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What is that to You

"That's not fair!"  This is the mantra of children who are quick to perceive injustices against themselves even when there are none.  If another child gets a better toy, a bigger piece of cake, or an extra piece of candy, then the cries of unfairness ring out.  Likewise, if another child is allowed to do less work while receiving the same reward, then the offended child quickly demands fairness and equality. While making these demands, the child does not pause to notice the bounty of blessings he has been given.  Instead, his only concern is about whether another child has somehow received favor.  Of course, if bias ever works in his own favor, then the child says nothing about unfairness, but rather he happily receives the benefit.

We might expect such behavior from immature children, but it is almost as common among adults.  This behavior is called envy, and it has no rightful place among the children of God. Envy is one of the strangest passions of man, for it is completely irrational.  Envy can be defined as a bad feeling that is aroused by someone else's good fortune. It is a purely selfish and evil motivation that cannot bring blessings to its owner.  It leads to foolish and sinful behaviors, such as when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:11, 18-36; Acts 7:9) or when the Jews delivered Jesus to Pilate (Matt. 27:18; Mark 15:10).  These examples demonstrate the worst effects of envy, for envy provokes men to hatred and sometimes causes them to do harm to others. Obviously, envy has no place in the life of a Christian, for it belongs among those sins that have been put away by all disciples of Jesus (Rom. 1:29; Gal. 5:19-21; Tit. 3:3).

Envy was present even among the apostles of Jesus while He was still in the world. They were often arguing with one another about which of them was the greatest (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24), and they were angered when one of them sought an advantage over the others (Matt. 20:24).  Even after the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection, the apostle Peter expressed that childish sense of injustice concerning the apostle John.  When Jesus had told Peter of his coming hardships, Peter looked to John and asked Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" (John 21:21). Jesus replied, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!" (John 21:22).  Peter's focus on John was misdirected, for the Lord's intentions for John had no bearing on Peter's responsibility to Jesus.

The Lord's words turn our attention away from undue focus on others and toward our own responsibilities and rewards.  Concerning the blessings He bestows on others, Christ's words to Peter address us as well: "What is that to you?  You follow Me!"  The Lord's teachings show us the pettiness and selfishness of envy.  Consider His parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) in which the older son became envious of his brother's happy reception from their father.  The older son said to his father, "For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him."  The father answered, "Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours." The older son's blessings were not diminished by his brother's good fortune, but he could think only of the perceived unfairness because of his envy.  Similarly, in the parable of the laborers (Matt. 20:1-16), the men who worked all day complained that the landowner gave the same wages to men who worked only an hour. In reply, the landowner said to one of them, "'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?  Or is your eye envious because I am generous?"  These men should have been satisfied with the just wages they had been paid, but envy made them unhappy.

It is no wonder that the Scriptures describe envy as "rottenness to the bones" (Prov. 14:30 KJV, NKJV, ASV), for it is corruption that reaches down to the deepest part of a person like a destructive cancer.  It manifests itself when we receive blessings, promises, or responsibilities from the Lord, and all we can say is, "Lord, and what about this man?" Rather than saying, "Thank you, Lord," or "Your will be done," we act like children as we rush to check the fortunes of others.  Remember Jesus words: "What is that to you?  You follow Me!"  Jesus will never be unjust, but rather He is abundantly gracious and merciful to those who follow Him.  Indeed, if we follow Him, then we will receive far more than we could ever deserve.

Stacey E. Durham




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