Thou Shalt Not Covet
Have you ever envied the talents of another artist? Have you ever been jealous of someone else’s success? If you’re an artist, you need to know how to deal with jealousy and envy, because there will always be someone more talented, more successful, more in vogue, more attractive, or more prominent in ministry than you.
The words jealousy and envy are virtually synonymous in our everyday language. We often use them interchangeably, but I’ve run across a few explanations that point out differences between the two. One idea is that jealousy involves a triangle of relationships (such as a husband, his wife, and another man), while envy is between only two people. Another theory is that envy occurs over something you want that somebody else has, while jealousy occurs in trying to protect what you already have against a rival. This latter distinction comes closer to what the dictionary says. According to the dictionary, the word jealousy has a sense of rivalry attached to it, like the jealousy our friend Brenda felt for all the attention Carol was getting. The word envy indicates a desire for something that someone else has, such as talent or abilities. For our discussion I’m going to lump jealousy and envy together, since they’re so closely related anyway.
Jealousy and envy are serious sins in the eyes of God. They are “acts of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:19-21), and God is grieved when we allow bitterness and resentment to take root in our hearts. He was angry at Miriam for being jealous of her brother Moses and dealt seriously with her by striking her with leprosy and removing her from fellowship for seven days (Num. 12:9-15). So don’t think that God takes this sin lightly.
Jealousy and envy carry enough explosive power to undermine unity and split any group. That’s why Paul confronted the Corinthians about the jealousy that was tearing them apart (1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20). He considered the sin of jealousy to be as serious as carousing, drunkenness, and sexual promiscuity (Rom. 13:13). James tells us that wherever there’s jealousy, “there you find disorder and every evil practice” (3:16). Unfortunately jealousy and envy are more common among artists in the church than we care to admit. In the midst of our serving the Lord together, there is always the potential for jealousy and envy. In fact, the very first murder was committed because of jealousy between two brothers who were trying to serve God (Gen. 4).
There are plenty of examples of jealousy and envy in the Bible, such as Isaac and Ishmael (Gen. 21) or Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25). Rachel was deathly jealous of Leah because Leah had children and Rachel didn’t (Gen. 30:1). Joseph’s brothers were seduced by jealousy and sold him into slavery (Gen. 37). Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses and his standing with God (Num. 12). Saul was jealous of David (1 Sam. 18:8). The Prodigal Son’s brother was jealous of all the attention his father showered on his wayward son (Luke 15:25-32). Matthew says that the reason the religious leaders crucified Jesus was because they envied him (27:18).
Jealousy and Envy among Artists
Anybody who’s been in the arts for any length of time knows that jealousy and envy run rampant among artists. We compare our talent with the talents of others, our work with theirs, and our lack of success with their achievements. We feel threatened by the talent of others. The less secure we are, the more suspicious we are of other artists. We want to know who’s sitting at the head table, who’s friends with whom, and who’s getting the breaks. We don’t want to feel left out, and we don’t want to be left behind, so we scratch and claw for what we feel is rightfully ours, whether it be a position, a role, a commission, or a prize. In short, the haves and the have-nots have been feuding since the dawn of time.
History tells us that the artistic community has struggled with jealousy and envy for centuries. The infamous rivalry between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo instantly comes to mind. Henri Nouwen writes very graphically about backstage hostility in his book Reaching Out.
Recently an actor told me stories about his professional world which seemed symbolic of much of our contemporary situation. While rehearsing the most moving scenes of love, tenderness and intimate relationships, the actors were so jealous of each other and so full of apprehension about their chances to “make it,” that the back stage scene was one of hatred, harshness and mutual suspicion. Those who kissed each other on the stage were tempted to hit each other behind it, and those who portrayed the most profound human emotions of love in the footlights displayed the most trivial and hostile rivalries as soon as the footlights had dimmed.
