September 2, 1999
In a world where material wealth and professional success serve as the benchmarks for happiness, jealousy leads to sadness and anger at others’ good fortune. When jealousy becomes consuming, a path of destruction and broken relationships are left in its wake. What jealousy fails to recognize, however, is that all gifts are apportioned by God according to His all-knowing wisdom. Alistair Begg teaches that jealousy is sinful, breeds a destructive spirit, and must be brought before God in repentance.
Sermon Transcript: Print
It’s pretty obvious that I’ve chosen fairly practical elements of Christian living to address with you in these days. This takes me out of my normal pattern of activities, really, because I tend not to preach topical sermons at Parkside Church but rather just to work consistently and consecutively through books of the Bible and passages of the Bible. And so it is a little different for me to do what I’m doing. But when I was compelled into providing titles for you, I made the decision about these particular topics very, very quickly. And I felt very much when I did so that there was purpose in it beyond what I was able to foresee at the time.
Now, I don’t know that any of you are particularly wrestling with the issues that I’ve been mentioning, jealousy or otherwise. Hopefully not. But if you’re not now, you probably will be soon. And so this may prove for some to be preventative medicine, and also for others a lesson that is appropriate for a day yet to come.
So, we’ll deal with this matter of jealousy. It’s not an easy subject to tackle, and I value your prayers as I speak.
We’re going to read Proverbs 27, just a verse or two. Proverbs chapter 27, and from the first verse.
Incidentally, you’ll find when you read the book of Proverbs that—or perhaps the other way round—when you read the book of James, you’ll find that many of the statements there are proverbial statements. For example, I think the only way to understand the phrase meaningfully, “and the prayer of faith [will] save the sick,” is that it is a proverbial statement—i.e., it is a statement like the kind of statements you get in the book of Proverbs. It’s not a categorical statement. And if it is a categorical statement, then we’re forced to conclude that in most cases that we’ve experienced the prayer of faith has not saved the sick—in which case, we’re in dreadful predicament. And it comes to mind, if you know the book of James at all, when we read the opening verse of Proverbs 27:
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring forth.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
someone else, and not your own lips.
Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.
Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,
but who can stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
He who is full loathes honey,
but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.
Like a bird that strays from its nest
is a man who strays from his home.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.
Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father,
and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you—
better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.
Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart;
then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.
Heavenly Father, we delight to sing your praise tonight. All the earth bows down and sings praise to you. Even if our tongues were to be silent, the very walls could cry out your glory. And we recognize that it is an immense thing that we would be able to take the pages of Scripture and discover that by the Holy Spirit they come alive to us and they stand as a mirror in which we see our faces, often to our shame—but not to confound us; rather to change us and to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We thank you for reminding us just how precious our days are, how valuable friendship is, what a futility it is to waste time with laziness. And now, help us to think seriously about this matter of jealousy. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Well then, jealousy is able to do a number of things. It can decimate a friendship, dissolve a romance, destroy a marriage, shoot tension through the ranks of professional sports, nullify unity on a basketball team, foster bitterness in a family, create havoc in a dorm, and fragment relationships on just about every front. For jealousy is profound in its impact; hence Solomon’s statement there in the fourth verse: “Anger is cruel,” he says, “fury [is] overwhelming”—but he’s sort of going up the line—“but,” he says, “who can stand before jealousy?”
Now, we live in a very competitive world. We understand that. Indeed, you have come into a very competitive environment. And academically it will prove to be a competitive environment. Many of you will have come from fairly small high schools in which you have perhaps been quite successful, and you’ve assumed that your level of success there is now about to be matched by your level of success here. Unfortunately, the pond into which you have now come is filled with a significant number of goldfish who are equally bright and in some cases even brighter. You’ve never experienced this before, because in the environment from which you’ve come you’ve managed always to stay just in that percentile that allows you to hold your head high. And now you’re going to be looking over your shoulder. Now you’re going to be looking sideways in a way that you have never perhaps done before.
And the great danger is that you become paralyzed by the sideways jealous glance rather than the straightforward gaze of wholesomeness and thankfulness. And that’s why I wanted to address this subject with you this evening. I haven’t addressed anything yet that isn’t either a great encouragement to me or a peculiar challenge to me. I would not like you to think for one moment that I am able to come and sort of tell you, from the vantage point of great wisdom and many years and fantastic spiritual victories, about the areas in which I am now living in perfection, you know, and have managed to take care of it all. And you only need to look at my calendar to know what a challenge time is to me. You only need to see me squirm around on my bed to know what a challenge laziness is to me. You only need to spend any time at all with me to realize how easily I can be on the wrong side of the friendship factor. And if you think that as a pastor I don’t know what it is to be jealous, then you just don’t have much of an idea at all.
So don’t feel for a moment that here I am, as it were, standing ten feet above contradiction, coming down to you, but rather I’m standing alongside you, here we are together, and we have the Bible here, and we’re all underneath the Bible. And God is speaking to us through his Word, and I have the privilege of being the voice at the moment, but I’m actually listening to my own voice, and I’m hearing God’s voice, as you will too, as we remain true to the Bible and as we listen to the prompting of the Spirit of God.
I’d keep that picture always in your mind. If your pastor gets out of line, then just put a Bible above his head like that or suggest to one of the elders that they give him a whack with the Bible on the back of his head. There’s too many pastors think that it’s down here or it’s over here. No, but it’s actually—it’s here, you see. All right?
So, let’s think about these characteristics of jealousy. Let me give you one or two that are fairly straightforward. No surprises in this. And I want to be a good teacher. Every good teacher I’ve ever had has not filled my notebook up with a bunch of stuff that I was just to regurgitate when the test came around, but every good teacher I’ve ever had sent me out of the place saying, “That was pretty good, I need to find out more about that,” rather than, “Well, I have everything in the book, and all I need to do is reproduce it.” So this list is selective, it’s not comprehensive. This is not every characteristic of jealousy. But if it stimulates you at all, then you will go out and you will think more concerning these things, and you will be able to put together a far more comprehensive talk than I am able to give to you tonight. And you’ll be able to share it with others.
First of all, then—and not in any particular order of ascendancy—characteristic number one: jealousy cannot stand it when others are doing better. You say, “Well, there’s nothing like stating the obvious to begin with, is there?” No, I think that’s pretty good, don’t you? It is straightforward. Jealousy just can’t stand it when others are doing better.
Now, let me give you a verse or two to hang these things on so that it doesn’t seem as though I’m preaching out of the US Airways Magazine, which is very easy to do, And I’m sure you’ve heard a number of sermons right out of the US Airways Magazine; they really are quite tedious, and it’s a great tragedy.
But anyway, Genesis 26:14. It starts up at 12: “Isaac planted crops in the land and … reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich … his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.”
The reason that he was so successful was because God had blessed him. But as a result of the blessing that attended his life, they could not stand it. And this, of course, is one of the challenges that is going to be represented in our lives when we know any sense of attendant blessing, whatever realm of life it’s in. We will find that we become the focus of other people’s envy. We can’t control that, but how we deal with it is significant.
Characteristic number one: jealousy can’t stand it when others are doing better. And you and I have a problem with jealousy tonight, right out of the chute, if we cannot rejoice in the success of others—if we cannot honestly, gut-level, heart-consistency say, “Well done. It was a good paper. It was well written. It was a great goal. It was a great…” whatever it was. If we find ourselves merely saying that, sort of squeezing it out—“Yes, that was very nice indeed. Yes, I liked it very much,” and inside we’re going, “Stink! I hate her!”—we got a problem with jealousy. Okay?
