(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
3rd May 2014
Can envy ever be a good thing? Paul wrote:
Paul is saying here that God's purpose, or at least part of God's purpose, in giving the wonderful Good News of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles, and including those who accept it among His chosen people, was "to make Israel envious". Paul also says, just 2 verses later:
Although Paul was a Jew, his primary ministry was to preach to the Gentiles but he says here that the reason - or at least one reason - why he was so dedicated to fulfilling this ministry was that he hoped to arouse feelings of envy in his fellow Jews.
We usually think of envy as a sin, and it usually is. If I envy your house, or your car, or your bank account, or your foreign holidays, then I'm sinning. But Paul wanted his countrymen to envy Gentile Christians, because those Gentile Christians had had their sins forgiven and had been adopted as God's children. Paul hoped that, when Jews saw Gentiles turning away from their idols, accepting Jesus as their Saviour, proclaiming Jesus as their Lord, being baptised, receiving the Holy Spirit, being healed in body, soul and spirit, finding God's peace and joy, they would want the same things for themselves.
That's different from normal envy. Normal envy is a desire to take away what the other person has. Normal envy often involves resentment that we don't have what the other person has. Resentment is always damaging. If you resent another person's car, or his house or his wife, then your relationship with him will be damaged. And if, in your envy, you manage to get the other person's things, then he'll lose them. But if another person gets Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, if they get the same favour from God as you, you lose nothing, but you gain a brother. So this is good envy.
Paul desperately and urgently wanted his fellow countrymen and women to find Jesus for themselves, and experience all the joy, love and power that comes from having Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. And we should want the same for our countrymen and women. We should pray earnestly that they come to want what we've got, to want it so much that they seek God until they find Him. And so we should make the most of whatever ministry God has given us - or wants to give us.
And we should try to live out the Good News so effectively that God's love, peace and joy shine through everything we say and do, in the hope that our neighbours will want the same love, peace and joy that we have. It's the duty of every Christian to show everybody we come into contact with that we're full of God's love, peace and joy.
We have to be authentic, of course. We shouldn't go round grinning like idiots. And we all have times of bereavement, loss or sickness, when life is difficult. But a Christian is able to handle sorrow and stress in ways that those who don't have God's Spirit just can't. So even when we're mourning, we can be witnesses to God's goodness, power and love.
I'm as susceptible as anybody else to the temptation to go all sulky, to indulge in self-pity, negativity and criticism. But every time I do, I reduce the degree to which I help my Christian - and particularly my non-Christian - friends to find God and enjoy the benefits of being in relationship with Him. I need to repent, every time I get an attack of the "poor-old-me's", every time I want to moan about the government, or the weather, or the buses, or other people, or the church, or anything else. I don't want to depress everybody around me; I want to point them to God.
We could all use more money, better health, nicer weather, reliable buses, whatever. But whatever there is in my life that I don't like, or that could be better, I can rejoice and be glad. Here's the truth.
I was lost but Jesus found me