There are certain sins that we tend to tolerate in our own hearts and lives, as well as in the church. They are what Jerry Bridges has called "respectable sins"--gossip, slander, envy, covetousness, pride, etc. We like to single out what we deem to be other, more pronounced sins in society and in the church rather than confront these in our own lives. We like to narrow down our list of sins to those that we consider to be major: sexual immorality, murder, theft, drunkenness, greed, racism, abuse, etc. When we do so, we inevitably allow what we consider to be "lesser" sins to either fester--or lay dormant--in our thoughts and lives. Chief among those sins that we tend to tolerate in our lives is covetousness, jealousy and envy. According to Scripture, jealousy is one of the most damaging of all heart sins. The Proverbs explicate, in no small measure, the dangerous nature of this sin: "Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy" (Prov. 27:4)?
At the root of covetousness, jealousy and envy is pride. Pride lay at the root of our first parents sin and it continues to be the root of all of our sin. When we feel as though we deserve better, we think what we want, say what we want, take what we want and do what we want. This is how pride relates to--and is the source of--covetousness and envy. Sadly, this can come home to roost in the heart of a minister just as much as it can in any other. When I was preparing for ministry over a decade ago, I went through a short period of finding myself envying a fellow student who was getting more opportunities to preach and more attention than me. This envy welled up within me to such an extent that, weighed down by it, I had no other option but to drop to my knees and cry out to the Lord to take it away from me. I've never really had an experience quite like that before. I hope never to have one again. However, I recognize that every believer has the remnant of this sin in his or her heart--and I would venture to say that most ministers still battle it to one degree or another, when viewing the ministries of others.
We need to put covetousness, jealousy and envy to death in our hearts before it destoys us and those around us. Here are some of the things that I have found most helpful in seeking to put this sin to death:
1. Know Who You Are in Christ. This is the most important step in overcoming envy in your heart. The Apostle Paul tells us to consider ourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11). When we remember that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Him, we will not want to allow envy to rule in our hearts. In the death of Christ, the guilt of sin was removed and the power of sin was broken (Rom. 6:5-14). We must constantly call to mind from the Scriptures what Christ thinks of us--and what has happened to us in Christ. This is the place of our spiritual identity and source of spiritual victory. We have been justified (i.e. accepted as righteous) freely in Christ by God's grace through faith. This means that the use of my gifts--or my accomplishments--adds nothing to my standing before God. When I envy others, I functionally act as though I believe that my standing before God is based on my performance. While I may not be conscious of that fact, it is nevertheless a reality. When I know who I am in Christ--and that pleasing Him is all that matters--I will stop comparing myself with others sinfully and will rejoice with them when they seem to prosper in ways that I may not seem to be prospering.
2. Remember the Promises of God. The writer to the Hebrews explains the relationship between covetousness and the promises of God when he writes, "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have, For, He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So, we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me'" (Heb. 13:5)? The God of promise has promised to be with us, to keep us, to guide us, to undertake for us and to give Himself to us. If we have the true and living God Himself as our eternal inheritance, what could we possibly lack in this life? Remembering the promises of God--and their fulfillment in Christ--is a powerful antidote to covetousness, jealousy and envy.
3. Thank God for the Gifts of Others. This is where is gets more difficult. If I am forgetting who I am in Christ and the promises of God, I will certainly not be thanking God for the gifts that He has given to others in the body. However, if I am resting in my identity in Christ and embracing the promises of God, I will want to thank God that He gives a variety of gifts to His people for the building up of the body. The Apostle Paul was constantly thanking God for the members of the church and the gifts that God had given them. He was eager to see them bear more fruit in their lives for the glory of God. When we start to thank God for individuals we once envied, we start to be set free from the bondage of covetousness, jealousy and envy.
4. Learn from the Gifts and Accomplishments of Others. When we start to thank God for the gifts that He has given to others--while withholding from us--we then are in a place were we can learn from others. The proud heart says, "I am the best and everyone should learn from me." The humble heart says, "I have so much to learn from others." When we find individuals who seem to have more gifts or accomplishments in the work of advancing the Kingdom of God, we should want to learn as much as we possibly can from them. If there are ministers who excel in preaching or pastoral work, we should try to glean everything that we possibly can from them in order to better ourselves for God's glory--not for our own.
5. Be Content to be Used However God Wishes to Use You. When we do seek to learn from others, we still have to remember that the Lord may not use us in the ways in which we wish to be used. This is where we must grow in contentment. The best place to be spiritually is in that place where we are truly praying from the heart, "Not my will, but Yours be done." We have to honestly assess the gifts--or lack thereof--that God has given us. The Apostle Paul charged the members of the church in Galatia with the following admonition: "I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3). This means that we are to think appropriately about where we seem to fit best in service in the church. Some ministers would be much more fruitful playing second fiddle--like Barnabas. It was Barnabas who paved the way for the church's reception of Paul (Acts 9:26-27) and his subsequent ministry. If Barnabas was unwilling to take the back seat to Paul, it might have hindered the spread of the Gospel in the way in which God wished to use Paul for the missionary expansion to the Gentile world (Acts 13). The "son of encouragement" (as his name signifies) was content to be an encourager and companion to those who led the way in Gospel proclamation.