Bid Envy Cease

Friend, I am doing you no wrong…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? 
Or do you begrudge my generosity?
Matthew 20:13, 15

“Envy” panel, from Hieronymus Bosch’s,
 The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, c. 1500 


Both the service and the reward are all of grace. The service itself is given us of God, and God rewards the service which he himself has given. We might almost speak of this an an eccentricity of grace. So it’s all of grace from first to last, and must never be viewed with a legal eye. 
-C. H. Spurgeon, from The First Last, and the Last First


Do you delight in God’s lavish inequality?


The music on the first Sunday of Advent was rapturous. 

Simply soulful. O Come, O Come Immanuel sung to four part harmony. That’s not all. Now Thank We All Our God, sung with parts from a hymnal! Beyond bliss.

Your voices blended so beautifully. It sounded just wonderful, I gushed as I ran into the soprano and bass parts after service.

Praise God, both humbly replied. 

Which is, I suppose, as it should be. To the praise of his glorious grace He arranges the parts. Perfect this morning were the voices leading us to worship the King. Helping us savor this wondrous gift, this Incarnate Son, Immanuel.
I can’t sing harmony to save my soul. My vocal genes: Irish tenor mixed with tone-deaf (or blissfully unaware) hippopotamus. Truly-my mom’s second grade music teacher said she sang like a hippo. So the legend goes.

Deadly, Green-eyed Envy

Envy is a feeling of unhappiness at the blessing of others. Aristotle (350 BC) said it was the pain that comes with others’ good fortune. It’s strong and powerful: Wrath is cruel, anger overwhelming, but who can stand before envy?  And we know it rots the bones. 

The vineyard owner’s words, Do you begrudge my generosity (Matthew 20:15) are literally, Is your eye bad because I am good? To envy is to resent God’s goodness; to have an evil eye. An evil green eye.

The eyes surely have it. Matthew Henry describes envy’s deep roots:

The eye is both the inlet and the outlet of this sin. Saul saw that David prospered, and he eyed him (1 Samuel 18:9). It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others…Envy is unlikeness to God, who is good, and does good, and delights in doing good; no, it is an opposition and contradiction to God; it is a dislike of his proceedings, and a displeasure at what he does, and is pleased with. 

Envy tempts me to compare with others. Worse, envy tempts me to doubt God; to think his grace will run out. Or that God is all wrong in his allocation of gifts. Envy is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19). We’re told to put it away (1 Peter 2:1). It violates the two great commands at once. Love for God and our neighbor are both lacking when we begrudge God’s generosity to him.

Envy’s grip is strongest close to home. 

Which explains why my envy isn’t aroused so much by hearing angel voices-my half-hippo heritage never aspired vocally-as by reading brilliant blogs. The more focused we are on a hope or goal, the more intense the green-eyed gaze when the someone else reaches it. So it’s not all bloggers that tempt me to envy. Not Kevin DeYoung or Jon Bloom. Gifted as they are, they’re outside my circle.

It’s the blogs written by wise, youngish, Christian women bloggers. Jen Wilkin and Jean Williams are two such; grounded deep in the Word. I bid envy cease, and thank God for the spurring, gracious words he’s gifted them to write. Find Jen and Jean at http://jenwilkin.blogspot.com/  & http://jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com/.

How do you bid envy cease? How do you kill this Deadly?  

Hint: The same way you fight against anger, pride, lust or greed. Kill it with the sword. Wield the sword of the spirit, the Word of God

Joe Rigney suggests we try to see ourselves in the biblical narratives. Envy is certainly no stranger to Scripture’s pages.  

As you read, ask yourself, am I more like:
  • Abel or Cain, whose face grew downcast when God favored his brother?
  • Joseph or his brothers, who hated him because Jacob loved him most?
  • Jonathan or Saul, who grew angry and displeased hearing how David killed his tens of thousands? 
  • Nicodemus or the chief priests, who out of envy delivered Jesus to be killed?

If you see yourself in Saul, own these 3 envy-slaying truths:

1. Give thanks to God for his gifts to you.  
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. God’s will, His highly sought, prayed for will is this: give thanks. For life and love, for food and friends; For everything thy goodness sends, Almighty God we thank thee. Ministry, work, health, family, forgiveness…keep on thanking.

In this short podcast, author Joe Rigney explains why it’s “Hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart.” I know it’s true. Many a envious grudge have been driven out of this sinful heart as jog along, or sit and jot, my thanks to God.

2. Quit Comparing: Follow Jesus.
He’d just assured Jesus of his love and been given a sacred task, and his martyr death foretold. Then, Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. Was it just curiosity or envy creeping up? Maybe it sounded like, But Lord, that’s not fair if John isn’t killed the same way I’ll be.

So Peter asks, Lord, what about this man? Then, the One-perfect in all his ways and loving in all he does-answers,  If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow me! That’s the way to kill the green-eyed monster. Follow Jesus. Press on to know Him. 

In our house, we have a saying. It’s mostly heard when one piece of pizza has more pepperonis, or one cookie has more chips. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Baby steps.

3. Give thanks to God for his gifts to others. 
This is the clincher. Love inequality. It is counter-cultural in our egalitarian age. But, as Joe Rigney observes, God is unequally lavish. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians thanking God for them, because of the grace of God that was given to them, in every way [they] were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge.
I want to own this truth. It was easy on Sunday. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. And give thanks that they’re used.

Killing envy means embracing God’s sovereignty. 

Can we affirm with Abraham, against the green eyes of envy, that surely the Judge of all the earth will do what is just? And say with Job, in the midst of great loss, though he slay me, yet will I trust in him? So help us, God.

The owner of the vineyard gave the same payment for an hour’s work as for a full day’s work. It hardly seems fair. But he hadn’t promised fair-equal pay for equal work, when he hired. Only, whatever is right I’ll pay you. A denarius sounded good when the laborers hired on, whether at 7 am or 9 am, 12 noon or 3 pm, or, even at the 11th hour.

Can you allow God, even thank God, for being on the throne? We allow God to be in his workshop fashioning worlds and stars; preached C.H. Spurgeon, and in his storehouses bestowing bounty. 

But to give thanks to him as Sovereign, giver of all good gifts-and unequally has he scattered his gifts- now, that’s a supernatural work.

A work that bids strife, quarrels and envy cease.

Even so does the God of heaven and earth ask this question of you this morning. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”  Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne. 

C. H. Spurgeon, Divine Sovereignty

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