The Flip Side Of Envy: John 1:39-42

Envy ChristianHe said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. (John 1:39-42a)

One Day With Jesus

So last post from the book of John we saw how John the Baptist was with two of his disciples when Jesus walked by. “Behold the Lamb of God,” John the Baptist said. And these two disciples of John the Baptist, they immediately left him and followed Jesus.

When Jesus saw them following, he asked, “What do you want?”

And the two responded, “Where are you staying?”

And Jesus said, “Come and see.”

So they did. They followed Jesus to where he was staying. And they spent the day with him.

Imagine what you would ask if you spent the day with the Messiah. These two former disciples of John the Baptist, now Jesus’ first two disciples, probably spent the day asking the same questions. Whatever the discussion, we know from what happens next that they were deeply and profoundly impacted, because one of them, Andrew (the other isn’t named) leaves Jesus to tell his brother who they found.

Peter’s Brother

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,” that’s how Andrew is referred to in our text. That’s how Andrew is usually referred to throughout scripture, as Simon Peter’s brother. One imagines that it was that way for Andrew, for a long time. We can imagine Andrew growing up hearing himself referred to in this way: “You know who I’m talking about, Simon’s brother.” Do you know someone like Andrew? Someone who is always referred to as “so and so’s brother?” If you do, you know it can be a point of contention. Envy can creep in. And when envy creeps in, that person who’s referred to as “so and so’s brother” begins to wish for, hope for, and even enjoy the defeats and failures of the person who is the object of their envy. That’s just how envy works.

You might think that Andrew, having lived in his brother’s shadow all these years, would have looked at his new relationship with the Messiah as an opportunity: an opportunity to escape his brother’s shadow, an opportunity for Andrew to shine for himself.

“I’m Andrew, the very one who found the Messiah (with a little help from John the Baptist). Maybe now they’ll call Simon, ‘Andrew’s brother.'”

But to Andrew’s great credit, he didn’t let envy or anything else get in his way. After spending one day with Jesus, he felt compelled to find his brother Simon and to tell Simon all about who he, Andrew, just found: the Messiah, the Christ.

The Flip Side Of Envy

But there’s another side of envy that we rarely hear discussed. The flip side of envy is experienced by those on the receiving end. I recently spoke with a twenty-something who I’ll call Michael. He said he received a phone call from his friend, and he heard his friend say the words: “Do you work at such and such fire department?”

“I do. Why do you ask?”

“Because I’m in a restaurant right now and the guys at the table next to me are complaining about you.”

That’s a phone call none of us want to receive. But as I spoke with my friend Michael it became obvious why these people were complaining. Michael was significantly younger, had significantly less seniority, but was significantly more successful than the firefighters in the restaurant. It was evident that the problem was envy. Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Or have you ever wondered why certain people seem to root against you for no apparent reason? Maybe it’s because of envy. If it is, you might find what follows to be helpful.

Men Of Great Means (And How They Guard Against Envy)

My son Gabe is fascinated by Warren Buffet’s house. Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, bought his house in 1958 for $31k. And he’s lived there for more than thirty years. The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, lives in a very small modest house in Sweden (although it is well furnished). I once visited a museum where Sam Walton’s old pick-up truck was on display and I can tell you, it is positively humble. Why do (or did) these people of great means live this way? I propose that the reason has to do with the flip side of envy.

It’s not that they experienced the emotion of envy themselves. It’s because they know that with success comes a great danger of incurring the envy of those around you. They know envious people are quietly hoping to see you flounder and fail. So Buffet, Kamprad, and Walton do (or did) what they can to make the people around them feel comfortable. They do what they can to make themselves small and humble. Because small is more attractive than large. A kitten is attractive–a cat less so. These men of great means (financially at least) don’t just avoid showing off but they’re open about their problems, they’re self effacing and self deprecating. They’re avoiding envy because envy creates enemies.

Right now you might be thinking, “Sure, but I’m not a Warren Buffet, or the founder of a furniture company, or a big box chain store.” True, but neither is my firefighter friend. Don’t underestimate the gifts God blessed you with. Human nature being what it is, it doesn’t take much to provoke the green monster.

The Disciple Who Hid Himself

In our text we see two disciples follow and spend the day with Jesus. One we already spoke of, Andrew. But the other is unnamed. Many scholars believe that unnamed disciple is John the apostle, because John always left himself unnamed. Even when he bragged he remained unnamed, as we see when John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23 and 21:20) John is an example of someone who represented himself in such a way as to make it difficult for others to envy him. He was self effacing. He made himself small to the point of disappearance. He hid himself in his own gospel account. Do a word search in the gospel of John, for the name John and see. What you’ll find is nearly every instance of the name John refers to John the Baptist.

John the apostle hid himself in humility. He made himself small in such a way as to make Jesus the main object of attention and attraction.

If you’re a Christian, isn’t this how we should live anyway? In humility and in a way that points people to Jesus rather than ourselves? Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (KJV) Enduring the envy of others can be a bitter challenge. But if we live the way the Bible tells us to live, we can avoid that challenge (or at least mitigate it). We learn from another proverb, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

God tells us to live like this:

“…in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (see Philippians 2:3)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

If we live this way we can avoid problems with envy.

If we live this way we can even experience riches and honor and life.

So live as our Father in heaven instructs us to live, and enjoy a life with less envy and greater peace from others. Avoid the flip side of envy.

[Image via Florencia Carcamo – Creative Commons]

*Some of the details in this blog post were changed to protect people’s anonymity.

One Comment on “The Flip Side Of Envy: John 1:39-42

  1. Great lesson, Kurt.
    I think the twin of envy is covetousness; we are told not to covet our neighbor’s goods. It is the little things like the statements which begin with “I wish I had one like that; I wish I had a house, or a car like that, I wish I could have a job like that, I wish I was successful.” We truly need to be content as we are encouraged to be:
    Heb_13:5 Let your manner of life be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
    I have a long time friend who went astray from the LORD for some time. She stopped communicating with me especially after we moved to Oregon. I would think about her and pray. I am so ecstatic as she recently reached out to me and we just picked up where we left off as though there was nary a breach. She has turned her life around headed back to the Father and this is so uplifting and ecouraging for me. My friend is back!
    Prayer, patience, and pardoning can go a long way. I don’t know about anyone else but I need more pratice! 🙂

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