In the last post, we talked about comparing ourselves with others and stated that when we do so we can, on one hand, judge ourselves to fall short of expectations or, on the other hand, judge ourselves superior to the other person and condemn them. There is another effect that can happen when we compare ourselves to others: We get discontent!
Comparing leads to discontent
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a landowner who agreed with some workers to pay a denarius for the day’s work. A few hours later he went to a second group and promised to pay “what is right” and still later on to another group and finally, one group who only worked one hour for the whole day.
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ (Mat 20:8-15)
By comparing themselves with the others (Who worked more?, Who had it harder?, Who was more valuable?) they had decided they were better and got upset. The fact is that the last group didn’t deserve what they were paid but the first group didn’t deserve to be paid more. The owner was a generous man…and a fair one.
Another thing we do is compare the job or task of others to our own. We get discouraged if someone has an easier job…or at least what we perceive to be easier. Jesus and Peter had a conversation like this.
(Jesus) said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Joh 21:19-23)
We are often interested in the other person’s affairs but we need to pay attention to our own. We think that maybe they have a better task or one that is more fun. Sometimes we wonder how they landed that job. We see them sitting down and wonder if they are doing their job. Who cares? Just do yours!
In the Psalms, Aseph confessed to envy when he said:
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. (Psa 73:2-5)
But it is just comparison. Look at the wicked…they are prosperous, nothing bad happens to them, they are well fed, don’t get into trouble….everyone else who plays by the rules suffers. It is a comparison of how well others are and how bad I am. It isn’t even based on a true reality because this comparison does not take into account the spiritual prosperity the righteous have.
Remember, the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence but it is just as hard to cut.
The problems of comparing ourselves with others.
Paul said that those who compare themselves with others lack understanding. Whether it be in who is the best preacher or who is the best trombone player, it is useless to compare yourself with others. If you compare yourself with someone for what they have…not for who they are, the results of your comparisons are going to cause problems.
The disciples of Jesus were comparing themselves to each other. Who is going to be the greatest. Can you imagine what that conversation was like?
Andrew: Well, I went and found Peter
Peter: Well, I am the oldest. (editor: we don’t know if Peter was the oldest)
John: He loves me more.
Judas: I am the one He trusts with the money
Nathaniel: He said I was without guile.
I am taller, I am more handsome, I know more people, I am smarter, I am younger….Yada yada yada.
When you start arguing over who has the best merits or qualifications among the group, you are simply comparing yourself against one another. That is not a good thing to do.
When we compare ourselves to others for the purpose of promoting ourselves, we forget that we were like them. Maybe we still are in some ways. Maybe not in the big sins (as if there are any big or small sins) but in many ways we all stumble and fall.
In the next post (or perhaps the one after that) we will explore the times and ways in which it IS good to compare ourselves with others. While this topic is explored over three posts, you can hear the sermon on this topic at this link.
Another characteristic of Agape love is that it does not envy. It is, I think, important to keep in mind the idea that “Love” is a characteristic that we are to be known by. We never say that a person is Love and this is probably because we recognize that pure love is something that only God is. Yet, in light of the fact that the Scriptures say that “God is Love” and that we are His children, we should at least be striving to get closer to the point where someone can say “_________ (insert name) is Love” and mean it.
So when we read that Love does not envy, we understand that Love does not envy even a little bit. When you feel envy, you are, at the root of it, feeling either a covetousness or a discontent. Worse, that feeling is because of something that another person has. They have a nicer house, faster car, better paying job, more vacation time, more Bible knowledge, more of an influence, etc., etc. The list is really endless. The eye is truely never satisfied.
In sales and marketing, a sale is never made unless an underlying need or want is uncovered. Generally speaking, we buy based on want not need. Spiritually speaking, if we bought only what we needed, our lives would be less complicated and if we were satisfied with what we have, there would be no envy. Of course, Satan is a master at uncovering those wants and tempting us with them.
Jesus did not feel envy; he was content with what He had. In fact, he gave up all that he had in the Heavenly realms to come to earth and to die on our behalf. So when Satan tempted him based on hunger, pride, or desire, Jesus passed the test because He didn’t feel the lack. He had all he needed.
