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September 8, 2019     The Deadly Sin of Envy  

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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,  

A story comes down to us from ancient Greece about a man who killed himself with envy. *How? His town had erected a huge stone statue to another man who was a celebrated champion in the athletic games; they were athletic rivals. But this man was so jealous that he vowed to himself that he would destroy the statue. Under the darkness of night he went out to the statue and chiseled at the base of it so it would fall over & break to pieces; which it did. But in the morning the people found the huge broken statue lying on top of that resentful man. His envy had killed him. This man was not the first & not the last to ruin his own life by the sin of envy.

The Bible warns against the deadly sin of envy in Job 5: “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” (NIV5:2).   When you were a kid, did you ever say: ‘I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks on you.’ (?)   Envy can be described as a ‘boomerang sin.’ The bad effects are caused -on yourself- when you take a critical view of others = of what they have, or what they’ve done. Envy is related to ‘coveting’ what others have; altho a person may not even want what another has, they’re just jealous that that person has it. It’s akin to anger, but a little different = like bitterness & spite.  This sin numbs the human heart against another person. This is the deadening effect of envy on your own soul.

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Joseph’s brothers were envious of the way their father pampered his favorite son, and they hated Joseph because -it seems- he wasn’t very humble about it.   And instead of believing that God gave Joseph meaningful dreams, they thought he was just being pompous = not only was he favored by father-Jacob more than them, but favored by God, too.  They wanted to be murderous, but they settled on selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Yet, under God’s guidance, the harm they wanted to inflict on him was given a purpose, and Joseph ended up as 2nd-in-command over all of Egypt, while his brothers had to suffer many years with a guilty conscience; not only because of what they did to him, but also because they covered it up

by lying to their father about it. In the end, a famine forced them to go to Egypt to buy grain, where they had to confront their sin as they knelt before the brother they had mistreated.

The Book of Esther tells of a Persian official named Haman who envied a wise Jew named Mordecai; so much that he pulled political strings to do away with him. He even had a gallows built for Mordecai’s execution. But Haman’s treachery was revealed, his plot foiled, and the story ends saying: “They hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.” (Esther 7:10).

Like the other ‘7 deadly sins’, envy will boomerang, and will hang a person on the very gallows they were planning for someone else.  Envy will preoccupy a person’s attention; / it keeps her from really appreciating & enjoying what she has; /it robs him of happiness & contentment. Where envy grows it takes over a person’s thinking, and chokes out positive thoughts. / It leads to him to discontent, /her to bitterness, /him to hostility, /& her unable to be happy in her own life. This preoccupation can even turn into some serious emotional disorders, or physical illness, because of the continuing frustration it brings.

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Last week I mentioned an article in U.S. News and World Report titled, “Stock Up On Sin” where the author suggests investing in stocks that support our ‘vices’ such as the 7 deadly sins.   In regard to envy, the article said, ‘Like pride, envy drives people into unholy competition.

A company will promote envy, by claiming its products will make consumers feel better about themselves in comparison to others. (and) what can possibly top the envy of the homeowner trying to keep up with the Joneses, especially if the Joneses just knocked down their old ‘rambler’ and put up a mini-mansion?’

The Book of Proverbs puts it this way: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (14) When envy is harbored & fed in the heart, it eats away at the whole person. And to *what end = does envy ever make a person feel better?   An old fable has two plants talking to each other. The willow says to the thornbush, “Tell me, why are you so envious to pull at the clothes of those who pass by? Of what use can they be to you?” ‘None whatsoever,’ replied the thornbush. “I have no desire to wear their clothes. I only want to tear them.”

The envious person is like the thornbush wanting to reach out & hurt others, without benefiting themselves, & not knowing they’ll wound themselves.

The primary problem with envy -as with all sins- is that it’s deadly because it tears at our relationship with God. *Isn’t our heavenly Father the giver of every good and perfect gift? Envy is a choice to be blind to that; and doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

An envious person is not looking with gratitude to The Giver of everything that they are & have.   Envy will keep us from humbly accepting the Heavenly Father’s good & gracious will for us.   At its core, envy is blaming God for not giving us as much as we want, or at least as much as we see another person has.  Which means Envy is not really a problem between a person & their neighbor, but between a person & God.  In Matthew 6, Jesus gave a principle that he applied toward money, but it applies to many things. He said, “No one can serve two masters.” (Matt 6:24)  Master Jesus says, ‘be satisfied’;   master ‘self’ says, ‘be jealous.’

*Where does envy come from? Not from the outside. Joseph might’ve been pompous, but he couldn’t make his brothers envious; that was their own action. Like the other 6 sins, envy is deadly because it grows out of a human nature that is bent away from God, and dead in trespasses & sins. With our old nature, we will take a temptation & grow our own sin out of it.

