18. Outworkings

Meditations in 1 Peter : 18 :  Practical Outworkings

1 Pet 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

In the previous meditation I wrote about appreciation of words, and particularly link words. Well, here we have another important link-word: “Therefore”. Therefore simply means, so or because of what has gone before, this is what should now follow. It is a word that implies logic. What does this “therefore” link to? Surely it must be, you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again… therefore….” Peter is saying because you have been born again, because you have received this new Holy Spirit empowered life from God, because you are to have love for one another, it means that there are a number of things that you can no longer have in your life; they just don’t go together.

Check out this list of things that Peter speaks of here.  First of all malice. Malice is a desire or intent to harm physically or verbally another person. It is ill-will towards others. If you love others, how can you possibly hold malice in your heart toward them? Perhaps another way of putting it is to say how can you hold on to the malice you used to have in your life before you were born again, now that your life has been empowered by and filled with love for others?

Then there is deceit. Deceit is deceiving or lying to others, creating false or wrong impressions and seeking to lead others astray. How can you possibly seek to lead others astray if you love them?

Then comes hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is pretence, pretending to be what you are not. It is putting yourself forward as one thing but in reality being something else. Normally it is someone pretending to be greater than they are. It may be pretending to be a friend when in fact you are not. Where there is a loving relationship, truthfulness and honesty are required ingredients and there is, therefore no room for hypocrisy.

Next envy is mentioned. Envy is discontent and dislike because someone else has got something you haven’t, and very often it can be in respect of a personal position or standing. If we love others deeply, we can never feel envy about them for we will always want the best of them and we will not begrudge them what they have.

Finally there is slander. Slander is simply speaking badly and wrongly about others, saying things about them which are untrue. If we love others deeply, how can we possibly speak ill of others?

Each of these things is something that is directly contrary to love. They are ‘bad relationship’ issues and as such have no place in the life of the person who has been born again and who is indwelt by the loving Holy Spirit. Yet how easy it is to allow negative feelings to grow within us about other people! There is, I believe, only one way to make sure that these things do not get sown in our lives by the enemy and that is to have a positive strategy for good towards everyone else you know. If we pray for them and seek God’s blessing on them, we will counter these things and stop them growing in us like weeds that eventually fill the garden if left unattended. No, we have to be proactive and look for their good, look to bless them in prayer, in word and in deed. Where there is hostility towards us from others we need to be loving and understanding and forgiving so that their words or actions cannot be taken and used by the enemy to sow these things in us that Peter has been speaking about.

There is a general point that we should pick up in passing, and it is that when a person is born again and becomes a Christian there are practical changes that we should expect to see coming about in their lives if this has been a genuine conversion. I am always very unhappy if there is an apparent profession of faith but no change in the life style. It simply says that the Holy Spirit has not done the life-changing work that is referred to in the phrase “being born again”. Whenever it does genuinely happen there will immediately be big changes in the person. They start on the inside and work outwards. For a friend of mine it was the conviction that he should stop smoking. It took him a little while but it happened. For me, one of the things was the desire to stop swearing once I became a Christian. However, so engrained was it in my life that it took six months before I knew the Lord had totally set me free from swearing. For others it may be the knowledge that they have to deal with anger, or even the things in Peter’s list today. The things vary according to the person – but there will be change. A heart change always brings a behaviour change, a life change. Check it out.

39. Contentment

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 39 :  Learning to be Content

Eccles 4:4 And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Motivation is a strange thing. What is it that motivates us? If you like crime dramas or detective novels, you’ll know about motivation; it’s the thing that drives someone to commit a crime. Or every now and then you come across a story of someone who has battled against the odds and persevered and pushed on to achieve great things, and somewhere in the story you’ll look for the motivation. What was it that drove this person on when most people would have given up? What makes a person driven?

In our verse above today we come to one of those verses that has to be held lightly for it is not the entire truth. All Scripture may be inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16) in the sense the He prompted the people to write the things on their hearts, but sometimes, as in Job’s case and Solomon’s case not everything they wrote was true for they both wrote from a difficult perspective. Job wrote from the perspective of pain and Solomon here from the perspective of old age when he had lost contact with God. So hold lightly what he says here!

In his jaded outlook he maintains that everyone works and seeks to achieve because of their envy of others. Now that is no doubt true of a very large number of people but not everyone. Some people work to simply stay alive, some at the opposite end of the scale who are rich simply to fulfil personal desire to do something with little care about others, and finally, there will be those who work to fulfil their calling before God –  but we’ll come to them later.

Without doubt many people are motivated to work and motivated to achieve by other people. The person who presses on in a career and lays down their life to achieve great things in it, if they were honest, would acknowledge that they were trying to rise above the rest, or get the things they see rich people have. It is looking at other people that drives them on.

Indeed, if our motivation is to “keep up with the Jones’s” then we will always be seeking more and more and more because the first set of people we see who have more than us, are just above us in the social or economic scale; they’re the ones we know and want to catch up with. Once we’ve done that we encounter the next tier in the affluence stakes and they become our target and so it keeps on. There will always be a Bill Gates above us to spur us on if that is our motivation.

We may not like the word ‘envy’ but that ultimately is what it is if we look to other people and wish we had what they have – which is of course what modern capitalism is built upon. Unfortunately there is that echo back to the Ten Commandments where we are exhorted not to ‘covet’ what other people have, but that is slightly stronger than envy because coveting implies we plot to get what they have. Envy is just an attitude thing although, as Solomon shows here, it can be a motivating force.

