Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'
Veteran Christians talk about their time in service: 'I've been saved for 32 years,' or 'I got saved when I was eight, and I've been working for the Lord ever since.'
They sound like professors giving their credentials to teach. Or Christians giving their credentials to preach. But is the length of our salvation important to God? Instead, could it be the depth of our heart?
'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart' (1 Samuel 16:7). As for time in service, consider the parable of the 'Laborers in the Vineyard' (see Matthew 20:1-16).
'But many who are first will be last, and the last first' (Matthew 19:30).
Since I spent five decades outside the body of Christ, I feel credentialed to speak on behalf of the unchurched, the outsiders, the prodigals, and the lost sheep of the world. When Christians brag about their credentials, our hope takes a hit. Can we ever measure up?
God says inspiring envy within the brotherhood is bad. But showing pride to non-believers is worse.
In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul cuts through the religious pride of 'Super-apostles' (12:11) with a sword of godly sarcasm. 'Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast' (11:18). But Paul's boasting was different: 'If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness' (11:30).
Here's the thing: When committed Christians confess their weaknesses and trials (instead of their years in service), outsiders are curious. Because everyone can relate to suffering. More to the point, some want to know what to do about it. It's a great opening to Christ. It's a godly envy. And that envy is good.
But remember, the only thing that will inspire godly envy is our own spiritual maturity. The signal flag for a mature believer flies low--right on the ground where the fallen can see it. Its name is humility.
For bearers of that standard, worldly envy does not exist.
P.S. To read the other devotions in this series, please see the Envy series.