My favorite story, though, involves the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni da San Giovanni (1592-1636). He arrived in Rome to make a living as an artist, but there were bitter rivalries among the artists at Rome in those days. Giovanni received a commission to paint a fresco for Cardinal Bentivoglio and set out to work on it at once. After the first day of working on his new masterpiece, he went home. When he came back the next day, he found dirt and mold all over the painting. Giovanni thought there was something wrong with the plaster he was using, so he kept trying different mixtures and combinations. But the results were still the same. Every day he’d arrive at his studio and find the previous day’s work ruined. This went on for five days, until it dawned on him that this might be the work of vandals. So he decided to sleep in his studio one night, and sure enough, about midnight the perpetrators quietly broke into the studio. As the villains climbed the ladder to the scaffolding, Giovanni pushed the ladder over, sending them crashing to the floor. They turned out to be two jealous French painters in town.
Anger and Contempt
Most Christians don’t know how to handle jealousy and envy. I first started teaching about this because I saw in myself and in other Christian artists an inability to deal with jealousy and envy in a healthy or mature way. We know it’s wrong to covet; its one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17). But instead of bringing our sin out into the open and talking about it, we try to hide it. It’s embarrassing and it feels petty. To come out and say, “I’m jealous of Suzy” is to admit that Suzy is better than me. So not only are my feelings of jealousy and envy out on the table but so is my inferiority.
Jealousy and envy are not always blatant. They’re often subtle. In fact, many times the problem can be difficult to detect on the surface, because it lurks deep in our hearts. Deep inside we’re actually angry. We’re angry that we’re getting “dissed.” We’re mad because somebody has something that we want. We feel as if we’ve been treated wrongly. We know it’s unchristian to hate somebody, so we try to deal with our envy by sweeping it under the rug and pretending it’s not there. The problem is that it comes out in many different ways. It surfaces whenever we complain out loud or to ourselves, “Why does so-and-so get to sing the solo all the time instead of me?” Sometimes we disguise our jealousy and envy with seemingly good intentions, such as, “Why does that person get to be up front all the time instead of someone else, like Bill or Bob?” That makes it sound as if we’re really concerned for Bill or Bob, but what we really mean is, “Why does that person get to be up front all the time instead of me?” We may even be keeping score: “Let’s see, that’s five times in the last two months that Suzy has played the lead part, and I’ve only played it once.”
We may also try to subtly sabotage others’ ministries, perhaps by bad-mouthing them behind their backs. When we resort to that, we’re on dangerous ground because we’re setting ourselves up against God, who raises up servants and puts them in roles He wants them to play (Ps. 75:7). The Lord does not approve of us undermining people He’s anointed for ministry (1 Chron. 16:22). If we’re not for them, we’re against them. Whether she realized it or not, Brenda’s disparaging remarks were meant to undermine Carol. She also resisted Carol passively by not throwing her support behind the new dance ministry.
If we don’t deal with our jealousy, we will eventually end up contemptuous of the person we envy. Dallas Willard points out that contempt is even worse than anger: “In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don’t care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say. You are not worth consideration one way or the other. We can be angry at someone without denying their worth, but contempt makes it easier for us to hurt them or see them further degraded.”
What may have started out as a small frustration has now escalated into full-scale bitterness and hatred. Indeed, “stirring up anger produces strife” (Prov. 30:33). We end up not caring at all about what happens to the other person. He or she doesn’t matter anymore. When that happens, we can’t bring ourselves to root for the fellow artist, because instead of wishing the person success, deep inside we’re wishing that he or she will fail. So we can’t “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15), or do so genuinely. Dante writes of one whose vindictiveness was so intense, he couldn’t stand the thought of good things happening to someone else.
The fires of envy raged so in my blood
that I turned livid if I chanced to see
another man rejoice in his own good.
Dealing With the Green-Eyed Monster
One way (the wrong way) to deal with our anger and frustration is to turn against ourselves and devalue our own talents and abilities. “I’m not as good as so-and-so,” we might say “He’s talented and I’m not. He’s a winner and I’m a loser.” We might try to make ourselves look better than someone else by putting the person down or building ourselves up; we might gossip about or slander another artist or try to manipulate conversation so people notice our talents and abilities instead of, or as well as, the other person’s. We may even harbor some anger and resentment toward God because He’s allowed that person to be in the spotlight instead of us.
