Envy is a very common, powerful and destructive vice. We can be tempted with it in all areas of life including our work, education, finances, hobbies and ministries. It easily creeps in when contemplating the possessions, privileges, opportunities and accomplishments of others. Jealousy shrivels our souls, harms interpersonal relationships, damages our Christian testimony, displeases the Lord, and begrudges the blessings He has seen fit to grant to others. Even mature Christians who understand how inappropriate and damaging envy can be still wrestle with it.
Recently I was encouraged and instructed by the positive example of Moses in avoiding jealousy as recorded in Numbers 11. In order to help Moses with the weighty responsibility of leading the often-cantankerous Israelite people in the wilderness, God placed His Spirit on seventy elders who could then help guide the people. Sixty-eight of the elders received God’s Spirit and started prophesying while meeting with the Lord outside the Israelite camp. But two of the elders received those blessings while still in the camp, thus revealing to the people that other leaders now had privileges which only Moses had enjoyed up to that point.
When Joshua, Moses’ loyal aide, heard what was going on in the camp he asked Moses to put a stop to it. Joshua was jealously protective of the status that Moses alone had enjoyed till then. But Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!”
Avoiding jealousy and envy is easier said than done. An incident involving Henry Varley is instructive in showing how to deal with this temptation:
Varley is best known as the man who stated to Dwight Moody, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man who is fully committed to Him.” Moody sought to be that man and went on to become the world’s most prominent evangelist of his day.
What is not so well known about Varley is that he was himself a powerful evangelist and pastor. But he faced a pitch battle with jealousy when another preacher in his neighborhood began having great success and started drawing some of Varley’s members. Varley felt deep resentment toward the other minister and later divulged:
“I shall never forget the sense of guilt and sin that possessed me over that business. I was miserable. Was I practically saying to the Lord Jesus, ‘Unless the prosperity of Thy church and people comes in this neighborhood by me, success had better not come’? Was I really showing inability to rejoice in another worker’s service? I felt that it was a sin of a very hateful character. I never asked the Lord to take away my life either before or since, but I did then, unless His grace would give me victory over this foul image of jealousy.”
Varley realized that jealousy was such a hideous sin and found it to be so awful to live with that he would rather die than continue to be ruled by it! When we view envy that seriously and seek God’s help that earnestly in overcoming it, the Lord will certainly give us victory over it.
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This example of Varley was originally recorded in Ralph Turnbull’s biography of him, Henry Varley’s Life Story, and also appears in Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations and Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 272.
Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie