The Sin of Coveting
What is your favorite wild animal? Some like monkeys, because they are cute and clever. A problem with monkeys though, is that they are covetous. They can never say no to candy, and they can never get enough. Some people are like that, with various things.
Coveting is discontent with what you have, and wanting to take away from another. It starts with desire and can include resenting what you do not have, and greed in trying to obtain it by any means. Coveting is not wanting something as good as what somebody else has; rather it is wanting what someone else has instead of them. It is not saying I want a wife, servant, ox, donkey etc. as good as my neighbor; rather it is I want my neighbor's wife, servant, ox, donkey, etc. Coveting is apparently serious enough, and frequent enough, the last of the Ten Commandments is dedicated to this sin. (Ex 20:17; Dt 5:21; Rom 7:7; 13:9) (Hebrew chamad, Greek epithumeo).
What Christians Have Said about Coveting
19 Pre-Nicene Christians wrote against coveting. Most of them are quoting scriptures, but here are some more interesting additional teachings.
Theophilus of Antioch (168-181/188 A.D.) "But the monsters of the deep and the birds of prey are a similitude of covetous men and transgressors." To Autolycus book 2 ch.16 p.101
Justin Martyr (c.150 A.D.) "For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure. For this is the symbolic significance of unleavened bread, that you do not commit the old deeds of wicked leaven." Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew ch.14 p.201.
Dionysius of Alexandria (246-265 A.D.) observed, "And sorrowful also is the solicitude connected with covetousness: it does not so much gratify those who are successful in it, as it pains those who are unsuccessful; while the day is spent in laborious anxieties, and the night puts sleep to flight from the eyes, with the cares of making gain. Vain, therefore, is the zeal of the man who looks to these things." Commentary on Ecclesiastes ch.2 verse 22 p.113
Thomas Adams: "Wealth is the devil's stirrup whereby he gets up and rides the covetous."
Thomas Fuller: "Riches have made more covetous men than covetousness has made rich men."
Matthew Henry: "Covetousness is commonly a master-sin and has the command of other lusts."
Coveting is Serious
Covetousness is nothing short of idolatry (Col 3:5). We should not only avoid greed, but none of us should have even a hint of greed in Eph 5:5. The greedy are supposed to be shunned from the church in 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:10.
The first one to covet was Lucifer, who coveted God's worship. Eve coveted what the serpent told her the fruit would provide. Elijah's servant Gehazi was punished with leprosy for asking for clothes from Naaman the Syrian. Judas was greedy for money. The Prodigal Son coveted what was his anyway, but he wanted it now.
Achan and his family were executed because they coveted, and they thought they would not get caught in Josh 7:21. But anyone, no matter how spiritual they are, can sin in coveting money. Paul thought it necessary to specifically testify that he never coveted other people's things in Acts 20:33 and 1 Thess 2:5.
Coveting can be intense lust for gain Rom 1:29 or greed (2 Pet 2:14). We are warned not to love money in Eph 5:3; 1 Tim 3:3; 6:10; 2 Tim 3:2; and Heb 13:5. You can lust for gain, or for dishonest gain in Ezek 18:21; 33:31; Hab 2:9. We are to hate ill-gotten gain in Pr 28:16. Ask a greedy person "How much is too much". No matter how much they own, they might say they have not reached it yet. Some evil people even bless the greedy in Ps 10:3.
Coveting is also being unwilling to give up money (Pr 21:26). We must not give grudgingly (2 Cor 9:5).
Covetousness is Natural and Subtle
False teachers can be greedy to deceive (2 Pet 2:3). The Pharisees loved money in Lk 16:14. You can covet things besides money, such as a religious position or chair. Read what Uzziah did in 2 Chronicles 26:16-21.
Once I was a substitute teacher for a 4 to 5 year old Sunday school class, and I had them play a game. Two children would stand next to a chair. Each one was supposed to say "I want to sit in that chair." Then they were supposed to say to the other, "You can sit in that chair." The first one to say the second sentence was the winner. As we did this for everyone in the class, there was a lot of hesitation before being able to say the second sentence.
