I wrote a Bible study a few years ago and it was pretty darn brilliant. My pastor, who was fairly new to our church, asked me, who was also fairly new to that church, to teach it. To the women. On Wednesday nights. I knew the content would ruffle some baptist feathers, so I asked him to read it first. He gave it high praise. He said he agreed with 98% of it and he couldn’t prove me wrong on the other 2%. Just a matter of interpretation.
Wednesday night attendance was sparse at that church. There were two offerings for adults – a class for women and a class for men. Because I was fairly new, I did not know that THWM (the head of the women’s ministry) had taught every Wednesday night class for at least the last twenty years. This was her first time in a student’s seat. And there she sat – right in the middle of the front row – loaded for bear.
I hadn’t uttered my first paragraph before she raised her hand and challenged me. I politely responded that this was the lecture portion of the class. Discussion would come later, so hold that thought. She might be a slow learner, because she interrupted me several times more. The next morning I was awakened by an angry phone call. THWM was scolding me. I was recklessly and dangerously straying from baptist doctrine to a class of vulnerable new believers. “Good”, was my first sleepy thought, “they can study the Scriptures accurately right from the start.” But instead of saying that out loud I asked her who those vulnerable new believers might be. I wanted to know my audience so I had begun that first session with introductions. I asked the women to tell me a little about themselves – including how long they had been attending that church, what was the extent of their Bible knowledge, etc. No one had mentioned being a new believer. THWM hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, none of them are new believers, but many of them don’t have much Bible knowledge.” This time I said it aloud, cheerfully, “Good, then this is their opportunity to learn it accurately. That way they won’t have anything to unlearn later.”
Week two brought more interruptions, more challenges, more negative energy from the middle of the front row. And another angry phone call.
By week three the other women were uncomfortable. And perhaps torn. They seemed intrigued by the material but they also seemed afraid to enter into the discussion. THWM had been in charge for as long as anyone could remember (shouldn’t there be term limits?) and it was likely she’d be in charge for another twenty years. They had all been around long enough to know that her sweetness was saccharine and no one was willing to risk the bitter aftertaste.
Prior to the third class I asked God to show me the real issue. THWM’s phone calls and accusations had been so scattered and flailing that I knew the problem was more emotional than theological. After class, as I was putting the room back in order, THWM stayed behind. She chewed my ear a bit and then suddenly blurted, “I could write a book, if I wanted to! I just never wanted to…but if God wanted me to, I would….” And there it was – the real issue. She wasn’t jealously defending the Scriptures, she was jealously defending her position as head of the women’s ministry and sole Bible teacher.
The next day I was invited to the pastor’s office for a chat. THWM would be there. Grateful for the revelation, I was prepared for our meeting. I was gracious and poised knowing that the issue wasn’t what I was teaching, it was jealousy. During the meeting I calmly answered each of her theological objections. Frustrated in her attempt to get me thrown out for heresy in a straight up, honest theological debate, she resorted to taking liberties with the truth. Blatant liberties. Instead of addressing them, I went another route. I dug deep into my feeble heart and grabbed every bit of kindness I could muster. I shared that I had asked God to show me what was troubling her. I linked it to her outburst about writing a book. I assured her that I had no interest in being the head of the women’s ministry or in replacing her as the Wednesday night teacher. I was simply doing as the pastor had asked. I had a ministry of my own, thank you very much, and it kept me plenty busy.
I expected the final weeks to go better now that THWM knew she would always be Queen of the Hill, but they didn’t. She wanted more than position. She wanted regard. The highest regard. She greedily wanted to be regarded as the one and only spiritual leader of that little flock of women. The most knowledgeable, the most spiritual. And so it continued – the sabotage, the complaints to the pastor, the class disruptions. The only thing that ceased was the phone calls because we both knew what was what.
I had wanted our five weeks together to be a warm and wonderful time of learning, sharing and marveling at the genius of God as we grew closer to Him. Jealousy killed that. It killed the message Jesus had given me for that little class. It killed the growth and the glory that would have been His as a result. All that was left was an ugly display of the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 3.
Human nature has remained unchanged these 2,000 years.
“The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” Mark 11:18 NIV
Jealousy killed Jesus way back then and it is still killing Him today.