James focuses on "bitter envy." If "envy" is desire for what another has, "bitter envy" must mean a person wants something so much that he is angry and hateful over it. Bitterness is a child of anger and resentment. Satan takes great delight in burdening our hearts with these harmful emotions. Unprovoked or quick-tempered anger is a hallmark of our modern cities, which resound in the night with the bark of gunfire and the howl of sirens.
Bitter envy takes jealousy to the next step by adding resentment and anger, and from it emerges words that stab, cut, tear down, refute, and diminish. We use these to reduce the stature of another so we may seem to stand taller. A talebearer or gossip only wants his listener to think less of another so that he might think more of him.
We can be envious because another sinned and "got away with it." We can envy those who have more, whom we feel do not deserve it. Envy often springs up when we receive unwarranted correction and someone else, who deserves it, does not. We can feel envy when one receives attention we desire for ourselves or when we fail to receive hard-earned recognition.
Envious words are bitter words: They are pointed and sharp, but their target is subtle. On the surface, they may even sound righteous, but in reality, they manipulate thinking in the speaker's favor.
Test: Do our words build or burn? If we build our stature by burning another's, we are standing on a platform of ashes that will crumble and topple us anytime. Only after I was gossiped about repeatedly did I began to see my own words of envy expressed. How foolish it had made me look, trying to stand taller on a pile of ashes!