Guest Post: Dr. Chris King, Gulfport Ms.
Last week, I was told about a pastor who recently left town for a much larger church in a growing city. It was a triumphant story describing multitudes of people believing the Gospel and the church “blowing and going.” This new church afforded him a much larger “platform” to do God’s work. As I listened, jealousy and envy crept into my heart. I envied the man’s apparently increased sphere of influence, and was frustrated by my seemingly insignificant “platform.”
It seems that pastors are often jealous and/or envious of other pastors—of their influence, their giftedness, their churches, their families, or their ability to write books. This article aims to help us fight this sinful temptation.
The nature of our pastoral work renders us especially vulnerable to ambush from the green-eyed monster. We have God-honoring desires like being faithful, making disciples, and advancing the Gospel. These good motives can make us susceptible to envying the “success” others seem to be enjoying in God’s work. Sin is deceitful, and temptations are usually cunning—masquerading under the guise of Godly motives (like being “effective” in ministry). Thus we wrongly want what someone else has, supposedly for the glory of God.
Jealousy is defined as, “resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or against another’s success or advantage itself.” Similarly, envy is, “a feeling of discontentment or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.” As pastors, what can we do to fight and kill these sins for the glory of God?
First, we should search for the deeper roots that give rise to these sins. As the above definitions point out, the sins of jealousy and envy often work in tandem with other sins (like rivalry, discontentment, and covetousness). Many of these sins can be traced back to pride. They often flow from prideful, self-centered, self-exalting demands of, “I want that, I deserve that, why don’t I have that.”
Second, we must recognize jealousy and envy as sins, and repent when they lurk in our hearts and minds. Remember, it was jealousy that led the Jewish religious leaders to oppose the Gospel and the Apostles (Acts 5:17-18). The Jews reviled Paul because they were jealous of the crowds he was attracting (Acts 13:45). In Romans 13:13, Paul lists “jealousy” alongside the sins of “sexual immorality” and “sensuality” (a word reserved for gross sexual deviance). Jealousy and envy are described as “works of the flesh” by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21. James writes, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:14-16). When we feel the first twinges of jealousy pull at our hearts, we should meditate on Scriptures like these. If we have a particular disposition toward these sins, we should memorize relevant Scriptures and use them to fight our temptations. It helps me to remember that it’s demonic wisdom to be jealous of another brother (James 3:15).
Third, we should replace these mortified sins with contentment. When Paul wrote to the Philippians while in chains, his heart wasn’t envious of those who were free to preach the Gospel. In fact, he rejoiced the Gospel was proclaimed (Phil. 1:18)! His circumstances were probably far worse than most of us will ever face. Learning to be “content in whatever situation” (Phil. 4:11) can help us fight temptations to be jealous and envious of those in “better” places than us. We should gladly take on Paul’s standards for the Christian life and confess with him, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). Paul’s austere vision of contentment in the ministry reveals the vanity of our modern expectations. Let us be content, and not spend time meditating on all that is lacking in our place of service.
It’s especially tempting to be jealous or envious of exceptionally gifted brothers. We must learn to be content in the gifts God has given us. Our deepest contentment should rest in the fact that the Lord graciously saved us and called us to a holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9). We must learn to be content in the glory of what we have in Christ. If you struggle with contentment, Jeremiah Burrough’s classic The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment would be worth reading carefully.
Find contentment especially in your wives. See them as “a good thing” and a “favor” from the Lord (Prov. 18:22). Finding great earthly contentment in her will also probably help nourish your relationship (which is always helpful in ministry).
Fourth, maintain a healthy perspective on God’s providence. We are where we are because of God (and let’s be thankful to Him for that). Furthermore, He has purposes, often unknown to us, for placing us where we serve. Trust God to fulfill His good purposes for you and your ministry.
Finally, focus on your own sanctification and ministry work, and don’t allow jealously or envy of others to distract you. Instead, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching…” (1 Tim. 4:16). Strive to be diligent in your work, especially in rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Have confidence in God’s working through your faithful preaching, evangelism, and discipleship (even though you may not see the results you long for, or are apparent in another’s ministry). Make disciples, remembering one may be the next John Owen or Charles Spurgeon. Consider the approach to ministry John MacArthur adopted early on, as he explains,
“If I take care of the depth of my ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it. That little slogan has stood by me all these years. In a sense it’s sort of against the grain of a young man’s ambition to be driven by depth rather than breadth, to be driven by excellence rather than success, to be driven by quality rather than quantity. Ambition sort of pushes you in the direction of what can I do the biggest and the fastest, not what can I do the smallest and the slowest. Ambitious people tend to be driven by breadth rather than depth. They tend to be driven by success rather than excellence and by quantity rather than quality.” Quoted from the sermon, “The Scope of Jesus’ Influence” based on Luke 8:1-3.
Grace to you,
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Dr. Chris King serves as the senior pastor of the Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport Ms.
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