I hate envy. I see it so often in myself. In my kids. In my friends. In my marriage. I see it fuelling comments made on social media. I see it leading people astray into years of passive aggression in their closest relationships. I see it robbing people of joy, of intimacy, of compassion and the ability to celebrate others' successes. Envy truly rots our bones.
It makes us ugly. I recently found myself lovingly challenging one of my daughters who'd admitted being somewhat in the grip of envy towards one of her sisters. The tragic thing was, it made her ‘ugly.’ It caused her otherwise beautiful character to become bitter and petty. The reason I was able to tenderly but somewhat insightfully diagnose it with her was because it’s something that I know I so often see in my soul myself. As a 39 year old man.
Envy makes me paranoid.
It makes me angry.
It leads me to see myself as a victim.
It expresses itself as an inability to see all the countless good things in my life and laser in one the one thing I don’t feel I have.
Paul says in Philippians 4:12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. And for years I’ve nodded when reading this, deluded in thinking I was like Paul
I'm not like Paul. I hate being ‘brought low.’ Anger and envy flare up in seconds. When I’m brought low, everyone around me seems to be ‘abounding’ and envy feels inevitable. Not even just a temptation. And especially as I’m knocking on the big 4-0 and all around me the world says: “You should be abounding by now Tom! Your career should be at an all-time high” envy over my peer’s successes can easily rage.
Social media, whilst often a great source of good things, can massively fan into flame the sin of envy for someone like me.
Just as I'm just feeling grateful for some aspect of my life, then Boom! - I glimpse something happening in someone else’s life and I’m angry. Subtly of course. But envious and battling.
But even without social media, in normal, everyday life, envy so quickly can invade.
The Bible tells us that we as people have an enemy. He's called ‘the father of lies’. He loves to lie. He knows how to lie. To make the voice we hear playing in our mind just loud enough to be heard but not so obvious as to be spotted as coming from him.
I was recently driving into a Christian event and ahead of me one of my best friends was being ushered into parking in a VIP spot. When they'd moved off, the car parking steward flatly pointed us to the ‘far car park please’. The one miles away from the building. Who cares right? Absolutely. I didn’t. But then I did. The little voice appeared and suddenly a friend became an enemy.
Later that week he chirpily commented someone had anonymously given him a ‘£200 token.’ Great! So thrilled. And I was. And then I wasn’t. No one’s done that for you, Tom.
So...to recap. Envy as a sin, steals. It robs. It strips bare. It make ugly something and someone who was previously beautiful. Although its voice seems so alluring it actually is a killer. An abuser. It drags down. Mercilessly derailing person after person.
But we do have a choice. This isn't inevitable. We can fix our eyes on Jesus.Jesus said "my peace I leave with you" . Wow. Not as the world gives; the world can't give peace. Only Jesus can. What an extraordinary contrast - Jesus is the Ultimate Giver. He does give.
And this is huge for someone who is often feeling hard done by.
He gives and gives and gives. And this is truly Good News and life changing for an ‘other- person- focused, ‘other people get all the good stuff’ convinced person like me.
But I don’t want to start there.
First and foremost, Jesus saves me by actually getting my eyes off myself altogether. This truly is THE most huge secret of the spiritual life of all.
Eyes. Off. Self.
Jesus saves me firstly by BEING the most fascinating, intriguing, brilliant, kind, impressive person you could ever hope to know. The first step to killing envy is becoming less focused on yourself.
Now for some of you, I’ve just lost you. You reading that makes you switch off. And I get that. I really do. But stick with me.
The biggest and most beautiful way that Christ saves you is through His life, death and resurrection BECOMING the greatest obsession of your life. The person, even more than yourself, that you're somehow concerned about. The person you really care about and think about. The person you're most aware of.
The second half of that verse in Philippians that I quoted earlier says this same point.
The way that Paul was able to avoid envy and be totally happy in life whether abounding or bought low was….
‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’
You see envy weakens us. Jesus strengthens us. Paul had seen Jesus. On the Damascus road and throughout his life, he saw Him, and had gone from a heart rotting with envy to a heart at peace. Envious enough to approve the murder of a leader God was raising up, to having a heart joyfully at peace even in prison, with no limelight, status or glory.
