Envy Is As Envy Does

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One of the more obvious things about our kirker community here in Moscow is that it is growing, and that in remarkable ways. And as we grow, many people are gathering, assembling, arriving, connecting, and hopefully finding houses to live in. But one of the things that always happens in circumstances like this is that an electrical charge develops, as when a black thunderstorm starts to stack up in the sky. It is just what happens with large gathering crowds, I mean clouds.

This is simply inevitable. Left to itself, left all alone, there will be lightning bolts that blow the bark off trees, and start forest fires. That is what might be called a random outlet for the energy, and it can be really destructive. But if we are believing Christians, we are in possession of the ultimate lightning rod, which is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

The Text

“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:1–3).

Summary of the Text

Peter has just finished reminding his readers that they had been born again through the instrumentality of incorruptible seed, the word of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23ff). He then turns to the basic demeanor that should govern their subsequent life of sanctification. They have been born again, they have been converted, they have been justified. That all happened in the moment of God’s salvation first reaching them. But now what? Now the life of sanctification follows, and what does Peter put in the front rank of all their assigned attitudes? What is the very first lesson to learn?

He tells them to “lay aside” certain sinful attitudes. What he mentions is malice (v. 1), guile (v. 1), hypocrisy (v. 1), all envy (v. 1), not to mention evil talk (v. 1). They have just been born again, which is why he describes them as babies. And so like newborns, they are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, in order that they might grow (v. 2). An additional motive for doing this is that they have already been privileged to taste how gracious the Lord has been to them (v. 3). As babies, they are to desire the Word for two reasons—the first being instinct and the second an experience of its goodness. Those who have been truly converted seek out the Word, and once they have done so, they become dependent upon it. They have both an instinct for milk and a love of milk.

Focus on the Envy

We may define envy as a rancid combination of covetousness and enmity. It is not for nothing that Peter’s list also prohibits malice and evil (or slanderous) talk. That biting or malicious element is very much a part of it. And because an envious man needs to get close enough to strike, it is also necessary for him also to use guile and hypocrisy, also prohibited.

A greedy man might want what someone else has, but if he obtains whatever it is for himself, it doesn’t matter to him that the original owner still has his. But for an envious man, a great deal of the attraction is caused by the raw fact of rivalry. He wants to win, and he also wants his rival to lose.  

Objects of Envy

What sorts of things can provoke envy in us? This is a very wicked world, and so the list will be almost infinite. We can envy someone else for their birth order, for their looks, for their brains, for their money, for their car, for their family, for their happy marriage, for their talents, for their athletic prowess, for their musical ability, and so on. You name it, and we can envy someone for having more of it than we do. This can even happen when we falsely think they have more of it than we do, or a better quality of it than we do. We can even project our own lies, and then envy those.

Perhaps you are new to our community, and looking around you see other young families around the same age as you, but their walk with God seems much more put together than yours. You may feel deep shame about your level of sanctification, and start to envy their holiness. Don’t. Confess that impulse as sin, and recognize that God takes everyone where they are, and not where they should have been.

So sin is a sneaky devil, this sin particularly. We can envy how underlined someone else’s Bible is. We might even envy someone else’s humility. We can envy the reputation of another gospel-preaching church. We can envy the fact that when that person is asked to pray at church, his words flow more smoothly than we thought ours did. We can envy another minister’s effectiveness (Acts 17:5). The Sadducees envied the apostles’ authority to heal (Acts 5:17). We can envy someone else’s success with numbers, as happened in Pisidian Antioch. “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:44–45).

But in order for such envy to occur, the one envying must be in an inferior position. Because no one likes being down there, and especially not an envious person, we frequently fail to see that envy is eating us up. Put another way, we lie to ourselves about this.  We don’t want to admit to ourselves what that ache inside really means. We refuse to acknowledge it. Nobody is proud of being envious, and so we tell ourselves that it is “not that he got the promotion, it is the principle of the thing.” Yeah, right.

The Cross as Lightning Rod

I said earlier that the cross is God’s appointed lightning rod. How so? The sin that placed Christ on the cross was the sin of envy. Even Pilate saw this. “For he knew that for envy they had delivered him” (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). Think about it. The men who conspired to have Jesus crucified did so because they wished they could be more like Jesus—but of course on their own terms.

Of course, Christ died for all kinds of sin, not just this one, but we need to remember that it was this sin that was willing to call for His crucifixion. Giving way to envy is to participate in that, and repenting of envy is bringing the cross to bear on one of the ugliest aspects of your life. Why shouldn’t it die first?

As you deal with this sin, you will also find yourself repenting of zero sum thinking, the belief that whenever someone else has more, it necessarily means that you have less. Sometimes it means that, but most of the time it does not.

Envy is inconsistent with salvation. “Envy . . . I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). This means that to be in Christ is to be in a place where envy has been crucified, as regards our salvation, and is in the process of being crucified, as regards our sanctification.

Before, when we were outside of Christ, we passed our days in “malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Tit. 3:3). But envy can still try to grow within the visible church. Some men were even preaching Christ in order to get the apostle Paul in trouble (Phil. 1:15).

So as our church community grows, we can simply count on these sorts of things happening.

What must we do then? We must look to the cross, always to the cross. The crucifixion of Christ was the death of all envy. When you look to the cross and see the serpent impaled there (John 3:14-15), you are healed of the serpent’s deadly and toxic bite. If you see envy and rivalry growing up among your kids, then your family devotions need to start revolving around the substitutionary death of Christ, dying so that envy could be slain. If you see it start to show up in comments comparing one service to another (e.g. “Christ Church Potlatch is growing faster than Christ Church Genesee”), then you need to say something. And it needs to be something like “Brother, Jesus was not hanged on a gibbet so that we could talk like that.” 

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1 year ago

Thank you. Good stuff.

1 year ago
Reply to  E
  1. Who are you? E?
1 year ago
Reply to  Elisabeth

Just read the article and enjoy it. I am of absolutely no consequence. Really.