Uprooting Jealousy and Selfish Ambition

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
James 3:16-17

Most of us don’t roll out of bed every morning to a life free from disorder. We procrastinate, things don’t go as planned, people get sick, we get frustrated—all could be summed up by saying ‘life happens’. This is the existence we know of; one that is fractured. One where our circumstances intersect with our heart condition and it produces what James notes as the existence of jealousy and selfish ambition.

For those of us who are Christians, we should have no problems admitting the presence of jealousy and selfish ambition in our hearts. To varying degrees and various times, these twin sin motives can rear their ugly head in our relationships and circumstances. We are not exempt from these things because we follow Christ; if anything, the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit within us brings these things to our attention so that we can confess them as sin.

But motives are hard to decipher. They’re like code that we need the Spirit and each other to help unlock. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Trying to sort out our jealousy and selfish ambition by ourselves is a recipe for disaster.

So often, we can’t see the root of our sinful motives, but we can see the fruit. Look at what else James says: “…there will be disorder and every vile practice.” See, he’s giving us some clues. We can’t lay every sinful motivation bare in community. What we can do is do a quick heart check in the middle of our everyday. If you find jealousy or selfish ambition possibly making an appearance in your heart, ask yourself these questions:

Am I frustrated with my circumstances? Why? What is motivating me?
Where is there disorder in my relationships? How is my sin affecting others?
Am I considering vile practices due to my angst; am I thinking of gossiping, or
avoiding, or lying?
Are my heart motives springing from the love of Christ and the freedom of the
gospel, or are I concerned with ‘my rights’?

We cannot afford to be naïve. Our root of sin will break through the soil and spring up, showing its disorder and vile practice to those around us. (Num. 32:23)

Instead, let’s be people who practice pure, peaceable, reasonable, gentle wisdom with each other and everyone around us. This is a testimony to the gospel of Christ to all those around us. In order to do this, we have to be honest with our hearts, through the guidance of the Spirit, that jealousy and selfish ambition are always there waiting for us to indulge them.

For further study: Jer. 17:9, Num. 32:23

2 replies
  1. Ashley K
    Ashley K says:

    I don’t understand how Numbers 32:23 relates?

    “But if you fail to do this [crossing the river Jordan into battle], you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

    Can you explain how it fits in, for me?

    Great post 🙂

    • Doug Shell
      Doug Shell says:

      Failure to be obedient may not be visibly disobedient at first, but our sin will be found out. We may be able to hide our sinful motives initially, but sin eventually shows itself.

      Another good text would be 1 Timothy 5:24…”The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.

      Hope that is helpful.


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