You can tell a great deal about a society by examining its
heroes. In my lifetime I have seen the hero change; the hero of my
youth is now an example of mockery. The hero of today is much more
The older generation of heroes we rather stylized. For those
whose memory goes back that far, remember the Lone Ranger? In every
way possible he was a role model for children. He never started a
fight (though of course finished them all). He never killed anyone
(his screenwriters had him shoot the gun from the villain’s hand.)
His example was so powerful that the actor who portrayed him,
Clayton Moore, spent the rest of his life living up to “the code of
the Lone Ranger.”
The new generation of hero? Think about Rambo; a moody, violent
man, given to taunting his opponents; a man almost indistinguishable
from his opponents. Such portrayals are considered more “realistic.”
It is hard to tell the villains from the heroes these days. I once
saw a movie both with and without the obscenities—and I realized
that the hero and the villain were distinguished only by the
foulness of their speech.
Why is this important? Because for many young people life is not
very fair. As I came into a new school, the classroom bully was very
prompt in making sure I understood my place. I learned fairly
quickly that complaining to authority was useless. Teachers simply
said, “You have to learn to get along.” If you pushed it, principals
said, “You must have provoked him somehow.” It is very convenient
for authority to turn the victim into scapegoat.
The bully always has a cover story. So it seems to many of the
young that the most desirable thing to do is to become the bully.
Charles Atlas made a fortune dealing with sand-kicking bullies.
“Self Defense” classes are popular. The violence in the heart grows
It is important therefore to point out the end of this process.
By being like the bully you will grow to be the bully. You will grow
to be the one who hates. Anger will consume you; pride will push you
from horror to horror. So God warns us: it does matter who your hero
is. You grow up to be like him. The choices of the young are often
the bitterness of old age.
Lord, grant us vision to see beyond our noses. Help us to
understand that we become what we desire.
Greek To Me
1 Timothy 6:3-6
First, the disclaimer: I do not speak, read, write, comprehend
any more Greek than was necessary for my classes in mathematics. I
rely entirely on commentaries by people who do know it.
But there is no avoiding it, if you teach the New Testament. And
if you do it long enough, you will encounter the kind of person Paul
describes here. One such hotspot is Revelation 9:6. Whole schools of
interpretation of Revelation depend upon the Greek in that verse. (I
leave it to the reader to inquire further.)
Every teacher knows this guy. His Bible has more commentary than
Scripture; he is happiest when in the process of proving that what
you just said was wrong. Arguments over words, down to the letters,
bring joy to such a man.
They don’t bring joy to anyone else. If you let this go on long
enough, you will begin to see some of the symptoms Paul describes
here. The unity of the church is fractured in his arguments; soon
you begin to hear the bitter tones of one who cannot speak well of
his rivals. You’ll soon hear things like, “The reason he thinks that
way is that he is …” (perverted, hypocritical, addicted to ice
cream). Friction—constant friction—goes with him. Friction produces
much heat but practically no light.
Why would a man do this to the church of Christ? In one word,
envy. He sees in his teacher (and even more in his preacher) the man
he wants to surpass. It’s depravity; but it stems from one thing: he
neither has nor seeks the mind of Christ. He’s looking out for
number one. He’s going to get ahead.
“But isn’t this the man so eloquent in prayer?” Often enough. But
this eloquence is not there because Christ is; it’s there because
the man needs it. Somehow, someway in these twisted minds comes the
idea that if a man could show God that he was the most learned, most
discerning, most detail oriented (read: nitpicking) student of the
Scripture, then God will shower blessings (especially recognition)
The sad part is this: God will shower him with great
blessings—for the simple study of the Word. The secret is to do
nothing in strife; everything in harmony—and wait content for the
Lord to work His will. It is a sad epitaph: “He knew the Bible
inside and out. But Christ never knew him.”
Lord, in all our work for you, let us be as diligent as we can
be—always knowing that we could be wrong.
Green—as in Grass, as in Envy
Some years ago I lived next door to a man who had run a gardening
and nursery business, from which he was retired. It took very little
to see that his lawn looked much nicer than mine. We both had “St.
Augustine” grass—a hardy breed, and needing to be so, with my
neglect. Corn (short for Cornelius) spent many hours on his lawn. I
hired a gardener to cut it, and occasionally watered it. The results
showed the difference.
In this instance I was spared the trouble of keeping up with the
Joneses (or in this case, the Garcias.) I am hopeless at maintaining
plant life. But such a display next door could provoke grass war:
the combat for whose lawn looks the best. Much hard work has
resulted from this form of envy. In this instance, the hard work
itself might cause envy as well.
Notice, please, that this envy can produce results that are
righteous, unrighteous or neutral. For when envy strikes, it does
not matter what the work might be. A man will work very hard to best
his neighbor, or even a friend. And if your neighbor puts out a big
Christmas display on the lawn?
It is, as Solomon tells us, vanity and chasing the wind. It comes
from evil motives—the desire to be better than the other guy. We
honor that desire in our society (it’s called competitiveness). And
at the end, it means nothing. If it gets bad enough, there is more
than hard work. Sometimes the envious one will demean the
accomplishments of others (sour grapes, you know.) If the
accomplishment is bright enough, the envious will destroy it.
Ty Cobb, who might just have been the best all around baseball
player to grace the game, became a Christian late in his life. He
left a legacy in major league baseball of a man who would do
anything to win; the man who would sit in the dugout and sharpen his
spikes—so that the other team would fear him sliding into second
base to break up the double play. He was a legend for his fierce
competitiveness; he just could not honor another player’s
accomplishments. When he turned to Christ, he poured out his regret
for his life; he said he had been playing the wrong game.
Cobb died; his funeral was held in Georgia. Every little leaguer
in town came, in uniform. No one from the major leagues attended. In
the end, his records were just chasing after the wind.
Lord, open our eyes to the sin of envy. Teach us that we should
please you, not triumph over others.
Man, the Animal
One of the recurring thoughts of “modern” civilization is this:
man is nothing more than an animal, the most intelligent of the
primates. Things spiritual do not exist; only man the animal need be
For those who are inclined to rate such theology (for such it
is), I venture to point out two variations, and their results:
· We are now afflicted with “Bioethics.” The thesis is that
anything which helps get my genetic material into the gene pool is,
by definition, good. Push this one where you may; but do examine
what happens to the crime of rape.
· An older version was social Darwinism. The idea was that it’s
perfectly normal for nations to go to war; it weeds out the weak
nations and replaces them with the strong. Drawbacks? Could I point
out World Wars I and II?
The most humorous point of such theology is that its proponents
think it is bold new thinking. It’s not. Take a look at the list of
the “sins of the flesh” and see if you don’t agree—the animal in man
uncontrolled, can cause an awful lot of grief. Saying that we are
nothing but animals usually produces people who act like it.