Yet Galatians 5:26 tells us not to envy one another, and 1 Peter 2:1 instructs us to put all envy aside. How do you do that? You can’t just tell yourself to stop being envious. Jealousy and envy produce strong feelings of animosity that don’t go away that easily. Proverbs 27:4 says, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” It is not an easy thing to rid our hearts of jealousy and envy, yet the Lord wants to work in our hearts and get us to love each other instead of compete against each other. Let’s talk about some ways we can cooperate with Him to bring that about.
Confess It as Sin
The first step to being free from jealousy and envy is to confess it as sin. Confess your anger and contempt as sin. Don’t hide it. Don’t justify it. Confess it. James 3:14 says that “if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” God knows your every thought and He has seen it all. He’s not going to be surprised by your confession. Ask Him to help you deal with your feelings of jealousy and envy toward your brother or sister.
Sometimes people ask me if I think they should admit their feelings to the person who is the object of their jealousy and envy. I would say yes, if you think the person can handle your vulnerability. It can actually bring the two of you closer together. I’ve known situations in which one person goes to another and admits to being jealous and envious and finds out that the other person has some jealousy and envy toward the first one. Confessing this sin can free you from its grip on your heart and can deepen the sense of community you share with your fellow artists.
Appreciate Your God-Given Talent
Be thankful for whatever talent the Lord has given you. First Peter 4:10 says that each of us has received a special talent or ability from God. The New Living Bible has this rendition of Romans 12:6: “God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.” What is it that God has given you to do well? Be grateful for that. While we’re busy envying someone else’s talents, we forget about what God has given us. Just because other people have talents and abilities doesn’t mean that you don’t. Stop viewing yourself as one of the have-nots. It’s not true. In God’s eyes there are no have-nots. I know a pianist who was discouraged because his song-writing wasn’t taking off the way he wanted it to. He said he didn’t want to be known as “just a piano player.” It’s a shame because he is an excellent piano player. I know people who would give their eyeteeth to do what he can do. It seems as though we always want to be something we’re not, and are seldom happy being who we are. If you can perform or create to any degree, you can do something that the average human being cannot do. My fellow artists always remember that other people would just love to be able to do what you do. Don’t let the Evil One convince you that you’re untalented or worthless. You’re less apt to envy someone else if you’re content with what God has given you, so put this book down right now and thank God for whatever talent large or small He’s given you.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
Instead of giving others credit for performing or creating well, we rationalize their success by grumbling that it’s because they have connections and we don’t. They get all the breaks and we’re victims of the system. We might even criticize them behind their back to try to ruin their reputation or spoil their success. We don’t give them any credit for working hard and earning their success. “They don’t deserve it,” we mutter to ourselves. “It’s just not fair.”
When I’m seduced by envy, I can’t seem to give other songwriters their due. I refuse to admit that their work is better than mine. There must be another reason for their success. They have an “in” with someone, or people like them more than me, or even God likes them more than me. It’s all sour grapes. Hence we arrive at the darkest side of envy. It’s not only that we envy what others have but that we don’t want them to have it instead of us. We resent them and their blessing.
I have gained a great deal of freedom by facing the reality that others can and will write something better than I can. We need to recognize the talents of others and give them credit for writing or performing as well as, if not better than, us. If a fellow artist writes or performs something well, tip your hat to that person and say, “Well done, friend. You deserve to be recognized for your hard work and success.”
The Real Issue Is Faithfulness
There once was an old patron of the arts who was leaving town for a while, so he gathered his little colony of artists together for a going-away party. To one artist he gave five talents, to another he issued two talents, and to yet another he entrusted one talent. After they drove their benefactor to the airport, the artists all went their separate ways (as artists often do). Several months later the old patron returned, all rested and suntanned. The artist who was given five talents eagerly met him at the gate. “Master, you entrusted me with five talents and look, I’ve gained five more talents,” he enthused.
“Well done,” said the patron. “I am full of joy. You were faithful and I’ll give you even more.”
The artist who was given two talents ran down the concourse shouting, “Master, you entrusted me with two talents and look, I’ve gained two more talents.”
