Continued from Ways to Combat Envy, Part 1.
MEDITATE ON THE LIVES OF BIBLE CHARACTERS WHO OVERCAME ENVY
John the Baptist
In previous posts, we spoke about how God uses Biblical characters as examples for us to avoid or follow.
When I want to combat envy, one of the people I look to in the Bible is John the Baptist. When Jesus showed up on the scene, the masses turned from John to follow Jesus. John could’ve been overcome by envy, but wasn’t. He could’ve tried to protect his position and influence, but he didn’t.
What made John surrender his position, influence and following to another? I wanted to find out. Yes, it was Jesus. But, John was still a human being with a fallen nature. Just like the rest of us.
John had a thriving ministry with a huge following. He didn’t have to hustle or market himself, like so many people do today. He didn’t go to the people, but they traveled out to meet him in the wilderness. The crowds hung on his words and he had loyal disciples. His ministry was so significant the religious leaders wondered if he was the prophet from old, Elijah or even the Messiah. (John 1:19-21)
If anyone was on top, it was John the Baptist. But, when Jesus began his ministry, people stopped following John to follow Jesus, including John’s disciples.
We probably all have experienced loss at one time or another. Losing our following, popularity or significant relationships to someone else feels like losing, period. It feels like a gut punch!
All the conditions were right for John to fall prey to the ugly sin of envy.
So, how did John keep himself from envy?
John the Baptist kept himself from envy by viewing everything from God’s perspective. His feelings were informed by the truth of God’s word and not by changing circumstances. We must do what he did to overcome envy in similar situations.
He knew who he was and his role in God’s kingdom.
When the religious leaders asked John who he was, he proclaimed his identity.
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” –John 1:23
He wasn’t the Messiah, but God had called him to prepare the way for the Messiah. He had his time in the spotlight and now his work was coming to a close. He had to make way for Another greater than himself.
It takes a person secure in their identity to surrender both the highs and the lows of their life to God.
Since John knew who He was in God, he was able to submit to God’s will. It was time for Jesus to grow in prominence and for John to fade into the background.
He must become greater; I must become less. –John 3:30
Additionally, John also declared he wasn’t the Bridegroom, but the “Friend of the Bridegroom!” (John 3:28-29)
He clearly recognized the Bride belonged to the Bridegroom and not to him. So, when the crowds dwindled from him to follow after Jesus, he accepted it, because he knew it had to happen.
John understood he could only possess what he received from Heaven!
In other words, even though we may try to take something from someone else, that thing will never be truly ours, if God didn’t give it to us in the first place. Everything we have can only come from God.
An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” –John 3:25-30
I have meditated on this passage, studied it, underlined John’s words, journaled on it, etc. just to get it into my mind and heart. If we can only get this concept, we’d be free from not only envy, but even our emotional reactions when various things happen. Trust in God tends to quiet our souls.
When we accept God’s will, it brings satisfaction and peace.
Sometimes, to accept what God might be doing in our lives can be so hard, when we perceive it as something negative. But, acceptance can also be powerful, when we finally come to that place and do it in a way that honors Him.
Since we also have an enemy in the mix, who seeks to kill, steal and destroy, it’s not always easy to discern who’s doing what. Sometimes, like in the case of Job, satan can be attacking, while God allows the attack for His higher purposes. Regardless, if we know we’re being attacked by the enemy, we must fight back and protect what rightfully belongs to us.
But, when it’s God, it’s a different story. Since we don’t always understand what God is doing in our lives at any given time, we need to learn to accept the valleys as well as the mountaintops, the good things as well as the seemingly bad things.
Job gained insight through his trials. He spoke wisdom to his wife:
“Should we ACCEPT from God only good and not adversity?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. –Job 2:10 (CAPS mine)
Letting go of influence, ministry, a position, the following you worked so hard to obtain, etc. can feel like adversity. Watching someone else step in and attract all the things you once had for yourself can feel like adversity.
Understand there are seasons of change in each person’s life.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That means everything else is open to change. We must reconcile ourselves to the possibility of change.
We all have our seasons in God. Sometimes, people find their identity in the season of their popularity, fruitfulness or success. Consequently, they don’t find it easy to let go. They may try to find new ways to reinvent themselves or they hold on for longer than what is necessary.
Being obedient to God involves respecting the seasons He has for our lives. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a, Solomon tells us there’s a season for everything and a time for every purpose under heaven. There’s even a time to gain and to lose.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; –Ecclesiastes 3:6
When we humble ourselves to walk with God through all the various seasons of our lives, we’ll end up fulfilling His purposes. We can accept whatever God gives us, when we are rooted in our identity in Christ and God’s great love for us.
