One evening a few years ago I heard a missionary from Australia describe her experiences. She had been a missionary to a certain people group for 16 years. I was deeply moved by her heart for the people she was serving and her perseverance in the face of huge obstacles.
However, one comment she made was particularly poignant. From a full heart, she testified about the people she loved, saying, ‘They are hopeless at working together.’ They were a people who were stubbornly independent, lacking in trust, ripe for conflict.
Afterwards, as I thought about this while praying for her and her friends, it occurred to me that in Australia we see a lot of the same. Indeed, the root of this fault may be the most prevalent sin of all – pride.
Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”
Now we might think that as we get older, gain more experience, perhaps even become a Christian leader, this sin would be eliminated or reduced. Well statistics show a different story. I heard one well-respected mission’s executive confide how much of his time was in conflict resolution among leaders.
Why is it that there are so many conflicts among the people of God, the very people Jesus has commanded to love one another so that others might know that they are his disciples? (John 13:34-35)
In the book Steering Through Chaos, the author points out that, ‘This vice (pride) is unique in that it is the one vice of which its perpetrator is frequently unaware.’
Isn’t that so true? Who do you know that goes around confessing that they are proud? So, what dangerous ground we stand on if we have no friend, sibling or spouse who will be honest with us in this arena.
Yet often those closest to us are very good at giving support, but not all that great at telling it like it is. So, we need to encourage them to tell the truth and not react to them when they do. Perhaps this week, as the above proverb states, we could wisely take advice.
Yet, closely aligned to pride is a second big challenge we face in our inner life – envy.
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
Have you ever been the subject of someone else’s envy? If you haven’t been, you probably will be, particularly if you are a leader. In Scripture we observe the difficulties David went through because of the envy of Saul. And it was the envy of the religious leaders, so obvious even to Pilate, that brought about the death of Jesus.
It seems to me that, in our modern society, envy is rampant. We are very good at ‘levelling,’ cutting down tall poppies and ensuring that our leaders are appropriately humble. These national pastimes have deep historical roots. They can also be motivated by envy.
Again, from the book Steering Through Chaos, envy is described as cancer of the heart. Once implanted it spreads and destroys from the inside. Unlike jealousy, which is described as the passionate effort to keep what is one’s own by right and can have positive implications (such as when God is described as jealous for his glory), envy is always negative and arises from feeling mistreated and inferior.
The envious person sees another’s happiness or success and then compares it with themselves. When they realise the other has gained more approval or success, they seek to bring the other person down to their level by word or action. The wishing to have what others have topples over into wishing that they would not have it and then finally into working to make sure they don’t.
While in Sydney awhile back, I visited with a Christian leader who directs a program that has been highly successful in recruiting and training many dozens of disciple-makers and church leaders in the past few decades. Yet his program has also been like a lightning rod drawing criticism, envy and opposition.
The tendency to look for weaknesses to criticise rather than strengths to praise is not uncommon. It is one thing to strongly express our convictions about Biblical truth, values, and distinctives; quite another to be critical of others out of envy.
Here’s some advice I came across from an 18th century evangelical pastor (Charles Simeon) about this tendency of people to gain a type of pleasure in hearing things about people that tended to lower them in estimation because of envy. I have copied this list and kept it where I can be reminded by this wisdom:
- To hear as little as possible what is to the prejudice of others.
- To believe nothing of the kind till I am absolutely forced to it.
- Never to drink in the spirit of one who circulates an ill report.
- Always to moderate, as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed toward others.
- Always to believe, that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter.
Also: ‘I consider love as wealth; and as I would resist a man who should come to rob my house, so would I a man who would weaken my regard for any human being.’
May the Lord give us grace to love others without pride or envy.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant…”
1 Corinthians 13:4
For the glory of God,