Secondly—and it’s a correlative of it—jealousy is sad at the happiness of others. Jealousy is sad at the happiness of others. If you find yourself, in a context in which people are very happy, going into your little insular mode—you know, over in the corner, having a little subparty by yourself, taking the higher ground of “These people are superficial” and “I don’t know why they’re all so happy”—one of the reasons may be because you’re just unprepared to enter into the happiness of others, and you’re actually, in some weird way, jealous of the fact that they’re having such a wonderful time. And they want you to join them and have a wonderful time! They don’t want you to sit in the corner and draw attention to yourself. And a sense of dissatisfaction with who we are or what we have will breed that notion in us.
For example, Luke chapter 15, remember? Remember the elder brother, who was a classic picture of the Pharisee to whom Jesus was speaking? Remember at the beginning of Luke chapter 15 it says that the tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, and the Pharisees and the scribes were all muttering: “This man spends time with sinners,” they said. And, of course, he tells the story of the lost sheep, tells the story of the lost coin, tells the story of the lost son. And, you remember, the boy comes back, the father says, “It’s party time! Get the big fat pig, bring it out!”
Incidentally, you know why the three little pigs ran away from home? Because their father was a great big boar. Anyway… (Sorry. Sorry. That is sixth-grade humor. But I love it. It appeals to me.)
So, he gets the party going—the shoes, the ring, the gown, the deal, the music, the dancing, they’re doing their thing. It’s jumping. And then old, you know, grumpy-drawers out in the field there, he comes by. So he says to the servant, “Um, could you go in and see, um, what’s going on in there?” ’Cause he was English. You may not know that, but he was English. The kid that screwed up, he was Scottish.
But he goes, and he sends his servant in, and the servant comes back and he says, “Hey, good news: your brother is back, your father started a major party, and you’re invited in.” But he refused to go in. And what did he say? “All these years I have slaved for you, and you never gave me a party.”
You see, he was a Pharisee. A son doesn’t slave for his dad. A legalist, a Pharisee, is enslaved to the routine and can’t understand the liberating joy that is represented in the transformation of his brother and can’t enter into it, and at the very core of his reaction is the problem of jealousy.
Thirdly, jealousy makes us hostile towards those who have never harmed us—makes us hostile towards those who have never harmed us. Now, be dead honest: Have you ever had the experience of looking across a room and going, “You know what? I can’t stand that guy.” Right? “I’d like to… You know what? I hope I play soccer against him, ’cause I’d like to drill him right into the sidelines.” The guy’s just standing there, just a normal guy, just going about his business, and here I’m over here, I’m filled with animosity and hostility towards this person. And he never did a thing to me!
What’s the problem? Well, it could be many things. It could be that a girl that I had been, you know, sort of interested in is just like …. You know? And, and he’s just like …. And I’m just like …. Right? Or it could be that he has, you know, muscles in places that I don’t even have places. And so I look at him, and I have an innate hostility towards him. I just instinctively don’t like him. And I wish he would die.
You said, “You don’t want to get as honest as this. You’ll never be invited back if you admit all your sins like this.” Let me tell you what: that’s exactly what happened with Joseph’s brothers. When you read the story of Joseph in Genesis 37—let me quote to you just a bit from verse  on: “When [the] brothers saw that their father loved [Joseph] more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” They couldn’t say anything that was nice when he was around. And their jealousy gave way to their hostility towards somebody who actually had never, ever harmed them.
Oh, yes, he was on the receiving end of a lovely coat from his dad. Yes, he did come up with some really unbelievable dreams in the morning, and it wasn’t real smart of him to start off, you know, “Good morning! Last night I had a great dream: all your sheaves were bowing down before my sheaves.” That’s not exactly what endears you to people, admittedly. We understand that. And his brothers said, “Oh, why don’t you dry up?” And then he says, “I got another one as well: all your stars and and moons and everything, you were all bowing down to mine.” At that point, his father goes, “Hey, cut it out, Joseph. That’s enough of that, you know. No more pizza for you before you go to bed. You just stop that stuff.”