Jesus strengthens us. Firstly through us simply seeing Him. As our hearts catch a glimpse of Him, envy immediately starts to fade.
Simply seeing Him, tasting Him, having His strong and life-giving personality as the increasing influence of our lives, just does something. Even before we come to ask Jesus to ‘please give us stuff so that we don’t feel envious,’ HIM and His friendship and relationship again and again and again stops me in my envious tracks. Shines a light on my whinging inner voice. To simply know and be known by the King of the Universe, the Man who defeated sin and death and now pours His Eternal life into me 24/7….well, you can join the dots. It's pretty mind blowing!!
But what is also so truly amazing, is that as Christians, when we fall for the lie that ‘that person over there is more blessed than me,’ we need to realise it really is an actual lie.
In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob deceives Isaac his dad. In Genesis 27 , he steals the birthright and inheritance off his older brother and rightful heir, Esau. When Esau discovers this, there are some of the most heartbreaking verses in the Bible. He pleads to his dad for mercy. Surely there must be some blessing, some promise of inheritance left, Dad? On and on he goes. And all Isaac can do is shake his head and repeat that it has all gone. Every drop of blessing has gone scandalously to someone else.
You read that story and your heart feels the desperation that Esau must have felt.
I read that story and the light goes on - I so often think that's the situation with me!
That if that other person over there has got a bigger church, more twitter followers, a better preaching gift, a larger house, a better body or whatever, then that means there ain't no blessing left for me!
That’s why I’m paralysed in those moments from celebrating with them. If I praise them, celebrate the blessing on their life, then somehow the mucked-up maths in my head concludes that I’m an Esau.
And I fall straight into the comparison trap.
But now through Jesus, that is codswallop!! Garbage! Trash!
In Ephesians 1 it says, as just one part of an astonishing sentence, that now all Christians have ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ.’
Jesus was and is the most blessed man who has ever lived. And now, as Christians, we are in Him. Mystically joined forever with the Blessed One! The Beloved with whom the Father is ‘well pleased!”
If we dare to give into the lie that we are now overlooked and victims in comparison with Bob or Sheila, or whoever it is you're viewing as more blessed, then we in effect deny the Gospel. We deny the reality of our being in Jesus, the Blessed one.
Jesus was cursed, at the cross, bearing all the sin and shame of the world, so that I and all Christians, could experience blessing for all eternity, scandalously!
Just as Jacob did not deserve to be blessed, so too, the spiritual blessings of Jesus’ life of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, are indescribably wonderful blessings I 100% do not deserve! But I can 100% enjoy.
It's an issue of provision. Isaac couldn't provide blessing for both. But our Father always can. He can and will and does always bless us in Christ.
If you've grown up even a little unsure your parents will provide for you (perhaps financially, emotionally, practically) then we can then think God is like that too. That God is like Isaac and can only bless in a limited way. And so envy crouches at our door. If my god is like Isaac, then envy reigns, as lack of provision is expected when others are blessed and provided for.
But if my God is like Jesus, then peace reigns, as utter provision is expected even when others receive blessing and provision. In fact, with a God like Jesus (not Isaac), seeing others blessed can actually stir faith that my Dad loves to, and is able to, do this for me also.
What this means is that now, I truly can cheer on those around me as blessings in one form or another surely come. I can resist the lie that their blessing means my abandonment. No way Jose!
Our Dad in heaven has so much to give out! Just as Jesus made over 900 bottles of wine as His first recorded miracle as a demonstration of His super-abundance, so too we can now simply ‘ask and then receive’ great rivers of His Holy Spirit in our inner beings. The fires of other people's blessings can rage all around us and yet more and more, we can internally maintain our poise. Our serenity. Our joy and smiling persona, with absolute integrity.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3
Oh the joy of Jesus! Oh the joy of the Blessed One who blesses us. The One who saves us from becoming petty, and angry and ugly. The One who empowers churches filled with men and women with no political spirit. But with the Spirit of Christ Himself. Radiating a love for even those who have so much that we desire. How? Because we already have the treasure in the field that causes the man to joyfully sell all he has. All else is infinitely insignificant in comparison with the Jesus who saves me, loves me and blesses me.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8