FATAL DISTRACTIONS – THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
February 16, 1997
In today’s session we are talking about the ugly sin of envy. During my preparation this week, I racked my brain trying to think about how I could communicate the true essence of this subject in the introduction. And then it came to me like a bolt of lightening. Teach them a cheer. I know that it is early but many of us have had our Starbucks coffee in the lobby and we are fired up. We are ready to go. So will everyone please stand with me. I will do the cheer first and then I will let you join me. This is a cheer that I have heard for many, many years. It goes like this: U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you are ugly, envy, you are ugly. Now let’s do that on the count of three. Let’s put our hands together. One, two, three. U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you are ugly, envy, you are ugly. U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got not alibi, you are ugly, envy, you are ugly. Well, you sound great. Please be seated.
Envy is ugly as sin because it is. The other deadly sins are against one special virtue. For example, pride is against humility. Anger is against self-control. But envy thumbs its nose at every virtue. The other deadly sins start off with some pleasure. It is kind of fun to stick your chest out and elevate yourself in pride. It is interesting to have that rush of adrenalin when you feel the hot lava of anger all over someone. Envy, though, right out of the starting blocks picks up anguish and turmoil and problems. Envy is ugly.
It is easy to come up with the color of envy. In our culture we say that someone is green with envy. Green is one of the hottest colors in the fashion world. It looks great on Kermit the frog, on St. Patrick’s Day, and especially on the back of the winner of golf’s most prestigious tournament, The Masters. But no one in this place wants to be known as being green. If someone calls you green, it is associated with being sick. Envy is ugly. Envy is uglier than pride’s camel nose and anger’s flared nostrils. When I think of envy I think of a green creature with a scowl on his face and beady narrow eyes. I think of envy as having big ears to pick up all the gossip and the rumors and fangs that are dripping with poison that we spread from this person to that person.
The New Testament renders the word envy “to have an evil eye.” Envy is a sin of the eyes. Your partner closes a mega deal and receives a windfall of cash, your eyes turn to envy. A gorgeous woman walks into the room and the men check her out. And many men check her out with another deadly sin about which we will talk in a couple of weeks. But the women give her the evil eye. Envy.
I define envy as being sad over someone else’s success and becoming a fan over someone else’s failures. I struggled with envy a lot in college when I rode the bench at Florida State University, and the guy playing in front of me would steal the ball, dribble the length of the court, and dunk over two people with 18,000 fans screaming. I had a hard time clapping for him. “Well, that was an okay move.” Now and then I would think about him getting hurt. Oh, how I would hate to see that. Envy is the consuming desire to have everyone as unsuccessful as you are. Envy is the great leveler. If it can’t level up, it will always level someone down.
Now some of you are saying you want me to talk about something serious. What is wrong with a little bit of envy, a little bit of jealousy? What is the big deal about wanting something that someone else has? What is wrong about it? It is such a minor sin. There is no such thing as a minor sin. You see, God is not some disorganized deity who arbitrarily comes up with a grocery list of sins. God does not do that. The Bible says that we matter so much to God that He gave us Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life on this earth. Jesus said that He came so that we might have life and have it to its fullest. Many times the Bible says that when we practice sin, it keeps us from experiencing life to its fullest. And envy is something that keeps us from the life that God wants us to enjoy.
Envy is listed in the New Testament with some ugly counterparts. It is listed with deceit, rudeness, murder, drunkenness, orgies, hypocrisy, slander, and stealing. Do I need to go on? Solomon’s words are so poignant to our culture today. Proverbs 14:13, “A satisfied heart will give life to the body but envy rots the bones.”
I want to share with you four ugly facets of envy, four ugly things which will happen in your life and my life if envy is left unchecked. First, envy will damage our self-esteem. Psychology Today conducted a survey of 25,000 men and women. They discovered that envy is rooted in poor self-esteem. If you are always feeling inferior, if you always have to be the strongest, the fastest, the leanest, the meanest, you are in for a life full of problems and difficulties and inferiority. There is always going to be someone doing better what you are doing at the present time. Always. We need to accept that and own that and thank God for that because if we don’t, it is going to be ugly.