And, if we trust enough in God’s heart for us, we, like John, will be able to promote the one who has taken the place we believed was ours to fill.
Will it be easy? Most likely not. Will my flesh be crucified? Yes. Will it be loving? Absolutely, because love does not envy.
GOD GIVES CREDIT FOR HELPING OTHERS SUCCEED
We can overcome envy by seeing the value of supporting others.
As I prayed about this post, a totally unexpected thought came to my mind. I’m not a big basketball fan, but I looked up who had the all-time assists in basketball. This person doesn’t score the basket, but helps the person who does. Oftentimes not the “superstar” of the team, he or she consistently does things to help the team score and win.
Likewise, as Christians, aren’t we all on the same team and, therefore, called to assist one another? Is our highest desire to see the Kingdom of God expand and gain victories all over the world? Or do we only want to expand and secure our own personal ministry and platform?
Let’s face it. Not everyone can be a Michael Jordan. But, even Michael Jordan needed teammates to work the court and pass the ball to him at critical times for him to shoot and score.
God keeps careful records on your life.
The person with the most all-time assists is John Stockton, formerly of the Utah Jazz, with 15,806 assists. (To put this in further perspective, the person in second place had 12,091 assists. It’s doubtful anyone will break his record soon.) Every time Stockton assisted a person scoring for his team, they’d mark it down on some sheet. E-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e t-i-m-e!
Why would God do any less? If he numbers the hairs on our heads and keeps our tears in bottles, why wouldn’t he also write special notes in our biographies? Every time you assist someone else to fulfill God’s purpose and extend the Kingdom, God notes it in his book of remembrance.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. –Psalm 139:16
We just don’t realize the special place we hold in God’s heart. His record-keeping exceeds the NBA staticians. God remembers even the smallest kind deeds.
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” –Matthew 10:42
Each person will be rewarded for what they have done.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, AND THEY WILL EACH BE REWARDED ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN LABOR. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. –1 Corinthians 3:6-9 (CAPS mine)
I may not be the famous teacher, platform speaker or the gifted evangelist, but my part in helping people matters and will be rewarded.
God’s reward system differs from that of man. With it, he honors and exalts the humble. He looks not only on our deeds, but also on our motives. When we do things to be seen by others and for the praise of men, the Bible clearly states we already have our reward in full. (Matthew 6:1-6)
God will give people what they want. If we want the praise and rewards of men, we may get them, but that will be all we’ll get. On the other hand, if we desire the praise of God, even if no-one were to see us, we will get His reward.
Cultivate humility and be grateful for the hiddenness in your life.
In so many ways, it’s easier for the person who helps to do things with the right motives, because he or she isn’t in the spotlight. They have a built-in context to cultivate humility.
Therefore, we must be ever vigilant, when our name becomes more well-known, we meet praise on every side and the spotlight shines. God, help the man or woman who gets accustomed to that spotlight and grows increasingly tempted by the praise of men!
To ward off envy, God reminds us it pleases Him when we seek to help and to serve others.
Jesus told us how he viewed greatness in the Kingdom of God: take the lowest seat, it’s better to give than to receive, wash each other’s feet, the greatest among you will be your servant and if you humble yourself, you’ll be exalted. (Luke 14:10, Acts 20:35; John 13:1-17, Matthew 23:11-12)
Wow… God prioritizes humility, lowliness and helping others succeed. In other words, God’s eyes are just as much on a John Stockton as they are on a Michael Jordan.
Use your strength and talents to help God’s Kingdom succeed.
Those assists matter when you look at the team and not just the individual. But, the bedrock of the team rests on the strength and character of each individual member.
Consider… John Stockton’s Utah Jazz went to the playoffs each of his 19 seasons. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and was also voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. And, true to his “assisting” nature, he was humble, gave praise to others for their contributions and avoided the spotlight. That speaks volumes to me. His character qualities show him to be not only a former excellent basketball player, but also a good man.
Ummm… John Stockton makes “helping others” look good. Sign me up for the “assist” team! The Bible makes it clear: the Kingdom of God grows not because it’s filled with “superstars,” but because loving brothers and sisters work together and help lift one another up to the glory of God!
Believe it or not, the rabbit hole goes deeper. There’s more to be revealed about overcoming the sin of envy. Next week: Ways to Combat Envy, Part 3.