large Southern Baptist church. The pastor I served was a wonderful man of God who taught me and gave his life to me unselfishly. I nearly adored this man — until one day, I became offended by something he did.
What this pastor did was very minor, and it shouldn’t have affected me at all. Nevertheless, at that moment I was weak and became an open door for the devil. It is amazing how quickly a dart of the enemy, thrown into our hearts, can change our perspective! In a matter of seconds, my whole view of this precious man changed for the worse. Although he was older and more spiritual than I was, I suddenly thought I could see the full picture of the church ministry more clearly than he could.
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Soon I found myself in the position of a judge, thinking that I was more spiritual than he and therefore more qualified to discern the voice of God. Although my actions were ungodly and destructive, I really thought my motives were pure as the snow. My heart toward this dear pastor became hardened, and it wasn’t long until the devil was trying to use me as a source of strife in that congregation. The biggest obstacle in this situation was that I genuinely believed I was right! But in reality, I was acting in rebellion to authority, blinded to the ugliness that was raging in my soul.
The devil has always tried to use people to bring division into the church. There is nothing new about this problem. In fact, James addresses the issues of wrong attitudes and a spirit of strife in James 3:14. From the earliest inception of the New Testament church, church leaders have always had to correct people who acted just like I was acting toward my pastor. But thank God for His grace! Today that pastor is one of my dearest friends and one of my greatest mentors.
In respect to people being used by the devil to bring division, James 3:14 says, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.” The phrase “bitter envying” is very important. It is the Greek word zelos, which refers to a fierce desire to promote your own idea to the exclusion of others’ ideas. The word “strife” is the Greek word eritheia, which means rivalry or ambition. It can also be translated as a party spirit or a divisive spirit.
This first part of James 3:14 could be translated:
“If you have a fierce desire to promote your own ideas to the exclusion of others’ ideas….”
“If you have a spirit of competition and rivalry….”
“If you’re full of selfish ambition….”
“If your actions are creating a party spirit in the church….”
In verse 15, James goes on to say, “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” The word “earthly” in Greek is the word epigeios. It describes something from an earthly dimension, not from a heavenly dimension. The Greek word for “sensual” is psuchikos, which means soulish. Then James says, “This wisdom is…devilish.” The word “devilish” comes from the Greek word daimoniodes, which is best translated demonized, depicting a person whose mind or emotions have come under the influence of demon spirits.
James is telling his readers:
“When a person behaves like this, it is obvious that his soul has come under the influence of demonic activity.”
Consider what James 3:15 means in light of the fact that I had become the source of strife in that pastor’s church. According to this scripture, I had fallen into a trap of the devil and didn’t even know it! What I did to that pastor was blatantly wrong, but at the particular moment it was happening, I really believed I was doing what was right. I had fallen into the same trap so many people have fallen into throughout two thousand years of Church history.
Let me assure you that anytime something small becomes a major issue, you need to back up and reexamine what you are thinking and feeling. The devil may be trying to work in your mind and imagination to divide you from people you both love and need. Do you want to let the devil build a wall between you and the people in your life over something that won’t even matter a year from now? Is that issue really so serious that you would break a long-term relationship over it? Is it possible that the devil is over-magnifying this problem in your mind and that you are getting a little out of focus over this issue?
As a result of this regretful experience that occurred so long ago, I learned to keep my heart free from all strife and offense. That is a lesson we all need to learn. If our hearts stay free of strife and offense, the door stays closed to the devil so he cannot disrupt our relationships. You need to know that when you allow a spirit of strife to operate inside you, inside your home, inside your business, or inside your church, it won’t be too long until people who used to love each other are standing in opposition to each other. That is the way the spirit of strife operates, and that is the fruit it produces.
If you have taken offense or feel even the smallest temptation to get in strife with someone in your life, I strongly advise you to get into the Presence of God and allow Him to help you see things from a clearer perspective. Let the Holy Spirit remove the blur of the disagreement and remind you of how much you love that other person. Take a few minutes to be with God and to let Him search your heart and show you the truth. As you do, you will stop the devil from using you as a source of strife today!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I never want to be a source of strife! Please help me keep my heart free of strife and my mind clear of accusations so I can have relationships that are pleasing to You. I want to be a blessing to people — never a vehicle the devil uses to bring confusion or hurt to anyone. I am so thankful Your love has touched me and now flows through me to others. I truly desire for Your love to flow freely through me and to bring peace where strife and chaos once reigned supreme.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that the devil doesn’t have the right to work in my mind and imagination. I refuse to permit him to divide me from the people I know, love, and need. My heart is free of strife and offense, and the door is closed to the devil so he cannot disrupt my relationships. When the devil does try to distract me with the temptation of strife, the Holy Spirit removes the blur of the disagreement and reminds me of how much I love and need that other person.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Has there ever been a time in your life when you got so upset about something that it blurred your ability to think clearly about that situation? Did you slow down and get into the Presence of God before taking further action, or did you act in that moment of emotion and let the devil use you to make the situation worse?
2. What have you learned about the value of keeping your mouth shut, letting your emotions subside, and waiting before you vocalize what is making your stomach churn with fretting and anxiety?
3. What practical steps can you take to prevent the devil from over-magnifying issues in your mind and imagination? Why don’t you really think about this question and then take some time to write down your preventative ideas?