In Galatians 5, Paul lists 15 examples of what he calls ‘works of the flesh.’ Many of them are obvious and terrible, such as /impurity, /fits of rage, /idolatry, /& orgies. But as you scan the whole list, it’s there: envy.    And the Spirit’s warning is, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

So, *what are we to do about the deadly sin of envy in our own lives? First of all, we must acknowledge that envy is another poison to our soul -like pride-; it’s more evidence of the truth that “the wages of sin is death.” And, as that is God’s truth, so we must return to God in humble repentance, and ask Him if there is any good news for us sinners.

We need to confess to Him that envy has found its way into our hearts often enough.  We can hide it from others as it festers & grows = but God sees. So we will be honest with God & confess our sins of envy, & all its synonyms: /jealousy & greed, /suspicion & bitterness, /resentment & spite, /covetousness & distrust.   We humbly go to God because He alone did something about the problem of ALL our deadly sins.

The Son of Man came & saw it all; was tempted with ALL of it, & did not sin. The Son of God came among us, suffered & died for our sin of envy in a death that was brought on by the envy of His enemies. You remember that, when Jesus stood on trial, Pilate tried to find a way to release Him. He knew that Jesus was not guilty as charged and Mark 15 says, “For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered Him up.”

But, Pilate caved-in to the demands of the religious leaders & the crowds. They insisted on Jesus’ crucifixion, and Pilate ordered it.   Yet, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached that this was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23) Peter also wrote,God the Father sent Jesus to suffer & died on the cross =the righteous for the unrighteous= that He might bring us back to God.’(1Pet 3) This is where God’s solution for our sins always begins: +with our honest confession & repentance, +followed by His gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

So, as with all our problem-vices, our solution & virtues begin at the cross. With our sins forgiven, He changes us; we are renewed with a new nature in faith in the way of Christian discipleship. Now we are able to see & turn from our old ways; to see that our vices only lead to our death; and to learn His new ways, His virtues. Jesus said, ‘I have come that you may have life, and life to the full.’   We even do this ‘proactively’. We can begin each day renewed in our forgiveness & blessings, so that as the day goes on & we face these temptations, we will quickly resist, and know the right things that our Lord wants us to say&do.

When faced with the temptation to envy, the Spirit & Word will prompt us to the way of contentment. Contentment begins with remembering The One who has planned & accomplished our eternal salvation, AND who has promised to care for all our daily needs. *What if we began each day by slowly praying the prayer that Jesus taught? All day we will be carrying around our sinful nature with us, and the world will throw those fiery darts of temptation at us, but the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer would prepare us with the shield of faith, that we will trust the One who knows us, hears our prayers, & provides us all good things.

Our daily satisfaction & peace will continue to be strengthened as we remember His Sabbath Day & keep it holy = a day set aside to learn from, & be renewed in, our Master of contentment.   Here we come together to remember that our life is first focused on our heavenly relationship, not on our earthly ones. As we heard in Luke 14, Jesus teaches that our true life is not built on other sinners; even if they are very important to us, such as our father & mother, wife & children, relatives & friends; & including our ‘self’.  We are disciples, students & followers of Jesus, the Son of God; He IS our life. Earthly things =people, money & possessions= are going to change & pass away. Jesus is our eternal Lord who does not change or pass away.

And finally, our daily contentment will grow into weekly, monthly & yearly contentment. IF we were content in Christ Jesus yesterday, THEN we will find it easier to be content tomorrow, & then the day after. This ongoing satisfaction & peace is a sign of a mature disciple of Christ Jesus.   In Phil.4, Paul says, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.”

And Paul says the secret of being content in every situation is this confession: ‘I can do everything thru Him who gives me strength.’

When we put away envy of who others are or what they have, and we are content with the blessings of Christ in His will & in the life He has for us, then we can be truly helpful, kind, & encouraging to others. They have nothing we need to be jealous of = besides, jealousy or resentment does not change our life or theirs; it only tears away at our relationship with them.

Instead, we can rejoice when they rejoice, & grieve when they grieve; we can congratulate them in their successes, and console them in their losses. We can do that when we are each content to live the life that God has assigned to us, and blessed us with.   That’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and a true friend to others.

We can see how envy has earned its place as one of the 7 deadly sins. It can be expressed in many ugly & destructive ways in a person’s heart & life. But this is not-so for the disciple of Jesus. We will not allow the sin of envy to lead us to kill ourselves by chipping away at the base of other people’s lives. Instead, we build our life standing on the solid foundation of the cross, on its forgiveness, and on the daily blessing of God, and on the words of eternal life taught by our Lord Jesus Christ.

What Job 5 said is true, “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” (NIV5:2).

But sin is no longer your ‘master’ in life; you belong to Christ. And so this truth now describes your life: “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…whether living in plenty or in want… The secret of life is in Jesus:  I can do all things thru Him who gives me strength.’

Amen