One symptom I would point out to you: jealousy. Some might think
that an intellectual sort of sin—all done in the brain. But think
about children when they are young. Have you ever seen a four year
old teasing a two year old by withholding some favorite toy—just to
watch the little one get frustrated? The younger one learns jealousy
the easy way; the older one learns how good it feels to torment
someone else. We often act as if children were sweet, innocent
things. Would you hand a loaded submachine gun to one of these
sweet, innocent things? If you did, you would soon see how easy
killing someone is to a small child. Raising a child to adulthood
is, to some measure, teaching the child that “I must” is right, and
“I want” is wrong.
Envy, jealousy—these things come from the sinful natural side of
mankind. Their cure is not like the disease; the cure is not found
in the natural realm but in the spiritual realm. If you are
afflicted with such things, turn to God and ask Him to give you the
Holy Spirit in good measure—and with a purpose supernatural.
Lord, how often we justify ourselves with “I just couldn’t help
it.” Grant us your Holy Spirit, let us seek pardon, not
Of Poetry and Politics
One of the running feuds between various Bible interpreters stems
from the fact that there is poetry in the Bible—and it is meant to
be read as such. Sometimes it’s easy to see it as poetry; the Psalms
are poetic, for example. Other times it’s not so easy to tell. The
writers of the Bible, Old and New Testament, frequently used poetic
devices in their writings. It helps the reader memorize key verses.
So how do I tell poetry from prose? In English, we would look for
a rhyme. Hebrew poetry rhymes too—but it doesn’t rhyme in sound;
even if it did, we couldn’t translate it that way. Hebrew poetry
rhymes in thought, with two thoughts paralleling each other. You
will remember the opening of Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want”
Those two lines are a thought rhyme; we can conclude that because
the Lord is my shepherd, He will provide all that I need.
There is a rhyming pattern in this verse too. The two clauses are
thought rhymes. We can see that resentment (anger in the NASB)
rhymes with envy (or jealousy in the NASB). The two are connected;
it’s very difficult to envy someone in a cool and calm manner.
Usually, envy carries with it a lot of emotion.
Our politicians know this. Both parties try to occupy the center
of American thought; this means that they agree on most things. They
also know that people who are angry are more likely to vote to
“throw the rascals out.” So, to excite that kind of anger, some
politicians turn to envy.
It’s a productive formula: “Why should the rich have so much?”
There is great appeal in that statement. It opens up the inner life
to expose the resentment that can be fanned into flame. It matters
not how you plan to take that “so much” from the rich—as long as you
express the resentment and envy. It’s hard to get people to vote
“for”; much easier to get them to vote “against.”
All this depends upon the simple-mindedness of the typical voter.
It is rare to hear a sermon against envy these days; as a result,
this method produces anger, envy and votes from Christians as well
as non-Christians. We feel good when voting “against.”
Lord, so often we try to keep our faith in a tidy little box. You
cannot be contained; show us where the sin of envy has taken hold of
our lives. Then forgive us and guide us away from it.
The Cancer of Envy
Bob was the perfect object of envy. We were in the tenth grade
together. Rare for sophomores, Bob had a driver’s license—and a car
to go with it. Evidently Bob’s dad had more money than sense, for
Bob quite cheerfully admitted that he had no intention of working
hard to get good grades—a C average was just fine with him. He was
naturally good looking which, when added to his surfer image woodie
station wagon, made him the target of all the girls. Bob had a lot
for me to envy—and envy him I did.
Envy is like cancer in many ways. It certainly grew that way in
me. For example:
· Envy is easy in a society that values material things. The
privilege of wealth is to give your child the toys you envied when
you were that age. If all desire them, those who have them are the
targets of envy.
· The object of that envy often is completely unaware of it—like
cancer, it grows—unseen and hideous. Indeed, the one who envies will
often go to great length to prevent anyone from knowing about it. We
don’t want to give the one we envy the satisfaction of knowing it.
Often, when they find out, there is a sense of surprise more than
· Eventually, like cancer, envy will produce a sudden collapse of
the victim. All the stored emotion comes out at once in a flood.
Envy grows in the quiet of the night, as you think to yourself,
over and over, “I wish I had that kind of money; I wish I could get
a tan like that; I wish I had a car like that…” The list is very
long and often repeated like a litany. It eats you up when no one is
In this instance, however, God had a plan to cure that envy. It
seems that (unbeknownst to me) Bob envied me! He was of the opinion
that getting A’s was something that came easily. (Note: if it was
easy, it sure took a lot of study time to make it that way.) We
discovered this by doing an insect collection together. He provided
the car, the net and good company; I mounted and researched the
specimens; we both got an A. And we both lost the envy of each
Lord, may we each examine ourselves, seeking out the envy within
us—and bring it to you, the Great Physician, for its cure.
The Wisdom of Solomon
1 Kings 3:16-28
It is difficult to convince people that envy is dangerous.
· We can certainly see how envy would cause someone to do injury
to another, especially the one who is envied.
· We might even see, by experience, that the one who envies is
willing to harm himself if it also harms the one envied.
A story is told of this. Two men, one who was covetous and
greedy, another who was envious, were to share a wish. The catch?
Only this: the person who made the wish automatically gave the other
one double. The covetous man would not go first, for he feared
missing out on double the money. The envious man would not go first
because he could not bear to see the other one prosper so. Finally,
the envious man pronounced his wish: he asked to have one eye gouged
out—so that his neighbor would be blind. If we are envious, we can
certainly harm both ourselves and others. But there is a worse case.
The envious one is capable of doing great harm to those who are
innocent. Indeed, as this story shows, even one so innocent as a
newborn baby would be put to the sword to satisfy envy.
Fortunately for the child and its real mother, Solomon in his
wisdom understood how envy worked in the human mind. He knew that
one of these women was afflicted with envy; he only needed to bring
it out to discover which.
Indeed, we might learn something from Solomon’s methods, for his
wisdom was from God; we might even see how God might handle this:
· First, he exposed the envious one—even to the point of public
humiliation. One of these women went to her grave with the
reputation of being one who would murder a newborn babe.
· Next, he upheld the right. His verdict was not based on
personal preference, but unimpeachable justice.
· Finally, he passed no judgment on them for being prostitutes;
he dealt with something much more deadly—envy.
His decision was both just and wise; we may expect the same from
the Lord God. Better to plead for his mercy now than have your envy
be your downfall.
Lord, teach us to examine ourselves, find the corruption of envy
and bring it to you for forgiveness and cleansing.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
If there is one thing most Christians in America do not want to
be, it is different. I don’t mean ordinary different but different.
Why do we have this fear?
· At root we like to think of ourselves as normal—for anything
else means that we are outcasts.
· We certainly don’t want to be known as different. It might be
OK to be different, as long as no one knows.
The problem with this? Christians are supposed to be different.
Worse yet, we should be getting more different each day.
Why? Because the people of Christ are led by a different
spirit—the Holy Spirit. The world chases the things you can see; we
do not (or shouldn’t). Take a maturity check on yourself here.
Suppose your next door neighbor shows up one fine Sunday morning
with a brand new boat. He stops you as you are headed toward your
car, on your way to worship. What’s your attitude? Do you feel
“second class” because you don’t have a boat? Because he’s going
fishing this morning, and you’re going to church? That’s a sign of
an immature Christian.