Saul coveted the Amalekites' livestock in 1 Sam 15:9,19, and it appears Saul did not even realize he was coveting in 1 Sam 15:20-23.
Covetousness can lead to internal warfare inside you in Jms 4:1-2. It can lead to external hatred and warfare too. There are a number of stories of fights among family members over inheritance.
Coveting Leads to Oppressing Others
Micah 2:2 spoke against greed in coveting fields and seizing them; defrauding people of theirs homes and inheritance. Jer 22:17 is similar.
Coveting can be Deadly Too
Even though Ahab had nothing against Naboth, Ahab had Naboth killed solely because Ahab wanted his vineyard in 1 Kings 21:1-19.
Achan and his family died for coveting a Babylonian robe, 200 shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold in Joshua 7:21. Finally God is enraged by sinful greed in Isa 57:17; Jer 6:13; 8:10.
When Coveting is OK
On the other hand, it is a good thing to covet the greater gifts in 1 Cor 12:31.
Just wanting to hold on to what You have?
What if you do not desire the possessions of anyone else; you just want to hold on to what you have. Is that coveting? Remember what Jesus told the rich young ruler in Mk 10:17-23; Mt 19:16-24. Jesus and the apostles did not command everyone to give up all of their wealth, but if money is keeping you back, then give up wealth, as Zacchaeus did (Lk 19:1-9).
Cures for Coveting
Be on your guard against greed, as Jesus tells us in Lk 12:15. The Greek word here, pleonexia, mean to desire more than you possess. Greed makes us unclean in God's eyes (Mk 7:22 and Rom 1:29). We should not only not have greed, which should not even have a hint of greed in Eph 5:3.
Simply ask God! Psalm 119:36 asks God to turn my heart towards God's laws, and not selfish gain.
The Bible says an antidote to coveting is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Rom 13:9)
Be free from the love of money by being content with what you have (Heb 13:5), and even give to the poor. Zacchaeus was a greedy rich man, whom, when he met Jesus, was willing to give half of his possessions to the poor in Lk 19:8.
Pray to God the prayer in Pr 30:7-9. Ask God that He would give you enough; and trust Him that He will. Ask God that He will not give you too much, and also trust God that He will answer your sincere prayer.
Decide to store up things for God, not for yourself as the rich fool did in Lk 12:13-21. Trading the riches of this life for the next, is like the kid who traded with his brother real money for monopoly money.
"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" Mk 8:36 (Lk 9:25)
How do you catch a monkey alive? In southeast Asia they put out a jar at the edge of the jungle, with a piece of unwrapped candy inside. The monkey takes the candy and leaves. On subsequent days they repeat this, except they make the neck of the jars smaller and smaller. Finally the monkey can put his hand in the jar, but when he makes his fist into a ball to hold on to the candy, he cannot get his hand out of the jar. So the monkey just stays there, trapped. The people take the monkey, put a rope around him, and make him the monkey their pet. Even worse, in one southeast Asian country, live monkey brains are a delicacy! Monkeys might look cute, but spiritually speaking we don't want to be monkeys. You have to know when to let go!
The Sins of Envy and Jealousy
"My eyes are ever toward the LORD, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net." Psalm 25:15 (NKJV)
Coveting means desiring something that is not yours. It can be considered as a stop to envy and jealousy. The two words are somewhat interchangeable in English. One can consider three degrees of envy or jealousy.
1) Discontent because you want something like someone else has.
2) You want what someone else has, and don't want them to have it, or don't care what they have. This might be passive, or passive-aggressive.
3) You actively hate the person, have malice and ill-will towards them, because of what they have.
Envy is a Major Motive in the Bible
Lucifer became envious in Isaiah 14:12-20 and Ezekiel 28:17 and fell because of his pride.
Eve coveted the forbidden fruit (does not say apple) in Genesis 3:4-7.
