johnAs followers of Jesus we are called to love one another (John 13:34), to look not to our own interest, but each of us are supposed to look out for the interest of others (Philippians 2:4), we are to serve one another (Galatians 5:13), and to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). At the same time, we are warned in James 3:16,

16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16 NIV)

We have Jesus, the One who made Himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7), who took a towel and a tub of water and washed the feet of those who should have been washing His feet (John 13:5), and who stated that He had come to serve and not be served, who came not to take and get, but to give and offer His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We, who are followers of Jesus, have all of this before us and yet…jealousy and envy eat at us, gnaw at our souls, and destroys our relationships.

Today, in our society, it seems like whatever ails us comes before the psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and medical doctors and they create some new diagnosis to explain our erratic and antisocial behavior. I was curious this past week what the psychiatric community has to say about “jealousy” so I Googled it and wow was I amazed! I’ve learned about Delusional Jealousy, the propensity of Borderline Personality types to exhibit extreme jealousy, “Zelophobia,” which is an extreme fear of jealousy which leads to a person shutting down all of their emotions for fear that they will become jealous, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Some of the symptoms of those suffering from NPD are, “believing that you’re better than others, expecting constant praise and admiration, expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior, being jealous of others, and believing that others are jealous of you.”

What we modern-day people want to analyze, categorize, and medicate, the Bible calls us to surrender and master. The predicament posed by jealousy is one of the first stories we find in the Bible. You remember the story of Cain and Abel, right? God accepted Abel’s offering over Cain’s offering and Cain became jealous. Cain’s jealousy flared into anger and rage and you know the rest of the story. Cain ended up killing his brother. Before Cain killed Abel the Lord gave Cain some godly counsel in Genesis 4:6-7. Read along with me.

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7 NIV)

Now that’s godly counsel that all of us can take in and apply to our own lives. Look at that little phrase, “sin is crouching at your door…” Skip Moen writes,

The text tells us that sin is crouching at the door. Notice some very important things about this statement. First, sin is still outside. It is right there, ready to come in if invited, but it is not yet part of the emotional equation. The word used here is ‘ravats.’ It means ‘a resting place.’ In almost every occurrence in the Old Testament it is associated with ‘repose’ or ‘rest after exertion.’ It does not carry with it the idea of something evil lying in wait. In fact, this word is used many times to symbolically describe the rest of sheep under the shepherd’s care. Translations that imply that this verse means sin is crouching like a tiger, ready to spring into action probably miss the mark. God says to Cain, ‘Sin is in repose just outside you. If you choose to accept my solution, it will stay there. It cannot begin to work until you open the door. But if you don’t heed my warning, if you let the ‘yetzer ha’ra’ (inclination of evil) guide your emotions, sin will have the opportunity it needs to spring into action. Be careful, Cain.’ (Moen, Skip. “Sin in Repose.”

Cain was not a victim of jealousy and rage, he refused the counsel of God to deal with his emotions and as a result tragedy happened as he killed his brother. There’s a reason why I’ve shared this story and the counsel that God shared with Cain with us this morning. Every single one of us has had to deal with jealousy in the past and we’ve opened the door, we’ve refused godly counsel, and as a result we’ve done things we regret, we’ve hurt others, and we’ve brought harm to ourselves.

In our Scripture for today in John 3:22-30 we find that “sin is crouching at the door” once again. Some open the door, but one man heeded the counsel of God, he kept his eyes on the Lord, and that made all the difference! Let’s read our Scripture for this morning.

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:22-30 NIV)

John tells us that “after this” Jesus and His disciples headed out into the country. They moved from the urban setting of Jerusalem into the rural areas of Judea. Jerusalem, where Jesus ran the money changers out of the temple, performed signs that led people to believe in Him, and had an interesting conversation with Nicodemus, is located in Judea, but John wants us to know that Jesus left the city and went out into the country. We don’t know exactly how long Jesus was in the country with His disciples, but because of the Greek verb that John uses we can know that it was longer than an afternoon in the country. The same Greek verb is used in other places in the Bible that help us to know this. In Acts 14:3 we learn that Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium and there they spent “considerable time” speaking boldly for the Lord. In Acts 14:28 we find Paul and Barnabas in Antioch where they were reporting to the church all that the Lord had done while they were on their missionary journey. The same Greek verb is used to tell us that they stayed there a “long time” with the followers of Jesus. How long is a “considerable time” or a “long time?” We don’t know, but it was more than an afternoon excursion.

Jesus went out into the country to spend time with His disciples and to baptize folks, but we learn in John 4:2 that it wasn’t really Jesus who was doing the baptizing, but it was His disciples.

