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Confronting The Wolf Pack Of Envy

What is envy? Answer: “Envy is basically ill-will occasioned by looking at someone else’s superior position or advantages. It is sinful because, besides indicating discontent with God’s providence, it is contrary to love for our neighbor in that love rejoices at the good of others” (Derek Prime, Bible Answers, 2001: Christian Focus Publications, p. 278).

This week I listened to a sermon by Joe Rigney from Bethlehem Baptist Church, called “Winning the War Against Envy and Rivalry.” I highly recommend it to you. You can access the sermon here:

Or, if you prefer a shorter synopsis, here is a thirteen-minute podcast on the same theme:

Rigney contends that “envy, like all sins, hunts in a pack” - it keeps company with other sins of the flesh like covetousness, malice, rivalry, and resentment. It’s ugly and it’s far more pervasive than we realize. But praise God, it’s highly susceptible to the sword of the Spirit - and “it’s hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart.”

I’ve become freshly aware of my need to fight against this sin, and I’ve been looking for resources the Holy Spirit can use to help me mortify this insidious spiritual cancer. I believe that it’s impossible to nurture envy without diminishing oneself. The more we let this sin grow in us, the more it ends up taking away from us. As envy grows, our own personalities shrivel. It’s not to be trifled with, because as Tim Keller says, “Envy starts as a headache, but so do brain tumors.” This sin is malignant!

This Advent season, as we look back on the astonishing humility of God the Son who stripped himself of all his rights and privileges and “made himself of no reputation” in order to lift us up to the heights of his throne, let us seek to cultivate the mind of Christ: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…” (Phil. 2:3-7a).

And as we look forward during Advent to the dawning of the great Day of Christ’s Return, let us set our hope on the glory that will be revealed to us then - and may that hope inspire us to put to death the selfish “glory-grabbing” that fuels so much envy, rivalry, and resentment.

The gospel is powerful to destroy envy at it’s root. In the words of Joe Rigney:

“God’s glad-hearted approval of us in Christ is what frees us from being defined by the blessings and opportunities of others. God’s warm-hearted embrace of us in his Son delivers us from petty enslavement to the gifts and abilities of our friends and family. The soul-enlarging grace of God enables us to say:

I do not need to grasp for the talents and gifts of others. I do not need to covet my neighbor’s spouse, house, family, ministry, or opportunities. I am not defined by the abilities of others; I am defined by the grace of God. Therefore, I will refuse to measure myself by a false standard. I will resist the compulsive and relentless urge to compete with everyone under the sun (especially those who are called to do the same things that I am). I will put to death malicious dreams about the downfall and failure of others by savoring the sure knowledge that God is lavish in grace and that he has promised to graciously, freely, and abundantly give to me and them all things in his Beloved Son” [Joe Rigney, “Envy Hunts in a Pack,”]

Grateful for God’s glad-hearted approval in Christ,

David Sunday