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A study of God’s Love from 1 Corinthians #17 Love is not Jealous (does not envy)

16 Jan

JEALOUS: Synonyms and Related Words. What is Another Word for JEALOUS? - GrammarTOP.com

A Jealous God

Love does not envy (zeloi): is not jealous; does not have feelings against others because of what they have, such as gifts, position, friends, recognition, possessions, popularity, abilities. Love does not begrudge or attack or downplay the abilities and success of others. Love shares and joys and rejoices in the experience and good of others.

Jealousy is self-centered, miserable, and mean-spirited. A jealous individual cannot enjoy his food if someone else has tastier food. He cannot enjoy his possessions if another person has more. He cannot enjoy success if a companion is more successful. Jealousy affects a person’s life, his relationships with others, and his relationship with God. Because of jealousy, Cain killed his brother (Genesis 4:1–8). Because of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:11). Because of envy, the Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate (see Matthew 27:18). The KJV refers to envy as “rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). One paraphrase says, “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life; jealousy rots it away” (LB).

Here is the first of eight negative descriptions of love. Love is not jealous. Love and jealousy are mutually exclusive. Where one is, the other cannot be. Shakespeare called jealousy the “green sickness.” It also has been called “the enemy of honor” and “the sorrow of fools.” Jesus referred to it as “an evil eye” (Matt. 20:15, kjv).

Jealousy, or envy, has two forms. One form says, “I want what someone else has.” If they have a better car than we do, we want it. If they are praised for something they do, we want the same or more for ourselves. That sort of jealousy is bad enough. A worse kind says, “I wish they didn’t have what they have” (see Matt. 20:1-16).

The second sort of jealousy is more than selfish; it is desiring evil for someone else. It is jealousy on the deepest, most corrupt, and destructive level. That is the jealousy Solomon uncovered in the woman who pretended to be a child’s mother. When her own infant son died, she secretly exchanged him for the baby of a friend who was staying with her.

The true mother discovered what had happened and, when their dispute was taken before the king, he ordered the baby to be cut in half, a half to be given to each woman. The true mother pleaded for the baby to be spared, even if it meant losing possession of him. The false mother, however, would rather have had the baby killed than for the true mother to have him (1 Kings 3:16-27).

One of the hardest battles a Christian must fight is against jealousy. There is always someone who is a little better or who is potentially a little better than you are. We all face the temptation to jealousy when someone else does something better than we do. The first reaction of the flesh is to wish that person ill.

The root meaning of zēloō (“to be jealous“) is “to have a strong desire,” and is the term from which we get zeal. It is used both favorably and unfavorably in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 the meaning is clearly unfavorable, which is why 12:31, part of the immediate context, should be taken as a statement of fact (“you are now earnestly desiring the greater, or showier, gifts”) and not a command to seek “the greater gifts.” The Greek word there translated “earnestly desire” is the same as that translated here is… jealous. One of the basic principles of hermeneutics is that identical terms appearing in the same context should be translated identically.

When love sees someone who is popular, successful, beautiful, or talented, it is glad for them and never jealous or envious. While Paul was imprisoned, probably in Rome, some of the younger preachers who then served where he had ministered were trying to outdo the apostle out of envy. They were so jealous of Paul’s reputation and accomplishments that, with their criticism, they intended to cause him additional “distress” while he suffered in prison. But Paul did not resent their freedom, their success, or even their jealousy. Though he did not condone their sin, he would not return envy for envy, but was simply glad that the gospel was being preached, whatever the motives (Phil. 1:15-17). He knew the message was more powerful than the messenger, and that it could transcend weak and jealous preachers in order to accomplish God’s purpose.

Jealousy is not a moderate or harmless sin. It was Eve’s jealousy of God, sparked by her pride, to which Satan successfully appealed. She wanted to be like God, to have what He has and to know what He knows. Jealousy was an integral part of that first great sin, from which all other sin has descended. The next sin mentioned in Genesis is murder, caused by Cain’s jealousy of Abel. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of jealousy Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because of the jealousy of his fellow officials in Babylon. Jealousy caused the elder brother to resent the father’s attention to the prodigal son. And there are many more biblical illustrations of the same kind.

“Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov. 27:4). In its extreme, jealousy has a viciousness shared by no other sin. “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart,” says James, “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16). Selfish ambition, which is fueled by jealousy, is often clever and successful. But its “wisdom” is demonic and its success is destructive.

In stark contrast to the many accounts of jealousy in Scripture is the story of Jonathan’s love for David. David not only was a greater and more popular warrior than Jonathan but was a threat to the throne that Jonathan normally would have inherited. Yet we are told of nothing but Jonathan’s great respect and love for his friend David, for whom he would willingly have sacrificed not only the throne but his life. “He loved him (David] as he loved his own life” (1 Sam. 20:17). Jonathan’s father, Saul, lost his throne and his blessing because of his jealousy, primarily of David. Jonathan willingly forsook the throne and received a greater blessing, because he would have nothing of jealousy.

Eliezer of Damascus was the heir to Abram’s estate, because Abram had no son (Gen. 15:2). When Isaac was born, however, and Eliezer lost the privileged inheritance, his love for Abram and Isaac never wavered (see Gen. 24). A loving person is never jealous. He is glad for the success of others, even if their success works against his own.

“Envy” refers to strong jealousy of another person. The envious person desires what another person has. This seems to have been a particular problem in Corinth—those with “lesser” gifts envied those with “greater” gifts. The seed of envy can lead to seething anger and hatred. Those who are too busy envying each other’s gifts are unlikely to be using their own gifts in loving service to God and others. Envy stagnates the church, causing the envious believers to remain self-centered and self-focused, feeling sorry for themselves, and not fulfilling their God-given role. When there is love, believers will gladly use whatever gifts they have been given to work together for the advance of God’s kingdom. They will be glad that others have different gifts so that the entire job can get done.

Before we rush to trivialize these words about love by assuming they can easily fit us, let’s stop to consider that they actually describe God’s character. These are not sugary claims. They are hard-edged descriptions of God’s perfection-in-relationship. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostle to write a breathtakingly beautiful description of the nature of God. Only God can put His character in us. Neil Wilson

It has been said that there are really only two classes of people in this world-“those who are millionaires and those who would like to be.”  There are two kinds of envy.  The one covets the possessions of other people; and such envy is very difficult to avoid because it is a very human thing.  The other is worse-it grudges the very fact that others should have what it has not; it does not so much want things for itself as wish that others had not got them.  Meanness of soul can sink no further than that.

Love is not jealous. Jealousy or envy is resenting another person because of what they have or how they have succeeded. Envy possessively wants what somebody else has. Love, in contrast, is glad for somebody who is popular or successful or beautiful or talented or married or have children….the list could go on and on.

Jealousy is a feeling of displeasure caused by the prosperity of another, coupled with a desire to wrest the advantage from the person who is the object of one’s envy. The loving person will rejoice at the success of others. Jealousy has destroyed many a home and church.

We have a variety of people from an equally varied set of circumstances here today. Often we’re disappointed with the direction our life is taking, especially if you are a single Christian who would like to be married but have not yet found that Christian mate.

In despair and frustration, we often allow similar circumstances to cause a “flicker” to occur in our attitude. And this can become a problem: for what is a flicker today can turn into a fire tomorrow.

Suppose you spotted a flame in your house. Not a blaze and certainly not a fire, but tiny tongues of heat dancing on the hem of a curtain, on the fringe of the carpet, to the side of the stove. What would you do? How would you react? Would you shrug your shoulders and walk away, saying, “A little fire never hurt any house.”

Of course not. You’d put it out. Douse it, stamp it, cover it—anything but allow it. You would not tolerate a maverick flame in your house. Why? Because you know the growth pattern of fire. What is born in innocence is deadly in adolescence. Left untended, fire consumes all that is consumable. You know, for the sake of your house, you don’t play with fire.

For the sake of your heart, the same is true. A warning should be offered about the fire in the heart, which, left unchecked, can burst into a hungry flame and consume all that is consumable. The name of the fire? Solomon tagged it. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire” ( Song of Sol. 8:6 rsv ).

Paul was equally aggressive in his declaration. “Love does not envy” ( 1 Cor. 13:4 nkjv ). No doubt he’d read about and seen the results of unmanaged jealousy.