Contentment would eliminate a lot of sin. It would remove a lot of envy. Children fight and quarrel over things that do not matter. Adults do not. As a spiritual adult, Paul refused to partake in the envy temptations of others. In writing to the Philippians, he points to some who preach Christ “out of envy and rivalry” (Phil 1:15) and yet, his response, in spite of their desire to cause him distress was to say that if Christ is preached, he will rejoice in that. Their motives were of no interest to him.
I know some who go preach in other countries. As a visiting preacher sometimes one or two people respond the Gospel’s invitation. Rather than baptizing the ones who respond, he steps aside and lets someone there do it. He does not take, nor want, any credit and he doesn’t want others to say that they were baptized by him. Who cares who baptizes a person, it is not to the credit of the preacher, it is to the glory of God.
Paul planted, Apollos watered, God gives the increase.
When you feel envy of someone else for what they have, it is because you are not satisfied with what you have.
Question: What can you do to remind yourself to remove envy when you feel it?
Photo credit: NeoGaboX
Brotherly affection is one of those qualities that Peter tells us that we need to add to our faith. He promises to us that if we have it and increase in it that we will receive a valuable benefit. First, we will not be ineffective as a Christian; second, we will not be unfruitful as a Christian; third, we will not stumble and finally, we will be given entrance into the Kingdom of Jesus. But what happens when we do not have brotherly affection? To answer this question, let’s look at the Prodigal son’s brother.
After the Prodigal had returned and his father was celebrating this return, the brother came in from the field and found out “there was a party goin’ on.”
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” (Luk 15:28-32 ESV)
He had no compassion on his brother.
Really, one might say that he didn’t even consider him to be his brother. “This son of yours” is a clear indication that he had separated from his the prodigal. Rather than rejoicing at the return of this prodigal to his good senses and to the family, the brother is more concerned about the party that is being thrown. Perhaps he considered it a further waste of his inheritance since the prodigal had wasted his portion.
He was short sighted.
He focused on the service he had given his father and yet, never had received such a party for his friends as his father was throwing for the prodigal. I rather doubt that this is completely true. In my own life, I know that I have exaggerated in order to justify my position. The use of the word “never” is key. What’s this? The father who is so generous to the returning prodigal NEVER(?) did anything nice for his son, never (?) threw a party for him, never(?) lavished him with gifts or some other present?
It may also be that the son had never asked. The father indicates that the son has access to what the Father had, could it be that he never asked for a party?
He bore a grudge.
There are many reasons why he could be upset with the Prodigal brother but he directs his anger at the party and the father. Why are you being so nice to him? In the parable, we see the Prodigal returning to the father to ask forgiveness. Perhaps this Prodigal needed to do the same thing to his brother. It was, after all, a sudden departure that robbed the family not just of physical wealth but relational wealth. However, the brother would rather hold the grudge than confront his Prodigal brother (who, if I read the story correctly, would have begged forgiveness). This grudge would keep them separated longer now and it was not longer the Prodigal who was missing but the brother who is leaving (not physically but relationally).
He may have been envious.
In many contexts I have heard a sentiment expressed that says in so many words: If I had not been a Christian, I would have been able to enjoy this or that pleasure of life before getting saved. That is an expression of envy and unworthy of those who are called by the name of Christ. We envy those who are enjoying the pleasures of this world because we see ourselves restricted by the “rules” of being God’s sons. Would we also envy their fate if they do not return?
The Prodigal’s brother was rich but he was really poor. Until his brother’s return, this poverty was not so easily noticed. Perhaps his father had realized this, maybe the father felt like he had lost two sons the day the prodigal left.
The application of this should be easy: If we are the brother who is still at home in the household of God, let us not fail to realize and recognize the benefits we have by serving our Heavenly Father. Let us also realize that we have a brother (or sister) who has left and needs to be welcomed back with open arms if they return. We should not envy them, bear a grudge, or feel that their return will in any way diminish our reward.
Question: Are there other undesirable qualities that the brother showed in this parable?
photo credit: Martin Young 42
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luk 12:13-15)
Undoubtedly, this brother who was on the short end of the inheritance felt he could do a better job with the money. Perhaps he felt he deserved the money laboring under the impression that he deserved it. Funny thing about inheritances, you have to wait till someone dies to get it. Which begs the question, what is more valuable, the person or the gift the person left behind? Only when the person is of more value, can a person truly appreciate the inheritance left.
