Recently, I have been meditating a lot on the life of King Saul. His various leadership missteps and the profoundly divisive effects of his insecurity, his rashness and his erraticism provide Christian leaders with a fascinating cautionary tale.
Not long after young David famously slew Goliath in Saul’s service, we read in 1st Samuel 18:6-9, “As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David from that day on.”
Saul was the king and David joyfully and willingly served him and deferred to him. David posed no threat to Saul- in fact, David was Saul’s greatest asset. However, in the very process of successfully fighting for Saul, David found himself squarely in the king’s crosshairs.
If Saul had viewed David as an ally, then David would have been a formidable ally to Saul. But since Saul viewed David as a threat, so then David became a formidable threat to Saul indeed.
Saul became utterly consumed and obsessed by his irrational and wanton jealously of David and thus Saul only became more and more tortured and debased as time went on. The refrain of the women taunted Saul throughout the remainder of his tenure as king. He ended up being just about impossible to serve, to defend and to fight for.
We often ascribe a kind of super-humanity to spiritual leaders. For whatever reason, we may presume that they don’t struggle with issues like insecurity or jealousy of envy. However, the reality is that they often do. Evidently, not even the inaugural king of Israel was insusceptible to these things.
The language of jealousy is ugly. Her heart is bitter. She loves it when others in the Kingdom fall. She rejoices. She hates it when others in the Kingdom succeed. She feels inferior and so she becomes inferior. She hates the sound of applause that is not applause for her. She is a poisonous and deceitful Delilah, always ‘lurking at the pastor’s door and desiring to have them’.
Like it was in the case of Saul, jealousy is a snare in ministry. If we are to flourish and persevere in leadership, we must avoid the entanglement of jealousy at every step.
For what it’s worth, here are a couple of my thoughts about this.
It’s not about you and it’s not about me!
‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul?’ 1 Corinthians 3:5
Paul wrote instructively to the Philippians, ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.’ Jealously operates under the assumption that it really should be all (or, at the very least, more) about you. Certainly, those who serve God and work for the advance of His Kingdom must accept that the fame of their own name is ultimately neither here, nor there. It’s all about Jesus.
A spirit of comparison can be destructive and ruinous.
It was for Saul.
We must be particularly on guard in a social media age, where the manicured crowd shots and ministry highlight reels of others are so readily available for us to scroll through daily. If you had thousands at church on Sunday, somebody had tens of thousands. The spirit of comparison is insatiably parched.
The older (Saul) must celebrate and welcome the rise of the younger (David).
David’s success could have been Saul’s glory had he opted to join in the choruses of the women’s songs of joy. The rise of effective voices speaking for the advancement of my cause ought to multiply my joy – not divide it.
It seems like yesterday that my peers and I were the young, rising David’s – “the future”. But now, there is a greater buzz out there about the palpable potential of people coming up behind me than there is about me. So, I constantly have a choice to make. Will I open myself up to a harmful spirit of jealously to rush upon me and devour me? Or will I smile and join in the chorus of cheering for the new?
I want to do the latter.
Don’t be like Saul. Trust in God.
The Biblical alternative to jealously is faith.
Contrast the spirit of Saul to the spirit of God in Christ.
Saul said “…what more can he have but the kingdom?” In other words, ‘there’s one spot of prominence and it’s mine. I won’t let David have my spot.’ Saul wasn’t secure enough to accommodate David even though God Himself had given the kingdom to him.
Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6).
And He said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32). His point was, ‘Don’t be anxious for your reputation and renown. Trust in me. I’m big enough to accommodate both their promotion and yours.’
So, let’s be committed to being big-spirited people who don’t mind who gets the credit as long as Christ gets the glory. Let’s smile and let the people sing about the promise and exploits of someone else now. After all, someone once smiled while they sung about us.