But how do you explain the unbridled hostility of older brothers who should know better? They should understand that their dad had a wee boy who was smaller and younger. They never hung around anymore. They were gone from the house. They were out with their friends. There was nobody left for their dad to hang with. Everybody loves a puppy. Everybody understands that. And he had a puppy! Joseph was his puppy. He was the only one he had left. They should have known. It was no real animosity towards them; it was an unbridled devotion on his part to him. There wasn’t wisdom on that in Jacob’s part, in many ways, but nevertheless, that wasn’t their problem. What was it gave rise to their hostility? Jealousy. Jealousy!
Pearson, in a biography of Oscar Wilde, tells the story to illustrate the point that “the good fortune of one’s friends [often] makes one discontented.” And Wilde tells this story:
The devil … was once crossing the Libyan Desert, and he came upon a spot where a number of small fiends were tormenting a holy hermit. The sainted man easily shook off their evil suggestions. The devil watched their failure and then he stepped forward to give them a lesson. “What you do is too crude,” he said. “Permit me for one moment.” With that he whispered to [this most] holy man, “Your brother has just been made [the] Bishop of Alexandria.” A scowl of malignant jealousy at once clouded the serene face of the hermit. “That,” said the devil to his imps, “is the sort of thing … I [would] recommend.”
They couldn’t bring him down with all of the garbage that they threw at him, but he was brought down by the thought that his brother was doing better than him. And here you have these brothers in Genesis 37 and on, and it’s the exact same thing.
You understand this, don’t you? It can make you hostile towards people who have never, ever harmed you. I came across a quote about actors who, in describing their experience in the world behind the scenes, they were honest enough to say this:
While rehearsing the most moving scenes of love, tenderness and intimate relationships, the actors were so jealous of each other and so full of apprehension about their chances to “make it,” that the back-stage scene was one of hatred, harshness and mutual suspicion. Those who kissed each other on the stage were tempted to hit each other behind it, and those who portrayed the most profound human emotions of love in the footlights displayed the most trivial and hostile rivalries as soon as the footlights had dimmed.
Fourth thing I would say is this: that it is as cruel as the grave and may seek to bring about the ruin of the one envied. I’m taking too long on this, so I’ll move on. But Genesis 4, Cain and Abel—there’s your illustration of that. It is as cruel as the grave and may seek to bring about the ruin of the one who is envied.
And the fifth and the final characteristic that I would point out is this: that it fails to recognize that God knows what he’s doing in apportioning gifts. See, jealousy fails to recognize or accept that God knows what he’s doing in apportioning gifts—that your DNA is divinely planned. The way your nose is set on your face is to order. The fact, chaps, that you’ve got one eye that goes here and one eye that goes there—I’m sorry, but that’s the way he planned it.
Do you believe that? 1 Corinthians 4:7: “Who makes you different from anybody else? [And] what do you have that you did not receive?” Well, if you received it, why do you glory as if you did not receive it? I mean, why would we walk around egomaniacs, as if somehow or another we were in control of the creation of our gray matter? Let’s start there. We weren’t! Of the faculty whereby we are able to retain information. Not us! Of our height, or our girth, or our speed, or our ability with melody, or whatever else it is. Who made you different from anybody else? God. And what do you have that you didn’t receive? Nothing!
So if you received it, why do you think you can be a snob? Why do you think you can be arrogant? Why do I think that I can draw attention to myself, as if somehow or another, you know, “Here I am!” you know; “I bet you’re all delighted.” No! In a moment—in a moment—God can turn me into a blithering idiot. In an instant! But I don’t mean that as a joke. I mean it in all sincerity—that in one striking moment, I may never be able to put a sentence together again.
So then, why, in my endeavors to use language, given the gifts that God gives, would I then go out and envy him and her and him and her? And why would I rob myself of the joy of what he’s given to me because I’m so concerned about what he gave to her, and it doesn’t seem like what he gave to her is proportionate to what he gave to me? He gave to you exactly what you require, put you together exactly as he planned. And when I allow jealousy to consume me, then I’m recognizing that I’m unprepared to accept that the giver of the gifts and the creator of the universe don’t make no junk.