Cain killed Abel for envy in the KJV and jealousy in the NIV in Genesis 4:5-8; 1 John 3:12.
The Philistines stopped up the wells Isaac had dug for his herds because of envy, in Genesis 26:14.
Rachel envied (in KJV), became jealous (in the NIV) because she was not bearing children and Leah was. In Genesis 30:1.
Joseph's brothers sold him to the Midianites due to envy in Genesis 37:11 and Acts 7:9.
In the wilderness some of the Israelites became envious of Moses in Psalm 106:16.
In particular, Dathan, Abiram and 250 other leaders were jealous and opposed Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16; Dt 11:6; Ps 106:17. Envy can swallow you up, so to speak.
The tribes of Ephraim and Judah were jealous of each other in Isaiah 11:13.
Saul wanted to kill David out of jealousy in 1 Sam 18:9.
Envy can be subtle and use a mask: In Numbers 12:1 Aaron and Miriam used the occasion of Moses' marriage to a Cushite (black woman) to vent their envy of Moses in Numbers 12:2.
The rulers wanted to kill Jesus out of envy in Mt 27:18; Mk 15:10.
Paul feared for jealousy in the church in 2 Cor 12:20.
The Jews were jealous of Paul in Acts 17:5; 13:45.
Envy is Prominent in the Lives of Many
Greed and envy are two of the 13 unclean things infesting many people's hearts in Mark 7:21-23. It is one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:21.
Some people are filled with envy towards their neighbors in Ecclesiastes 4:4. In modern slang terms we call that "keeping up with the Joneses."
A Filipina told me once that when she was little, she and the other school children, when they walked home from school, would throw stones at the rich peoples' houses.
In fact, a lot of things done in this world are done not so much for personal gain, but for envy and jealousy. It is one of the characteristics of people without God (Rom 1:29; 1 Tim 6:4; Tt 3:3).
In Psalm 73:1-29 Asaph, even as a believer, recounts his hard struggle with envy. But while Asaph was tempted to believe Psalm 73:13, but then he says Psalm 37:17-28.
Envy can be Unhealthy and Deadly
Your envy hurts you more than the other person. Prov 14:30 says that a sound heart is life to the body, Envy rots the bones (Prov 14:30b);
"Envy slays the simple" in Job 5:2.
SofS 8:6 Jealousy is as cruel as the grave
Don't envy sinners Pr 23:17, or the violent Pr 3:31.
"Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, But who is able to stand before jealousy?" Pr 27:4 (NKJV)
Saul tried to kill David out of jealousy (1 Sam 18:9).
The rulers wanted to kill Jesus out of envy in Mt 27:18; Mk 15:10
Isa 42:13 He shall stir up jealousy as a man of war
God (and Life) don't have to be Equitable
The parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 was offensive to the Pharisees.
The Early Church Took Envy and Jealousy Seriously
27 Pre-Nicene writers taught against envy and jealousy. Here are some things they said.
Ignatius (-107/116 A.D.) "Do not let envy find a dwelling place among you;" Ignatius' Letter to the Romans ch.7 p.76
2 Clement vol.9 ch.3 p.229-230 (c.150 A.D.) says we are to love one another, by not committing adultery, speaking evil of one another, or cherishing envy.
Clement of Alexandria (193-217/220 A.D.) tells us not to provoke others to envy either. The Instructor book 3 ch.12 p.294
Tertullian (198-220 A.D.) suggests that envy can manifest itself in fashion. On the Veiling of Virgins ch.15 p.36
Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.) says that "envy inflames, covetousness makes blind, impiety depraves, pride puffs up, discord exasperates" Treatises of Cyprian Treatise 1 ch.16 p.426
Nemesianus of Thubunae (258 A.D.) at The Seventh Council of Carthage p.566 quotes Galatians 5:19-21 about no jealousies in the context of church unity and division.