Some are saying that they do not have a problem with poor self-esteem. But stay with me, because I think that many of us are entangled in envy, being eaten alive with envy, and not even knowing it. We camouflage envy, we explain it away through plastic praise. Plastic praise is a dangerous thing. Any time you get involved with plastic praise, you have that key transitional phrase. For example, ladies you would say, “She has a great body but have you seen her nails?” Plastic praise. We might say, “Oh, he is a great preacher but is he the kind of guy you want to go fishing with? What a dud.” “Oh, she is a super mom but her house is messy, a pig sty.” Plastic praise. We use plastic praise to camouflage inferiority and it is fueled by envy.
Some of us are into the mean motives thing. We see a successful businessman and we say, “Yeah, he is doing well, however you know that he has got to be cheating some people out of money.” Or someone invites you to their lake home. “I wonder what they are after.” Someone gives you something. “What is their angle.” The mean motives are fueled by envy.
Then we have the condescending comparisons. I am great at this one. Someone will say, “Hawaii is the most beautiful place on earth.” You shake your head and give some condescending comparison. “Yeah, Hawaii is a beautiful place, but have you ever been to Fiji. I have been to Fiji and Fiji makes Hawaii look pitiful. It embarrasses it.” Always the one-up-manship. Someone will comment, “What beautiful landscaping. Look at it.” You answer, “Well, its okay, but if you really want to see landscaping, you ought to see my neighbor’s.” Inferiority. Envy.
Have you ever wondered why the tabloid TV shows and the gossip columns are so popular? We read about celebrities and we envy them. “Whoa, Madonna has five different houses. Jim Carrie makes how much money? Sylvester Stallone did that?” Then as we read on, they tell about the problems that they have and various difficulties. We love to read about this dirty laundry because somehow it makes us feel better than they are and it eases our feelings of inferiority.
Proverbs 24:7, “Who is able to stand before envy.”
The second ugly facet of envy is that it creates a lack of contentment. Envy breeds discontent. I love what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I have learned to be content.” This word “contentment” is not compliancy, it is rendered “happy enough with what you have or what you are.” Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.”
Do you remember the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 about the prodigal son? Most everyone here, whether you are churched or unchurched, has heard about the prodigal son. It is a story of a young guy in his late teens who took his dad’s Merrill Lynch trust fund, all of his inheritance, went out and spend it all on loose living. He comes back home and his father is so excited to see him that he gives him an i Fratelli pizza party, buys him a wardrobe from the Gap, and everything is going great. You have heard preachers and teachers speaking about the prodigal son as an illustration of the forgiveness of God. They say that God is waiting for us to turn from our sin and turn to Him and they are exactly right.
It is a great story of forgiveness. But most of us miss one of the major players in the story. I think that the main message of the prodigal son story is not the prodigal son, it is his older brother. The Bible says that when the older brother heard what was going on, saw the Gap boxes and the half-eaten pizza, he couldn’t stand it. He was eaten alive with envy. His father came into his room and tried to reason with him. He told his older son that everything he had was his. “I love your younger brother too, but everything I have is yours.” The brother couldn’t accept and enjoy what he had because he was thinking so much of what he didn’t have.
Envy—it breeds discontent. Are you so concerned about what you don’t have and what someone else has that it keeps you from thanking God for your blessings and for the many things that He has bestowed on your life?
The third ugly facet of envy is found in James 3:16. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” It keeps me from enjoying the successes of others. What is your initial response when a person who you know doesn’t work half as hard as you do yet receives an inheritance that puts them on easy street? What is your initial reaction when your roommate rushes into your apartment, ring finger high, and announces her upcoming wedding? What is your initial response especially if you have not seen a date in months.
In 1 Samuel 18 the Bible says that King Saul envied David, this young Hebrew hillbilly. What happened? Why did Saul envy David? Saul did not envy David’s harp playing ability because Saul couldn’t play the harp. He didn’t envy David’s poetic prowess, he couldn’t write poetry. He envied David when David wore Saul’s armor, when David fought a battle Saul should have fought. The Bible says that when the troops came back into Jerusalem after defeating Goliath and the Philistines, the women rushed into the streets and began to chant. Talk about a nasty cheer. They said, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” They chanted it over and over again. Saul could not stand it. Envy.
We are envious of our peers. We are envious of people who we think we are a little better than or a little less than. A surgeon is not envious of a violinist. A surgeon is envious of another surgeon. A real estate broker is not envious of a pastor, he is envious of another broker. A single is not envious of a mom but of another single looking for Mr. Right.
Lucifer got into this. It will show you how deadly the sin of envy is. The Bible says that Lucifer was a little bit lower than God Himself. Lucifer was eaten up with envy and he tried to elevate himself above God. Because of that he was kicked out of heaven. Envy will keep us from enjoying and applauding the successes of others.