And when you are playing in the orchestra of life and you find that you’re a piccolo, and you’re looking across at a big tuba a few chairs away from you in the orchestra, and you’re hearing the … from the tuba, and you’re saying to yourself, “Nobody can hear …” and you’re blowing it like a fiend, you know, and it just sounds horrible, and you’re tempted just to—when there’s just a pause in the music, one of those pause things—you go … because she says, “My noise is not a good enough noise.” Listen: yours is the piccolo noise. It’s the perfect noise! If we wanted a tuba, it would say “tuba.” It says, “Play the piccolo. Play it!” And realize this—realize this—when you get on the bus to go from Vienna to Rome, thank God you’re a piccolo player! ’Cause you don’t have to lug that stinking great tuba around everywhere with you!
But do you know how divided and messed up the average local church is because of jealousy? Jealousy! Oh, we can call it all kinds of names, disguise it in all kinds of ways. It is one of the accepted evangelical sins. I have never found it on the top-ten list anywhere in any church that has added a list of things that the people in their church are not allowed to do. I’ve found playing cards, I’ve found dancing, I’ve found smoking, I’ve found drinking, I’ve found—goodness!—movies, I’ve found it… but I never found jealousy on the list! It’s never been on anyone’s list. I’m going to tell you something, young people: it’s on God’s list. And you look, and you’ll find how many times envy—e-n-v-y, four letters—just jumps right up in the middle of some of the most sordid material that the New Testament epistles address. Why? Because it is so crucial. It’s so crucial that you will actually be less than God intends for you to be unless you get victory here.
So, those are one or two of the characteristics. Let me just mention one or two of the consequences. Consequences.
First of all, it rots your bones. It rots your bones. You say, “Well, that’s a little extreme, is it not?” Well, no, it’s actually straight out of Proverbs 14:30, which reads as follows: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
Envy or jealousy, in this respect, is a lot like self-pity, which is also a lot like homesickness. Homesickness is really a useless emotion, unless you’re trying to induce a feeling of really bad feeling, you know, like …. Then homesickness can do that to you. But while you’re having that feeling, your father is not somewhere eight hundred miles away going …. He’s on the golf course just, “Hey, it’s a nice day, isn’t it?” And you think that he’s over there, “I wonder if she’s okay, I hope she’s coming back,” and all that kind of stuff. So, not that he doesn’t care about you, but he probably in that moment is not doing anything. It’s not remotely related to how bad you’re feeling. So homesickness is pathetic. Do not allow yourself… Listen, I know all about homesickness. I used to weep for a day and a half when I went to camp, so I am…
I spoke at one of these weeks a few years ago at another college, and at the end of it all, I saw a young man that I’d known before, and he was a freshman, and he came forward, and I said to him, “How are you?” and he burst straight into tears. And I said, “What’s the problem?”
He says, “My parents… brought me here. And then, they left!”
I said, “That’s what they’re supposed to do, cloth-ears! What do you think this is? This is college, for goodness’ sake! Come on, man!” And I took him out for ice cream and tried to help him, and oh, it was unbelievably bad. So I know that stuff. Now he’s a president of his class or the President of the United States or something; I don’t know what he is. But he’s fine. So don’t worry about him.
The point I’m trying to make, I think, is this: that in the same way that homesickness and self-pity does something to you—although it doesn’t do anything to anybody else, really—envy works in the same way. Because, you see, you can be envious of somebody who’s not even in eye-gaze. You can be envious of somebody who’s not even hardly in your solar system. They’re away somewhere on a bus, you know, going somewhere, and you’re sitting in your room, and you’re going, “Man, I can’t stand the fact that she got that before she left. Look at that thing! I wanted that thing,” and so on. The person’s just merrily going about their life, and your bones are being rotted. Question: Do you want to rot your bones? Answer: No, not particularly. Fine; do not, with God’s help, cultivate envy. It is a spiritual leukemia.
