Practical Christianity (IX): Envy Is a Sin
Envy is a disgust at the advantages and prosperity of others. Envy is the sin that caused the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:18; Mk. 15:10). The gentile world which would not even acknowledge the true concept of God were characteristically "full of envy" (Rom. 1:28, 29). The works of the flesh include envyings . . . and they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:21).
How do we help those steeped in envy? How do we recognize it in others and in our self? First of all, we have to see envy as it really is, and what it does to the spirit of man. Cain envied Abel, and his envy brought forth intense feeling of brooding self-pity because God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but not his own. Abel prospered in righteousness, and his brother hated and killed him for it (Gen. 4). Sarah envied Hagar, because Hagar could do something Sarah could not, something Sarah wanted very much. Her envy led to her effort to kill Hagar (Gen. 16:5, 5; 12: 9, 10). Rachel envied Leah because Rachel was a "Second wife" and because Leah could bear Jacob children, as her sister could not (Gen. 30:15). Joseph's brothers envied the good fortune and love bestowed by their father upon Joseph. Their envy of his good fortune brought them to consider murder (Gen. 37). Miriam and Aaron envied the power and favor of Moses before God. They sought to depose Moses that they might take what God had given him (Num. 12). Saul envied David for the success he had in their common cause (1 Sam. 18:8, 9, 29). The Jews were envious of the spiritual and numerical successes of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:45; 17:5), the Jews who controlled the political life of Judea envied the following of Jesus (Matt. 27:18).
The quality of envy is not hard to identify. You can see it in some churches each week, but it is seldom rebuked. Take the case of the preacher who is envious of the talents, favor, and success of men of ability. When he has a debate, he is battling the forces of error.
When "they" have a debate, they are "trying to make a name for themselves as great debaters!" When he converts someone to the Lord, he writes a "progress report" to be published in all the papers so that brethren far and wide might note his "progress." When those he envies convert someone, he acts contemptuous of their efforts; "Is this all? I bet half of them are member's kids." When he holds a meeting, he is spreading the gospel. He usually sees to it that his "schedule" is published ("Not many have a schedule like that!"). When those he envies hold meetings he is grudging and sullen as he complains "I could hold 20 meetings a year too, if I promoted myself as much as he does!" He attends college lectureship each year and complains about those "pontificatin' politicians" who regularly attend the "Brotherhood convention." Any growth, zeal, ability, or diligent effort produced by another is fine-just as long as it does not "threaten" his growth, zeal, ability, or diligence. There is a game played by brethren towards the new convert. It is called "Brother, May I?" Any forward effort made by the zealous is met with, "Got a Bible study going huh? That's good. But don't get too discouraged when you don't convert them. When you have been a member of the church as long as I have you will find that no one is much interested in the Bible. Take my wife for instance. I have been married to her for thirty years, and she still hasn't obeyed the Gospel."
It is not just the preachers. All brethren are prey to this disease of the soul if they spend long hours wondering why they have not been blessed as other have. Those who do not have their problems "would never understand" and the envious begins to hate those he envies. How many times have you seen petty competition and envy among young Christians in a church? There is the teen-age girl who envies the charm, wit, and good looks of her sister in the Lord. She uses every opportunity to "put her down" or to exclude her in any social area where "points" might be made. Or, consider the learned brother who envies the preacher (or the preacher who envies the brother) because of his position before the church. The brother who envies others of greater ability often will speak his contempt for "Big Name-Preachers," as if an honored name before God and man was something to be ashamed of. The ignorant envy the wise, the poor envy the rich, the unprosperous righteous envy the prosperous sinner, the rebellious wife envies the position of her husband and of men in the church ("If I were a man . . .").How To Help
Once one recognizes envy for what it is, a sincere effort should be made to "put on" love as well as "putting off" envy. It is not sufficient to stop hating the good fortune and talents of others, but instead "let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others more highly than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others" (Phil. 2:3, 4; cf. Rom. 15:3).