“Well done,” said the old man. “I am overjoyed. You were faithful and I’ll give you even more.”
The artist who was given one talent was waiting by the baggage claim. “Master,” he sheepishly started, “I didn’t want you to get mad at me. I’m pretty sensitive, you know, and I don’t handle rejection very well, and it’s so hard being an artist in this cold, cruel world. I wasn’t really good enough to make it big-time, because you only gave me one talent, so I didn’t do anything with my talent. I hid it. Here, you can have it back.” The artist opened his hand and looked straight down at his shoes. The talent was as new and undeveloped as the day he got it.
The old man was silent. Then he responded in a soft voice, “My dear friend, you have squandered a fortune. I gave you something that was meant to be used. The issue was not how much I gave but what you did with what you had.”
I’m sure you recognize this as the parable of the talents from Matthew 25. This parable reminds us that our talents and abilities are not our own. They belong to God. However, there is something that used to bother me about this passage. For years I’ve wondered why one person was given five talents, another two, and another only one. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Shouldn’t they all have been given the same amount? I struggled with this until I realized that our God is a righteous God. Everything He does is right and He is full of wisdom. In other words, He knows what He’s doing. The man in the parable entrusted each servant “according to his ability” (v. 15). Romans 12:6 also seems to suggest that gifts and abilities are given out not equally but in proportions. I can’t tell you why one person is given five talents, another two, and some of us only one. Life is like that, it seems. But the real issue is not who gets what but whether I’m going to be faithful and obedient with what I’ve been given. God is not asking me to be faithful with someone else’s talents. He’s asking me to be faithful with what He’s given me.
Remember when Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep? For a man who had denied Jesus and run away, this was a moment of healing, in which the Lord reaffirmed that He was going to use Peter in a mighty way. Yet I detect a little bit of jealousy on Peter’s part when he refers to John and says in effect, “Well, yeah, that’s great. I get to feed sheep, but what about John? What does he get to do?” Jesus answers lovingly but firmly, saying, “What is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). In other words, “Don’t worry about others, Peter. You just be faithful with what I give you to do.”
In the same way, some teachers write books and have a worldwide following. Others teach a Sunday school class. One is not better or more important in God’s eyes. The issue is not how famous you and I are or how prominent in ministry we are, but whether we are faithful and obedient with what God’s given us. It’s a stewardship issue. The parable of the talents says that if we’re faithful with what God’s given us, He will give us more.
The Danger of Comparing
Comparing ourselves with others is extremely dangerous. There is nothing to be gained and everything to lose from comparing ourselves with others. We end up looking either better than we really are or worse than we really are. First Corinthians 12:15-16 warns about the danger of comparing, which is the root of all jealousy and envy: “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, `Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body”.
Gordon MacDonald writes that “the soul cannot be healthy when one compares himself or herself to others. The soul dies a bit every time it is involved in a lifestyle that competes. It gives way to the destructive forces of rivalry, envy, and jealousy.”
We need to discover our talents apart from the talents of others. We need to discover who God made us to be, and celebrate our uniqueness. Being different doesn’t mean we’re better or worse than anybody else; it just means we’re different. It means we have different gifts and different callings. So I can be secure about who God made me to be and what He’s called me to do. He’s not asking me to be someone else (or someone more talented); He’s asking me to be me and to stop comparing myself with others. We need to discover the role God has for us and fulfill it with enthusiasm. We will be more content by being what God has called us to be than by trying to be someone else.
Some men approached John the Baptist and asked him how he felt about the large crowds that Jesus was attracting. In fact, some people who had at one time been following John were now following Jesus. Was John jealous of all the attention Jesus was getting? No, because first of all, John knew that he himself was not the Messiah. “I am not the Christ,” he said, “but am sent ahead of him” (John 3:28). John had no illusions about his place in the world. He was at peace about who he was and what God was calling him to do. He knew what he was about and he knew what he wasn’t about. He saw himself as the friend of the Bridegroom. Jesus is the Bridegroom. John rejoices for the Bridegroom. He’s genuinely happy for Him. He stands by the Bridegroom and doesn’t draw attention to himself. That’s why John was content to be what God made him to be, and content to do what God called him to do.