Listen to Swindoll, when he gets going on one of his purple passages: “Like an anger-blind, half-starved rat prowling in the foul-smelling sewers below street level…” Man, I really envy his ability to do this. “Like an anger-blind, half-starved rat prowling in the foul-smelling sewers below street level, so is the person caged within the suffocating radius of selfish jealousy. Trapped by resentment … he feeds on the filth of his own imagination.” It’s pretty graphic.
Secondly—consequence—number one, it rots your bones; number two, it gives birth to unwarranted suspicion and anger. It gives birth to unwarranted suspicion and anger. First Samuel 18:8–9. First Samuel 18:8–9. You remember when they come back from the battle, and everybody’s really pleased because the battle has gone well: “The men were returning home after David had [done a number on] the Philistine, [and] the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. And as they danced, they sang.”
So far, so good. You know that Saul liked women. He had quite a few wives, and one or two others. So, he’s coming home, he’s coming down the street, and out come the ladies—“Hey, hey!”—with the tambourines, dancing in the streets. So far, so good.
“And what’s that I hear?”
“Saul has slain his thousands.”
“Sing that again! ‘Saul has slain his thousands,’ yes!”
And he’s doing well, and then all of a sudden they got a new verse, and it starts, “And “David his tens of thousands.”
“Saul has slain his thousands.”
“I like that!”
“And David his tens of thousands.”
And “Saul was very angry,” and “this refrain galled him”—“galled him.” “‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.”
What does jealousy do? It gives birth to unwarranted suspicion and anger.
Thirdly, it breeds a destructively critical spirit. It breeds a destructively critical spirit. Now, we could go many places for this. Let me just illustrate it from Daniel 6:3, where Daniel, having “distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities,” so much so “that the king planned to set him over the whole [administration],” and “at this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, [and] they were unable to do,” and so on, but the reason that they were prepared to do this was simply on account of the fact that they were jealous of Daniel’s success.
You find the exact same thing in a different context in Acts chapter 17 when, as a result of the effectiveness under God of the ministry of Saul, now Paul, that—Acts 17:5—“the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, they formed a mob and [they] started a riot in the city.”
Somebody said, “Well, why are they rioting?”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s some kind of religious thing.”
“Well, is it just sort of Jew-against-Paul, or whatever it is?”
“Well,” someone says,” “you know, actually, I overheard a couple of them talking in the local Starbucks, and it was clear to me that they are just totally jealous of what’s happening. They’re jealous of the fact that nobody likes their sermons. They’re jealous of the fact that nobody comes to their meetings. They’re jealous of the fact that every time Paul stands up and speaks that he rallies a great crowd and men and women’s lives are being changed. I think the problem, frankly, irrespective of religious association, is that these individuals are totally jealous.”
And that was it! And their jealousy bred in them a destructively critical spirit.
If you hang around somebody—fellow or girl—who, no matter what happens, always has a spin on it that is down, that is negative, that is critical, I’m going to tell you, that person is a jealous person. Whatever else they are, they are jealous. They cannot see the joy, the benefit, the happiness, the encouragement that is represented in the success of others. And to the extent that you recognize that in yourself at all, you want to go away and just wrestle it out with God and say, “O God, I’m at the start of this year,” or whatever else it is, “and this foul-smelling, sewer-like rat is all over me again. And I’m going to be destroyed by it, Jesus, unless you come by your Spirit and enable me.”
Fourthly, it will ruin your spiritual appetite. It will ruin your spiritual appetite. 1 Peter 2:1: “Therefore, rid yourselves”—he’s talking about receiving the word of God—“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice … deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that … you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” In other words, don’t fill your life with all of this stuff. You will not be able to benefit from the Bible when it is taught if you are not, by the enabling of the Spirit of God, dealing with issues like malice, deception, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, which so often goes along as a soulmate of envy.
