Expunging envy from the Christian life
by Glen Doss, Major –
Paul declares that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26); yet there’s another foe, almost as universal, which deserves as healthy a respect. That bane of men and women everywhere—possibly the devil’s most effective trap—is envy.
Envy at another’s lot in life, jealousy over what another has attained, dogs mankind like few other things. It was there at the beginning—for it was out of jealousy over God’s acceptance of his brother’s offering that prompted Cain to slay Abel. It was resentment of their father’s partiality toward Joseph that caused his brothers to hate him.
We learn selfish behavior early in life. In my mind’s eye I can still see myself as a small child, jumping up and down, shouting, “Mine! Mine!” I recall burning with jealousy in high school over the popularity of other boys in my class; sadly, I was even envious to the point of wishing them harm. As a 40-year-old cadet at the College for Officer Training, envious feelings haunted me still: I was jealous of session mates who seemed to get more attention because they were musical (I was so lacking in talent that I was even asked to lip-sync in the cadet chorus!).
Need I mention the possibility that the green-eyed monster slips in amongst the ranks of Salvation Army officers? Who of us has not felt a twinge of envy upon hearing that a comrade received an appointment that seemed better than our own? The truth hurts—especially when we remember that God has nothing at all good to say about such feelings.
Christ lumps envy into the same category as murder. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder… envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God” (Mark 7:21-23, NLT).
Peter entreats Christians: “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, NIV).
The Biblical message is clear: a spiritually mature person will not feel envy toward another, but will love unconditionally, just as God does.
The Quaker missionary, Thomas Kelly, talks of “royal blindness,” the characteristic of a Christian approaching Christlikeness. “We grow blind to the petty eminences we have sought,” he says. “We grow blind to the obscurity which is our lot, and, in no resentment, joyfully live in Eternity just where we are…And with what shame we look upon our own wasted years of yearning to be somebody. For now we see these things as they are: round about ways of pleasing our own little selves…But, oh, how sinuous and subtle is self-pride. The enemy of complete dedication!…But the royal blindness levels all this, to the degree that all our self is willed into the life and love of
God, in utmost dedication” (The Sanctuary of the Soul).
But what to do if, upon hearing of another’s good fortune, the green-eyed monster raises its ghastly head unbidden? Then, abruptly, like a bolt of fear when we see a lion about to pounce, the emotion takes over and rules us?
I suggest that envy gains a grip upon us when we have withheld a part of ourselves from God. Instead of loving him with our whole heart (Matt. 22:37), we have reserved an inordinate amount of our affection for ourselves. Then, when another person seems to outshine us and our petty little god, numero uno, is dethroned, it is ourselves whom we love and grieve for!
The bottom line: we must seek God’s help even in loving him sufficiently. “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth,” says James (3:14-15). The solution, he offers, is to “submit yourselves, then, to God” (4:7, NIV). Paul clarifies: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
“Spiritual authority,” declares Samuel Brengle, that saint of The Salvation Army, “is not won… by promotion but by many prayers and tears. It is attained by confession of sin, and much heart-searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold, uncomplaining embracing of the Cross, and by an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified” (The Soul-Winner’s Secret).