I want to take a look at John 3:24 just for a moment. This is one of the verses that we will most likely never stop to consider, we’ll just read right over it to get on to the more interesting parts. John writes, 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) (John 3:24 NIV) The verse seems pretty unnecessary. I mean we have just been told that John the Baptist is baptizing folks at Aenon near Salim, so it’s pretty clear that he’s not in prison, right? What John the Apostle, the follower of Jesus, the one who wrote the Gospel of John is telling us is that this incident took place between Jesus’ temptation in the Wilderness and John the Baptist’s imprisonment. These events are uncharted territory for the Gospels, unreported by Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, called “the Synoptic Gospels,” begin by telling us about Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee after John is already in prison. John alone tells us about Jesus’ ministry in Judea before John the Baptist was put into prison. While Jesus was ministering in Judea, John the Baptist was nearby baptizing folks at Aenon near Salim. John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry were going on at the same time and that is part of what contributed to the jealousy of John’s followers. Turn with me to John 3:25-26 and let’s read together.

25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”(John 3:25-26 NIV)

John tells us that the followers of John the Baptist began arguing with a “certain Jew” about ceremonial washing. What was the nature of the argument? We have no idea. John doesn’t tell us because the issue of the mode or method of ceremonial washing isn’t nearly as important as the deeper issue of what comes next.

John’s followers go back to him and say, “Rabbi, that guy who was with you, the One you baptized, the One you’ve been talking about, now He’s baptizing folks and everybody is following Him.” There are a couple of things that we need to take note of here.

First, we need to recognize that the jealousy of John’s followers didn’t just happen, it didn’t originate in John 3:26. If you will remember, back in John 1, John the Baptist saw Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29 NIV) And then, the very next day, John sees Jesus again and says, “Look, the Lamb of God!” And then we read, in John 1:37,

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. (John 1:37 NIV)

Now, John doesn’t tell us anything about how the followers of John responded to two of his disciples leaving him and taking up with Jesus, but does he really need to? Even if a word wasn’t spoken we know what was going on in the minds of some of John’s followers don’t we? Of course we do.

There is a second thing we need to take note of as we read what John’s followers said to him about Jesus and how “everyone was going to him.” It’s the word, “everyone.” “Everyone” was going to Him? No, not everyone, but that’s how jealousy talks. Jealousy removes us from the truth and moves us into the realm of the extreme. Jealousy leads us to make those we are jealous of larger than life. Their accomplishments, their looks, their possessions, or whatever it is about the person that makes us jealous is magnified in our minds and it burns us up! Looking through jealous glasses creates a monster in our minds that will devour us.

In John 12, Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and a great crowd of people welcomed Him, sang praises to His name, and it was a day to remember for everyone. “Everyone?” Some would remember that day as the day that the Son of David came to Jerusalem. Some would remember that day as the day that folks sang, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Some would remember that day as the day that the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 was fulfilled as their King came riding into town on the back of a donkey. There were others who would remember that day as the day their grip on power and popularity slipped through their fingers like sand. The Pharisees saw what everyone else saw and yet, instead of turning to God, singing praises, and thanking Him for the coming of the long awaited Messiah, they turned to each other. Read John 12:19 with me.

19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19 NIV)

Did you hear it? “The whole world has gone after him!” I wish they had been right. I wish the whole world would turn to Jesus, but the truth of the matter is that their statement was rooted in jealousy. Jealousy takes us from the truth to the extreme in our own minds.

One final thing about jealousy. Jealousy also causes us to scrutinize and demonize those we are jealous of, jealousy causes us to misinterpret and malign those we are jealous of, and jealousy causes us to miss the blessings and gifts that God has given to others. The Pharisees should have been celebrating with the crowd instead they twisted and distorted Jesus’ every word and every move. Their jealousy blinded them to the glorious Gift of God!

It reminds me of the story of Saul and David. In 1 Samuel 18, after David had killed Goliath, he and the men were heading back home. As he walked into the city the women were singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands!” David had just defeated the giant; he had served Saul faithfully, and would never do anything to harm Saul. Later in the story of Saul and David’s relationship, when Saul tries to kill David, David still will not lift a finger against the Lord’s anointed. Yet, when Saul heard the ladies singing David’s praises, we read,

8 Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David. (1 Samuel 18:8-9 NIV)

The Hebrew phrase for “close eye” has been translated different ways. The NAS translates it, “suspicion,” the KJV translates it, “eyed David,” and the NLT has, “a jealous eye.” Saul’s jealousy blinded him to the blessing David was to him and would be to the entire nation.

Let’s get back to our Scripture for today and the jealousy of John’s followers. They went to John and told him that everyone was now following Jesus. How would John respond? Would he share in the jealousy of his followers and turn on Jesus? Would he belittle those followers of his that had defected? Take a look at John 3:27-30 with me.

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30 NIV)

How did John answer his followers? Listen to this: “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” John knew from the beginning that he was merely a voice crying out in the wilderness. He had said, “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I’m not the Prophet. I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, anything more than a voice crying out in the wilderness.” John saw Jesus’ growing popularity not as a threat, but as the fulfillment of his ministry. Jesus didn’t stir within John jealousy, Jesus was the sole cause of his great joy!