Later Christians on Envy
"Envy is its own punishment" William Jenkyn (1613-1685)
"Envy shoots at others and wounds itself" Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)
"Envy is a coal that comes hissing hot from hell." Philip James Baily
"Envy is rebellion against God Himself, and the liberty and pleasure of his dispensations" Thomas Manton
God is Jealous, but that is OK
God can do what He wants and be what He is. He is a Jealous God in Ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16,21; Josh 24:19; Ps 79:5; Ezek 16:38,42; 23:25; 39:25; Nah 1:2. Ezek 36:5-6; 38:19; Zeph 1:8; 3:8 speak of the fire of God's jealousy.
People can provoke God to jealousy with their sins (1 Ki 14:22; 1 Cor 10:22) graven images (Ps 78:58). Idols can provoke God to jealousy in Ezek 8:3,5.
God is jealous over His land (Joel 2:18) and Jerusalem (Zechariah 1:14; 8:2).
God provoked the Jews to jealousy according to Rom 10:19; 11:11
When Human Jealousy is OK
A husband being jealous over his wife is OK in Numbers 5:11-30. It is OK to be jealous for the Lord as Elijah was in 1 Ki 19:10,14 and Phinehas was in Num 25:11. See also Ezekiel 39:25 and Joel 2:18. Paul was jealous over the flock for God, with a godly jealousy, in 2 Cor 11:2.
Antidotes to Envy
Our responsibility: First of all, 1 Pet 2:1 commands us to rid ourselves of envy. Yes the Holy Spirit helps us, but we have a responsibility to get rid of envy in our lives, and God has the expectation that we will work to do so.
Our standard: 1 Cor 13:4 does not say love does not envy too much or too often. Rather, it does not envy at all.
Look to the end: One cure for envy is taught in Ps 37:1,7-16. While acknowledging that the wicked sometimes prosper more than the righteous on earth, remember their end. No one after death will be even tempted to envy the wicked
In humility consider others as more important than yourselves as Php 2:3 teaches.
Decide if you really believe, or not, that God's way is the best way.
"If we love our neighbor we hall be o far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall hare in it and rejoice in it." Matthew Henry
"The cure for envy lies in living under a constant sense of the divine presence, worshipping God and communing with him all the day long, however long the day may seem." C.H. Spurgeon
Rivalry and Strife – Part 1
2 Corinthians 10:12 "For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (NKJV)
What if someone told you they were in the best Bible study, better than all of the others? I would tell them they need to study what the Bible says about rivalry.
Today we are going to talk about the prevalent sin of rivalry; this is very practical, as this is the reason I quit my job, some years ago. But more on that later.
There are different words all translated as strife in the KJV. The Hebrew Madown means quarreling, fighting, or a contest. It is equivalent to the Greek mache for battle, or fighting. These are best translated as strife. The Hebrew Reeb means a contest, adversary, cause, or pleading. The Greek Eritheis means a faction or contention. These are best translated as rivalry.
There is one part of the Bible that is somewhat more difficult for me to accept. It is not the miracles; as my pastor said, if you can get past the first verse of Genesis, the rest of the miracles are easy. Rather, it is that the hearts of people are so bad, that even Jesus' own picked disciples, when they were personally with the Lord of the Universe, could still have petty rivalry. They were arguing over who was greatest in Mark 9:34-35 and Luke 9:46-47. Jesus did not let that fester, but sat them down and dealt with it immediately. Even later, while Jesus was thinking about His sacrificial death, Jesus had to repeat the lesson in Luke 22:24-26.
If people who already gave up their careers and lives to follow Jesus, His own twelve apostles, could lapse into rivalry, then so can we or any other Christian. Don't think "rivalry is so bad, that I am sure that I would never fall into that sin." If it happened to the disciples, it can happen to you; so we must be on our guard against it.
Envy vs. Rivalry
Romans 1:29-30, discusses the ungodly as "being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,…" It mentions covetousness, full of envy, and strife separately. They are mentioned interspersed with sexual immorality, wickedness, and murder. There are degrees of rivalry and strife, just as there are degrees of envy.