Here is the first of eight negative descriptions of love. Love is not jealous.  Love and jealousy are mutually exclusive. Where one is, the other cannot be.  Shakespeare called jealousy the “green sickness.” It also has been called “the  enemy of honor” and “the sorrow of fools.” Jesus referred to it as “an evil eye”  (Matt. 20:15, KJV).

Jealousy, or envy, has two forms. One form says, “I want what someone else  has.” If they have a better car than we do, we want it. If they are praised for  something they do, we want the same or more for ourselves. That sort of jealousy  is bad enough.

A worse kind says, “I wish they didn’t have what they have” (see  Matt. 20:1-16). The second sort of jealousy is more than selfish; it is desiring evil  for someone else. It is jealousy on the deepest, most corrupt, and destructive  level.

Look at Joseph’s brothers. They started out taunting and teasing Joseph. Harmless sibling rivalry. But then the flicker became a flame. “His brothers were jealous of him” ( Gen. 37:11 niv ). Soon it was easier to dump Joseph into a pit than see him at the dinner table. Before long, Joseph was in Egypt, the brothers were in cahoots, and Jacob, the father, was in the dark. He thought his boy was dead. All because of envy.

And what about the Pharisees? Were they evil men? Criminals? Thugs? No, they were the pastors and teachers of their day. Little League coaches and carpool partners. But what did they do with Jesus? “They had handed Him over because of envy” ( Matt. 27:18 nkjv ).

Solomon uncovered in the woman who pretended to be  a child’s mother. When her own infant son died, she secretly exchanged him for  the baby of a friend who was staying with her. The true mother discovered what  had happened and, when their dispute was taken before the king, he ordered the  baby to be cut in half, a half to be given to each woman. The true mother pleaded  for the baby to be spared, even if it meant losing possession of him. The false  mother, however, would rather have had the baby killed than for the true mother  to have him (1 Kings 3:16-27).

One of the hardest battles a Christian must fight is against jealousy. There is  always someone who is a little better or who is potentially a little better than you  are. We all face the temptation to jealousy when someone else does something  better than we do. The first reaction of the flesh is to wish that person ill.

The root meaning “to be jealous” is “to have a strong desire,”  and is the term from which we get zeal. It is used both favorably and unfavorably  in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 the meaning is clearly unfavorable, which is  why 12:31, part of the immediate context, should be taken as a statement of fact  (“you are now earnestly desiring the greater, or showier, gifts”) and not a  command to seek “the greater gifts.”

Jealousy is a term which conveys “earnest desire.” It can be a good desire or a bad desire. In our text, the desire is bad. We might define jealousy here as “a sadness or sorrow on my part, due to the success of another.” Jealousy causes me pain when someone else feels pleasure. It is the kind of feeling a person feels when his or her competitor wins.

Asaph confesses his jealousy of his fellow Israelites in Psalm 73, and David warns of being jealous of the wicked in Psalm 37:1. Cain is jealous of Abel’s acceptance (Genesis 4:1-8), and Haman is jealous of Mordecai’s success (Esther 6). Saul is jealous of David and his success (1 Samuel 18:7), so much so that he seeks to kill him. The scribes and Pharisees are jealous of Jesus’ popularity and power over the people (Matthew 27:18). Peter is concerned about John’s fate in comparison with his own (John 21).

Jealousy is incompatible with love for a very good reason. Love seeks the benefit and well-being (edification) of another, so much so that it is willing to make a personal sacrifice to facilitate it. When others prosper at our expense, this is precisely what love intends. Jealousy is not consistent with love. Jealousy would rather prosper at the expense of the other, and so when another prospers, jealousy results where love is absent.

The gospel is the supreme example of love, in contrast to jealousy. God made the ultimate sacrifice in the death of His Son, to bring about our salvation. The Lord Jesus sacrificed Himself for our salvation, paying the ultimate price His own blood. If this kind of sacrifice was required to bring about our salvation, how can we regret God’s blessing on others? Ironically, because Christians are a part of the body of Christ, the prosperity of one member is not at the expense of the rest of the body, but for the benefit of the whole body (see 1 Corinthians 12:26).

