Anger we can understand…who doesn’t get angry? Gluttony, lust, pride…we can all fall for these without too much effort. Sloth is easy. Greed is everywhere. But envy is a difficult one. As Francois de La Rochefoucauld put it: “Envy is so shameful a passion that we never dare acknowledge it. Because envy is so shameful to admit to, it can hide in the dark recesses of our soul. We can end up envying someone or something without realizing it…which would never be the case with lust or anger.” Envy is such a dangerous poison. When it barges into our lives, we can easily justify its presence…unaware that it’s rotting our soul and every relationship it touches. On the other hand, its antidote (gratitude) is a life-giving elixir. Even in the darkest circumstances, gratitude has this amazing ability to bring joy and hope to everything it touches. In this blog, I am going explore the folly of envy and the “secret” to growing in gratitude.
“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of $1.00 a day and went to work…He did the same thing at noon and again at 3:00…When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first. Those hired later in the day came up and were each given $1.00. When those that were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more, but they got the same…Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager. ‘These last workers put in one easy hour and you made them equal to us who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’ The manager replied: ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on a wage of $1.00, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last, the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get angry because I am generous?'” (Matthew 20:1-15)
Even though this parable is about Heaven and God’s kingdom, there is a subtle message about envy, too. Did you see what kind of attitude these workers had? They were are all comparing what they had with each other and lacking contentment in their wages. Envy is dwelling on what you don’t have and pretending that the world is unfair to you because someone else just seems to have it better. Joseph Epstein (author of the book Envy) said: “Studies have shown that people would agree to make less total money so long as they make more than their neighbors. That is, they would rather earn, say $85k a year where no one else is making more than $75k instead of them making $100k where everyone else is making $125k.” H.L. Mencken defined contentment in America as “making $10 a month more than your brother-in-law”.
When I was young, I remember talking to people about the idea of “keeping up with the Jones'”…a mythical family that lived next door. Today, it is not enough just to keep up with the Jones’. Now, there’s this push to be ahead of the Jones’ and become the envy of friends, neighbors and acquaintances. This is really not an idea that just came about in this decade. Solomon spoke about this idea almost 1,000 years before the birth of Christ in Ecclesiastes 4:4, “I realized the reason people work hard and try to succeed: They are jealous of each other. This, too, is useless, like chasing the wind.”
Humans have been struggled with envy for quite awhile…and it happened pretty early on in the Bible. There is this story of Cain killing his brother Abel (Adam and Eve’s children), because God seemed to like Abel’s offering more than he liked Cain’s. In Exodus 20:17, God told Moses to basically address the sin of envy in the 10th Commandment: “You must not want to take your neighbor’s house. You must not want his wife or his male or female slaves, or his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” If you stop and think about it, there can be much to be envious about in this world. Someone is always going to be stronger, better looking, richer, more famous, happier, paid better, or drive a better car than you.
Comparison. I’ve found in my own life that that is really the starting point toward envy.
Sometimes we compare in ways that are harmless, or in ways that encourage us to try harder. Many times we compare in ways that are destructive. Dante defined envy as “love of one’s own good, perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs.” It might be that you are comparing financial matters, or how someone else dresses or even how other children behave compared to the behavior of your own kids. We have to be careful because when we begin to look at other people, we can either have sinful pride or sinful envy (if we take it to either extremes). When we reach the conclusion that we are better off than “those guys”, the sin of pride can creep right into our lives. If, on the other hand, we reach the conclusion that we are not as well off as they are, then the sin of envy can take hold of your life.
In the gospel of Mark, it mentions that “out of envy” the Chief Priests and Pharisees handed Jesus over to Pilate (which eventually led to Jesus’ crucifixion). “Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate. ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. ‘Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. ‘What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them. ‘Crucify him!’ they shouted. ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:1-15) They were so envious of Jesus and His abilities to change people’s lives…that they went so far as to have him killed, just to prove they had more power than Jesus. But praise be to the Father in heaven!!! When God raised Jesus from the dead, it proved that Jesus has victory over death and sin. We now have power (through the Holy Spirit) to overcome sin and temptation…even in the area of envy.
My encouragement to you is simple and true: immerse your life in the love of the Lord and seek out gratitude everyday. If you take your eyes off Jesus, you will lose sight of the gifts and graces that are present in your life!!! The way to root out envy…which likes to hide in the dark and secret places of our soul…is by rigorous self-questioning and honesty. Who is choosing your life? You are. Then it’s time to count your blessings. You don’t count what’s missing, you count what’s there. Your blessings may be counted in your work or in your spouse…they may be found in your children or your parents. Your blessings may be found in your home…and having just enough food, clothing and money to get by. If your blessings aren’t in one basket, they are probably in another.
If you let the sin of envy grab a hold of you, you will not be able to see your unique environment, your unique gifts and your unique family with awe and gratitude. People that fill their lives with envy tend to focus on what they don’t have, instead of praising the Lord for all the blessings in their life. You have a God that is madly in love with you, and He created you to do things that no one else can do!!! His desire is that you would claim those gifts, and work within the kingdom of God to bless others and give Him glory in everything you do. You will have a difficult time with this if you are blinded by your sin of envy.
Now go out into the world and spread the good news of gratitude…and don’t live in the bondage of envy!!!
1.) Envy can destroy our health…
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30
2) Your relationships…
“You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.” James 4:2b-3
3) And your walk with the Lord…
“Now the works of the flesh are evident…those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God….If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:19-26
4.) Subtle signs of Envy can be: keeping score, “gotta have it” syndrome, having a critical spirit…
“So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.” 1 Peter 2:1-3
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime… not in dissension and envy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Romans 13:11-14
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” Titus 3:1-8
5.) Fill your life with gratitude…look for things, highlight them and proclaim them to God and others.
“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.” Philippians 4:6-7