How Petty Jealousy Destroys the Local Church
Closing out the Fifth Commandment is a series of Q/A’s on the duties and sins of equals, and as with the Fourth, a testimony as to how God has given reminder of why we are to keep this portion of His law perfectly. In some ways how we treat those at our level really says who we are as a person. It’s easy to be magnanimous to someone who works for you, and to treat with honor the King, but it takes a different muscle to support and pray with a man or woman of your own station. We have a fear here that needs mortified as much as any other transgression of the law.
Probably the best Biblical example we could go to on this front would be either the conflict between brothers (Cain/Able, Jacob/Esau) or the individual divisions among the closest disciples of Jesus Christ (Sons of Thunder) among who would be the greatest. So much of the word is given over to these types of struggles, and at the heart of them is what really is at the heart of every sin associated with the first of the second table sins, and that is pride. Part of our inborn depravity is thinking we deserve more than others. Regardless of what we have done, not done, or may do there is a little voice in all of us that wants to be preferred, to gain the first and to never be last.
In today’s questions we are going to hear some reasons why it is antichrist to live in such competition with one another. Let’s read the catechism together:
Q. 131: What are the duties of equals?
A. The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honor to go one before another; and to rejoice in each others gifts and advancement, as their own.
Q. 132: What are the sins of equals?
A. The sins of equals are, besides the neglect of the duties required, the undervaluing of the worth, envying the gifts, grieving at the advancement or prosperity one of another; and usurping pre-eminence one over another.
Q. 133: What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to enforce it?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words, That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment.
Reading the duties required of equals can be a great lesson in humility. There is nothing worse than admitting that someone might actually be better than you at something you like. For preachers there is nothing worse than hearing a student twenty years your junior who before he has even taken a call you can see he’s got it in spades more than you do…or is that just me? I am sure you could put yourself in a similar vocational situation where you’ve been witness to a guy or gal who is going to take your job one day, on merit, and the temptation comes into your heart to try and hamstring them in some way to protect yourself. That horror of being overtaken is actually something Solomon was considering in the Ecclesiastes passage we looked at last Lord’s Day at Bethany. He was paralyzed in panic over what the next person would do with all the land, power, and finances he had accumulated using his guile and wisdom, to such a degree that he could never enjoy what he had. That weakness of flesh is part of what led him into his own level of destruction. It is that particular self-defeat that the last catechism question promises will be the effect of our breaking the Fifth Commandment.
There is much pain awaiting those who can’t just be happy for other people.
An unwillingness to recognize our own limitations and the superiority of others when it comes to talent, gifting, and opportunity is likely the most damaging thing we can do to our own peace. It is a truism that there is nothing more ugly than jealousy and this doubly goes for life within the kingdom of Christ. If we cannot help but feel anguish at the success of others within our own gathering of God’s people then we need to meditate on why we are moved to such about those whom Jesus has laid down His life. If our Lord loves them unconditionally then why is our love conditioned on circumstance? Hence why I used the small “a” word above. The example of how our Savior served others is meant to be a marker for our own walk with Him. If we cannot eat at the table of Zaccheaus because our souls are burning with anger at past grievances the issue is not with Zaccheaus, it’s the man or woman in the mirror.
Because what we are talking about here must be clearly understood to not be actual sin committed against you by them, it’s the arrogance of pride breaking what should be blessed care for those of your own flock. To hate them is to hate yourself. (1 John 3:15). There is nothing more destructive to the life of the local church than cliques, petty criticisms, and talking behind one another’s backs about one another. If you can’t say it to their face you are a coward, and worse than that you are unloving where Christ calls you to show love. Visitors to a group can feel that kind of enmity, hence why it is best not to have it. The Scripture’s condemnation of gossip is centered around the way it divides. Here this from the hand of Solomon:
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. – Prov. 16:28
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Eph. 4:29
In closing, the catechism is unconcerned about the rationality of these things or even if the person deserves our loathing. To quote a famous philosopher, deserves got nothing to do with it. Our equal is owed our affection, our forgiveness, and our support. We should rejoice with those who are rejoicing and grieve with those who grieve. Envy and resentment are ugly sins. They do more to damage ourselves than the person we are envious or resenting of. If the angels can give thanks to God for the redeemed sinner, and praise the name of our God for the good He does for our brothers and sisters in Christ. The apostle’s commendation of the folks in 1 Thessalonians begins with words of thanks for their prayers, their sacrificial giving, and their love for the saints. He says these things not to boast, but to give witness of their faith in action, giving rise from a caring heart the way all of us should seek to build up and support our fellow believers.
Here is a follow-up:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church