Envy wants what someone else has, or is. But rivalry is more than that. Here is an example from Larry Ellison, the CEO or Oracle: "It is not sufficient that I succeed. Everyone else must fail" However, he was not the first to say that; the first person who said this that we know of was Genghis Khan. At a more basic level, how many little kids say, "My ___ is better than yours."
Strife can turn what should be a pleasant situation into an unpleasant one. Proverbs 17:1 says, "Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife." (NKJV)
Types of Rivalry
One was to classify rivalry is by the circumstances. There is sibling rivalry can turn those who should be best friends growing up into competitors and adversaries. Friendships can turn to rivalry when others honor one person over another, and the honored person does not, or does not want, to share the honor. Co-workers can be "frenemies" or act friendly towards each other, but be rivals for promotions.
There can be rivalry in churches. One strident anti-Christian was going to be an altar boy in an Episcopal church when he was twelve. But when a church leader wanted his son to be the altar boy instead, the first boy got mad and stopped believing in God.
Once a Christian felt his cross was too much to bear. That night he had a dram where he put down his cross and saw lots of other crosses. One cross, beautiful with jewels, he tried instead, but soon put it down because it was too heavy. He tried another, more plain one, but the rough splinters sticking out hurt his back. He tried on various crosses, and none seemed to fit, until he saw one rather plain one and tried it. It fit the best, and it was the one he originally had. Our cross, what we bear in this life, is a key way that we glorify God.
Dirty Tricks of Rivalry
These are some "dirty tricks" of rivalry that we should stop ourselves if we ever catch ourselves starting to do these.
Throwing shade means to belittle someone's accomplishments or reputation in the eyes of others. Our instinct is to just avoid people who throw shade at us, but sometimes they are unavoidable. But they might not just do it in our face, but behind our back.
If a person is throwing shade at someone you know, what should you do? Should you stand up for that person? Should you tell that person? Should you tell the person throwing shade that is wrong, and you are going to tell that person? It depends on the situation. Sometimes criticism is needed, and sometimes warning about others is needed. Paul publicly said bad about Alexander the metalworker in 2 Tim 4:14-15. But in this case it was justified, as Timothy was told to watch out for him.
Gaslighting is a slang term, used since the 1960's, to make other people question their own sanity, worth, or usefulness. The phrase comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, also known as Angel Street. The evil husband is trying to make his wife question her sanity. While Satan was the original gaslighter, people often do this too.
Can you identify sources of negativity in your life? Some of that might actually be good; if you are not fully walking with God you need correction and rebuke. But are those who are negative also positive e too, or not? Do they focus on changes you need to make, or do they just tear down your identity?
Malicious obedience is a passive-aggressive trick to work against the interest of a boss, or someone you are supposed to help by doing exactly what they ay, very literally. So when you are told to do something you think is foolish, you spend time doing it, to the fullest degree, in order to make your boss look bad. Sometimes this can backfire though.
Yet, there is a good concept in the agile world, called "fail fast". If something is the wrong direction, and it is going to fail, it is better to try at the beginning and find out about the failure early rather than late. With an early failure, it is easier to change course or take corrective action.
The trouble is, there can be a fine line between malicious obedience and fail fast. The difference dividing the two is submission and communication. One of your jobs, working for a boss is to (ethically) make your boss look good. When (not if) your boss ever tells you to do something foolish, your first step should be to respectfully tell her or him why you think that is not a good idea; of course remembering that it might be you that is the one that is incorrect here. But if your boss insists, then tell him you will do it, and then do it as your boss intended. Communicate frequently if that is what he or she wants to the degree that they want it. At this point the success or failure of that objective is not entrusted to you by the company; it is entrusted to your boss. The sooner your boss sees the mistake the better for all involved; but your boss might not see the mistake unless you go down that path diligently. But for some situations like this, it is also good for you in parallel to be looking for a new, and wiser, boss. One reason is because of the next dirty trick.
Scapegoating is blaming something on someone else, when they are not wholly or partially to blame.