Someone might protest, “But isn’t God jealous? Why can’t Christians be jealous if God is a jealous God?” There is a great difference between our jealousy and God’s. God is jealous over that which belongs to Him. We are jealous over that which belongs to someone else and not to us. God is jealous over what He has; we are jealous over what we do not have that someone else does have. There are times when we can exemplify godly jealousy (see 2 Corinthians 11:2), but this is not what Paul has in mind in our text.

Jealousy is quite prevalent in the church at Corinth. The Corinthians are jealous of the gifts and ministries of their fellow-believers. Some despise their own gifts and calling and wish to have the gifts and ministries of others. They seem to be jealous of those visible and verbal ministries. They even seem to be jealous of Paul’s time which he spends in ministry to others. In both 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul has to speak to the issue of his absence which some seemed to resent: “If Paul really cared about us, he would spend more time with us.”

Sadly, Christians today manifest the same kinds of jealousy. We are jealous of the (apparent) success of others in business and in the church. Some can be jealous of those who are given a leadership position in the church. We can be jealous of those who appear to be (or at least claim to be) more spiritual than we are. I see a great deal of jealousy in the ministry. We may be jealous of the success of others in ministry or the opportunity to speak in the meeting/seminar circuit. We may be jealous of the salary, the prestige, or the size of church others might have. All of this betrays a lack of love and the sacrificing, servant spirit which love engenders.

Jealousy may be among us in other ways. First, we may be guilty of provoking people to jealousy by distorting the gospel which we preach and share with others. Consider these words of the apostle Paul:

3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment (1 Timothy 6:3-6).

Paul specifically identifies envy as one of the evils in this text (verse 4). I believe Paul establishes a connection between envy and greed and a distorted gospel. People may come into (or at least along side) the faith because they are given false expectations of what their conversion will produce. Some approach the Christian faith as a means of “getting ahead” in life, seeing the gospel as a “means of great gain.”

This is certainly possible when one listens to the “health-and-wealth gospeleers” who abound today, trying to lure people into the faith (or into their congregations or list of supporters) by promising them prosperity if they join their ranks.

When Jesus invited men to follow Him, He did not make sweeping promises of prosperity. Instead, He sought to dispel any misconceptions about His ministry by stressing discipleship and its cost, and by talking in terms of “taking up one’s cross.” Some in churches today who envy the success of others may have been tempted to do so by those who promised them prosperity rather than the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Let us preach the gospel as Jesus did and never seek to lure people into the faith with unbiblical bait (see 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2).

Second, we should view the “how to” books on Christian bookstore shelves in the light of jealousy. Why do those who are apparently successful write books so the rest of us can be successful too? Why are the “how to be successful” books so popular, outselling books of real substance and value? I fear that the answer is “jealousy.” As we buy or read these books, why do we wish to be “successful” like the author? Perhaps it is because we are hopeful of the same success.

Buying or reading “how to be successful like me” books can be wrong for several reasons. We must carefully consider whether we are doing so out of jealousy (of that person’s success) rather than out of a sincere desire to be faithful to our Lord and good stewards of our gifts and calling. It is also wrong if we are trying to be just like someone else, to duplicate their ministry rather than to fulfill the unique role God has given us. It may be wrong because we assume that another’s success is the result of their “method,” rather than the sovereign blessing of God upon His work. Let us beware of trying to imitate others to be as successful as they appear to be.

When love sees someone who is popular, successful, beautiful, or talented, it  is glad for them and never jealous or envious. While Paul was imprisoned,  probably in Rome, some of the younger preachers who then served where he had  ministered were trying to outdo the apostle out of envy. They were so jealous of  Paul’s reputation and accomplishments that, with their criticism, they intended to  cause him additional “distress” while he suffered in prison.

But Paul did not  resent their freedom, their success, or even their jealousy. Though he did not  condone their sin, he would not return envy for envy, but was simply glad that  the gospel was being preached, whatever the motives (Phil. 1:15-17). He knew  the message was more powerful than the messenger, and that it could transcend  weak and jealous preachers in order to accomplish God’s purpose.