Again, with our modern knowledge of how people work we might suggest that envy that motivates in this context is an indicator of a low self esteem. We think other people are better than us because they have more than us and so we work to improve our self esteem by working or achieving more. It is, as we showed above, a futile task because it is rather like working to be good; we never know when we’ve arrived, so we have to keep on striving.

For the Christian we need to learn to hold a balance between being content with what we have and stretching forward to reach what God is holding out to us. For herein is the truth, that the Lord always has something more for us and it requires us to reach forward in faith to take it. Yet this is not a striving thing, this is not a personal effort thing. This is simply resting in the provision of God – in terms of things and personal abilities – reaching out to what HE puts before us and although that may stretch our faith, it doesn’t stretch us to straining point which so much world activity does.

No, contentment for the Christian is being happy with what the Lord has given us at the moment and NOT having to strive to catch up other people. It is a very different thing to emulate someone and to envy them. My wife had an uncle who in old age still followed and served the Lord and was a tremendous witness. He truly experienced what the writer of Psa 92 wrote about: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 91:12-15) As I encountered this aged saint I felt, “This is a life I would truly like to emulate because here is a wonderful example of godliness!”  That is different from envy which desires for personal gratification. It is good and right to desire to flow in God’s will as revealed in His word and by His Spirit. Envy is born out of self-interest and leads us into wrong attitudes and actions and robs us on contentment. Don’t let it!

23. Envy

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.23

Psa 68:16 Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever?

Again we consider a question which is not so much one of God, but one generally, but it still produces much fruit by considering it. Envy is the begrudging of what someone else has got, wishing you had it. Envy is a dissatisfaction with what you have in the light of what someone else has. Envy is one of the signs of insecurity, of not being content with who you are when you look at others. Envy, if we let it grow and fester, leads us to malign others or do wrong to them. It was said of Pilate in respect of the religious authorities handing Jesus over to him, “he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mt 27:18) James warned, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (Jas 3:16). Do you see there, James links it with selfish ambition? That’s its close cousin!

In case we weren’t sure, Jesus in his teaching clearly condemned envy as an evil: “What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.” (Mk 7:20-23). Paul likewise placed envy alongside lots of other clearly wrong things, things that come from the old sinful nature: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.(Gal 5:19-21).

Now that we are quite clear in our minds about envy we are ready to consider the question today. The Psalm is one of rejoicing over the works of God in delivering and establishing Israel. In v.7 it speaks of God leading the people through the desert from Sinai (v.8). The Lord blessed the new land (v.9,10) and kings fled before Israel (v.12), and the Lord chose Mount Zion as His dwelling place (v.16), the place from which He will reign. The psalmist imagines other bigger mountains in the land being envious of Mount Zion as being the place of His choice for a sanctuary (v.17) where He may dwell (v.18).

The impression that is given is that some of the other mountains, as we said, are bigger, yet it is here the Lord has chosen. The first lesson is not to be envious of others because He has chosen them to do something He hasn’t asked of you. The Lord’s choice is the Lord’s choice and it is always the best choice. It is simply that for some reason that perhaps He alone knows, this other person is a better choice for the role than you, even though you may have other more obvious gifts. Zion was the site of Jerusalem and that was the place over all others that the Lord had chosen for His temple. We don’t know why but it just was. We must learn to rejoice in what God has given us and be at peace in that, not getting upset because it is different from someone else we know.

Another close cousin of envy is jealousy. Saul became jealous of David when he saw the blessing of God on him bringing the adoration of the people: “from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.” (1 Sam 18:9). Saul couldn’t rejoice in this young man’s blessing because he was insecure in his own role that had gone wrong. Each one of us needs to know who we are and what God has gifted us with and be at peace in that. The apostle Paul wrote a lot about us being all one body and the body is made up of lots of different members, each of which is important (1 Cor 12). Envy is the inability to accept your gifting and role in the body when you see it next to others who you consider more gifted or more fortunate. Rejoice in the gifting of others that God has given them and enjoy them. The verse gives us a subtle warning in the question, against measuring ourselves against others.

But there is another side to this. Others will be envious of us. If they saw Jesus and were envious of him, as we noted above, then people will be envious of us, of the gifting that God gives us. Remember what we have said. It is a sign of their insecurity. We don’t have to feel bad about the gifting that God has given us, especially if others indicate their envy. As a leader, at various times in my life I have had those who challenged my role and said, “I ought to be leading this!” Leaders in the kingdom of God know they are what they are because God has called them to it and it’s only with His gifting can they do it. It is an uncomfortable place being out front; you become the first target for the enemy, and one way he will come is through the challenging words of others. The classic example of this was against Moses: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.” (Num 12:1,2). What they were basically saying was, “He’s just our brother. We’re just as good as him. Why should he be the leader?” Immediately after we read, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth,” and the inference is that he didn’t defend himself but left it to God, who promptly dealt with them.

It is clear from the account that Joseph’s brothers envied him: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” His father obviously loved him more than them and that they couldn’t cope with. That is how the enemy stirs up envy and subsequently strife; he takes a position where one of God’s children is being blessed more than others and then challenges them in the minds of the others. Beware envy, beware the enemy stirring it in you. Seek to be a peacemaker if others are envious of you. Let’s not give the enemy any room to move in us!