Envy is like a fly that passes all the body’s sounder parts, and dwells upon the sores. – Arthur Chapman
There is a sin that nobody in our world really wants to discuss. It’s the fashionable sin, that fuels our great social movements and has become an engine of our politics.
It’s the sin of envy. We love to talk about greed. I mean if you google the word, “greed” you’ll get a thousands sermons, news articles, political speeches, blog posts, etc. We assume that anyone who is wealthy is greedy, simply because we attach greed to success as if the poor can’t have bad attitudes about money.
Now, to be sure, greed is a horrific problem. And there are some in positions of power and wealth who have money as their god. But greed’s cousin, envy, is just as powerful a master, only it is disguised in more noble clothing. Envy masquerades as populism. Just listen to some of the ways we talk today. If a certain CEO makes a lot of money, we call it injustice because WE can’t have it. If a politician is in a position of power, we hate him because he is where he is and I am where I’m at. If a popular pastor gets more popular, we have to go digging for doctrinal sins to discredit him and thereby bring him to our level. We can’t abide someone else having something we don’t have.
Envy is an insidious sin. And yet we don’t preach about it. We don’t warn of it’s dangers. Instead, we let it have its reign in our culture, because it drives our economy. Watch the commercials on prime-time TV. What is at the heart of every single one? Is it not envy? Is it not the lie that “You deserve this new thing. You’ve worked hard. Why shouldn’t you have what others have?”
As followers of Jesus, we should rightly eschew greed. And we should promote justice, we should get our hands dirty and serve the poor. We should work hard to alleviate human suffering. But we must make sure envy doesn’t fuel our activism. We must ensure that we are not preaching a false gospel to the downtrodden that says: “God has been unfair to you. Others have what you don’t have. Jesus will even the score.”
The real gospel offers something richer than envy. It offers new and abundant life in Christ. It offers a hope that transcends the cheap, plastic euphoria that earthly possessions promise. It offers God Himself, in the Person of Jesus. It offers an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:7). When we get to Heaven, no blood-bought, ransomed sinner will every say, “Wasn’t it a shame I didn’t have as much money as Bill Gates?” No, likely, we’ll say, “Can you believe we longed for such fleeting idols?”
Let’s not stop preaching against greed. But let’s also not forget to preach against envy. Let’s be glad for the wealth God has granted to others. Let’s be thankful for what we have, whether great or small. Let’s welcome the rich into our churches without assuming they are criminals. Let’s give our money to the poor without attaching the soul-destroying bacteria of envy. Let’s find our pleasure in Jesus only. Let’s point people to that pleasure and not temporary pleasures in other’s possessions.
Yes, let’s ask the Spirit to eradicate this sin, the one about which no one will speak.