I know artists who are angry at God because He didn’t give them as much talent as He gave other artists. They resent the fact that they’re not as successful or as famous as other artists whom they envy, so they blame God. Their jealousy has turned to anger directed at God Himself. Romans 9:20 says, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” ” It must feel like a slap in the face to God when we question why He didn’t give us someone else’s talents. It must grieve Him when we wrongly conclude that He doesn’t love us as much as He loves the person whose talents we covet. Just because God chose to give those talents to someone else doesn’t mean He loves us any less. It merely means He wants us to play a different role in His kingdom.
Instead of wishing you were someone else, pray that you become all the artist God wants you to be. James strongly denounces jealousy and envy, and notice where prayer fits into the picture: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4: 1-3).
There are millions of frustrated artists who would give anything to be fulfilled artistically. Unfortunately jealousy and envy have set in and caused all sorts of conflict like James describes. These artists either don’t pray or gave up praying in spite of the fact that God wants to give us the desire of our hearts (Ps. 37:4). He wants us to blossom as artists. James says in effect, “Don’t stop asking. Make sure your motives are right and keep praying.” I don’t know how often I’ve prayed, “Lord, help me to do what it takes to be a better songwriter or a better composer.” I’d rather put my energy into prayer than into nurturing feelings of jealousy and envy, which only lead to trouble.
Turning Envy into Worship
There’s a story about a bandleader who was lining up musicians for a big gig downtown. He went out and got together this excellent jazz trio and offered them union-scale pay for an evening of great jazz. Everything went off without a hitch. They sounded fantastic. Then the bandleader decided it would be nice to have a few horn players for the last set, so he got on the phone and just happened to find that a few of his friends were available, and they agreed to come over and play. When the night was over, the bandleader handed out the paychecks, and everybody got the same amount. The horn players got the same amount as the trio who had been the original hire and had played most of the night. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit too well with the trio. They were visibly upset. They grumbled because they had borne “the burden of the work and the heat of the stage lights,” and they were paid the same amount as those who had been hired for the last set and had only put in an hour of work. Very unfair. But the bandleader said, “Didn’t I pay you what we agreed upon? I haven’t cheated you out of anything. Can’t I do what I want with my money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Obviously this is an adaptation of the parable about the workers in the vineyard, which Jesus taught in Matthew 20. The bandleader’s last line is straight from verse 15: “Or are you envious because I am generous?” Whenever I read that line, I realize that sometimes my concept of what’s fair is too limiting for a gracious God like ours. I want God to distribute gifts and talents as I would if I were God. But perish the thought. God is much more giving than I’ll ever be, because He’s God.
Now my envy can be turned to worship. I can acknowledge God’s sovereignty in the way He distributes talents and abilities. I can worship His goodness for giving me more talent than I deserve. I can worship the Giver instead of the gift. God gifted each one of us according to His perfect will (1 Cor. 12:11). Instead of being jealous of other artists, I can thank God for how He’s gifted them. I can praise Him not only for how He has gifted them but also for how He has gifted me. When we look at it that way, we can draw inspiration from the talents of others. Instead of being threatened by them, we can say, “Lord, I praise you for how you’ve gifted so-and-so. She’s a great artist. Her commitment to excellence makes me want to be the best artist I can be.”
David must have been extremely disappointed when he found out that he wasn’t going to get to build the temple. God wasn’t telling David to wait. He was saying no. Talk about having your dreams dashed. I admire David because he didn’t give in to jealousy and envy. Instead he worshiped God with thanksgiving in his heart. After receiving the bad news, he said, “Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Sam. 7:18). Instead of focusing on what he didn’t have, he focused on what he did have.