And then fifthly—and finally—one of the consequences of envy is that it is the forerunner to all kinds of chaos. It is the forerunner to all kinds of chaos. James 3:14: “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does[n’t] come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” Now listen to this! This is staggering. Verse 16: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
You say to yourself, “I wonder how this thing got as messed up as it is. I wonder why there’s such a sense of discordancy about this small group that once was so good. I wonder why this church fellowship just has that strange aura about it, that just—an intangible negative that is virtually pervasive in the place.” Few people would trace it back to this root. But James says, “envy and selfish ambition” tolerated—worse still, cultivated—is the forerunner for “disorder and every evil practice.”
All right. Well then, let’s just say, finally, a word about its cure. I gave you characteristics, I gave you one or two consequences, and now its cure. How do we exercise any kind of cure?
Well, number one, we need to recognize sin for what it is—namely, sin. And that seems to be almost too simple to point out, and yet surely that’s what Paul is doing when he says in 1 Corinthians 3, “I could[n’t] address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you[’re] still not ready. You[’re] still worldly.”
Now, again, many of us have come out of backgrounds where “worldly” equals “ten things that you’re not allowed to do,” which are the ten that are added to the Ten Commandments in the Bible from our own local congregation. So this is the way we go through our Christian lives: “Okay, try the Ten Commandments, and try the supplementary ten.” So, Ten Commandments, paramount; supplementary ten, very important.
And I’m not denigrating that at all—except that the New Testament doesn’t supplement in any way. It gives us principles by which to live, in order that we might “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.” It’s very easy to make Pharisees, but only the Spirit of God can make full-orbed Christians. We can turn our children or our students into Pharisees, we can dress them in the right way, we can make them answer in the right way and at the right times, much like Pavlov’s dogs. But only the Spirit of God can renew a life from the inside out. Only the Spirit of God can set a man or a woman free from their own determinations and their own dreadful commitments to these things. All of those external things “have an appearance of wisdom,” but they’re actually worldly.
Now, the reason I got off on that is because of the word “worldly.” I’m sorry. It was a diversion. Now I’m back on the main street.
“You are still worldly.” How do we know we’re worldly? “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” In other words, here is the classic illustration, says Paul, of what it is to have a Christian environment that just is like paganism with a Christian veneer. And it is not to do with certain externals as much as it has to do with core-level issues. And right at the top of the list…
What’s he saying? This is sin and it needs to be dealt with. You understand the psychiatric distinction, don’t you, between suppression and repression? Suppression involves saying no to the opportunity to do something; repression means denying that we even want to do the something. Suppression is normal and healthy and aided by the Spirit; we are called to it in the New Testament. Repression leads to all manner of psychological disorders. And the spiritual condition will be absolutely disastrous.
So you see, the only way we can face up to sin is to face up to sin. It’s no good sitting here tonight saying, “Well, um, I don’t feel that at all. I mean, I’m not remotely jealous. I can’t remember the last time I was envious. I…” No. That wouldn’t be good. To deny that we face these issues will be to create a dilemma worse than the one we’re presently in.
First, then, we admit that sin is sin. Secondly, we bring it into the light of God’s presence. “If we confess our sins, he[’s] faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”—1 John 1:. In other words, the last thing that we want to do is the first thing that we need to do. The last thing that I want to do: face it and bring it into the light of God’s presence. Turn the lights on in the room. You know? Turn the light on, and let’s look at what’s going on in here. “O God, turn the light on, and let me stand before you, naked in relationship to these things. God, I bring my sin before you to the cross of Christ. It is so dreadfully ugly that I have managed to get this far in my life calling ambition the cover for my dreadful jealousy. And Lord, I want to admit it to you.”