There is a similar sign of an immature church congregation given
here—jealousy and strife, factions formed. On the night before the
Crucifixion, Christ prayed that we might all be one, just as He and
the Father are one. How do we do that?
· First, by becoming spiritual, mature Christians. We don’t let
the children run the kindergarten.
· Those mature Christians should be in harmony—with Christ and
with each other.
Whether you like it or not, such a church is going to be full of
people who are different.
· They will be led by the Holy Spirit—so their intentions are
· They will be doing God’s will—so their actions are different.
· They will be headed toward heaven. When your destination
changes, your route does also.
Seek first the kingdom of God—it makes all the difference in the
world (and out of it).
Lord, those who love you and love your children are different.
Teach us to enjoy the difference.
His name was “JJ”; he was a senior vice president of our
corporation. JJ was a man of selfish ambition; he was a man of
bitter jealousy, as the Scripture paints it here. But do not think
that JJ was a crude example of these things. No, JJ was smooth. He
was unfailingly polite to those who worked for him; his warm smile
belied the crocodile within. Only once did I see the man behind the
mask. We were at a large meeting of our division. JJ had been
angling for a promotion; he had only one competitor. In an example
of poor taste, the result was announced at this meeting, in public.
For a brief two to three seconds you could see the fury of bitter
ambition in his face. Then, composure closed over it, the smile came
back, and JJ warmly congratulated his rival. The passage here tells
the truth: selfish ambition and bitter jealousy are housed in the
heart, no matter how well you disguise them.
The handling of wisdom is like the handling of power: little is
much. When a man has a little more power than his peers, he becomes
arrogant. When he has much more power, he becomes gentle—there is no
point in making a show of the obvious. Likewise with wisdom; the man
who has a little more of God’s wisdom lets everyone know it. The man
steeped in it need do nothing of the kind; it will be obvious
In the wisdom of God we meet wisdom with power, for the wisdom of
God has the power to change lives. Therefore, we should handle that
wisdom with true Christian gentleness. Note that this is not the
province of just the church leaders; wisdom is given to all who ask
God for it. How then, should we apply that wisdom?
· Is it your task to correct or discipline a Christian brother or
sister? Then do so in gentle wisdom. The object is to restore them
to Christ, not drive them away.
· At the time of death, both the dying and those left behind will
need to hear the comfort of the Resurrection. Bring this comfort in
· If your task should be one of leading the church, do not assert
pomp and authority; rather clothe yourself in the gentleness of a
servant leader—just as your Lord did.
A gentle spirit is the mark of one who is truly strong in Christ.
Lord, drive from us the arrogance of power; replace it with the
gentleness you model for us.
1 Peter 2:1-2
It is a surprising point to evangelical Christians, but the
phrase “born again” is not frequently used in the Scripture. To be
specific, Christ gave that instruction to precisely one man: the
Pharisee Nicodemus. To everyone else he said, “repent.”
If you ask the typical evangelical Christian what it means to be
born again, you will usually get an answer which commands baptism.
After that, they haven't a clue. OK, so I’ve been born again—what
Peter provides the answer to this in these verses; like Peter,
it’s short and to the point. He instructs newborn, baby Christians:
Reject what is evil
First things first: you must reject what is evil. This comes in
· First, there is the evil of the heart. Peter mentions two
things of the heart: malice and envy. Do you have a grudge against
someone? Get rid of it. Even if the other person still holds one
against you. Are you envious of another person’s wealth or position?
Throw that out too; your Lord will provide for what you need (though
you may not know to want it.)
· You must then deal with appearances. The heart is the starting
point but bad habits may linger. What you show to the rest of the
world is your testimony. Do not let that be marred by hypocrisy; you
despise it in others, you should dispose of it for yourself. Deceit
too must go.
· Finally, there is the matter of action. Peter selects the sin
of the tongue, slander. Let your speech be yes and no, not the sly
words of one who enjoys a reputation for killing reputations.
Seek what is good
It is not sufficient to renounce evil; you must replace it with
what is good. Peter gives us only one direction—the milk of the
word. Spend time in reading the Scripture; make that a regular
commitment. Properly nourished, you will grow strong in Christ.
Lord, grant that those among us who are mature will point out the
path for those who are not. The road is narrow and difficult. Let
those who are further on be guides for those just starting.
It is a grand pleasure of mine: making balloon animals. So many
assume that the art of making a wiener dog is fearfully difficult;
it must take years of practice. The small child who gets the balloon
immediately plays with it—and it is best to leave before the balloon
pops. Others see the results and are impressed; I see the making and
know how little it is.
Here, David tells us that the evil ones in this world are like
those balloon animals—hot air under pressure. They pop soon enough.
· We fret at their numbers; why is it that God allows so many in
· We fret at their actions; why does he allow them to do such
· We fret at their mere existence; has it not occurred to the
Almighty to slay them?
Worse, there is envy. Envy is the sin of the have-nots. We ask
how it is that God could allow the evil to be so rich. We never
think that God might have a right amount of wealth in store for us.
The much of the evil may be their downfall.
They are the balloon animals in our lives. They look very
colorful and complicated; we see them and envy their technique. But
only a little child would want to play with them, for they are
corruption to the pure.
What shall we do? Wait for the Lord; in his good time those
balloons will pop. We fret because we do not believe he will act.
But he will. In the meanwhile, stay where you are—assuming you are
where the Lord wants you to be—and be faithful. He knows your needs;
he hears your cry for justice.
Sometimes God acts through the authorities of this world; the
criminal is brought to justice. Sometimes he works the matter
through by his providence. It does not matter. What matters is that
you are obedient to Him. Part of obedience is seeing things as they
are, not as they appear to be. The cynic thinks that only cynical
eyes see all; in fact, only faithful eyes can see all. The cynic
sits in the caboose, looking backward. He sees no tunnel coming, but
suddenly all is black. The faithful are with the Engineer, looking
forward—and see his light shining at the end of that tunnel.
Lord, we see the evil rich and the righteous poor; teach us to
know the balloons from the real thing.
Surely In Vain
It seems like yesterday; but I remember only his face, not his
name. He was arrogant, crude and rude. He was a man of violence, a
wheeler-dealer, one who delighted in tormenting those who were not
as evil as he (I was a favorite target.) The teachers admired him;
other students wanted to be his friend. I was with him only in
physical education, but that was the hour I dreaded. Often enough he
would have some of his friends beat me up in the locker room; his
hands, of course, never got dirty. If I complained, the coach told
me I should stop provoking them.
Asaph—the author of this Psalm—must have known one of his
ancestors, for this Psalm expresses very well the frustration that
the honest man has when in the presence of the prosperous wicked.
These things awaken old alarms in me:
· The temptation to be like them is very great; it pulls you to
the edge of wickedness. You feel that if only you could be like
them, you could get your revenge. And you want that revenge so much.
