Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Properties of Love #2 Love does not envy

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 13:4-7   
TITLE:     The Properties of Love  #2   Love  does not envy
DATE :    21  /08 /2011
Chapter 13  is found in the context  of the  subject of “spiritual gifts”.  The Corinthian  church was  struggling with wrong  perspectives  on this .  I thank God for this letter to the Corinthians  because the  modern church, mainly in the 70’s and ‘80’s of the last century  had  gone through a similar crisis  with respect to the  subject of spiritual gifts .  A man centred understanding and application  of the gifts  has torn  the church to pieces in our generation  . It has been in my understanding one of the most  devastating tactics used  by Satan to divide the church  and to  cause the name of God be blasphemed by   those who wanted  an excuse to do so . Many people have been needlessly hurt  in the conflicts created  around this subject . 
With the  advent of the Pentecostal , and then the Charismatic movement  in the 70’s  much stress was placed  on the place of the  spiritual gifts in the church , particularly  the extra ordinary  sign gifts (such as  tongues , healings , prophecies)  which we read about in 1 Corinthians 12: 8 –11  and Chapter 14 .
Pentecostals and Charismatics have generally claimed that  all the gifts  mentioned in the Bible ought to be in operation today. They  had  attributed the present  ‘deadness’ of the church to the fact that the church had  neglected  these gifts , which,  they  said  needed to be  restored to bring about  life and unity  to the church! The truth is that the  so called  rediscovery of the spiritual gifts  has not  brought about  neither  revival nor life nor unity  to the church. On the contrary,  it has  hugely divided the church .

It all began with an  incorrect  assessment  of the true need of a backslidden church . There can be  no doubt that the  church at the beginning of the 20th century was backslidden .  For instance , the  Baptist Union of England  in Spurgeon’s day  was    affected  by the  new liberal theology , promoted mainly  by  liberal  Germany theology professors . They had a distinct  bias against  the supernatural claims of the Bible , particularly  with respect to  the inspiration of Scripture  and   the  supernatural conception of Christ  and with respect  to  the  miracles of the scriptures .  C.H Spurgeon of the Metropolitan Tabernacle ( Reformed Baptist – 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith)   was one of the few preachers  who  clearly  saw what was coming and he warned the church of his day  . Like the true prophets of old he was scorned , and  sadly later dismissed  from the Baptist Union of England. This  was part  of what became  known as  the Downgrade Controversy  in 1887 .

But , my dear brothers and sisters , the  deadness of the church was never due  per se  to an absence of the practise of spiritual gifts ( particularly tongues , healings ) . The deadness of the church is  always due to  an absence of spiritual life!  When a church is dead , then it is  not that the gifts aren’t practised  ; it is most likely  that many of her  church members are  not converted !  Where people  are not truly converted in a church there can be no spiritual life or vitality  !  
In the  case  of  the Corinthian Christians  it was not  that  the church lacked  spiritual life . They lacked  an  understanding of the proper use  of the spiritual gifts.  The members had  ‘privatised’ the spiritual gifts . They were using them  not for the ‘common good’  , but they were boasting and flaunting their gifts . They were being arrogant and rude, because they were self centred .
Ultimately all this  was  due  to one  problem .  This is  where  Chapter 13 really brings the perspective  which we need in this whole matter  concerning  the exercising  of the spiritual gifts : Love !  It is introduced to us as  the most excellent way”. ( 1 Cor 12:31b)

Love is pre-eminent! A.W. Pink said that “ love is  the queen of all the Christian graces” .  Whatever gifts we do not have , if we have love  then  we have that which matters most.   We have already seen in 1 Cor 13:1-3  that any spiritual  gift ( no matter how profound) is essentially  empty , nothing, useless  if not  ‘wrapped ‘ in the spirit of agape or biblical love.    

What  is  meant by biblical love  ?  How shall we define it  ?
The answer is  given us  in   vv 4 – 7 , in which the properties of that love are expounded .   Love is  so profound  that it cannot be described or explained in one simple  word .Paul use  15  different verbs here    to explain  what love  is or  what it is not .  Seven  verbs teach us what love is , and  eight   teach us what love is not  .

Last time we  looked  at the first two  verbs , which  were positively defined : Love is patient ( long suffering )   ; love is kind. The other five  positives are : love  rejoices with the truth ;  bears all things , believes all things , hopes all things , endures all things .  Putting that into our  context (i.e.  the teaching concerning spiritual gifts)  I must  remember  that  if in the ministry of the church   I  am   longsuffering , kind , rejoicing with the truth, bearing all things , believing all things , hoping all things, enduring all things , I shall contribute greatly  to an environment  that is  conducive  to the flourishing of our mutual gifts . It greatly contributes to the life of a happy church .
The  eight verbs  which  tell us  what love is not,    are  :  Love is not….  envious , boastful , proud , rude , self seeking , easily angered, keeping record of wrongs , delighting  in evil . Putting that into our  context  again , I must  remember  that  if in the ministry of the church   I  am  envious,  boastful,  proud , rude , self seeking , easily angered, always keeping record of wrongs… I am  a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… I am nothing… I gain nothing !   In fact , I undermine or hinder the  work of the church.      
Let us continue then  building our understanding  of  the spiritual gifts God has given us  :