And then, put the rejection of it into practice moment by moment. Put the rejection of it into practice moment by moment. How? United with Christ and enabled by the Spirit of God. The only way to deal with sin is immediately—as we said last night—ruthlessly, and consistently. And I think this is probably Chuck again: determined by God’s grace to leave behind “the dismal, gaseous subterranean pipelines of jealousy,” refuse to “breath[e] its fumes and [obey] its [promptings].”
And Jesus said, “You are Peter, and [up]on this rock I will build my church.” And Peter makes a hash of it and has to come back and be restored, and Jesus makes him breakfast on the beach and says, “Do you love me?”
He says, “I love you.”
“Do you love me?”
“I love you.”
“Do you love me?”
“I love you, I love you, I love you!”
“Okay, good. We got that sorted out.”
And then Peter, seeing “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” said, “Lord, what about him?”
And Jesus said, “I thought we already had this discussion. Do you remember how we started this thing out, Peter? Do you remember what I said to you along the Sea of Galilee? What did I say to you, Peter?”
“Lord, you said, ‘Follow me.’”
“Okay, do you understand that?”
“Okay. Now, we just had this discussion about love, and what was I saying to you?”
“Lord, you were saying, ‘Follow me.’”
“Peter, we haven’t gone twenty steps, and you’re over here worrying about him. Don’t you worry about him or what’s going to happen to him. You just follow me.”
See how easy it is, even in the moments of great advance, all of a sudden to walk out of the door and immediately be over here and over here and over there? I know it because I face it. I speak of what I know, I tell you of what I wrestle with, and I trust that God will come and be gracious to us and help us along the journey as we face up to some of the peculiar challenges that are represented in an envious spirit and in a jealous heart.
Our God and our Father, we come before you tonight simply to acknowledge that we are, at our very best, unprofitable servants—that we are adept at concealing from others by thin veneers the reality of what’s going on inside of us. Indeed, if this group of young people knew what I was really like, they wouldn’t come and listen to me talk. And if I knew what they were really like, I wouldn’t have come from Cleveland to talk to them.
The fact is we are sinners in need of your continual grace. And we pray that you will help us in what is a crucial area of Christian living, particularly in this kind of environment, to bring into the light of your cross our own preoccupations with ourselves, our dissatisfaction with our height, the color of our hair, our eyes, whatever it might be, and then, as a result, our jealousy of others who fit the picture of the person we thought we ought to have been. Help us to realize tonight that you made us purposefully and personally fashioned us to be the person that you desired for us to be.
Save us, then, from jealousy. Help us to put it behind us and to move forward and grant that you will create in this student body such a wonderful sense of cohesion—the preferring of one another, the genuine appreciation for the gifts of others and the success of others—so that when people come on this campus there will be that intangible dimension, and people will say, “Look how these students love one another!” Start the work in my heart, I do pray tonight. For your glory we ask it. Amen.
 James 5:15 (KJV).
 Psalm 66:4 (paraphrased).
 Luke 19:40 (paraphrased).
 Luke 15:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Luke 15:29 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 37:6–11 (paraphrased).
 Hesketh Pearson, The Life of Oscar Wilde (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1919), 148.
 Oscar Wilde, quoted in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Memories and Adventures (1924; repr., Hertfordshire, UK: Wordsworth Editions, 2007), 66, paraphrased in Pearson, Life of Oscar Wilde, 148. The version of the story here matches that of the original related by Doyle, not Pearson’s paraphrased version.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (1975; repr., New York: Image, 1986), 70.
 Charles R. Swindoll, Come Before Winter… and Share My Hope (Portland: Multnomah, 1985), 187.
 1 Samuel 18:6–7 (NIV 1984).
 1 Samuel 18:7 (NIV 1984).
 1 Samuel 18:8–9 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 3:1–3 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 2:12 (KJV).
 Colossians 2:23 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 3:3 (NIV 1984).
 1 John 1:9 (KJV).
 Swindoll, Come Before Winter, 188.
 Matthew 16:18 (NIV 1984).
 John 21:15–17 (paraphrased).
 John 21:20–21 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.