Jealousy is not a moderate or harmless sin. It was Eve’s jealousy of God,  sparked by her pride, to which Satan successfully appealed. She wanted to be like  God, to have what He has and to know what He knows. Jealousy was an integral  part of that first great sin, from which all other sin has descended. The next sin  mentioned in Genesis is murder, caused by Cain’s jealousy of Abel.

Joseph’s  brothers sold him into slavery because of jealousy Daniel was thrown into the  lion’s den because of the jealousy of his fellow officials in Babylon. Jealousy  caused the elder brother to resent the father’s attention to the prodigal son. And  there are many more biblical illustrations of the same kind.

“Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?”  (Prov. 27:4). In its extreme, jealousy has a viciousness shared by no other sin. “If  you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart,” says James, “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16). Selfish ambition, which is fueled by jealousy, is often clever and successful. But its “wisdom” is demonic and its success is destructive.

In stark contrast to the many accounts of jealousy in Scripture is the story of  Jonathan’s love for David. David not only was a greater and more popular warrior than Jonathan but was a threat to the throne that Jonathan normally would have inherited. Yet we are told of nothing but Jonathan’s great respect and love for his friend David, for whom he would willingly have sacrificed not only the throne but his life. “He loved him (David] as he loved his own life” (1 Sam. 20:17). Jonathan’s father, Saul, lost his throne and his blessing because of his jealousy, primarily of David. Jonathan willingly forsook the throne and received a greater blessing, because he would have nothing of jealousy.

Eliezer of Damascus was the heir to Abram’s estate, because Abram had no son (Gen. 15:2). When Isaac was born, however, and Eliezer lost the privileged inheritance, his love for Abram and Isaac never wavered (see Gen. 24). A loving person is never jealous. He is glad for the success of others, even if their success works against his own.

We find that problem even in ministry, when we hear of “the church across town” doing well and don’t respond with  praise for what God is doing in the lives of others in the kingdom.

It’s sickening. The Lord didn’t leave us to indulge in such territorialism for long. In a profound moment of conviction, he lets us know that the church is his church.

Our job is not to question him but to trust him. “Don’t be jealous.… Trust the Lord and do good” ( Ps.  7:1 , 3 ).

The cure for jealousy? Trust. The cause of jealousy? Distrust.

The sons of Jacob didn’t trust God to meet their needs. The Pharisees didn’t trust God to solve their problems. What are the consequences of envy?

Loneliness tops the list. Solomon says, “Anger is cruel and destroys like a flood, but no one can put up with jealousy!” ( Prov. 27:4 ). Who wants to hang out with a jealous fool? In a cemetery in England stands a grave marker with the inscription: SHE DIED FOR WANT OF THINGS. Alongside that marker is another, which reads: HE DIED TRYING TO GIVE THEM TO HER. [1]1

Sickness is another consequence. The wise man also wrote, “Peace of mind means a healthy body, but jealousy will rot your bones” ( Prov. 14:30 ).

Violence is the ugliest fruit. “You want something you don’t have, and you will do anything to get it. You will even kill!” ( James 4:2 cev ). “Jealousy,” informs Proverbs 6:34 , “enrages a man” ( nasb ).

The Jews used one word for jealousy, qua-nah. It meant “to be intensely red.” Let me ask you, have you seen such envy? Have you seen red-faced jealousy? Are you acquainted with the crimson forehead and the bulging veins? And—be honest now—have they appeared on your face?

God withholds what we desire in order to give us what we need. You desire a spouse; he gives you himself. You seek a larger church; he prefers a stronger church. You want to be healed so you can serve. He wants you confined so you can pray. Such is the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada. Three decades after a diving accident rendered her a quadriplegic, she and her husband, Ken, visited Jerusalem. Sitting in her wheelchair, she remembered the story of the paralytic Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda. Thirty years earlier she’d read the account and asked Jesus to do the same for her.