· You feel like all the effort you’ve put into being righteous,
all the time of prayer, all the resistance to temptation—all are a
fool’s errand. What did it get me?
· More than that, it causes you to question your entire view of
the world. What is it that caused me to value righteousness in the
first place? If the world is so constructed that the wicked are the
ones who succeed, then shouldn’t I be one of the wicked? Maybe my
sin was in not being more wicked than they are.
But Asaph also tells us the cure for this disease of envy. One
must go to the place where vision is clear: the presence of the
Lord. In his time, it was the Temple. It is no accident that he did
not perceive the truth until he went to the Temple; it was only
there that he could see clearly. Minute by minute living allows no
time for us to think clearly on the great issues of life. So it is
that we should set aside times of prayer, Scripture reading and
meditation on the Word. To navigate on the narrow way, you must
first have a clear field of vision.
Lord, so often we see the evil in front of us, pushing aside all
right and wrong. So seldom do we see their downfall. In this, teach
us to take refuge in you; there is no other place of safety.
Results of Envy
It is a story that has been repeated many times. God is gracious
and kind to one of his children – and the children of this world
react in envy.
Envy is the sin of the have-nots against the haves. It is as old
as Cain and Abel—and it has lost none of its sting over the years.
See how Isaac is treated here—for the “sin” of being blessed by God:
· It is not sufficient to gnash their teeth at him—the
Philistines try to take away his wealth. They don’t steal his
animals; rather, they stop up the wells so that they will die of
thirst. It is not that they have so little that they must steal; it
is that Isaac has too much. The comparison gnaws at them.
· Envy is often accompanied by fear, as in this instance. Though
Isaac had no evil intentions upon them, they could not imagine such
a state of mind. If they had the bigger herds, they would certainly
have shoved him out. So it is that they envy and fear him at the
· Note that their desire is that Isaac leave them. As long as
that guy Isaac is here, the comparison will be obvious. The solution
is too: get rid of him. So the king tells him to leave.
It is also instructive to see how Isaac handled the situation:
· First, he did not attempt to argue with them. There would be
little sense in it; but then, envy usually doesn’t make much sense
in the cold light of logic.
· Rather than have such friction, he moved. It is often that way;
the one who is offended must take the first steps at reconciliation,
for example. Isaac was a man of peace, and he handled things in a
· Even when the provocation returns, Isaac simply tells his
servants to dig out the wells. A patient shrug is often the best way
to handle envy.
There are lessons in this for us. We too may be envied, even when
we feel we have nothing to envy. Envy gnaws; we can at least soothe
Lord, may we never experience the temptations of being envied;
may we always be willing to reduce the pain of those who envy us.
Christmas can be a royal pain—for the parents. If you have three
kids, spread three to four years apart in age, you soon learn what
your parents learned: Christmas is an exercise in higher
mathematics. Each child must get the same number of gifts. If one
child gets something the other would like, get two—or even three.
The size of the boxes should be such that everyone feels that there
has been no favoritism (even if Mom always liked you best). All this
is done to prevent envy and jealousy.
It appears that Isaac never really learned that lesson. This may
come of having multiple wives and concubines, but the end result is
that Joseph is a jerk. He has no hesitation in telling his older
brothers that he will one day rule. The only evidence of that is his
dreams, but that’s sufficient—to make him arrogant.
It’s hard to remember—when you’re one of the older brothers—that
the kid’s attitude is not justification for what they did to him.
But it brings up a point: envy is much harder to deal with when the
object of that envy is a difficult human being. In short, sometimes
the enviable, aren’t.
It is the nature of sin and sinner that we seek to justify our
actions. Joseph’s big mouth served as justification for what started
as murder. Long afterwards these same brothers would acknowledge
that this was wrong, but in the passion of the moment it seemed a
great way to settle scores. But we need to remember: an injustice
done to us does not justify envy and jealousy. It’s still true: two
wrongs have yet to make a right.
Often the big barrier to letting envy go is not the desire we
have but the offense we’ve taken. Before we can deal with envy, we
must deal first with forgiveness. It’s easy to forgive the
forgivable ; if it weren’t, children would not survive to adulthood.
It’s hard to forgive those whose character is less than charming.
But it is necessary.
If you will not forgive, your anger will provide the
justification for your envy and jealousy. Envy will rise again each
time you rehearse your anger in mind. If you let it happen, the
anger and envy will feed each other. They will feed each other, and
you will be the main course.
Lord, forgiveness comes with such difficulty when the unjust are
also the unlovable. Release us from our prison of anger, and teach
us to see things through your eyes.
Mild Self Assurance
Dorothy Sayers, an excellent writer on things Christian, also
wrote detective stories. In one such work she described a vicar who
had “that air of mild self-assurance which a consciousness of
spiritual dignity bestows upon a naturally modest disposition.” It
is a reassuring description; we expect the clergy to be modest, but
with a dignity befitting a servant of the Lord.
Moses was such a man. The events leading up to this passage place
it in context, but see Moses’ reaction to what most leaders would
consider a major challenge: someone else doing their job, and doing
it well. His character is revealed here:
· First, note please the humility of the man. He is not outraged
that someone else is prophesying; rather, he would have everyone do
it. His humility springs from knowing God—and knowing his own place
· Not that the man usually doesn’t boast—but like Paul, when he
boasts, he boasts “in the Lord.” It is one thing to say God has done
wonderful things for me; it is entirely different to say that I am
· See too the patience of the man. Over and again he must deal
with this rebellious nation. We are told that if we lack patience,
we should ask God. Like many a minister since, Moses must have done
a lot of asking.
· One particularly marvelous things is this: Moses was not a
complainer—at least towards men. If he had a complaint, he took it
to God, not the nearest gossip.
· One reason he had this mild self-assurance was that there was
neither deceit nor hypocrisy about the man. The best way to be sure
that no one finds skeletons in your closet—is to clean out the
· Most important of all: it is not his will, but God’s will, that
he must do. Like John the Baptist, he was willing to diminish if God
Many of us offer ourselves to God “as is” - with no intention of
changing. Men like Moses offer themselves to God “as will be.” God
can always use another man like that.
Lord, may we learn by example. It is not wise to admire a great
Christian unless we are willing to follow such an example.
No Way Out?
1 Samuel 18:8
We should best begin with a bit of history. Saul, the king, is
mad at David—for doing what Saul ordered him to do. David’s mistake
is in doing all things well. Saul is not fitted to be king for his
lack of obedience, so God has Samuel, the prophet, anoint another
man. For the next seven and a half years there is intermittent
conflict between the two. This verse shows us most clearly the trap
in which Saul finds himself:
· David is a commander of troops for King Saul. Saul tells him to
go out and slay the king’s enemies—which David proceeds to do, at a
prodigious rate. Even though Samuel has anointed him king, David
scrupulously refrains from attacking Saul.
· But Saul, seeing the accomplishments of David, and knowing how
the people see them, goes into a rage. Envy can be sly; but it can
also be violent. The rage of violence now invades Saul.
· One characteristic of such a rage is that it blinds us to the
truth. David has not challenged Saul, nor will he. Saul does not see
that. His rage redefines the facts.
