Chapter 3

Watch For Signals


Because envy and selfish ambition cause us to protect our own interests at the expense of others, they should be regarded as flashing yellow lights. When they show up in our life, they signal, “Caution! Danger! Be prepared to stop!”

This is not to say that any effort to protect ourselves is wrong. Without due caution and concern for our own safety, we would all die early deaths. Wise people do not thoughtlessly put themselves in harm’s way. What we need to do, however, is make sure that we are not protecting ourselves without regard for the interests and needs of others.

The self-protection James wrote about isn’t healthy for anyone. It’s the kind of self-interest that causes us to call attention to the faults of others so we can “cash in” on their mistakes.

From James’ point of view, this kind of self-protection should be viewed with great caution because it produces confusion and evil (3:16). It is evidence of unfulfilled and frustrated desires (4:1–4). But even more important, this kind of self-protection is a symptom of a wounded pride that causes us to act as an enemy of God (3:17–4:6).

This kind of Conflict With People self-protection is the opposite of faith.

Wounded pride says, “I deserve better treatment than I’m getting. I’m justified, therefore, in taking matters into my own hands and doing whatever I have to do to beat back those who are against me.” Wounded pride says, “No one knows my needs better than I do, and if I don&rrsquo;t take care of myself no one else is going to.”

At this point the flashing yellow light has been ignored. Wounded pride has not only given way to misbeliefs about our ability to know and help ourselves, but it has also made us an enemy of God. Even though we might not realize it, we are now fighting heaven itself. We have entered into a conflict far greater than mere family or church.


As we learn to see self-protection as a yellow light of caution, we can also learn to see anger as a red light of urgent warning. It signals the danger James was concerned about when he wrote, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:19–20).

Too many of us misread anger as an expression and prerogative of strength. In most cases, however, anger signals unrecognized weakness. When we “lose our temper” in the process of trying to protect ourselves, we are not giving evidence of strength but of profound weakness. Being quick to anger put sus in great danger, for “whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Prov. 25:28).

“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

Such weakness is what we see in the fearful rage of Saul. His fear was not the kind of fear that causes men to run from a burning building or from sin. His anger was not the kind of controlled anger that causes people to act against injustice and evil. His anger toward David was not strong or well-reasoned (as it is in Ephesians 4:26). Saul feared a man when he should have been fearing God. He feared man too much, and God too little. His anger should have been directed not at David but toward his own sin.

David also knew what it was to be afraid. His psalms make that clear (Psalms 3 and 4, for example). He spent years running from Saul’s attempts to kill him. The difference is that David didn’t respond to his fear by taking it upon himself to kill the king who was trying to kill him. He could have done so, pleading self-defense. But David is known for saying that he would not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:6). He is famous for admitting his fears and then holding those anxieties up before the Lord.

Instead of letting fear drive him into uncontrolled anger and vindictiveness, David let his fears drive him to God. Time after time he saw God replace his fear with courage.


When we ignore yellow lights of self-protection and red lights of anger, accidents happen. People who were once enthusiastic for Christ end up like wrecked and abandoned cars. Their eyes no longer sparkle at the mention of Christ or the church. Many refuse to darken the door of a church.

Because of such damages, James urged us to recognize the way God’s wisdom and His Spirit work in our lives. We can refer to his description as the “green light” of God’s wisdom. Keep in mind, however, that we cannot resolve conflict by following these “traffic lights” in our own strength. We must be willing to let God produce a spirit and wisdom in us that is:

Pure. The wisdom that comes from God is free from the contamination of envy and selfish ambition. It corresponds to the interests of God Himself, whose purpose is to rule over and provide for a kingdom of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Peaceable. The heart that is at peace with God desires peace with others. It has no need to attack, insult, exploit, deceive, or prey on others. Instead, words and actions encourage trust while dispelling fear and anger.

Gentle. This is the quality of knowing when to show the kind of restraint that does not stand on the letter of the law and on rights but on mercy.

Willing To Yield. This is a submissive approachability that enables a person to listen carefully to the needs and concerns of others. It is not a submissiveness that indulges the selfishness of others; it seeks their good and surrenders to truth.

Full of mercy and good fruits. In the awareness of another’s need, the wisdom that comes from God desires to reach out in kindness—relieving and sharing pain by the sharing of strength and gifts received from God.

Without Partiality. Because such kindness is prompted by the goodness of God and not by a selfish strategy of giving to get in return, this kindness is not swayed by what another person has to offer.

Without Hypocrisy. Because wisdom from above is a skill that comes from a heart resting in God, its actions are not merely superficial and designed to get human approval. It is an “honest” wisdom of the heart.

This is the path of peace Christ followed as He confronted conflict. We cannot force it on others. But we can use it to evaluate our own relationship to the One who desires to help us do our part in promoting peace. At the hint of conflict, the green light of James 3:17 is the “signal” to follow.

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