My friend you and I desperately need to learn this lesson. There are many of us here this morning that are discontent with our lot in life. We think to ourselves, “If only…” You fill in the blank. You alone know how many things you have filled that “blank” with trying to find contentment and fulfillment in your life. We look to the lives of others and think, “Boy aren’t they lucky! Boy, I wish I had what they’ve got! I wish I looked like her. I wish I was smart like him. I wish I got to do the things she gets to do. I wish I had a business like his. I wish I was rich like them. I wish, I wish, I wish!” All the while we are wasting the call of God on our own lives and jealousy will do us in.

Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth who were fussing and arguing among themselves. Those who liked Paul the best were talking down to those who liked Apollos the best and those who liked Apollos the best were talking down to those who liked Paul the best. As a result the Body of Christ was fragmented and feeble. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:3 let them know that they were acting like the folks of the world with all of their jealousy and quarreling. Paul wrote to them and in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 said,

6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV)

Do what you do for the glory of God alone. Once we surrender our lives to Jesus we are to be finished and done with rivalry, jealousy, and division so that we work together for His glory and not our own.

In John 3:29-30, John let’s his followers know that he is not the bridegroom, but merely the friend of the bridegroom. John said that the greatest joy the friend of the bridegroom can experience is to hear the voice of the bridegroom. Then he says, “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” Our joy is not to be found within ourselves, our status, or how those around us value us—our joy is found in Him alone! John ends the conversation with his followers by saying, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

God has uniquely equipped you to be you and he has equipped you in such a way that you can use those gifts, your personality, your passion to bring Him glory and to bless His people. We need to also remember the corporate aspect of God’s calling upon us. God has called Britton Christian Church, He has assembled this group of people together for the very same purpose—to bring Him glory and to bless His people.

There is no greater jealousy than the jealousy that is present and active among churches and pastors. I called Dr. Darnell on Thursday morning to ask him about a Hebrew word I was studying. He enlightened me and then he asked me what I was studying. I told him about what I was learning this week about jealousy from John 3. Dr. Darnell is 82 years old. He’s been a pastor practically all of his life. He spent the next 30 minutes telling me story after story about churches and pastors that had allowed jealousy to derail them. At the end of our conversation, just like every conversation we have, he said, “Mike, Sarah and I are so proud of you, Connie, and what the Lord is doing at Britton Christian Church.” For more than twenty years now, in 95% of the phone conversations that David and I have had, and we’ve had a lot, that is the way it ends.

I read this past week about the tragic relationship of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1452, almost 25 years before Michelangelo was born. Da Vinci was a genius and the greatest artist of his day. His most famous works of art are still famous today—The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man. Da Vinci had a career as an artist and thinker that anyone would have loved to have enjoyed and yet, when Michelangelo came onto the scene the rivalry was bitter. Leonardo was fading in popularity as Michelangelo’s fame was spreading. Leonardo was 51 with white hair and beard when Michelangelo started getting the jobs that Leonardo wanted. Michelangelo studied anatomy like Leonardo Da Vinci and he used his studies of the human anatomy to sculpt famous sculptures like “David,” “Moses,” and much more. After Michelangelo finished his sculpture of David a committee was formed to locate the best place to put the sculpture at the town hall of Florence. The most highly respected leaders and artists of Florence were on the committee, Leonardo Da Vinci being one of those on the committee. The committee voted to place the statute at the entrance to the town hall for everyone to enjoy, but Da Vinci wanted it put in a niche on the side of the town hall where it would be more concealed. The jealousy and bitterness of Da Vinci almost ruined his final years of life.

Think what could have been. What would have happened if the older man, Leonardo Da Vinci, would have come alongside of the younger genius of Michelangelo and encouraged him, shared what he had learned during his many years as an artist, and worked together on projects that the world will never know? Think what could have been if love and encouragement would have characterized their relationship instead of bitterness and jealousy? Think what could have been if Da Vinci would have said, “Michelangelo, I’m so proud of you. You are going to take art to levels this world has never seen before!” We will never know what could have been with Da Vinci and Michelangelo, but what can be in your life and mine is yet to be determined. Think of those the Lord has put into your life. Think of those younger than you that you can encourage. Think of how you can use your gifts, your experience, and your time to glorify the Lord by blessing the lives of others. In a world saturated with jealousy and envy the only way that you and I can realize what can be is to surrender our lives to Jesus and allow Him to work through us to bless the lives of others. We must seek to emulate Him rather than fall in line with the way the world does things. Are you ready? Do you sense His call to surrender this morning? Don’t wait another day.

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 13, 2013

He Must Become Greater. I Must Become Less
John 3:22-30
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