· As often happens, this fact-altering rage is counterproductive.
It deprives Saul of his best commander; it turns Saul into a man
obsessed—and in the long run does him no good.
If we could present this to Saul, he might argue, “There’s no way
out.” We often feel that way when rage hits, but is it true? Is
there no way out?
There is; look at Saul’s son Jonathan. He recognized David as the
Lord’s choice for king, and promised to serve under him. We know the
proverbial friendship of David and Jonathan.
Jonathan’s method deserves our attention. He had every reason to
be jealous of David; were it not for him, Jonathan is the next king.
But see instead what he does:
· He scrupulously defends the right. David is innocent, and
Jonathan knows it—and is not afraid to say so.
· He deals with David in God’s way—in love. The friendship formed
ends all possible evil between them.
Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.
Lord, the history in the Old Testament is given to us—so that we
might not repeat the mistakes shown. Grant us wisdom in this.
A glance at the verses before this one will reveal Haman’s
problem: he is not content with what he has. By the standards of the
time he is very well off—but it’s not enough to provide contentment.
· Contentment is not found in power. You may have great power,
but you will never have absolute power. Contentment will not come
until the desire for more power goes.
· Contentment is not found in prestige. Haman here is bragging to
his friends and family about all he has. This is the litany of a
proud man—he has so much and yet there is one bit of prestige still
outside his grasp. As long as that one bit remains, he will not find
contentment in prestige.
· Contentment is not found in social position. We often think
that it will; all we need to do is to move up a little in the world,
and all “those people” will think well of us. Even at the top of
society, it is not so.
· Contentment is not found in wealth. There are many things money
can buy; contentment is not one of them. You might as well try to
buy a small child’s love. A pre-school child’s love is earned, not
Despite all this—for there is nothing new in it—we continue to
think in our hearts, “I would be content if only…” Life would be
perfect—or would it?
Life here is never perfect; it’s a fallen world. Indeed, God uses
men like Mordecai for his purposes in your life.
· Your Mordecai teaches you humility. If you think you’re too
wonderful, Mordecai will pop the balloon of your ego.
· Your Mordecai teaches you to measure yourself in terms of your
service, not your pocketbook. Mother Teresa was vowed to poverty.
· Your Mordecai teaches you to rid yourself of envy. For that you
should thank him greatly.
So then, look at your rival and irritant not as an overgrown
mosquito but as the instrument God uses in shaping you for his
purposes in the kingdom. Then thank Him for your Mordecai.
Lord, so often we see our rivalries in this world only. By your
grace, help us see the eternal consequences of our own Mordecai.
Envied in the Lion’s Den
The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is a favorite in childhood.
Children, it seems, understand instinctively what it’s like to have
mean people around—which doesn’t say much for the human race. Lost
amidst the lions is the fact that this is a primer on the world’s
way of envy.
The inherent lack of logic in envy is shown here:
· His opponents admire his faith. They know it is strong; they
know it is important to Daniel. They also understand that this
prevents them from digging up the usual dirt, for the man is honest
as well as faithful.
· Despite that admiration, they consider his faith a weakness.
That is a consistent interpretation; how often have you been accused
of having religion as a crutch?
The world envies a sound faith—and considers it a weakness. It
shows the logical minds we’re dealing with.
The method used by Daniel’s enemies hasn’t changed much either.
They start by looking for something about his faith; they end by
inventing it. In our own time we might see this as a “homosexual
loyalty oath.” After all, it is politically correct. Then you simply
wait for things to happen.
Of course, this method assumes that God doesn’t really exist; or
that Daniel’s relationship with him is one way. After all, this guy
with the crazy religion of only one God can’t be right, can he?
Not only is God real, He acts. He takes something evil, as this
is, and turns it into a greater good. In this instance, the greater
good seems to be the devouring of corrupt officials, a method which
does have its appeal even in our day.
If you will glance ahead (best in the New American Standard or
the King James) you will see the secret of Daniel’s faith. Darius
himself refers to God as “the God you constantly serve.” It seems
that consistent, continuous service to God is the secret to the
great faith this man had. Decree or no decree, his prayers were made
at the same times each day. The worker whose habits put him in
contact with God regularly, seeking instruction and command, is
greatly esteemed by God. For such a man’s sake, even the lions may
Lord, we cannot all be great in your kingdom—but can imitate
those who are, by consistent, daily prayer.
Envy in the Body Politic
It is often asserted that religion has no place in politics in
America. Perhaps so; but sin certainly occupies a prominent
position. One such sin is envy.
Consider our practical example, Pontius Pilate:
· By all known accounts, he was considered an able administrator,
if a bit harsh with the sword.
· His harshness might be explained by the fact that the Jews were
notorious for rebelling against Roman authority.’
· Indeed, at the beginning of this affair involving the King of
the Jews he had been inclined to be merciful. But it got risky.
The great test of a politician is his ability to manipulate
events to obtain a desired result. Pilate knew the power of envy,
and he knew how to use it. Before this affair is over, he will have
the Jewish leadership shouting out, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Envy—the sin of the have-nots against the haves, and also one of
the most useful of sins in political life. It is a practical weapon
for politicians in a democracy. By a coordinated appeal to envy and
greed whole groups of people can be persuaded that their viewpoint
is not self-serving but righteous. You think not? See if these
arguments are familiar:
· “Why should the rich pay only thus-and-such percent tax? Why
shouldn’t we raise taxes on the rich?” Put more simply, why should
anyone be better off than me?
· “How come minorities get a break from the government? I don’t
get one; I have to work for what I get.” Put more simply, why should
anyone be better off than me?
Politicians know that firing up the emotions moves voters and
wins elections. Money being the mother’s milk of politics, they are
quite content to take a rich man’s money and then use it to stir the
anger of the not-so-rich. It may be argued that this is hypocrisy on
their part; but it could not be done without our succumbing so
quickly to envy.
Democracy, our founding fathers said, cannot exist unless the
people are a moral and righteous people. It remains to be seen how
long democracy will survive the twin assaults of money and envy.
Lord, we are so inclined to political rhetoric that we fail to
examine its call. Teach us to bring politics into the light of
My Favorite Team
She is Margaret to her mother; Michelle to her boyfriends and
Maggie to her friends—and she is quite a character. Nothing is ever
trivial to her. For example, her ex-husband was a graduate of USC.
After the bitter divorce, Maggie (a Stanford graduate) let the world
know she had two favorite teams: Stanford, of course, and whoever
was playing USC. This once went so far as to have her sitting in the
Coliseum with the only Oklahoma fan within 500 yards, learning the
words to “Boomer Sooner”. They probably would have lynched him
alone, but Maggie is too sexy for that.
Football rivalries are one thing; vengeance on your enemies is
another. Vengeance belongs specifically to God. One reason he
reserves it from us is this: in our envy, how could we be just? How
could we resist the temptation to strut over our fallen enemy?
