Interview with

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The following is a transcript of the audio.

Landon, a seminary student writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I struggle with envy toward a brother and dear friend in Christ who has received abundant gifts and opportunities from the Lord in this life that I simply have not. Many times, it can become very difficult not to question whether God loves my friend more than me. Does God delight in some of his children more than others?”

Well, I am going to answer that with a yes or no in just a minute, but let me say a bit at the beginning. I think there is a good deal of confusion about this, because of an unbiblical overplay or overextension of the doctrine of justification. That is, drawing out inferences from justification that the Bible does not draw like: Since God sees me in Christ and his perfect righteousness as his child, therefore he sees all his children the same with the same emotional response to each one because each one is perfect in Christ. Now that, I say, is an unbiblical overextension, overplay of the doctrine of justification. It needs to be corrected by Scripture instead of logic. God does not have the same emotional response to all his children. What the imputation of the righteousness of Christ means is that God does not see my sin as any longer condemning me. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. My sins are all forgiven. And the perfection that God’s standards call for are met. And I will never come into condemnation. That is what justification means.

That does not mean that God does not see my sin and my obedience and feel differently about each one. God is pleased with my obedience and he is grieved by my sin. That is abundantly clear in the language of the New Testament letters. Ephesians 4:30. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Or positively: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Or 1 Thessalonians four: I wrote to you how you ought to walk and to please God. These are justified people who please God more or less.

So the answer to Landon’s question: Does God delight in some of his children more than others is yes. And he delights in you some days more than he delights in you other days. And we should heed Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians five: Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Ephesians 5:10. That is, try to discern what delights the Lord so you can be as fully delightful to him as possible. But Landon’s question went in a different direction. When a brother has superior gifts to mine is this a sign that God delights in him more than me? That is a different question. And the answer to that is no. No. That is not what those gifts mean. God chose the worst man he could find on the planet to give the greatest gift of apostleship to, Paul the murderer. So that it would be clear these gifts were owing to mercy, not merit.

When Paul describes the gifts that Christians have he is at pains in 1 Corinthians 12 and the writer of Hebrews two. He is at pains to show that they are owing to his free sovereignty and not to our superior delightfulness. So listen to 1 Corinthians 12:11. All these gifts are empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills. And the point is: He is free. He does it in ways that are above what you can think. So don’t try to figure him out why he gives to one this and to one that. Or Hebrews two chapter four. God bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

And if we start to ask: But can’t a person with greater gifts please God more than one with lesser gifts? The answer is: Absolutely not. Why? Because what pleases God is not that one can preach and another can pray or one can write and another can work with his hands. What pleases God is how we use our gifts, not which ones we have. That is the point of the parable of the talents. Well done, good and faithful servant, is not reserved for the man who got the most, but for those who were faithful.

Here is an illustration. This moved me deeply years ago, so helped me as a younger pastor. Billy Graham came to town here. His headquarters used to be here in Minneapolis. He came here and he gave a chapel address to all the employees over at the Billy Graham Association and a lot of those folks went to our church and so one of them, a secretarial person told me this story. He said to them in chapel that he expected some of them would receive greater rewards in heaven than he would. When they responded skeptically, which they did. He could see it on their faces. He became very serious, she said, and said: Do you not understand that God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness? Oh, that line shots made a huge difference for me. The faithful use of a small gift elicits more delight in God than the poor use of a huge gift.

So envy, that is the question here, how to get over this envy. Envy is a trust issue. Do we believe that God is good and strong and wise and gives gifts in the very best, wisest way for his glory and for our joy? Or do we want to say to God: Well, I would have given them out differently and done a better job of it? No. We don’t want to say that. It is a trust issue. And he is worthy of our trust. So preach to yourself the sovereign goodness and wisdom of God in the gifting of his people and preach the freeness of his grace in doing it.

That is very very good, thank you Pastor John. And thank you Landon for the honest question. For more on envy and jealousy, see episodes #151 and #152 in this podcast, respectively titled: “Battling Envy” and “Battling Jealousy.” You can find those episodes and over 400 others on a mobile device using the free Ask Pastor John app for the iPhone, iPad, and Android. That’s a lot of episodes, so we built a search bar into the top of the app to make it easy for you to search the titles of all those episodes and find answers to the pressing questions of your life. Well when we pray to our triune God, should we pray to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit? It’s a very common question, and tomorrow I’ll ask Pastor John. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.