Love does not envy  ( Gr agapē oủ  zēloi )
Here we have  the first negative – i.e. what love ought not  to be like . Some  translations translate  the word ‘envy  as "jealous"- Love is not jealous . ( e.g. RSV).  Envy is certainly  a passion that tends towards jealousy.  Jonathan Edwards[1]  defines envy  as  "a spirit of dissatisfaction/ and opposition with  the prosperity and happiness of others,  when compared to ourselves" .
At its root  envy  is essentially  the   “spirit of covetousness", which is forbidden in the 10th commandment.  

A few scriptural illustrations :

1. Genesis 37:11 - When Joseph had a dream in which it was  implied that his   parents and brothers were going to bow before him, and that he would  have power over them, his brothers were jealous /envious of him. They were not willing to have their youngest brother above them. They also  envied  him for the fact that their father loved Joseph more than them (Gen 37: 4,5) .  This  shows us  that  envy  resents the fortunes of others ,  and often it turns into hatred. The  envy of Joseph’s brothers  brought great hurt into the family.

2. Esther 5:9ff :  In the book of Esther , we meet  a man called  Haman, who was insanely jealous of the Jews , (who were at this time in exile in  Babylon), and especially with  Mordecai and his adopted Jewish daughter, Esther, who had become queen of Babylon. Haman could not  face the fact that Mordechai the Jew was so honoured by King Xerxes, and  because of envy  sought  to dispose of him . The envy of  this one man Haman caused great hurt for the Jews.  We note that God judged him severely for this  attitude .

3.Acts 13:45 - The Jews, when they saw the crowds, which Paul and  Barnabas had attracted with the message of the Gospel, "were filled  with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.  Persecution happened , and Paul; and Barnabas had to shake of their feet in protest against that region – do you see what happened ? That region was deprived of the privilege of hearing the gospel – because of envy!

God hates this spirit !  It is altogether opposed to His being and to  His perfect  law (the 10th commandment )  . If the  spirit of envy  persists in any church  it will  kill  the church , for it  kills  love in the church!   When we  allow ourselves  at any time  to become envious of another person’s  success  or good  fortunes or  greater gifts / or more attractive personality or  material wealth in the church , then let us  be quick to repent of such an attitude . If we persist in envy , it will  sink deep into our hearts  and become a settled  way of life . It will be so deep and so entrenched and therefore  so subtle  that we will not  recognise it anymore for what it is   As Christians  we learn to continually  cultivate a tender  conscience  with regard to evil.  We  must not allow   our fallen natures  to rule us in this regard . Remember  that you have received power  to resist  the devil and your sinful nature in this regard   ( see 2 Peter 1:3&4) . You have received power to overcome 'the world and its desires' (1 Jn 2:17 )
The opposite  of envy is contentment . We must  learn  to be  content with our place and position in life.  (Phil 4:12) .  
Jonathan Edwards says  : "Whether our rank be as high as that of the angels, or as low as  that of the beggar at the rich man's gate (Lk 16:20), we shall be equally satisfied with it, as the post in which God has placed us, and  shall equally respect ourselves, if we are faithfully endeavouring to  serve Him in it."
 So , if you see this  trait  in you , know that this is going to kill your  Christian love .If you see it  ,  immediately commit and confess this  to the Lord in prayer .

It is entirely clear, that the Bible does not encourage envy . All  the great virtues of Scripture such as  good-will, meekness, humility, generosity are directly opposed to the  spirit of envy.

Further  warnings against envy 
·         Rom 13:13 : "let us behave decently, as in the daytime... not in  dissension and jealousy/envy." ;
·         1Cor 3:3 , where Paul blames the Corinthians for being "worldly",  because there was "jealousy/envy and quarreling among them. (also in 2 Cor 12;20) ;
·         James 3:14,16 speaks of envy as entirely contrary to true Christianity,  and connects it to "selfish ambition in your hearts, … it is  earthly , unspiritual and devilish..." ;
·         1 Peter2:1,2 warns us against envy (connected with various other  evils), as preventing our growth in spiritual things.

Somebody once said: "Every time you turn green with envy, you are ripe  for trouble". 
Thomas Brooks, the Puritan said: “Envy, tortures the affections (emotions) ; it vexes the mind; it inflames the blood; it corrupts the heart; it wastes the spirits; and it becomes man's tormentor and man's executioner at once."
John Chrysostom (early Church father) said: "As a moth gnaws at a  garment, so does envy consume a man."

In fact…many lovely things pass out of life, when jealousy or envy comes in.

The bad news is that this destructive trait  is potentially found in all of us ,  since we are all children of Adam. The good news is that through obeying the powerful  gospel of Jesus  , we  can learn to recognise it  and deal with it.  

[1] Jonathan Edwards : Charity and its Fruit

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