The first paractical step in overcoming envy is to take those we envy with us to the Lord in prayer. We cannot hate someone we take into the presence of God. It is difficult to hate the sight of someone we have taken to God in prayer daily. Not just to "pray for their souls" but for their prosperity. If you find yourself hating and resenting the preacher, pray for his strength in the word and its proclamation. Pray for his opportunity to preach and teach as much and as widely as possible. Pray that he might be prosperous and successful in all that he seeks to do. Pray for his health, family, future, and your better relationship with him. Try it, It is not as easy as it sounds. "Love," says Paul, "envieth not." But on the other hand, "suffereth long and is kind . . rejoices in truth" (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
In addition to prayer, the envious man can seek good in others. One of the charateristics of hateful envy is that it calls what is good in others evil or wicked. How can we hate someone that does good things and is loved by someone we love (God)? We are not able, of course, and this is why hatred in envy can be so blind. To act godly, and love would mean that we would have to start loving that one we have despised so long. Instead of turning inward we must turn outward: quit worrying about what others have and we do not. Rejoice with them that rejoice, and do not take pleasure in their discomfort or their failings.
Finally develop a good relationship with those we envy. We will find that most envy is done from afar. A true friend is no "threat" to us. A child or a wife is no threat because we know and love them. We rejoice at their prosperity and take it as our own. We must develop the personal relationships that make envy obsolete.
Intimately attached to envy is self-pity and brooding. Self pity is a sin because its sole focal point is itself. Self-pity is faithless selfishness. In scriptures it is called murmuring. The Jews wallowed in self-pity after their deliverance from Egypt. They wanted the ease and comfort of the "fleshpots of Egypt." They did not like Moses' "bossing" them around, they did not like the Manna, they got tired of Quail, and they continually whined and murmured at any discomfort or inconvenience. Elijah murmered against God and his state, and was rebuked by God and told to stand up and quit his snivelling (1 Kings 19: 10, 14).
Women often demonstrate this sin from behind a hankie or a tissue. Tears, whether real or feigned, solve no problems, confront no issues, and provide no solutions. Often tears and crying are manipulative and are produced copiously to divert the Christian from the real problem. In confronting sin-tears are to be ignored-only godly repentance is acknowledged by God. (Men do not often bawl-they "tear up." A glistening eye, a hastily wiped away tear is often a sign of an attempt to impress with one's "sincerity." Most people can "tear" on demand, and the one who has learned that tears get preachers and others off their backs, will not hesitate to use them).
In Psalms 73 the Psalmist wrote that "he almost slipped" when he considered how the sinner prospered while the righteous suffered. Falling into self-pity the sinner murmured "Verily have I cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency, for all day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning" (vss. 13-16). Because of his self-pity and envy the murmerer suffered. "My heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins . . then I sensless and ignorant before thee as beast" (vss. 21, 22). All that murmuring had accomplished was pain and heartache for the sinner.
But, the Psalmist overcame all this, when "I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end . . . it is good for me to draw near unto God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works" (vs. 28). The answer to self-pity is to contemplate the greatness of God rather than our own trouble. Faith must replace murmuring. Declaring all of God's works is a positive way to overcome murmuring. If the Jews had remembered God's repeated providence in delievering them from evil and bringing them good, they would not have fallen in the wilderness. Brooding in thoughtless self-pity accomplishes nothing except to make one sick (2 Sam. 13:2-4) and ultimately leads to greater sin.
Self-pity, as seen by the example of the Jews in the wilderness, is not always a solo affair. People love to commiserate, and as the saying goes, "Misery loves company." Every church has seen the "gripe group" or the "pity party." These catalogue every sin in the church, every person's failing; but never produce any change for good in themselves or the brethren. Griping feeds misery, and often leads to malicious gossip, and hurtful talk about others. These often tear down that they might feel the temporary pleasure of self-justification at the expense of others. Beware of the person who talks loud and long about their problems and complaints. Such murmuring leads not to godliness, but unto greater sin.
Truth Magazine XXI: 29, pp. 454-456