Of course, we would argue that they deserve it. Perhaps so, but
who would you rather have delivering justice: you—or God? If you are
his child, he will avenge you; he will repay:
· In perfect justice—which you can’t.
· In perfect timing—which you can’t.
· In perfect power—which you can’t.
Indeed, he has so claimed vengeance that even rejoicing when our
enemy falls is prohibited. Why? Because God does not want to reward
you for such a thing—and therefore may decide to delay or forego his
vengeance so that you will learn.
What, after all, is an enemy?
· An enemy is one for whom Christ died. Would you have your petty
vengeance prevent his salvation?
· An enemy is one who is in God’s power—whether he knows it or
not. Will not God use that power to bless those who love Him?
· An enemy is one who will remain an enemy as long as we repay
evil with evil—but may become a friend if we repay evil with good.
So, do not even rejoice in your enemy’s failures. Rather, take
him to God in prayer; see how your God handles such things.
Lord, it is so hard to restrain ourselves from celebrating our
enemy’s failure. Teach us to see them with your eyes—eyes that see
one for whom you died.
Beasts That Perish
It happens that my house is directly across the street from a law
school. The law school is well attended, for the students in that
school did not go there simply to pass the time. They went there to
become lawyers—and by and large the lawyers of our society are both
feared and envied.
One curious phenomenon will illustrate this. In the neighborhood
are a large state university and a magnet high school. “No parking”
signs line the streets, but are sometimes ignored. When ticketed,
high school students generally laugh; college students get a wallet
worried look—and law students are outraged.
Envy and fear are two reactions often found together. The rich,
in my observation, often find both of them pleasing. It is very
pleasant to have people anxious to please you; it is also pleasant
to know that they fear you. Indeed, you can sometimes acquire this
feeling second hand—as I do when I say, “My son the lawyer…” (The
fact that he’s on the other coast and wouldn’t dream of filing suit
on my behalf is, perhaps, best left unsaid.)
But do we do well to have this reaction? Respect for those to
whom it is due is one thing; envy and fear another. We are the
children of God. He is still sovereign. Indeed, we are commanded to
pray for those in authority over us, to intercede for them. The weak
do not intercede for the strong, do they?
There is more than that. Often enough those who enjoy the world’s
fear and envy are those who live for this world only. Such a person
is neither to be feared nor envied, but pitied.
There is a certain sadness about those who have no understanding
of ultimate things. They live their lives to satisfy the cravings of
this world; the Psalmist rightly compares them to animals. They seem
so tall in their own eyes; but they are small in the eyes of God.
His vision is the one that will prevail. We should see such people
as they really are: desperately needy.
We should notice, however, that this is not a label that we can
hang on anyone with a lot of money. God in his good pleasure has
seen fit to make my son the lawyer much richer in money than he has
seen fit for dear old dad. The Scripture is clear about this; the
rich of this world are to be generous in their giving. The problem
comes when your money masters you.
Lord, for those who are rich, keep us mindful of the transience
of wealth. For those who aren’t, keep us from envy and fear.
By the standards of the church congregation in which we serve, my
wife and I are certainly not rich. But we are not poor either; and
one man’s income might be another man’s dreams. So it is that over
the years we have been able to lend to various people who had a
need. Sometimes the loan is repaid; sometimes it is not. This sounds
as if we can’t tell a good loan risk from a bad (which just might be
true). Actually, we are following the example set by the ancient
· They were commanded by the law to lend freely.
· Often enough, the loan turned out to be a gift. Every seven
years, all debts were forgiven. Of course, there are always those
who cannot repay.
· But the commandment of God is to lend generously—lest the cry
of the poor reach his ears, and it be sin to you.
Here, in this Psalm, we see the reward for a rich man who lends
graciously and generously. It is not so much reward for lending as
the results of such character who will obey God in this.
· He will never be shaken; always remembered by God. Why? Because
he does not trust in his money, but in the Solid Rock.
· He will not fear evil tidings. Why? Because he knows that the
Lord God looks out for him; no evil will come from which God will
not make a greater good.
· His “horn will be exalted” - he will have honor and favor from
others. A rich man who is generous will not lack for that.
· Most important: he will maintain his cause in judgment.
That last is important to us, for Americans are the wealthiest
people on the planet. When the Judgment Day comes, what will we say
of our wealth? If we have been gracious and generous, those who have
benefited will be there as our witnesses.
There is the difference. The wicked who hold on to every penny
(in the name of thrift, of course) will see—too late—that the
generous are also the wise. Their envy will flame, but too late.
Money makes you wealthy; what you do with it makes you rich or poor.
Lord, so often we think we have so little. Teach us to share that
little with those in need, graciously and generously.
Fear God, Dread Naught
Dwight Eisenhower tells a story from his youth. It seems that his
father, like many before and since, ordered his son not to fight.
Perhaps Dad understood just how aggressive a fighter he had. So it
happened one day that Dad came out into the front yard, there seeing
a smaller child chasing his son around. Dad, forgetting his
instructions, asked Ike why he was running from this kid. Ike rather
bluntly reminded his father of his instructions, ending with the
statement that Ike was a lot more scared of Dad than any kid.
Ike’s Dad saw the problem. He told Ike to chase that kid out of
the yard. Ike promptly did so.
There’s a lesson in there for us. So often we look around in our
world and see the prosperous evil and we are struck with envy; why
couldn’t I be like that. When such a complaint arises we often hear
someone tell us to be pious and wait upon the Lord. There is a much
more direct approach, however.
The fear of the Lord—the beginning of wisdom, said Solomon. We
can see this in both negative and positive ways.
· The negative is simply this: you have a choice. Do you give
your awe and admiration to those who are limited to killing you—or
to the One who can kill you and then send you to hell? It’s not a
pleasant choice—but a very real one.
· The positive side is a bit more difficult to see. It’s easy to
see the wicked strut, especially in times like these. God appears to
us in such times to be inert, harmless. But so does a loaded gun. If
you know where the trigger is, things are different.
One Prime Minister of Canada compared his trade relations with
the United States to sleeping back to back with an elephant. It’s a
nice warm spot—unless the elephant decides to roll over.
That’s us. We’re back to back with God, and therefore we feel him
but see the wicked. Do not envy anyone, least of all such people.
They look powerful now; so did Hitler.
It is an instructive exercise: look at those evil people who have
so much money, the adulation of the world, and a smiling arrogance
with which to tell you that Christians are fools. But wait; we have
seen these people before. God has yet to balance his books; the
judgment day will come. Then who will be wise?
Lord, envy is so easy; fearing you is so easily distracted. Help
us to keep our minds on the truth, not the appearances.
The name Jackie Chan may not be familiar to older readers. Mr.
Chan is an actor, starring in karate pictures. Most of these are low
budget, high action films; the audience for these things is not
usually looking for Shakespeare.
Mr. Chan has made it his habit to perform an important public
service at the end of each film. As the credits are rolling, no one
leaves the theater. Behind the credits are Chan’s outtakes and
behind the scenes sequences. He shows you the broken bones, how
missing the boat lands you in the bay, and other (usually) humorous
items. But there is a serious purpose: he hopes to prevent
youngsters from blindly imitating the scenes done by professionals.