The difficulty when others have money and you don’t is that you often feel as if you could benefit from what they have, especially when that money is viewed as a surplus. “They have enough”, “they won’t miss it”, “a little given to me won’t be missed”, you begin to think judgmentally. If you spend enough time thinking about this, it can quickly become a source of covetousness, envy, or jealousy that will ruin relationships.
Let’s start with a basic fact: God is in control. If you don’t know that and name the name of the Lord, you need to go back and read the Bible in places like Daniel, Joseph, and Job. Learn that God is in control. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1) and he is a generous God who also knows what we can handle and what we cannot. The brother in the text above may not have been capable of dealing with more money. Can you deal with a lot of money? (The parable Jesus tells next demonstrates a person who could not handle it and used it poorly)
Second, even when you have money, it is not your life. If we have food and clothing, with these we should be content. Here was a man who wanted to money and without it did not seem to be content. His brother had the inheritance and it just didn’t seem right. Even if the money had been divided, life is not found in physical possessions, nor even in good health. Your life ( the whole of man) consists of fearing God and keeping his commandments. God is able to take care of you.
Still, even in the lesson, we can learn something for both sides. Those with and those without money. Your life does not consist in what you have, or what you can buy. The parable that Jesus tells next, I think addresses those who want and those who have much money. Money is a tool and the best use of that tool is promoting the Kingdom of God. For an individual, that means that they work to have for their needs and yet, should not fail to do good to those who have a need. Still, the rule of thumb is your family needs first because to not tend to your family needs makes you an infidel, actually worse than an infidel. Then you have to give to those who have a need also.
This brother would have been better off focusing on his relationship with God first and let God bless him as He saw fit. At the very least, we know that those who serve the Lord, are laying up for themselves treasures in Heaven.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. (Jas 3:14)
It may not be that a person has wisdom at all. It may be that instead of wanting to be a wise teacher, he really is a bitter, envious, self-seeking individual. James’ advice is that this person face the truth as opposed to trying to deny it.
Looking back on chapter one, James talks about the person who looks intently into the perfect law of liberty. That person looks into it, sees hows he is and by continuing in that law, he will improve more and more. James also talks about the person who says he is religious and yet, he deceives himself. Don’t be that guy. His religion is useless.
There are many sources of envy and while I might be a little hard pressed to explain the difference between envy and envy which can be considered ‘bitter”, I am pretty sure that I do not want either of them to be among my possessions. Envy is a word that is very close to covet or jealous and none of these emotions are good things. I think of envy as something you feel when you do not possess something which someone else has. That something, be it a possession, a position, or a prize is something which you also wish (lust) to have and because someone else has it, you resent or despise the person for what they have.
James ties in “self-seeking” with this because truly what we are talking about is an attitude of “me first’ and not just first, but second and last also. If you look at the beginning verse in this chapter, perhaps one of the reasons that James does not want many to become teachers is because so many times, it goes to our heads. There is always another teacher who is better, there is always another one who receives this or that honor, there is always another blogger with more subscribers (Hey now!) and so it goes.
Jesus warned against having honor among men, actually he warned against doing things so that you would have honor among men. James seems to be warning about the same thing. If you have these things, then admit that you do. Don’t sit there and lie against the truth.
As a person looks intently into the law of liberty, as they work on being a doer and not a forgetful hearer, as they see those things that they need to correct, they need to admit that it is so. Only by admitting the problem can you begin to correct the problem. Peter had that problem. He didn’t know his own weakness and when Jesus (the Word) told him plainly, he boasted all the more “I will not deny you” yet, in the end, he did.
I have often wondered, who do the teachers confess to? You never see a preacher respond to his own invitation to come forward and confess sins. No, that would be bad, people would lose confidence in him and that can’t be allowed to happen. It may not be that you see it but a teacher does need to have his own person(s) with whom he can be honest. Otherwise, he may get caught up with sins that he will not admit.
When that happens, he stumbles as we all do and yet it is worse for the teacher than the one who is not a teacher.