23. Envy

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.23

Psa 68:16 Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever?

Again we consider a question which is not so much one of God, but one generally, but it still produces much fruit by considering it. Envy is the begrudging of what someone else has got, wishing you had it. Envy is a dissatisfaction with what you have in the light of what someone else has. Envy is one of the signs of insecurity, of not being content with who you are when you look at others. Envy, if we let it grow and fester, leads us to malign others or do wrong to them. It was said of Pilate in respect of the religious authorities handing Jesus over to him, “he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mt 27:18) James warned, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (Jas 3:16). Do you see there, James links it with selfish ambition? That’s its close cousin!

In case we weren’t sure, Jesus in his teaching clearly condemned envy as an evil: “What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.” (Mk 7:20-23). Paul likewise placed envy alongside lots of other clearly wrong things, things that come from the old sinful nature: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.(Gal 5:19-21).

Now that we are quite clear in our minds about envy we are ready to consider the question today. The Psalm is one of rejoicing over the works of God in delivering and establishing Israel. In v.7 it speaks of God leading the people through the desert from Sinai (v.8). The Lord blessed the new land (v.9,10) and kings fled before Israel (v.12), and the Lord chose Mount Zion as His dwelling place (v.16), the place from which He will reign. The psalmist imagines other bigger mountains in the land being envious of Mount Zion as being the place of His choice for a sanctuary (v.17) where He may dwell (v.18).

The impression that is given is that some of the other mountains, as we said, are bigger, yet it is here the Lord has chosen. The first lesson is not to be envious of others because He has chosen them to do something He hasn’t asked of you. The Lord’s choice is the Lord’s choice and it is always the best choice. It is simply that for some reason that perhaps He alone knows, this other person is a better choice for the role than you, even though you may have other more obvious gifts. Zion was the site of Jerusalem and that was the place over all others that the Lord had chosen for His temple. We don’t know why but it just was. We must learn to rejoice in what God has given us and be at peace in that, not getting upset because it is different from someone else we know.

Another close cousin of envy is jealousy. Saul became jealous of David when he saw the blessing of God on him bringing the adoration of the people: “from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.” (1 Sam 18:9). Saul couldn’t rejoice in this young man’s blessing because he was insecure in his own role that had gone wrong. Each one of us needs to know who we are and what God has gifted us with and be at peace in that. The apostle Paul wrote a lot about us being all one body and the body is made up of lots of different members, each of which is important (1 Cor 12). Envy is the inability to accept your gifting and role in the body when you see it next to others who you consider more gifted or more fortunate. Rejoice in the gifting of others that God has given them and enjoy them. The verse gives us a subtle warning in the question, against measuring ourselves against others.

But there is another side to this. Others will be envious of us. If they saw Jesus and were envious of him, as we noted above, then people will be envious of us, of the gifting that God gives us. Remember what we have said. It is a sign of their insecurity. We don’t have to feel bad about the gifting that God has given us, especially if others indicate their envy. As a leader, at various times in my life I have had those who challenged my role and said, “I ought to be leading this!” Leaders in the kingdom of God know they are what they are because God has called them to it and it’s only with His gifting can they do it. It is an uncomfortable place being out front; you become the first target for the enemy, and one way he will come is through the challenging words of others. The classic example of this was against Moses: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.” (Num 12:1,2). What they were basically saying was, “He’s just our brother. We’re just as good as him. Why should he be the leader?” Immediately after we read, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth,” and the inference is that he didn’t defend himself but left it to God, who promptly dealt with them.

It is clear from the account that Joseph’s brothers envied him: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” His father obviously loved him more than them and that they couldn’t cope with. That is how the enemy stirs up envy and subsequently strife; he takes a position where one of God’s children is being blessed more than others and then challenges them in the minds of the others. Beware envy, beware the enemy stirring it in you. Seek to be a peacemaker if others are envious of you. Let’s not give the enemy any room to move in us!

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