Saturday, April 30, 2005

Sermon on Envy (Rev. Adrian Dieleman)

Rev. Dieleman is the pastor of Trinity Christian Reformed Church, in Visalia, California. This sermon was preached on 12 August 2001. I've abridged it slightly. Particularly, I cut out the story of Mozart and Salieri, because it is pure fiction (purporting to be historical fact).


I Envy Defined

A What is envy? It is a desire to have what another person has. It is not simply a longing to also have what the other person has; rather, the envious person wants to have something instead of the other person having it. Furthermore, the envious person has feelings of hatred and ill will toward the person who possesses what they want.

B It is possible to be envious of almost anything. You can be envious of another's musical talents. You can also envy someone's ability to hit a baseball, score a basket, or water-ski on one ski. You can envy someone's intelligence, wisdom, knowledge. You can envy someone's ability to talk or pray in public. You can envy another's possessions and money and want them to be yours alone. You can envy another's spouse or children or family. You can envy another's position, job, or career.

C Scripture tells us that envy is our natural, sinful desire (Gal 5:19). It is our natural, sinful desire to have and to keep for ourselves alone what others have. It is our natural, sinful desire to hate and despise the person or persons who have what we want. Because of this, envy is found everywhere. It is found in the church. It is found in the world. None of us, I'm afraid, are immune to it. It can strike any of us at any time.

D If we are honest, we have to admit that at times we also want to be envied, that we encourage envy. This is especially apparent among children. Every youngster knows it is more fun to be the one envied than to be the envier. I remember the first day of grade school after the summer vacation. One by one we were asked to come to the front of the class to tell our classmates what we had done during the summer. One of my fellow students envied the great vacations and exciting trips all his classmates seemed to have so he invented all sort of tales about his summer in order to make the rest of us envious of him.

It isn't only the children who seek psychological fulfillment from being envied. Many adults want to be objects of envy too. We know that God was speaking to Joseph in the dreams mentioned in Genesis 37. Yet, I have often wondered what could possibly have possessed Joseph to tell his brothers about those dreams? Did he, perhaps, want to generate their envy? And, knowing their insane jealousy about the richly ornamented robe given him by father Jacob, what could possibly have possessed him to wear it when he went in search of his brothers at Shechem and Dothan? Did he, perhaps, want to generate their envy?

Advertisers today have discovered that one way to sell a product is to create envy among those who don't have it. That's why Rolls Royce can sell a Corniche for $353,590 and Lamborghini can sell a Diablo for $274,900+. The buyers know that possession of these cars displays to others how rich the owners are. This same principle of creating envy extends to clothing, houses, and furniture. I have even seen this principle used in choosing a marriage partner. Some people choose their mates to be the envy of their peers; they don't marry someone out of love but because he or she will elicit the envy of others.

I remember, when I was a teenager, hearing sermons on the evils of keeping up with the Jones' – a mythical family living next door – on striving to have the same things as my neighbor. Today, it is no longer good enough to keep up with the Jones'. Today's creed is to keep ahead of the Jones'. Today's creed is to be the envy of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Today's creed is conspicuous consumption in order to generate the envy of those who can't afford what you have. But this too is nothing new. The preacher spoke of this almost 1000 years before the birth of Christ.

(Eccl 4:4) And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

E Let me make it perfectly clear: to envy is sin and makes one worthy of God's judgment; and, to purposely create or generate envy is as great a sin as the envy itself. To buy or do things, to practice conspicuous consumption, merely to generate the envy of those around you, also makes one worthy of God's judgment.

Do you envy? Does someone else have or possess something you want for yourself alone? You are living a life of sin. Do you purposely generate the envy of those around you? You also are living a life of sin.

II Envy is Destructive

A In more than one place the Bible warns us against the sin of envy. It tells us about the consequences of envy and generating envy:

(Job 5:2) Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.

