Some years back, as our church was studying through the Book of 1 Samuel, we saw the beginning of Saul being gripped by the sin of envy and oh what an ugly picture it was! Envy quickly led Saul down a path of incredible evil. In 1 Samuel 18 we only see the beginning of that slippery slope but even there the malignant poison of jealousy led him to take his spear into his hand and hurl it at David (twice!) even while David’s hands were ministering to him on the harp.
It was nonsensical. David had done him no harm. But that didn’t matter to Saul; all that mattered was removing the person who was stealing potential limelight and adoration. Saul became obsessed. He became relentless. His mental acumen was continually leveraged to devise ways of having David murdered.
I wonder if Saul’s behavior ever made him wonder: “How did I get here?”
Envy is not only problematic because it is a sin against the Lord of glory but also because of where the Scripture shows us it leads. Cain envied Abel and it lead to murder. Joseph’s brothers envied him and that almost led to murder. Saul envied David and that lead to numerous attempts at murder. In Acts 5:17 we’re told that the chief priest and Sadducees were filled with jealousy towards the apostles and they persecuted them. Acts 13:45 tells us that when the Jews saw Paul and Barnabas preaching to the multitudes in Antioch they were filled with envy and subsequently raised a persecution against them. Even the Son of God was handed over to be crucified because of envy. In Matthew 27:17 and Mark 15:10 we’re told that Pilate knew it was because of envy that the chief priests handed Jesus over to be crucified.
James calls any logic, or so-called wisdom, that leads to envy devilish (Jas 3:14-15). He goes on to say that where you find envy and selfish ambition you have disorder and every evil practice (vs.16).
Envy goes places that cause damage and destruction and death.
And, even if it’s kept secret, Proverbs tells us, “envy is rottenness to the bones” (Prov 14:30b).
Nobody wins with envy.
But here’s the good news…
Jesus was the victim of envy so you and I could be free from it (Gal. 1:4; Titus. 2:14).
So when envy pops up in your mind, in whatever form it takes – envying another person’s success, another person’s possessions, another person’s health, or looks, or abilities, or circumstances, or family, or children – remember where it led King Saul, where it led others, and where others led Jesus. And then, having recognized the intruder, remember that among the reasons for which Jesus died was so that envy would not have dominion over you. Recognize it. Flee from it. And rejoice in Spirit-given power to do both of those things (Rom. 6:14).
And finally, by way of practical instruction, don’t envy, instead, love. Love does not envy (1 Cor. 13:4). Therefore, when you are tempted to envy someone, overcome the temptation to envy by praying for him or her. Pray that they would be drawn near to Christ. Pray that God would do great works in their life. Pray that God would use them, work in them, and bear fruit through them. Replace envy with prayer that is desirous to see God do good to that person and to see God glorified in that person.
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