Alexander of Lycopolis taught that there is nothing that is not capable of being damaged or injured by ambitious rivalry. Of the Manichaeans ch.1 p.241.
We can pray that God keep us from strife. Psalm 21:20 says, "You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues."
God forestalled some rivalry among the tribes against Aaron and the Levites, and commanding them to bring twelve rods. Aaron's rod, and only Aaron's rod, budded in Numbers 17:2-9. Aaron's rod was put in the ark, as a memorial, primarily as a testimony of God's miraculous power, but it also served to show God's patience with their grumbling. I am glad that God has patience if we grumble.
Mocking is a sure cause of strife. Prov 22:10 says "Cast out the scoffer; and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease."
All verses from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.
Rivalry and Strife – Part 2
Causing Rivalry in Others
Careless and malicious words can help cause rivalry in others. In 1 Samuel 1:5-6 Elkanah's wife Peninah provoked Hannah to tears. Elkanah probably did not help things out by giving Hannah a double portion at meals. A fool's lips can bring on strife in Pr 18:6. Since Pr 20:3 says it is to our honor to avoid strife, therefore strife is something we can avoid, at least sometimes to a degree. Pr 26:21 says people can kindle strife, sort of like providing kindling for starting a fire.
Years ago I quit a job because of rivalry. Another programmer and I were assigned similar tasks in different systems. I came up with a rapid way to do it, and later the product owner asked her why couldn't do it like me. (I know this because she told me herself.) But from that time on, she never could say anything good about me. Employee performance reviews were primarily peer-based, and I was somewhat disappointed, because my boss said that she ranked me so low, and she probably would not change in the future. So after not being able to find a position with another group at that company, I found another job. Perhaps I should have talked with her first, but at the time it was the only way I could see to exit the situation.
Two Sources of Rivalry
One source of rivalry is fear or an attempt to achieve more security. Will I still be employed / liked, or a success if someone else appears better than me? Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was famous for annually firing the lowest 10% of the work force. Some have termed this "rank and yank". If you are in this type of organization, it should be a challenge to put other before you, even if it costs you your job.
A second source of rivalry in people is greed or a misguided attempt to gain significance. Christians should feel significant because they are children of God, loved by God, and that is enough. However, others only feel significance if they are better than others. Much classical literature and stories about conquerors sometimes subtly reinforces this belief.
In Acts 5:1-4 what did Ananias and Sapphira hope to gain by lying about their offering? They would gain nothing materially. The only motivation we can see is in Acts 4:34-37, when many other people sold their lands and gave all of the money to the church. The only perceived gain for Ananias and Sapphira was keeping up with them, - out of rivalry.
Winning over Rivals
We are not merely to avoid strife, but Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers in Mt 5:9. Rom 12:18 says that as far as possible, as much as it depends on us, live at peace with everyone.
Some people might feel like they are a rival to you. It would be good to win them over, and even better that they would not feel rivalry with you in the first place. The first step is to be socially-aware of how you come across to others. Some things are obvious, like telling someone they are useless. Could what you say, or how you say it tend to make people envy you? How can you say it in a more humble way? Is there a way to manage the relationship so that people do not feel like they are your rival? With you skill or advantage, what can you do for them? Be willing to compromise on lesser and non-moral things.
Sometimes it helps to go out of your way to be polite, treat them with dignity, and make them see that you respect them, and that it is not conditional. They should see that you view them as significant. However, unfortunately sometimes this does not work, because they feel they need to be seen as better than you in the eyes of someone else.
If you are out to get somebody because you don't like them, the first thing is to recognize the motivation you have. The second is to confess it as evil, and the third is to decide to you want to change and ask God to change your wicked heart.
Are we always rewarded for our works?
Do you get rewards in heaven for what you did on earth? - not always. 1 Cor 3:12-15 says that our works will first be tested. Things done for false motives will be burned up with no reward. It is disconcerting that some can preach the astounding truth of God and His grace, the tender mercies of His love, and what Christ did for us out of envy and rivalry, but that is the case Paul found in Php 1:15-17. Clement of Alexandria (193-202 A.D.) speaks of "mercenary motives" in Stromata book 1 ch.1 p.300.