It is an important point. The young will have their heroes. The
first rule of hero-worship is simply: make sure they really are
heroes. In our films this is often hard to do; sometimes the only
real heroes are in the special effects department.
For if your heroes are indeed evil men, the desire to be like
them is the desire to be as evil as they are. It is a twisted form
of envy, for it is envy and betrayal. We say to ourselves, “The
bullies are mean, violent, unkind and evil. How quickly can I become
like them?” The fact that being like them seems an improvement in
your life does not justify your betrayal of your own values.
It is equally true that you do not need to match these evil ones
in physical ability. You can just join the gang, and hang out with
them. This is easy to understand, and hard to resist. In high school
I was a prize target for the violent—until I made friends with the
school’s two shot-putters. But the longing to belong and to feel
safe is a terrific pressure.
The book of Proverbs was written as advice to the young. In a
young mind, the dreams of violence may be very attractive. Older
heads may know the vanity of such dreams. Older heads know that the
thought is father to the action. What you dream of, you may become.
Likewise, the tongue often commits the rest of the body. An ill
considered word, and someone pays. Usually, everyone pays. So the
writer tells us, do not envy; do not associate.
Young ones: beware the sin of betrayal by envy.
Lord, our emotions rise quickly while diligent thought is slow.
Teach us early to think before we speak or act.
The Jealous God
Song of Solomon 8:6
Jealousy and envy are not always interchangeable. Indeed, in
marriage they are quite separate.
Dick Armey said it best. When asked what he would do in Bill
Clinton’s position (during the Monica Lewinsky scandal) he replied,
“If I were in Bill Clinton’s position, I’d be looking up from a pool
of my own blood, listening to my wife asking me, ‘How do I reload
Evidently Mrs. Armey is the old-fashioned type. She apparently
has ignored all the modern psychology written to prove that adultery
actually enhances your marriage. I’m married to a woman like that
myself. Her husband is rather old-fashioned about this too. But the
church today is not. Adultery, divorce, fornication—these are topics
which seldom are heard in the classroom or the pulpit. The stern
doctrines of marriage as seen in the Scripture do not seem
particularly convenient these days.
One must wonder: does God see it that way? Over and again He
proclaims himself to be “the jealous God.” His relationship with his
people is frequently compared to marriage—and God often has the role
of angry husband. Read the book of Hosea. How do you suppose He sees
the church today—the church which holds Christ as authority to about
the same degree they accord that responsibility to husbands?
The First Laodicean Church is clear; feminist view of marriage,
good; jealous husband, bad. The wife’s submission to the husband is
merely a cultural leftover from the first century church. Read
Galatians 5:21-23. The first verse is authoritative, the second and
third simply cultural. Or so we say.
What we have not realized is that our view of marriage is
intrinsically tied to our view of Christ and his church—often
described as the bride of Christ. We have thrown out the husband’s
authority—and with that, we no longer recognize the authority of
This might go well if the matter was really one in which we have
a choice. But remember: God introduced himself as the jealous God.
Just because we’ve gotten liberated from his old-fashioned views
doesn’t mean that He has changed.
My wife has a jealous husband. My church has a jealous God. There
just might be a connection there.
Lord, send upon us the spirit of revival in our land. Do not hold
back, but sweep through us in the spirit of repentance.
What does it mean, to live in the Spirit?
· It means that we have a share in eternal life, from the very
nature of God.
· It means that we are free from the bondage of sin; we are no
longer tied to it.
· It means that, like Christ, we are heirs of the Resurrection, a
fact which will be made known at his return.
“Yeah, but what effect does it have on my daily life?”
That depends upon you. You decide just what effect it has. You
can accept and embrace the Spirit, following his will more and more
closely; or you can reject the Spirit, doing as you please. The
former course is known today as “walking the talk.” The latter still
goes by the name of hypocrisy.
The word Paul uses here for “walk” is an unusual one. It does not
mean stroll, amble or wander; it means to walk in a line—to march,
as veterans know. You might think that getting a body of men to
march together would be relatively simple. It is not—at least when
I’m in it. The drill sergeant eventually solved the problem in our
platoon by placing me in the middle—where I had a platoon full of
examples to follow.
The analogy still holds today. If you’re going to walk the talk,
you’re going to have to be in step with the church. When the church
works together as one, there is no room for personal vainglory and
the envy that attacks it. So we can use this idea as a test for how
we are doing. Specifically:
· Are you boastful about your work for the church? You may not
think this a problem; after all, you won, right? The church is not a
· Are you envious of others in the church—because you lost?
· Are you anxious for a rematch?
Any of these tell you one thing: you’re not marching in step with
the Spirit. You are the one who is out of step—and worse yet,
stepping on others as well.
Lord, even we know that teamwork is needed to win victory. Build
us together as your team.
The active verb in this verse can be translated in a number of
ways. The King James gives us “grudge not” while others use words
like complain, moan, grumble. This is not the language of open
complaint but of backstage moans and groans. It’s a tough thing to
get rid of, in a church—every time you step on it, somehow it
slithers off to somewhere else.
Why do people do this?
· There are some of us who are deeply offended at the fact that
there are other people in this world who have more than we
do—whether the more be money, or talent, or good looks, or the
advantage of social position. The truth is simple: the world is not
homogenous. Some people have advantages and others don’t. To mumble
and groan because someone else has these things does nothing for you
and harms the church.
· Then there are those who are constantly offended by what people
do. In their view, the world is composed of about six billion idiots
and one very frustrated, competent human being. It doesn’t matter to
them how much you tried; they’ve got to get on with the complaint.
This chorus of critics is ever with us (which may explain why we so
seldom pay them heed).
· Some are just plain sour. “Nothing but perfection” is their
motto, and frequently disappointed they are. Of course, they
consider their words to be constructive criticism; or they would be,
should the critic ever bring the subject up first hand. All their
complaints are issued to those who can do nothing but spread the
It is not hard to see the pride and envy in such people; it’s
easy to see that they are being judgmental. Easy, that is, for
everyone but them. They don’t see judgment, they see themselves
expressing their opinions which, in their view, are very weighty.
But Christ sees this as judgment, and warns us not to do this.
Judgment belongs to him; we are to build up and hold up the unity of
the church. So James tells us that He is standing at the door. If
you knew that your moaning and groaning would be heard by Jesus
Christ, would it change your words at all? He listens to such
things; what should he hear from you?
Lord, it is so easy to criticize—especially when we know it will
have no effect. Teach us to mind our tongues.
Feminism, 1500 B.C.
Looking backwards in time sometimes puts us in situations which
today could not happen, at least in our culture. So we need to begin
this by explaining a few things first.
A woman’s prestige and stature at this time was largely shaped by
her success in bearing children—especially sons. It was assumed
(quite wrongly) that women somehow determined the sex of the infant.
A woman who bore many sons had great prestige; one who bore only
daughters, much less. One who bore no children was at the bottom of
the female social structure.