The writer of Psalm 73 also turned envy into worship. In the first part of the psalm, he’s contrasting the life of a nonbeliever with that of a believer. He says that he almost got tricked into thinking that nonbelievers were better off. He felt himself starting to envy their prosperity, but he caught himself before it was too late (vv. 2-3). The turning point occurs when he comes into the sanctuary of God (v. 17). Being in the presence of God always gives us a fresh perspective. The psalmist realizes that the things he covets don’t compare with knowing God. They don’t hold a candle to what he has in the Lord. In verse 25 he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” He makes an amazing discovery at the end, when he says, “As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (v. 28). He turned any envy he might have felt into worship.
Develop Relationships Instead of Rivalries
We tend to alienate ourselves from the people we envy. We hide from them. We avoid them. We may be angry at them or resent them. We may even hate them. I’d like to suggest that we reverse these tendencies and do everything we can to develop relationships with them. Get together with them. Invite them over. The more we get to know them, the less threatening they become. When we spend time with people, we start seeing them as partners or friends instead of competitors. Ask them how you can be praying for them. Pray regularly for them and for their success. Before you know it, your envy will be replaced by genuine love. That’s why 1 Corinthians 13:4 (NASB) says that love is not jealous. You can’t remain jealous of your fellow artists if you’re compassionately praying for them and building relationships with them.
Jonathan had every reason to be jealous of David. If Jonathan had any aspirations of succeeding his father, Saul, to the throne, they were snuffed out when God anointed David to be king. Jonathan knew that God’s hand was on David’s life. Instead of being David’s adversary, Jonathan chose to be his friend. Their souls were knit together in one of the deepest friendships recorded in Scripture (1 Sam. 18:1).
Developing friendships instead of rivalries has really worked for me. The people whose gifts overlap mine and who are more talented than me are some of my best friends. At the outset there was the potential for envy to become deeply embedded in my spirit. It would rear its ugly head and drive me to my knees, sobbing in shame. That’s when I got the idea, to put it crudely, that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I think it honors God if we try to develop any kind of friendship with those we envy. Instead of constantly withdrawing, we need to move toward them in love. God wants us to work together, not against each other. Instead of competing with each other, we can learn a lot from each other. We can be brothers and sisters instead of competitors.
No Longer Threatened By the Talent of Others
It is a sign of character when we are no longer threatened by the talents or abilities of others. It comes from being secure about who we are as individual and unique artists and from trusting God’s work in our lives. The success of a fellow artist can’t steal anything away from you. Somehow we think that we lose something when someone else is flourishing, but we don’t. God’s blessing doesn’t get used up. There is plenty to go around for all of us. When somebody else is paid a compliment, it doesn’t take anything away from you.
Numbers 11 records the story of two men who were prophesying mightily before the people of Israel. Joshua took offense for Moses. He wanted these men stopped because they were taking the limelight away from Moses. He goes to Moses and basically says in verse 28, “Do something, Moses. Stop these guys.” But Moses was a wise man who was not threatened by the gifts of others. In the very next verse he says to Joshua, “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!” Moses realized that he didn’t have a monopoly on the gift of prophecy He was secure in his giftedness and in his calling. He saw a need for more prophets, and he cared more for the kingdom of God than for his own glory. We should have the same attitude, because we need more artists to be about the Lord’s work. There is plenty of room for more artists in Christendom. The more the merrier.
If You Do Well
The verse that has helped me the most in dealing with feelings of jealousy and envy comes from Genesis 4. It grows out of the story of two brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. They both brought an offering to the Lord, but God rejected Cain’s offering. We don’t know exactly why, but we do know that God wasn’t trying to be obtuse. He wasn’t jerking Cain around. Both men knew what God expected. Abel did well in bringing God the best he possibly could, but Cain didn’t. The Bible doesn’t say that God was mad at Cain. In fact, God was willing to give him a second chance, but Cain was jealous of his brother and angry at God.
God tried to reason with Cain, but he wouldn’t listen. God’s words put Cain (and us) at a crossroads: “If you do well, surely you will be accepted. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7 NASB, mg). History would be totally different if Cain had stopped right there and replied, “Lord, you’re right. I want to do well in your eyes. Help me to do better next time.” But he didn’t. The next verse says that Cain told his brother what had happened. Cain probably moped around, brooding over his anger, grumbling about how unfair life is. I’m sure his side of the story painted God as unreasonable and overly demanding. I’m sure he played the victim, as we all do in these kinds of situations, and blamed God. At no point did he humble himself and repent. Instead Cain’s jealousy led to murder. Sin really was crouching at his door.
