Ah, the prodigal son of the Bible passage Luke 15. He was tired of being around the house. He wanted his inheritance right now. He got it, he spent it, and he regretted it. Embracing humility, he went home hoping he could at least be a hired hand. Instead, he was welcomed by his father, embraced, returned to a place of honor, and a party was thrown for him. Big brother wasn’t too pleased about the situation. He had been doing all the right things. He had served without disobedience for years. Yet, he never got a party.
A few years back, a 53 year old gentleman by the name of Ted Williams had a big change in his life. He was homeless, but when someone did a news story on him and heard his voice, he was launched to stardom. Quite quickly he was offered a plethora of jobs including voice work for NFL films and a working for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. There are many folks homeless for many reasons. In Mr. Williams case, his lifestyle was prompted by drug and alcohol use. He had done prison time for varying issues including theft. He had fathered 9 children. The glow began to be removed from the story.
As facts begin to emerge regarding Mr. Williams, a number of people have become quite frustrated. Their whole life, they have always tried to keep themselves respectable. They dress nice, they are clean cut, and have a great work history. They went to college and then to graduate school. Their resume does not include prison time. They have never stolen a thing; in fact, they once found a missing wallet and returned it. Personal relationships have always been kept in order. They have been married for decades and have always been faithful. Life for them has been difficult at times. They have struggled to make ends meet and keep a roof over the head of their family. With the economy in shambles, they are now facing layoffs.
So the question arises: Why should a foolish thief / drug addict get offered dream jobs which people everywhere are drooling over, while the hardworking respectable person doesn’t even get a glance thrown his way? To many it just doesn’t seem right. It angers them. It gnaws at them. They want a party too!
Mr. Williams story seems to parallel the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). But it is the story of the brother that is of interest here. Those frustrated need to ask themselves, “Am I the prodigal’s brother?” Everyone hopes for a big break in their life. Everyone hopes their life will turn Golden. However, should only the very best people get the breaks? America itself was founded upon principles which allow anyone at anytime to turn their life around. The frustration expressed is called envy. Envy has roots which are very old. Envy when it takes root is sinful and can be very dangerous.
Two of the children of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman upon the earth, are the first examples given regarding envy. The children were named Able and Cain. A time came when they were to make an offering to God. Able offered a sacrifice that was by faith. That is, it was something which God had commanded and he had heard and followed (Romans 10:17). Cain, on the other hand, decided he could do something else and be pleasing to God. Cain’s heart wanted to serve. Cain’s heart wanted to worship. Cain believed in God. However, Cain’s gift was not what God commanded. It was not by faith. Consequently, God did not regard his offering. Cain brought his misfortune upon himself, but his anger was upon Able (Genesis 4:3-8). Cain was envious of Able’s success. Cain was no doubt a good person overall, certainly he would have opportunity to be pleasing to God at other times and be regarded by Him. However, those times would never come. In Cain’s envy, he killed Able. This was even after God had warned him about his anger saying, “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Later on in scripture (Genesis 37), the children of Jacob (who would be the fathers of tribes of Israel) encountered envy. Jacob favored one son, Joseph, and the other sons were envious. Their envy was so great they contemplated killing Joseph, just as Cain had Able. However, they were discouraged enough by the older brother Reuben such that they only sold Joseph into slavery (Acts 7:9). However, such an action was certain lacking in love and sinful. Little did they know, the success of their brother would come back to bless them.
By the time of the Israelite captivity by Babylon, there lived a captive by the name of Daniel. Daniel was taken from Jerusalem, made a eunuch, and placed in the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. As time played out, Daniel through the hand of God would display great wisdom and be given a high place of power and honor. This blessing not only extended through the Babylonian captivity, but into the rule of the Medes and Persians. What an amazing story of someone rising up from nothing to that which would be a dream of many. It was a situation which made many others envious (Daniel 6). Envious Median officials created a legal situation in which Daniel would be thrown into a pit of lions because of his persistent worship of God. Indeed, Daniel was thrown into such a pit, due to the envy of men. However, God protected his life, despite the sin of man.
When Jesus later walked the earth, some of the Jews (people of Israel) were envious of him. There were men who accepted him, there were men who believed in him secretly, but those in power were envious. They were afraid he would take their place and nation (John 11:48). They did not want to lose their power. They even understood that Jesus was performing miracles, wonders, and signs (John 5:16). Rather than give praise for the savior which had come as prophesied, they were more concerned about themselves. Consequently, when the proper time came, they delivered Jesus up to the Roman authorities to be crucified. The Roman Governor Pilate clearly understood why Jesus was brought to him. He declared Jesus innocent of any crimes for he knew Jesus was brought to him because of envy (Matthew 27:18).
Following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus spent over a month appearing to many different individuals and groups. Then, he ascended into heaven, leaving his apostles to receive miraculous inspiration on the day of Pentecost, enabling them to preach all the truths of God. Their teachings denounced envy. From the beginning of time and to the end of this earth, envy is sin.
Galatians 5:19-21 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Peter 2:1 – So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
It is so easy, to be the Prodigal’s brother. It is easy to walk in the same footsteps as Cain, Joseph’s brothers, the Median officials, and Jews of Jesus time letting envy consume the thoughts. However, rather than act or feel in such a manner, happiness should be expressed for the individual. A love for mankind should cause us to share in their joy and hope it lasts. Envying another individual’s successes will not improve your situation, but it will rather distress and endanger your soul. Do not be the Prodigal’s brother.
Proverbs 14:30 – A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
1 Corinthians 13:4 – Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;