The fourth ugly facet of envy is that it is a denial of the goodness of God. Many of us are living in denial. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love does not envy.”
Jesus used another illustration one day. He was always telling stories and parables. In Matthew 20, He told a story about a master and his workers. One day a master hired many workers. He hired one at 6AM, another at 9AM, another at 12 Noon, another at 3PM and a final one at 5PM. He said, “Work, and I will be back and pay all of you fair wages.” They worked and he returned. Then he did something counter-cultural. He paid the last hired, first and he paid him a full day’s wages. He paid the guy he had hired first, last and he paid him a full day’s wages. You can imagine where this story is going. The people that were hired early in the day began to murmur and grumble. Murmuring and grumbling are always signs of envy. They asked the master, “What is the deal? We worked for a long time and these fly-by-nights come in and work for an hour or thirty minutes and you pay them the same wages.”
They didn’t get it. They were blessed, but the others were blessed to a greater degree because of the generosity of the master. Sometimes God just blesses certain people. We don’t know why. He just does it because of His grace. We are so busy worrying about how God has blessed them that we forget about how God has blessed us. We are like those workers. Envy is an ugly sin.
It has been pretty bad so far, pretty ugly in this message, hasn’t it? The four ugly facets of envy. Let’s talk about the good stuff now. I want to talk to you about four fabulous things that we can do today to rid ourselves of this sin. The first thing we can do today is to basically come clean with envy. We need to admit the obvious to God. We all struggle with envy. If you say you don’t, you are lying. You are lying. We all struggle with it and have those evil eyes, big ears, and those poisonous fangs. The Bible says in James 5:16, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” This Thursday night Lisa and I went out with some dear friends. We began to talk about envy. We shared some struggles that we had with envy and it was a cleansing thing. Confess your envy to someone close to you who knows Christ personally and also confess it to God. Say, “God, I have got a problem with envy.”
The second thing I want you to do is develop an attitude of gratitude. Listen to the words in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” If you are envious, you reverse this verse. You weep with those who rejoice and rejoice with those who weep, don’t you? But Paul says, “No, no, no, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” In other words, when we are envious of someone we say, “I cannot believe what has happened to him. Give me a break. I deserve it more. Come on.” We are slapping God in the face.
Don’t compare yourself with someone else. It is unfair to compare. Thank God and praise God for blessing that person. Thank God when your competitor has a windfall. Thank God when you see a Mom really do some great things with her children, even though her house is messy. Thank God for those things. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Thank God for what He is doing in your life.
Some of us are envious of other people’s homes. If you struggle with that, ask a homeless person if he or she would like to move into your place. Do you think they would enjoy that? Some people are envious of other people’s bodies. Go ask a quadriplegic how your body looks to him or to her. Do you think they would change places with you? An attitude of gratitude.
Thirdly—this is kind of strange in a way—anticipate this sin. Envy is going to rear its ugly, green head. It is going to. Be ready to smack it. Anticipate it. Certain things trigger envy. When we are around certain people, we get envious. When we drive through certain neighborhoods, it makes us envious. When we go into certain malls, we are envious. Whatever causes your envy, stay away from it. Look at what 1 Peter 2:1 says. Simon Peter knew a lot about envy. That could be a whole other message. “Lay aside all envies.” He didn’t say “envy,” he said “envies.”
Number four—and this is the most important of all—practice pursuing God. If I can just leave you with one thing to do that would cause the envy to melt away, it would be for you to pursue God. Become a fully devoted follower of Christ. Many of us here would say that God is important to us, but He is important in the midst of other important things. For some of us He is just an extracurricular activity. For some of us, we have been inoculated with a mild form of Christianity so that we won’t catch the real disease. Yet God says, “Pursue Me.” If we pursue God, we are pursuing something bigger than someone else’s house, someone else’s car, someone else’s career, someone else’s money. When we pursue God and focus on Him, this other stuff doesn’t mean that much. It loses its luster.
Galatians 5:25-26, “If we live by the spirit, let us also walk by the spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” Just think, if we do what God says, we can turn envy’s scowl into a smile. We can turn envy’s beady, narrow eyes into eyes wide open praising and thanking God for what He has done in our lives and also in other people’s lives. We can shrink those big ears and defang envy and have victory over it.
The next time envy rears its ugly head, all we have to do is look at envy and say, “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you are ugly. You are ugly envy.”