The fruit of righteousness is born by those who keep their focus on Christ. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said that if you will abide in me you will bear much fruit.
In James chapter 3, we see two paths that we can direct our thoughts and actions towards.
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
I like the way it reads in the new living translation:
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
Notice here that humility comes from wisdom. Humbleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Another way to say it is that humility is the byproduct of us becoming more acquainted with who we really are. As we grow in the wisdom of who God is, our true selves, and our true motivations we cannot help but to become humble. Notice also I said, wisdom and not knowledge. Knowledge is intellectual, detached. Wisdom is personal, gained through experience and usually mistakes.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
We have a tendency to deceive ourselves and to see ourselves in the best possible light. This means that when it comes to some of our mistakes we tend to justify them and pass them off as strengths.
Many other, even secular individuals, have written about our tendency to do this. Hiding behind a cloak of pacifism to cover cowardice. Or using honesty as a justification for self righteousness. Neither pacifism, nor honesty, are wrong pursuits, but to cover our true motivations under the guise of these is dangerous and prideful. Which in turn is the byproduct of us allowing ourselves to be deceived.
James tell us in the passage, “don’t deceive yourself. Be honest about your motives and actions”.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
James goes on to say that the aforementioned type of wisdom that is rooted in deception is a type of wisdom that is of this world.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
Envying and strife are both rooted in selfishness. Envy seeks to have something that someone else has. It’s the idea that we are deserving of the fruits of someone else’s labor. Strife, in turn, is the friction between individuals that occurs as a result of envy. Envy manifests in the heart and strife is what’s produced.
There is no better way to lose sight of God’s will for your life than to focus on someone else. Keeping our focus on Him has a way of ushering in peace and pushing away confusion. This in turn has a tendency to order our steps and keep us from indulging in acts of evil.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
Again, the new living translation really says it well:
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
First of all pure... let that sink in for a minute. I mentioned earlier that using honesty as a cloak for self righteousness is deception. But by the same token that doesn’t mean that we’re to sacrifice the truth. Jesus came full of truth and grace (John 1:14) and we too are told to walk in the same (2 John 1:3). The idea of purity is that it is true, honest, right, correct... But it’s truth AND grace... not truth OR grace.
James goes on the spell out this balance by stating that although it’s honest and true, it comes from a place that prefers peace. That presents the truth gently with the intention of repentance and renewal. Not with indifference or in an effort to exalt ones self by tearing down others. It’s not motivated by a need to convince or win an argument but instead yields. It’s forgiving and desiring reconciliation. It demonstrates integrity in ones own life and doesn’t hide behind the hypocrisy of placing a standard on others that we then excuse ourselves from. Finally, it shows no partiality. It is willing to confront all comers. Not excuse some that we prefer while rebuking those we don’t. This is the wisdom that comes down from above.