Jesus said if you do your good deeds in front of men, then you already have your reward. One of the motives for doing good deed in front of people is rivalry. A Chinese story tells of a open-casket funeral for an older father. One son comes up and says, "Dad, I love you very much" and drops a $100 bill in the casket. The second son comes up and says, "Dad I love you even more" and puts two $100 bills in the casket. Then the daughter comes up and says, "Dad I love you even more", writes a check for $800 which she puts in the casket, and takes the $300. Many things, like the check, are all for show.
In the parable of the talents in Luke 19:11-27, the servant who was only given one talent just buried it. Now one talent was not five or ten talents, but it was still a substantial amount of money. Perhaps some people in that situation would reason that they could never make as much as the servant with ten talents, so why even try. But God does not look on us in comparison to what someone else with different makeup does with his talents and gifts. Rather God looks on us and what we can do, where we are.
Big Rivalries – That Never Were
We can observe in the Bible three situations that could have been big rivalries, but were not. A king's son would never be a king because God said that David would be instead. How did Jonathan handle this? Jonathan became David's best friend, even though Saul had a deadly jealousy in 1 Samuel 18:18:7-12. He was goaded by the foolish chants of women, but Saul felt he could not show the jealousy openly. Yet in all of this, Jonathan and David made a covenant with each other in 1 Samuel 18:3.
Apollos was preaching in Asia Minor and Greece in Acts 18:24-28, and he was not even doing it quite right. Rather than being jealous of Apollos, a gifted speaker, Paul's close companions Aquila and Priscilla sat Apollos down and instructed him so that he could do better. If you feel ungodly rivalry towards someone, and they are open to it, try to help them be even better! Even though some Corinthians took sides with either Paul or Apollos, Paul made perfectly clear that they were on the same side in 1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:3-9; and 4:6. Paul was not against Apollos, but against all who wanted rivalry.
One way to avoid having rivalry is to be a servant. When Jesus first started His ministry, John the Baptist was more famous than Jesus. Yet John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)
Are Competitive Sports OK?
Is it OK to play competitive sports, where you specifically want to beat another individual or team? Everyone, even your opponents expect you to try hard to win by means within the rules. You can try hard to beat the other person, and then at the end go out and eat with them. But often smaller kids are rivals in a different way. In basketball they might not have a good shot, and their teammate might have a great position for a shot, but they shoot anyway, because they want to try to make the basket, not their teammate. However, coaches can spot that easily, and kids that have teamwork and pass well too end up playing more. Likewise in the church we are not rivals, but rather all on the same team.
Paul spoke with approval of the analogy of competing in a race in Php 3:13-14. He even said that all of us who are mature should think of things that way in Php 3:15. Paul also spoke of us competing as athletes in 2 Tim 2:5. So competing in a sport and rooting for someone is OK. But win or lose, we should be a good sport. We must avoid dirty tricks. If the referee does not see it, that does not make cheating OK.
Being competitive is OK, but you have to be able to turn it off. A Christian should not be obnoxious, even to a rival team. While some think rivalry is normal, our godly love for other people, even other fans, should be greater than any rivalry.
Antidotes to Strife and Rivalry
Don't fan the flames of strife. Rom 12:19-21 says we are not to try to avenge ourselves, but rather feed our enemies, overcoming evil with good.
Someone once said that there is no end to the good you can do as long as you don't care who gets the credit. But actually I do care who gets the credit. I want God, not me, to be glorified by what I do. You have too much to do for God to waste time being obsessed with titles and position, with rivalry and your ambition. You should be too filled with love to have any room for strife or rivalry.
Blanchard, John More Gathered Gold. Evangelical Press 1986.357 pages.
Strong, James. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Royal Publishers, Inc. 1979
by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.