In such circumstances, a wife had the option of presenting
children to her lord and master (hereafter, husband) through the
agency of one of her female slaves. If she gave her husband
permission to have sex with her, any child so obtained was to be
credited to the slave owner, not the slave. This is not a method
that is going to stand up to much stress; polygamy, it seems, has
its own drawbacks.
Pity poor Abe. His wife can have no children. She offers the
service of her slave girl. Abe hears her complaint, has sex with
Hagar, and nine months later Sarai blames him for the trouble. What
is Abe to do? Pass the buck—right back to Sarai.
You see the chain: Hagar now despises Sarai; Sarai beats Hagar;
Hagar runs away. It’s a marvelous example of envy. Hagar envies
Sarai’s freedom and status with Abe; Sarai envies Hagar’s ability to
We could suppose that this is just the result of a rather kinky
Biblical affair. But in this note one thing: it is entirely possible
for both people in an argument to envy each other. It’s possible
that the entire argument can be centered on envy, each for the
other. Satan laughs at such, for it can be (as here) a spiral of
mutual envy, growing and growing in hatred.
God soon intervenes in this so that his plans will be
accomplished. But in the usual case we don’t get voices from heaven.
So it is necessary that we examine ourselves in this—and examine
others. Is there someone with whom you have a longstanding argument,
full of bitterness, which is fed by your mutual envy? Then break the
spiral; ask the Lord for strength to overcome the envy. Who knows?
There may be a friend on the other side.
Lord, we are the ambassadors of reconciliation—help us to put
this into practice as well as preaching.
The year was 1959. My dad was in the army; money was tight. Our
government is not in the habit of overpaying soldiers. My mother
dragged us along shopping one day (one car family). In the process,
she rather dutifully entered all three of her children into a
drawing. The prize was a toy railroad set; engine, cars and track.
Some people have the ability to win such things. Statisticians
will tell you the process is random; it is never random when my
sister is around. She can win anything—by chance. She won the
Now, she had neither use nor desire for the railroad set—until it
became clear to her that her brothers would love to play with it.
Then it became a weapon to tease them with. Envy can be created with
as little a thing as that. My mother explained in vain that she won
it; we were still green-eyed.
God has a similar problem, given in this parable. Why is it that
God selects certain individuals for a life that is rich, full and
leads to heaven, while others scratch their way through the day?
Surely he could have made a world in which everyone got the same
starting point! Why should you have so much?
The answer tells us much of the character of God—and not a little
of what we have forgotten. We are the recipients of grace; God has
chosen to show us his unmerited favor. He also chooses to grant
grace to those whose lives are not exactly examples of Christian
living. We both get the same thing.
The attitude sometimes spills over into the church. How is it
that we let just any sinner in? How does it look to have such a
wicked sinner in our midst? We need to remember that Adam was formed
from the dust of the ground—which, when properly mixed with water
makes us clay. Clay to be molded as the Master would have it, for
his purposes, not our own.
It is a curious thing. We have presumed upon God’s grace to such
an extent that we think we can take offense at his generosity. We
think we’re complaining about something we’ve earned and “they”
haven’t. Actually, we are ignoring the glory of God as shown in his
mercy to all who will come. Therefore, do not let envy rule in your
heart; remember, you’re a sinner too.
Lord, so often we think we know what you must do. Teach us
instead to care for what we must do.
One of the stranger ideas of our time is the existence of the
“victimless crime.” We are told that prostitution is a victimless
crime, for example, and therefore should be legalized. The
devastation it wreaks on marriage no longer is important, as our
society now equates marriage with slavery. Drug use is another one.
When what is evil is honored among men, how the wicked strut!
There is a sense among Christians that the sin of envy is not
really a serious matter—for, after all, there is no victim. Perhaps
we can list the victims and determine the impact:
· The first victim is yourself. Envy twists in your mind,
upsetting all kinds of things. You become more and more twisted as
you allow envy—the lust after things, the lust after someone else’s
accomplishments—to have its way with you. Can you honestly say it
· The next victims are those you quarrel with. Perhaps you don’t
see it this way, but at the very least you are an annoyance to them.
As James points out, however, it can come to a case of murder.
· The third victim is the church. We are called to be one body in
Christ, having in common one spirit, the Holy Spirit. If you left
hand doesn’t like your right elbow, is that good? Or do you see a
doctor to get it fixed?
· The fourth set of victims are those who see the church. There
are people in your life who know that you are a Christian. They’ve
been told that Christians are weird and evil people. They’re
watching you to see if it’s true.
· Another victim is your prayer life. Have you noticed that God
does not seem to hear your prayers? Perhaps you’re asking him to rob
your brother to give to you—would he do that?
· Indeed, the greatest victim is Jesus Christ. Don’t you know
that it was his suffering that sets us free from sin? Will you now
go backwards and insult that suffering? Insult that love?
Lawyers may define a crime as victimless; politicians may embrace
legalizing it. They live in a fantasyland; they could define a pig
to be a horse. The church lives in the real world.
Open our eyes, Lord, to the damage we do when we envy our
Christian brothers and sisters.
Justice and Mercy
There is no denying it: sometimes people just don’t get what they
There is also no denying this: when they get worse than they
deserve, we may sympathize—but when they get better than they
deserve, we turn bright green with envy.
This is so much the case that each of us understands the feelings
of the older brother in this master parable, the Prodigal Son. In
his mind, the treatment given his younger brother is completely
unjustified. It is not fair. You can see the argument; the older
brother has the rewards of obedience—very predictable, no luck
involved. He looks at his kid brother and sees the party life he’s
led—a life that, by its nature, is denied the obedient. His view is
selective; he does not choose to see the starvation and shame. Of
course, he didn’t get to hear his brother’s little speech to dad,
either. When envy sets in, we see everyone else through rose colored
Hard work is hard work. Obedience, especially to dad (I have two
sons, you know) is not always easy. So it is particularly grating to
see (as the older brother would see it) disobedience, laziness and
immoral living rewarded. For that is what he sees: his younger
brother, after squandering his dad’s money, finally sees the light
and comes home to a tremendous welcome. And nobody even bothered to
go out and tell the older brother.
It’s not fair. That is a fact, explain the rest as you will. Life
is not fair, and this is not fair. The younger brother himself
clearly understood what would be fair: for dad to treat him like one
of the hired servants.
Isn’t it interesting: the older brother envies the younger one.
What’s the younger one done to deserve this? Nothing, really. He
came home ready to be at the bottom of the hog pit if they’d let
him. He does, in fact, acknowledge that his brother is right: it’s
not fair. This is not justice.
But can a Christian ever expect justice? We are commanded always
to give it, but no where does it say we should expect it. Indeed, we
are taught that we will see persecution in this world. But we also
know that love and mercy are ours. Love and mercy are not fair, not
just—but mercy triumphs over judgment. That is God’s way with us; it
should be our way with each other.
Lord, we often envy the good fortune of others—even when that
good fortune is to have you as Lord and Savior.