Pastor Temptation Zones. Zone 4 | Envy.
Google "envy in ministry" and see how prevalent it must be. In just point twenty- eight seconds (yes, that would be .28 seconds) my search engine generated 852,000 site possibilities. Evidently the Envy Zone is a very popular place for pastors and spiritual leaders to visit on occasion or make a habitat all the time. At the same time, the frequency of articles and blogs and research data relating to ministry envy advertise more than what a popular spot it is. They're mostly warnings! They remind us that envy is dangerous.
Of the sins, envy is insidious. It operates under the hood, in the inner regions. Unless expressed envy is little known, what one writer called an "invisible green monster" that lurks in the green chambers of an envious heart. Some have called it the private sin. But, sin being sin, it rarely stays within the boundaries of one human life and eventually touches the people in the circle of that life. And, the Envy Zone is one of the more common temptation zones for pastors, ministers, and other spiritual leaders. It is especially true in a culture that thrives on marketing strategy, social media, blogs, web sites, podcasts, self-publication, live streaming, multi-site and mega churches, and conferences for every spiritual passion under the sun. What is more, it isn't hard to define.
We're dealing with the Envy Zone if we're discontent with our own circumstances because of comparisons to another. So, let's debrief a little here.
(1) Discontent isn't alien to pastors, ministers, and spiritual leaders. Disciples of Jesus experience life with a new scorecard and are therefore thirsty for righteousness and hungry for the Kingdom. So, there's always some sense of "more" as we seek to introduce his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. But, this natural yearning for new life isn't because a seed of bitterness is growing in us. As a result, we mustn't presume that all discontent is the product of envy. Just the same, our ambition and drive must not be gauged by another's success. When it is, we're standing in the Envy Zone.
(2) Envy happens when we compare to others. Well, certainly, sinful humans understand keeping up with the Joneses and all the other measures we use to establish our own placement in the scheme of things. Having scales by which we determine our own goals and objectives isn't such a bad discipline as we seek progress in life. Still, count the sins which derive from our constant measurement, and sooner or later envy will be added to the list. Marking our own success means little without human comparison. That's when the Envy Zone is most dangerous. It makes us desire what belongs to someone else.
(3) In ministry, the Envy Zone is rarely material. Well, yes, church and ministry success often translates to greater financial recognition, benefits that are provided, retirement contributions, and other material blessings. Still, most called individuals have left the security of another life in trust that God will supply what is needed according to his riches in glory. But, most of the time, the Envy Zone is about church location and size, numerical growth, baptisms, and other public acknowledgements of success.
(4) Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, the capital vices, the cardinal sins---wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. They were devised when the early church was trying to establish some norms of living. Of course, now, two millennia later, we know sin is sin and all are grievous to God . But, early on, it was recognized for it's subtle, devious lure, the desire created in us for what someone else is experiencing. It is to say, it is important, especially in the lives of his called servants. When we compare with others and are envious, we become discontent with our own place in life. The Envy Zone then is a place of regret and sorrow.
(5) The Envy Zone is most destructive because while there, we doubt God's provision and placement in ministry service. If it is true that "...God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose" (1 Corinthians 12:18), the Envy Zone would have us asking why he placed that other person there, and why he placed me here? And, when we doubt God, our mission and ministry is therefore compromised. James said it well, that a double-minded man is unstable in everything. We can't have two masters, the God of all things, and the God of that thing over there.
It's nothing new, playing the comparison game. Saul had his thousands and David his tens of thousands. One day the Apostles spoke to Jesus about the number of people John the Baptist was baptizing, thinking perhaps that they were in the Envy Zone themselves. Paul himself knew that other letters were circulating among the churches and that his epistles were often compared to them. He wrote, "Not that we dare classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding" (2 Corinthians 10:12). That's it, comparing to others is without understanding.
And, there are many Bible verses about envy and it's relatives jealousy and covetousness. Solomon wrote about it, the Prophets preached about it, Jesus mentioned it on several occasions, and most of the epistles reference envy in some way. Perhaps the most conclusive verse about dealing with the Envy Zone is the follow-up to Paul's listing of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery,
enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies,
and things like these.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Colossians 5: 19-23
There it is, the character of Christ and the virtue we need when we're traveling through the Envy Zone. The fruit of the Spirit will be evident in growing believers as they yield in us the character to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).