Envy is a sin that can grip the souls of all of us, It is that sense of displeasure that arises when we here of others being successful or prospering in a certain way. Church leaders are particularly susceptible to these things.
King Saul was an envious man. We read this of him in 1 Samuel 18:6-9:
As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,
“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”
And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul kept an eye on David from that day on.
This is a display of envy which shows all the classic features thereof.
- It does not delight in the success of others. Saul did not celebrate David’s achievements.
- It hates to hear others being praised over and above yourself.
- It seeks harm for the other person. We read how Saul’s envy led to him wanting and striving to eliminate David.
- Envy takes a soul from love to hate. We read And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armour bearer (1 Sam. 16:21). Alas this love faded and was supplanted by hatred. So we read: And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David ( 1 Sam. 19:2).
If you are a church leader it is easy to slip into envying other church leaders and churches. They have more numbers; they have better gifts: they receive more mention in the Christian press: they see more people being converted. The list could go on.
In many ways when we lose sight of our Saviour then envy can infect our souls. When we see our Saviour giving up all for our sins, we start to see our bankruptcy and unworthiness. This leads us into seeing how blessed we are in Christ. As a result we start to long for the progress of all of our fellows brothers and sisters and servants of the Lord. We long for them to grow in Christ. Moreover, we become driven by desires for the gospel of this grace to reach and transform many. We have no desire to “big ourselves up” and “little others down”. Our goal is for Christ our Lord to be big and made bigger still.
A sight of Jesus and His cross dispels all envy. A Christ-focused man cannot be an envious man.
Here is our church newsletter for November 2019. It has an article on the importance of unity in the church.
We are in a spiritual battle. One way in which Satan works to destroy the work of God is in bring division within a church. Churches which are Bible based, gospel preaching, Christ focused and God honouring are hated by evil forces. The serried ranks of hell scheme to destroy such places. Setting brothers and sisters against each other is a central pillar of this strategy.
Let us remind ourselves of the delight that the Lord has in seeing His believing people harmoniously living and serving together. Let us see these words from Psalm 133.
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life for evermore.
Moreover, we need to be reminded that God has set unity among His people. All the oneness He has established is set forth in Ephesians 4:4-6. Accordingly, as a prefix to this established unity God says to the Ephesian Christians that they are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). We are to labour with all our might to keep the unity that God has established.
However, it is important to assert that it is neither unity nor peace at any price. When people depart from the unity set by God, that is the unity of one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6). If someone sets themselves to depart from these gospel unitities then we must depart from them. If we don’t we will have a fake unity. Departure from gospel oneness should always be grievous to us though. We never gloat over separating from anyone.
When gospel unity is established though, we must strive with all our might to guard it and encourage it. So everyone is praying for and interested in everyone else in the church. If people are not on speaking terms or are shunning one another in the church membership this is not good. Although everyone is not necessarily involved in all the activities of the church everyone in church membership should be interested in all the activities of the church.
The elders of the church need to be particularly vigilant in this realm. This is because those with pastoral oversight set the spiritual temperature of the church. Everything about their demeanour, conduct and speech should be towards encouraging the maintenance of this unity. When the overseers are obviously interested everyone and every activity in the church then that has an impact on all the church.
In conclusion let us return to the military imagery that we started with:
- Paul urges the Corinthians to so act that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11b). We similarly should be making sure that Satan does not gain a bridgehead into the church. All disagreements and disputes should be dealt with biblically.
- After consideration of the spiritual armour necessary for spiritual warfare Paul says to the Ephesians And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (Eph. 6:18-20). Prayer is absolutely key. We should be diligently following the injunction here. And don’t forget the received wisdom of the adage that a church that prays together stays together!
Let us diligently covet unity in our churches then. This is a lifelong pursuit that requires perpetual attention. The devil is never off duty. And so we ever have to be on our guard and ever need to be labouring to keep unity in the Lord’s special place, the church.
I always remember the phrase, fissiparist tendencies, from Andrew Goudie’s book “The Human Impact” from the days of my geography studies. In his introduction he spoke about how geography, as a discipline, had fissiparist tendencies inherent within. What did he mean? He meant that there was always this tendency to split apart. Geography is always in danger of becoming a dead discipline through all the constituent parts in it going off their own way and setting up on their own.
This reminds me of the church. Every church has fissiparist tendencies. It has within it the raw materials which could lead to it splitting. It has different people with different personalities and different ideas. Sometimes the people come together in cliques. Small groups form which do not have any connection to the rest of the group. And behind all this we have evil spiritual powers; Satan wants to split and divide God’s people.
But God does not want this. Psalm 133 beautifully reveals the mind of God on this issue.
A song of ascents. Of David.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.
As Christians we are not left on our own to strive for this. We are drawn together in Christ and we have the Spirit working to bring this about. When we are harmonized in Christ around the Word then there is unity. As Paul in Ephesians 4:3-6 reminds us Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
There are two big enemies here:
- Ourselves. We are prone to be selfish, sinful and divisive. So the forgoing verses, in particular Ephesians 4:2, are critical as to how we keep the unity; it’s through being completely humble and gentle. And when we are patient, bearing with one another in love then we are dosing everything to counteract the fissiaparist tendencies.
- The devil. He is a past master of the highest order in the nefarious art of bringing division in churches. Let us resist him and give him no place among us.
The intensity with which God hates disunity is seen in the fact that a division-maker should be put out of the church. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. (Tit. 3:10-11)
Andrew Goudie was wanting to use his book to show the geography should be together as one discipline. We should similarly be relentlessly working so as our churches are together as one beautiful entity in Christ.