Have you ever been jealous? If you have a pulse then the answer is yes. Jealousy is something we have all felt at some point. Our jealousy may have centered around the material possession, job promotion, or financial status of someone else. But sometimes, our jealousy can have a more “spiritual” focus. We can become jealous of how we see God working in the life of someone else. Maybe God provided for a need or healed someone in such a way that we wished He would work in our lives. Even pastors can wrestle with this feeling when they see God at work in other churches in ways they desire for Him to move in their own congregation.
As we reflect on the source of jealousy we discover it can actually be an indicator of some false beliefs and understanding of the nature and character of God. In Luke 15 Jesus tells the story of two brothers which speaks to this issue.
Jesus tells of how the younger of the two brothers asked for his inheritance, leaves home, squanders it all, and then comes back. He is met by his gracious and loving father who welcomes him back with open arms. The older brother does not take kindly to this reception. He berates his father for allowing his younger brother to come back so easily. He also reminds his father of all of his “good works” and loyal service.
What the older brother reveals to us in his dialogue is a false understanding of the character of the father and of his own impure motivation. As Tim Keller notes, the older brother was serving his father out of obligation and not out of joy. He felt he was entitled to his inheritance. He was serving only to gain something from his father, not out of love. And so, when things did not go his way, he became very angry.
We too can be like the older sibling. It is tempting at times to serve God out of a sense of what John Piper calls “duty and not delight.” We are obedient because we have to be. Maybe it is out of fear of being punished. Or maybe, it is in an effort to get something from God. But we do not seek God to simply know God, gain God, or love God.
And then, when things don’t go the way we want them to, we become angry with God. We feel that God is treating us unfairly. After all, we have dutifully served and obeyed Him all these years, why is He treating us like this?
The apostle Paul provides for us a much better example. In Philippians we find Paul imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Is he angry at God? Absolutely not! In fact, he sees how God is using these circumstances to further the gospel (Philippians 1). Furthermore, he is able to rejoice in all circumstances because of the power of Christ working in and through him (Philippians 4). In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul is even told no by God in answer to a repeated prayer request. But instead of becoming angry Paul allows this to be a moment to teach him to boast in his weakness.
And so, we are reminded of the importance of checking the motivation behind our actions. Why do we follow God? Is it to gain God, or something from God? Furthermore, do we trust the character of God to do for us as he promised in Romans 8:28, to work all things for our good?
As we reflect, we must prayerfully ask God to examine our hearts and to remove any older brother mindsets that may exist. And then immerse ourselves in the truth and beauty of God’s Word allowing it to shape our motivations and our understanding of God’s character in such a way that we trust Him as He works in our loves.