(Prov 14:30) A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

(James 3:16) For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

To put it simply, envy is destructive. The church fathers of the Middle Ages tell us that envy is one of the seven deadly sins that can lead to the everlasting destruction of hell fire. Unchecked envy can alienate a person from God as well as his fellow man. And, Paul tells us those who envy "will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21).

B We see unchecked envy in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph's brothers envied his coat, they envied his dreams of position and grandeur, they envied the love their father gave him. Joseph's brothers envied him. So what did they do? Scripture tells us "they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him." And, when given the opportunity, they sold him as a slave to Ishmaelite traders. Their envy resulted in years of unresolved grief, pain, and anguish for their father and almost brought him to a premature grave.

C The Bible abounds with other examples of envy and its dire consequences. I think of the story of Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel because he envied the favor which Abel gained in the eyes of God (Gen 4:5). The plans of Saul to kill David resulted from Saul's envy of David's popularity (1 Sam 18:6-9). And, it is out of envy that the scribes and Pharisees had Jesus crucified (Mt 27:18).

III Envy Overcome

A Envy is evil. Envy is destructive. As Paul makes clear in Galatians 5, envy is one of the acts of our old sinful nature. But as people who have been born-again by the Spirit of God, we are not to live according to our earthly nature; rather, we are to live and walk according to the Spirit. We have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. Therefore, we are to consider ourselves as having died to sin and been raised to righteousness (Rom 6:1-14; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 4:17-5:21; Col 3:1-17). This means, congregation, that envy has no place in our lives and ought not to be found in the church.

B We are to overcome envy. How are we to do that? When all around us people have or possess what we want for ourselves, how can we keep ourselves from envy? The first thing we can mention is the tools the Spirit uses to make us more and more like Christ. For it is only by becoming like Christ that we can leave behind us the sins which are so deadly to our souls. You want to overcome envy? You want to overcome any of the sins of the old nature? It always has to start off with the Spirit's tools and the Spirit's help: prayer, Bible reading, worship, Bible study, the fellowship of other believers.

C We are to overcome envy. How are we to do that? The second thing we can mention is that we should stop looking at our neighbor and should look instead at ourselves. There is a little song that we sing that speaks to this. You know the words: "Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done." That's what we have to do. Instead of looking at the goods and talents God has given to our neighbor, we ought to look at what God has given to us. We have to recognize the many blessings and opportunities God has given to us.

A good contemporary example here is Joni Eareckson Tada. She became a quadriplegic as the result of a diving accident. A life of sports, travel, and fun seemed to be over. The promise of a professional career and a happy marriage appeared to be gone. She was confined to a wheelchair for life instead of being free to live the happy life she had anticipated for herself.

How easy it would have been for Joni to envy others who were able-bodied. How easy it would have been for Joni's envy to make her into an angry, bitter person.

Instead of looking at and envying those around her, Joni looked at herself and counted the many blessings and opportunities God had given her. She discovered that because of the horrible thing which had happened to her, she was equipped to minister to other handicapped persons in a way that is impossible for those who are not disabled. Furthermore, she has been a source of inspiration and perseverance for countless believers facing trials and afflictions.

D We are to overcome envy. How are we to do that? The third thing we can mention is contentment. We are to be content with the goods, talents, and opportunities God has given to us. We are to realize that each of us is called to joyfully serve God in the place that He has put us.

E We are to overcome envy. How are we to do that? The fourth thing we can mention is goals and priorities. If you find yourself filled with envy, if you find yourself purposely generating envy, perhaps the problem is wrong goals and priorities. Don't forget, the goal of our lives is not treasure on earth, but treasure in heaven. Our purpose is not to accumulate goods and honors but to live a life of service.


Joseph's brothers were filled with envy. Therefore "they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him."

Beware, congregation, of the evil of envy. Beware, because envy is destructive. Beware, because envy can lead to the everlasting destruction of hell fire. Beware, because unchecked envy can alienate a person from God as well as his fellow man.

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