A Long Drive

In our categories for sin, when we weigh which are the heavier matters, we often put discontent in the chaff pile. “Awww, shucks.” Discontent doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, maybe because we’ve gotten used to living with a low-level of it always idling in the background.

But discontent is a gateway into a minefield of destruction. To want, and be mad not to have, is a hunger that starts wars.

Discontent amplifies unthankfulness that dishonors the God of giving. Discontent inflates bitter envy that sabotages relationships. Discontent leads to worldliness that leads us away from God. Discontent promotes the worst of all, idolatry, where we search for a new god who will give us what we want or, even more likely, tempt us to think we should be gods.

The serpent’s lie advertised a new and improved Eve. “Eat now and you’ll be like God!” When every intention of man was evil before the flood, those intentions involved the evil of every man continually thinking of himself as more important than others. That thinking led many to seek to be something more than man and pursued immortality through marriages to the “sons of God.”

Do you not like who you are? Do you not want what you have or do you want what you don’t have? Do you appreciate your limitations? If not, then you are imitating the gods of men. You have come to believe that God is not good, that He is not giving, that He is only in it for Himself. That means discontent has driven you a long way from the truth.

Driven by Jealousy

Last week I pointed out that God’s call to love one another started in Genesis not with Jesus. The apostle John wrote that this message was “from the beginning” and illustrated how not to do it via Cain’s example. “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12a). Getting mad and murdering is an old story.

Cain killed his own brother. The second half of verse twelve asks and answers: “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” More is happening than bad guy versus good guy. Cain’s evil deeds came from Cain’s evil heart, but not because evil is simply absurd and unpredictable. Sometimes sin is senseless, but more often it has an explanation.

John is not making an argument based on the absurdity of Cain’s murder. “He was of the evil one, so of course he would kill.” John answers the Why? question with a reason, a “because.” Cain’s deeds were evil when he looked at Abel’s. Cain’s hatred was driven by jealousy not by stupidity. Cain wanted Abel’s blessing from God but without the hassle of Abel’s sacrifice to God.

Envy-killing is serious business. John is warning all his readers, meaning that he’s warning the Christians. Watch out especially for envy, even envy of believers who are blessed by God. “I wish I could be [adjective] like him.” “I wish I could have [noun] like her” are dangerous desires. They take the life out of fellowship, unity, gratitude, and joy, even if they don’t put a brother in his grave.

Do not let roots of bitterness grow up into a harvest of jealousy, hatred, and death.

Envy Kills

Envy kills. It kills the taste buds of one’s own soul, making sweet things seem dull and unsatisfying. It kills contentment, making those who have not wish that they were someone else. Envy has killed entire classes of people, as with the manifesto of communism to overthrow those with property and make sure that everyone has an equal amount.

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:19)

Envy corrupts politics, ruins the use of money, undermines education, divides neighbors, flattens genders, and embitters siblings. More than of all of that, it is a spiritual problem. Sure, some laws protect against envious theft, some systems of government promote personal responsibility, but only freedom from our envy and covetousness in Christ can replace a worldview of envy with a worldview of thanks.

We want and don’t have so we fight and quarrel and kill (James 4:1-2). The current world way of thinking is littered with self-centered comment cards. So Paul told the Philippians that they would shine as lights in the midst of a crooked generation simply by not complaining.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14–15)

All we need to do to be lights in the darkness is to stop whining. Thankfulness is a political statement, an economic principle, a worldview that changes our influence.

Don’t grumble, be grateful. We should learn to see all of our possessions as things that were given to us by God (because they are, 1 Corinthians 4:7), and see the things others have as their gifts from God and be thankful for that, too. We should submit gladly and gratefully for all that God enables us to enjoy. If we see the seeds of bitterness or discontentment or envy or grumbling starting to take root in our soul, we need to confess it before it chokes out our life.

Comparing Kills

Comparing kills. One sure way to kill joy and stir up envy, jealousy, and bitterness is to compare yourself with another, your lot with your neighbors’. God did not make us equal in all ways, nor does He give gifts to His people to the same degree. When we look over the fence, compare piles, and complain that ours is smaller or stinkier, our first mistake is the pride that expects more.

There is, however, another kind of comparing that kills our pride. God commands us to look at this and respond in humility. In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes about how the chosen ones, the holy and beloved of God, should treat one another. We are to put on compassion, kindness, and other Christlike clothes. Then we are to be “bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” The sentence isn’t finished yet, but this command goes far enough. It goes so far, actually, that there must be qualifications coming.

We could call the next phrase a qualification, but the qualification removes limits more than it confines. The apostle makes an inspired comparison: “forgiving each other as (“just as” NAS) the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” “As” (καθὼς) is the killer comparative conjunction. Jesus provides more than an example of forgiveness, He sets the standard. If He forgives, we must forgive.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18 to the same effect. Peter asked a numerical question and Jesus gave a qualitative answer. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive and Jesus described a man who started to choke a man who owed him 100 denarii (about three months worth of pay) when he had just been forgiven 10,000 talents (about 200,000 years worth of pay). Mercy should be shown just as mercy was received.

This is one reason why our corporate confession of sin is so important to our corporate life. If we are not struck by the contrast between His holiness and our sinfulness, then we will not be ready to treat one another with mercy and forgiveness by comparison. Such behavior should kill the weeds of pride, self-righteousness, and unrealistic expectations and grow the peaceful fruit of unity in the soil of humility.