Rotten Envy

“Envy makes the bones rot…”
Proverbs 14:30

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.”

SDG

One in Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12–13

We have our annual congregational meeting tonight, a time to give thanks to God for His grace that has brought us thus far, and a time to recommit ourselves as a church to trusting in that same grace to lead us forward in ministry together.  

As I was preparing for my Pastor’s report for the meeting, I came upon my notes from when I read through Jerry Bridges’ book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia.  Bridges does a fantastic job of defining koinonia (a Greek word that is best translated as “fellowship”) to mean more than just the social activities of the church, but has more to do with the idea of community in Christ.

Bridges writes:

It is not the fact that we are united in common goals or purposes that makes us a community. Rather, it is the fact that we share a common life in Christ. There are many organizations, both secular and Christian, whose members work together to pursue common goals. Some of these groups may call themselves communities. But biblical community goes much deeper than sharing common goals, though it ultimately involves that. Biblical community is first of all the sharing of a common life in Christ. It is when we grasp this truth that we are in a position to begin to understand true community.

We share the life of Christ together as the Church.  It is wonderful to have a place that cares for you, that shares in the joys and sorrows of your life; a place where everyone knows your name.

But the Church, the true fellowship of Christ, must go deeper. The Church is one, not because of a shared interest in music, or because of the local projects and activities it offers. The Church is one because it is in Christ, and Christ must be at the center of our fellowship, of our life together. 

Bridges goes on to write:

How different is our present-day concept of fellowship? Take those typical times of “coffee fellowship.” We discuss everything else except the Scriptures. We talk about our jobs, our studies, our favorite sports teams, the weather — almost anything except what God is teaching us from His Word and through His workings in our lives. If we are to regain the New Testament concept of fellowship within the community, we must learn to get beyond the temporal issues of the day and begin to share with each other on a level that will enhance our spiritual relationships with one another and with God.

I am thankful to be able to serve Christ’s Church, and to serve a Church that loves to share in one another’s lives. Let’s be intentional about that this year. As we meet for fellowship, get caught up on the kids and their lives, but also be sure to ask about what the Lord has been teaching them as they’ve been reading Scripture this week, or what they learned from the sermon that morning.  Encourage one another to come to Bible Study or Sunday School, find out how you can be praying for one another.  Let us celebrate the blessing of being one in Christ, and may we grow in our shared life together.

Grace and peace!

Excerpts from: Bridges, Jerry. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia . Navpress. Kindle Edition.