“Envy makes the bones rot…”
A couple of weeks ago I started reading through and writing about Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions – you can read the first two installments here and here. So far in his writings, Burroughs has focused on those inward causes of division, Pride and Self-Love, sins that plague the heart and mind and bring terrible division and rivalry in the Church. Today, he turns his attention might be considered the offspring of unchecked pride and self-love: Envy.
Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we desire for ourselves.” Envy only awakens in us when, from a lack of contentment with God’s blessings, we see the success and achievement of those around us and become embittered and resentful. Burroughs points out that envy was the first sin, “not the first-born of the devil,” but that which caused the division between Cain and Abel.
Envy is born in a heart that looks more to man than to God. Jerry Bridges writes in his book, Respectable Sins, “An insurance salesman is not likely to envy a professional athlete who earns a multi-million dollar salary. But he may well envy another salesman who sells more insurance than he does. A pastor of a small- or medium-size church is not likely to envy the mega-church pastor. But he may be tempted to envy the pastor down the street whose church is growing more than his.” When we compare ourselves to those around us, rather than looking to our God, the source of every good and perfect gift, then envy emerges. Burroughs goes on to show the ramifications of envy in our hearts:
“Envy divides counsels, in instruments, actions, and in all proceedings; she will make use of good to oppose that which is good; if she cannot raise evil men to oppose good, she will seek to get good men to oppose; she would make God contrary to himself, she would strike at God with his own sword. “Some preach Christ out of envy (Phil 1:14).”
What really caught me was a quote at the beginning of this chapter, which led me to find other old proverbs on envy, which I thought I’d share a few here:
- Envy is a squint-eyed fool.
- As a moth gnaws a garment, so does envy consume a man – Chrysostom
- Envy is blind and is only clever in depreciating the virtues of others – Livy
- The envious man grows lean on the success of his neighbors – Horace
- Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own – Coffin
What then, is the cure for Envy? Burroughs first has us look to Barnabas. In Acts 11, certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene traveled to Antioch and began to preach the Lord Jesus to the people there, and a great number of people came to the Lord. Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch to see this for himself. Rather than grow resentful and envious of their success, we are told that Barnabas rejoiced, for he saw the grace of God, and encouraged them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. Barnabas was free from envy, the Scripture says, “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
When we rest and are secure in our salvation in Jesus Christ, knowing who we are in Him and how our salvation is the gracious gift of God for us, all envy and bitter rivalry will fade away.
“No men are so fit for public service as those who can bless God that He is pleased to make use of others as well as them, even beyond themselves. It was a good spirit of that gracious, holy, old disciple, Mr. Dod, “I would to God,” said he, “I were the worst minister in England;” not wishing himself worse than he was, but all ministers better.”