God included stories like this in the Bible so we can learn from other people’s mistakes. When I’m tempted by jealousy or envy, I hear God saying to me, “Don’t worry about what’s going on with your brother. If you do well, you will be accepted.” If I’ve learned anything from this story, it’s that the appropriate response to God in a situation like Cain’s is, “Lord, help me to do well. Help me to do better with the talent You gave me. Help me to grow spiritually and artistically so when I offer You something, You’re delighted to accept it and use it.”
If You’ve Got It, Don’t Flaunt It
What if you’re the object of someone else’s jealousy and envy? If you sense that’s the case, can I suggest that you be sensitive to the person who’s struggling with envy toward you? I know you can’t control how others respond to you, and their jealousy is not your fault. It’s a response they choose to make, but you can alienate them further by being insensitive. You don’t need to censor everything you say or be disingenuous, just be mindful of their struggle. Remember, you never want to cause a brother or sister to stumble (1 Cor. 8:13). First Peter 5:3 warns us not to misuse our gifts and lord it over others, so be careful not to flaunt your talents and abilities around others.
God hates pride and arrogance. “Haughty eyes” are an abomination to Him (Prov. 6:16-17). The Pharisees were people who flaunted their position and abilities. They would stand up in front of a crowd and pray out loud, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12). The lowly and despised tax collector, on the other hand, stood in the corner with his head down, far away from the center of attention, and beating his fists against his chest, he prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (v. 13). Jesus favored the tax collector over the Pharisee. He said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”(v. 14).
Joseph was his father’s favorite son. His brothers were already jealous of Joseph, so it didn’t help things when their father gave Joseph a multicolored robe that he had made especially for him. Joseph’s relationship with his brothers was further strained when he predicted that someday they would all be bowing down in submission to him (Gen. 37:6-11). No wonder they didn’t like him. He was so cocky. They were already feeling that their father didn’t care about them, and this young upstart kept rubbing it in. I know he couldn’t help being the object of his father’s favor, but I wonder how different Joseph’s relationship with his brothers would have been if he had shown more discretion. If you have been greatly blessed, please don’t flaunt it before other artists.
Also, if someone comes to you and confesses to harboring jealousy and envy toward you, it would help that person a great deal if you accepted his or her apology with love and understanding. Realize how difficult it is to confess the sin of jealousy to the one you envy. If you shame the person for feeling envious, or get all defensive about it, you will alienate the person even further. If you also struggle with jealousy and envy, it would be a relief for the person to hear that he or she is not alone. Promise to pray for each other. Ask if there’s anything you’re doing that causes the person to stumble.
Greg Ferguson is a good friend of mine, and, as far as I’m concerned, Greg has world-class talent. He’s one of the best songwriters I know. He can write on demand. His lyrics are logical and natural, his melodies are memorable, and his harmonies are sophisticated and interesting. He’s also one of the best singers and one of the best communicators I’ve ever worked with. He’s a professional jingle singer heard on TV and radio spots all across the country, and he serves tirelessly and sacrificially at our church. If anybody had any right to flaunt his or her talent, it would be Greg. Yet he is one of the nicest, most humble people I’ve ever met. People don’t expect someone who’s so talented to be such a nice guy. He isn’t very vocal about his achievements professionally. Most people are unaware when his radio spots “go national.” He doesn’t throw his weight around at rehearsal, and he treats the other vocalists at church as his equals. It’s refreshing to know someone who’s got it but doesn’t flaunt it. It reminds me that people who really do have it don’t need to flaunt it.
In conclusion, jealousy and envy are very strong emotions. They tend to dominate and lead us to do regrettable things. In the case of Cain and Abel, jealousy led to murder. That’s why God says that we must master this beast called jealousy and envy before it masters us.
This article Thou Shalt Not Covet was excerpted from the book The Heart of the Artist written by Rory Noland. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.