Seven Deadly Sins: Envy: "You Shall Not Covet!"

Proverbs 24:1-9

Do not envy the wicked,
  nor desire to be with them; 
for their minds devise violence,
  and their lips talk of mischief. 

By wisdom a house is built,
  and by understanding it is established; 
by knowledge the rooms are filled
  with all precious and pleasant riches. 
Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones,
  and those who have knowledge than those who have strength; 
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
  and in abundance of counsellors there is victory. 
Wisdom is too high for fools;
  in the gate they do not open their mouths. 

Whoever plans to do evil
  will be called a mischief-maker. 
The devising of folly is sin,
  and the scoffer is an abomination to all. 

Adventures in parenting: What to do when kids fight over toys. I have no idea. "It's mine!" "I had it first!" "Whack!" "Bam!" I step in, make a judgment on who gets the toy, offer the prize to the winner, and... 30 seconds later it's left on the floor, forgotten, as the next battle begins. "DAD!!" We're halfway through the Seven Deadly Sins series now, and today we'll discuss Envy. Now, let's get one thing straight: envy is not the same as jealousy, though we often use them interchangeably. Jealousy is motivated by fear. Fear of losing what belongs to us. Envy is wanting something that does not belong to us. Jealousy is an inward urge to protect what is ours; Envy is an outward urge to take from others. 

Think of some of the biblical stories we've mentioned in the series: We spoke about Adam and Eve in the message about Pride, the selfish drive to become more powerful than the already are. What made the fruit all of the sudden so appetizing? Envy. They were forbidden to eat it. It was the one thing they could not count as their own. Joseph's brothers sold him to slavery- why? They envied his favored position with their father- he was special; they were not. Cain murdered Abel because Abel's offering was accepted by God. He envied the acceptance Abel received. 

1 Kings 21 tells a brutal story of envy. King Ahab has ascended to the throne of Israel. He has wealth, power, prestige. But it's what he does not have that keeps him awake at night: the small vineyard near the castle walls. Naboth owned that vineyard- indeed, it had been in his family for generations. It wasn't the most beautiful, largest vineyard around.  But it was his, and he was proud if it. But the king demanded it. Ahab even offered another vineyard- a bigger, better one. He wanted this one because of its proximity to the castle- but also because he felt like he should get whatever he wanted- even if it didn't belong to him. Especially if it didn't belong to him. So he made Naboth an offer he couldn't refuse. Except he did. Over and over. He told King Ahab this was his ancestral land- a lasting connection to his family, which he filled intended to pass on to his own family. Ahab knew he had no recourse once the offer was rejected. So he moped. When his wife Jezebel heard his whining and could take it no more, she ordered Naboth killed- a lie about insurrection- and brought the deed of property to her husband. This treachery led to  the King's own destruction. For his Envy. 

Ahab violated the 10th commandment: "You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor." Covet is another word for envy. Looking upon something that is not yours- another's spouse, their home, whatever- and wanting it so badly that you can't stop obsessing over it. Envy is often listed among lists of dangerous behaviors. Romans 1:29-31 "They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters,* insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless." Specific for Envy, check out James 3:14, 16: "If you have bitter envy and  selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. For where there is envy and selfish ambition there will be disorder and wickedness of every kind." Dangerous, ugly stuff!

What's the big deal, you say? Well, Envy at its most basic level is a lack of awareness of what God has done for us. Being envious of others means we feel a sense of dissatisfaction. Ahab is a king with limitless properties, wealth and power- but not enough for his appetite. Envious folk cannot say "Thank you." All they can say is, "This isn't good enough." "More." Envy makes even the richest among us poor, because we do not have enough. Our focus is on our own desires, not God, and certainly not God's desires. Even Jesus' disciples argued about which one was greatest- none of us is immune from envy. 

The writer of Psalm 73 struggled with envy too, ultimately resting in God's goodness and judgment:

Truly God is good to the upright,
  to those who are pure in heart. 
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
  my steps had nearly slipped. 
For I was envious of the arrogant;
  I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

For they have no pain;
  their bodies are sound and sleek. 
They are not in trouble as others are;
  they are not plagued like other people. 
Therefore pride is their necklace;
  violence covers them like a garment. 
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
  their hearts overflow with follies. 
They scoff and speak with malice;
  loftily they threaten oppression. 
They set their mouths against heaven,
  and their tongues range over the earth. 

Therefore the people turn and praise them,
  and find no fault in them. 
And they say, ‘How can God know?
  Is there knowledge in the Most High?’ 
Such are the wicked;
  always at ease, they increase in riches. 
All in vain I have kept my heart clean
  and washed my hands in innocence. 
For all day long I have been plagued,
  and am punished every morning. 

If I had said, ‘I will talk on in this way’,
  I would have been untrue to the circle of your children. 
But when I thought how to understand this,
  it seemed to me a wearisome task, 
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
  then I perceived their end. 
Truly you set them in slippery places;
  you make them fall to ruin. 
How they are destroyed in a moment,
  swept away utterly by terrors! 
They are like a dream when one awakes;
  on awaking you despise their phantoms. 

When my soul was embittered,
  when I was pricked in heart, 
I was stupid and ignorant;
  I was like a brute beast towards you. 
Nevertheless I am continually with you;
  you hold my right hand. 
You guide me with your counsel,
  and afterwards you will receive me with honour. 
Whom have I in heaven but you?
  And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail,
  but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. 

Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
  you put an end to those who are false to you. 
But for me it is good to be near God;
  I have made the Lord God my refuge,
  to tell of all your works.

Jesus said, "Strive first for the kingdom of God, and all these other things will be given to you as well." Envy strives only after the kingdom of Frank! Jesus also challenged us to love our neighbors as ourselves. What would a loving neighbor do when her neighbor receives a promotion? Congratulate her! What would a loving neighbor do when his neighbor comes home with the car he wants so bad but cannot afford? Celebrate! Paul wrote: "Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment."

"Envy cannot grow in a thankful heart." -William Stafford  " Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant." -Paul (1 Corinthians 13:4). We will always struggle with envy. We will be tempted with advertising. Our neighbor will come home with the thing we want. The coworker will get the promotion we deserve. On its own envy is not harmful. It's when our desire overwhelms our judgment that we get into trouble.  The best way to overcome is to be grateful for what we have. Honor God in everything we do, and sin will not overwhelm us.