This past summer at Lutherlyn, I overheard a conversation between two teenage campers.
harvested by Indigo Skies Photography. Creative Commons Image on flickr13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.4:
1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8a Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (NRSV)
It began at the breakfast table, as a young woman opened a black canvas kit the size of a book, and began injecting herself with insulin.
The male camper sitting across from the table asked her, “how long have you been a diabetic?”
She says, “I’ve never been a diabetic. But I’ve had diabetes all my life.”
As the conversation continued, I was amazed by how gracious these two young people were to each other, because this encounter could’ve gone far differently…
Surely, the young woman had every right to be fed up with answering questions about her ailment. You could, perhaps, say that the young man was being insensitive or nosy toward her—though he could’ve spoken out of pure compassion. Conversely, the young man could’ve interpreted her answer to his question as rude. But they were gracious to each other—and that’s not something you see too often in this world… What you do see is people behaving badly towards each other.
I could stand here for hours telling you stories about the obnoxious behaviors I’ve witnessed working 8½ years in retail. I could go on even longer sharing stories about road rage, horrible bosses, lazy and incompetent co-workers, gossipy friends, schoolyard bullies, contemptable customer service, and scam artists.
It’s a sad fact of life that you have to put up with these people every day, all the while you struggle to make ends meet, care for your families, and deal with your own pains.
At the same time, our society continues to perpetuate injustices against people on the basis of race, age, gender, or any number of other factors that are beyond a person’s control. These injustices deprive our neighbors of basic human dignity and a fair shot at the American dream.
Then you have 24-hour cable news reminding us of global terrorism, climate change, recession, mass shootings, and violent crimes.
Put it all together, and you see that we’re living in an age of climbing anxiety that’s bringing out the worst in all of us. Truly, we are a people behaving badly.
In the New Testament book of James, God’s Word goes straight to the heart of the matter: “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”
Fear, envy, bitterness, pride, ambition—these are all conditions of the heart. Yet we act them out against each other.
We act as if the whole world should revolve around me. We become vicious about getting what we want. What’s more is that we treat people according to how we perceive and judge them. A neighbor will be a neighbor, if and only if they measure up to me; if they look like me, think like me, live like me, struggle like me, and believe like me. Otherwise, they’re below us—and we’re right to treat them that way…
But Jesus comes into our world—and not to be served, but to serve by giving himself away to sinful yet beloved world. His life, death, and resurrection liberate us from life’s two greatest enemies: death and the devil. Whatever our situation in life may be, we trust that our sins are forgiven; God hears our prayers; and come what may, Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.
If you do not have, you can ask God! And this is how God will respond:
1. If you are asking anything of God out of fear, envy, bitterness, pride, or selfish ambition—the Holy Spirit will act to put these desires to death, lest they wreak destruction on you and your neighbor.
2. If you trust that your needs and your pains matter to God, God will prove faithful—somehow, someway. God will draw near, and you will be okay.
3. As your eyes are opened to the abundance of God’s graciousness to you every day, God will draw you nearer to your neighbors in need. Hurts are healed and needs are met as we belong to one another in Christ.
So ask yourself: who or what makes you angry and gets your blood boiling? In what ways do you believe that you’ve been wronged, by the government, by society, by the economy, by God?
Ask: who or what are the greatest threats to your safety and well-being?
And conversely, what are you most passionate about? To what people or causes are you most passionate in serving?
To put it simply, what do you want?
The Christian life is not a fight for what’s right and beneficial for you. It’s not about winning grace and favor from God or anyone else. It’s not about proving ourselves right and others wrong. It’s not even about winning people over so they’ll come to church.
It’s about serving, plain and simple. Serving without partiality or preference; giving no thought as to the worthiness of others or what we might get in return. You put listening ahead of speaking; mercy over judging, understanding over assuming; serving over being served—even in our consumer-driven culture. For all there really is to envy is Christ—and that his gentleness, patience, and peace draw us all together; to put an end to envy and human need alike.