Neighbors, jealousy, and amazing grace
She drove me crazy. She worked full time in a professional job while I stayed at home. She raised three honors students while mine struggled with academics. She kept an Olympic-level workout schedule while my gym shoes collected dust. And she salted her speech with expletives, complemented her meals with alcohol, and spoke her mind no matter who it hurt.
“Lord, why?” I asked. “Why does she get to have the cushy job, perfect children, and svelte frame? Don’t you see the way she behaves?”
It was not my most stellar moment as a child of God.
I was complaining to my Father in heaven about my lot in life—a life overflowing with blessings I did not deserve and had not earned. I was looking over the proverbial fence and seeing greener grass in my neighbor’s story, a story lush with emerald blades that she shouldn’t have because, I mean, look how she acted! Meanwhile, I was trying to serve my Master as a devoted wife and mom, an obedient follower of Christ, and (of course!) a kind neighbor.
Ever been there? So have the Israelites.
Rescued from exile by the God of the universe for the umpteenth time, dwelling in the land He had given them, they looked at their neighbors and asked, “What gives, Lord?” And God called them on it in Malachi 3:13-15:
“Your words have been hard against me,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have we spoken against You?” You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.”
I have to tell you, when I first read those words I thought, Silly Israelites. Don’t you know that you are not supposed to covet? You are God’s messengers! Declare His greatness to those lost souls! And as swiftly as that thought crossed my mind the Holy Spirit reminded me of her—the neighbor of whom I had been so jealous. As I thought about her, I considered the rest of Malachi and the Day to come: “’For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze’, says the LORD of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch’” (Malachi 4:1).
I was convicted. Was my jealousy really worth her eternity? Had I not been rescued myself from the pit of unbelief when I was yet my Savior’s enemy? When my life was covered in immoral muck and mire, someone chose to love me rather than judge me. Someone chose to share the light and the love of Jesus with me and tell me of His amazing grace.
God ends Malachi’s prophecy to the Israelites with an extravagant dose of that grace, one that reminds me of my purpose on this earth: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6).
God was promising His people that Messiah was coming, and before Him would come a messenger to pave the way for Him. Some 400 years later, the disciple Matthew records the ministry of John the Baptist, who implored people to turn from their sins and return to God. But he also foretold of One who was mightier than him, “whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
God is still promising the Savior to people today, using His faithful followers to prepare the way. His great gift of grace is not to be held tightly but shared liberally with all of our neighbors, no matter what we think of their behavior. Paul states it clearly in his letter to the Romans:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry feed him. If he is thirsty give him something to drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
Friends, let’s stop ourselves from looking to the right or left in comparison. Let’s cease judging and start serving. Let’s fix our eyes and our hearts on our Savior and love our neighbors as ourselves. For the Day of the Lord is coming indeed. And I certainly don’t want my unbelief in God’s sovereignty, nor the bitter root of jealousy to keep me from truly loving my neighbor.