For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (ESV)
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (NIV)
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. (NLT)
A Path of Destruction
Last week, we learned how a heart of gratitude bears the fruit of life and peace. This week, we will see how a life rooted in envy will bear the fruit of anger, fear, and, ultimately, death.
For the past month, I've been dedicating part of my morning routine to reading and studying First and Second Samuel. In addition to being one of my favorite accounts in scripture, it’s also what my church has been studying this fall. So, when I began to think about this week's verse, I couldn't help but be reminded of the destructive downfall of Israel’s first king–a downfall that began with envy and selfish ambition, ultimately leading to his unimaginable demise.
In First Samuel, after the Israelites demanded a king (yet again showing us that demanding a different portion from God than the one He chooses to give will lead us down a path of destruction), Saul was anointed, chosen by God to lead His people. However, his rule took a quick and dark turn when he directly disobeyed God's command to completely destroy the Amalekites, keeping the best of their livestock and sparing King Agag. This disobedience was merely driven by a desire to preserve power and possessions for himself. This decision marked a turning point in Saul's life. God, who sees the depths of our hearts, looked at Saul’s and saw selfish ambition. In response, He sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint David, a young shepherd boy, to be the next king of His people.
Although King Saul still wore the crown for some time, David, from this point on, had God’s true anointing and attention. As God blessed David, he began to conquer the enemies of God with true humility and reverence, and people began to notice him. In response, a song was made for both Saul and David. It went like this: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Even though they were true, these lyrics ignited deep envy, anger, and jealousy in Saul's heart, and from this point on, he was utterly consumed by them.
Envy led Saul to make numerous attempts on David's life. He knew that David had God’s true anointing, and out of anxiety and fear, he chased David from place to place, sought to kill him, and even involved others in his destructive plans. Saul's heart had turned far from God's purposes and was instead obsessed with preserving his own kingdom and power. As a result, disorder and every evil practice followed him everywhere he went.
The consequences of Saul's jealousy and selfish ambition were severe. It led him to murder innocent people, attempt to kill his son Jonathan (merely because Jonathan had trust in the plans of God and was a friend to David), the practice of witchcraft, and ultimately, his tragic death in battle. His story is an extremely harsh reminder of how unchecked jealousy and selfish ambition can corrupt our hearts and lead us to make decisions we could never fathom.
The question we must all answer is this: Is fear driving my life or is it instead driven by a heart of gratitude and contentment?
Saul made the decision to stop listening to the voice of God and instead followed his own wisdom and the opinion of man. What happened in Saul’s life can happen in our lives, too; jealousy and selfish ambition will pull us down a dark and destructive path–one that is rooted in discontentment and produces crippling anxiety.
We see a different option in James 3: wisdom from above. We can receive wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere (v17). This is what King David pursued and displayed. He lived with meekness, wisdom, humility, contentment, and gratitude. He remained faithful in the waiting. When running for his life, he ran into the arms of God. When hungry, he first hungered for righteousness. When victorious, he remained humble and gave glory to God. With no place to rest his head, he found refuge in the Lord. While waiting, he worshiped.
The fruit of envy and selfish ambition is hatred, sadness, anxiety, hurry, hostility, wickedness, evil, and over-indulgence. The fruit of wisdom from above is a life that is pure, peaceful, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, and sincere. What fruit are you bearing?
Written by Blake Stanley
Challenge: Listen to this sermon on the fall of Saul in his failing battle against envy and bitterness and how, unlike him, we can learn to cultivate gratitude and humility in our lives.