That day in Jerusalem she thanked God that he had answered a higher prayer. Joni now sees her chair as her prayer bench and her affliction as her blessing. Had he healed her legs, thousands of prayers would have been sacrificed to her busy life. She sees that now. She accepts that now. Jealousy was eclipsed by gratitude as she surrendered her will to his. [2]3

Facebook Envy

If we’re facebook friends, chances are I’ve been jealous of you. You, with your great vacation shots and funny one-liners about your husband and kids. If we’re facebook friends, you may have even been jealous of me. Me, with my life in a foreign country complete with exciting places to travel to and exotic foods to eat. “Facebook envy.” They’re starting to do studies on this hyperreality that is created by seeing exciting snippets of each other’s lives. Which parties have we missed? What else could life have held for us? Who posts more verses and is therefore godlier than us? What’s a Christian on facebook to do?

Charles L. Allen in The Miracle of Love writes of a fisherman friend who told him that one never needs a top for his crab basket. If one of the crabs starts to climb up the sides of the basket, the other crabs will reach up and pull it back down. Some people are a lot like crabs.

NOTES FOR PREACHERS AND TEACHERS: Some writers make a distinction between “envy” and “jealousy.” In this study, we treated them as synonyms. Others point out that the words translated “jealous” and “zealous” come from the same root. These points could be addressed, but most people understand what human jealousy is. Other passages on envy and jealousy include Numbers 16:1–40 (see Psalm 106:16–18); Acts 5:17; 13:45; 17:5; Romans 1:29; 13:8–14; 1 Corinthians 3:3 (see 1:12); 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:3; James 3:14, 16; 4:2.


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Others May, You Cannot

If God has called you to be really like Jesus, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon you such demands of obedience, that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Other Christians and ministers who seem very religious and useful, may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it; and if you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their success, of their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others may be allowed to succeed in making money, or may have a legacy left to them, but it is likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence on Him, that He may have the privilege of supplying your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hidden in obscurity, because He wants you to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade. He may let others be great, but keep you small. He may let others do a work for Him and get the credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing; and then to make your work still more precious, He may let others get the credit for the work which you have done, and thus make your reward ten times greater then Jesus comes.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch over you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over. So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has a right to do as He pleases with His own. He may not explain to you a thousand things which puzzle your reason in His dealings with you, but if you absolutely sell yourself to be His love slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and bestow upon you many blessings which come only to those who are in the inner circle.

Settle it forever, then, that you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that He does not seem to use with others. Now when you are so possessed with the loving God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of Heaven.

  1. D. Watson, in Living Words

 What is envy?

As something opposite of a loving spirit, what is it? What is the sin of envy?

1B. Explanation

At the very center of this evil is excessive desire. It is an attitude of the heart. It is a motive deep in the inner man. Additionally, it is excessive desire for something that you do not have. It may or may not be focused on material possessions. What is desired in this way may be some kind of notice and the inflation of the ego.

But this is still incomplete because envy does not function in a vacuum. If we liken envy to some warm coals, what is it that fans the coals into a flame? We all have the tendency to be envious as part of our sin nature. It is there, perhaps latent or dormant, just like the calm smoldering of warm coals. We should acknowledge this fact of its presence. But to my point, what fans it into turbulent flames? Envy is stirred up by comparing what we want but do not have with what others have. There is an “each other” dimension to envy (Gal. 5:26). It is personal: Scripture tells us to avoid envying one another. It is a person to person issue.

The hallmark of envy, its distinguishing feature, is oriented to this personal comparative aspect. I am envious when I dislike someone because he or she has what I want but lack in some comparative way. How this dislike manifests itself depends on many factors whether others are in some regard above us, equal to us or below us (in rank, annual salary, age, standing, and opportunities, etc.). Thus envy may manifest itself in a host of ways.

It is an internal attitude that underlies many external evil acts. This sin that is contrary to love is denounced in lists of evil practices that are very onerous and odious. In Galatians 5:26 envying is associated with provoking. Envying and provoking are acts of the sinful nature (5:19) along with things like enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions (5:20). Envy lies behind enmity or malice and it drives strife, quarreling, angry fits, and dissension. And Paul gives a very pointed warning to the effect that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21). In this light, Edwards says that envy is “ranked among the abominable works of the flesh” and it is thus a “hateful sin” that Christians practiced before they were redeemed; it is a sin that they should now confess and forsake (Charity 117). We don’t want to go down this road. Give envy an inch and it will take a mile (sow to the wind and you will reap a whirlwind). From the Corinthian letters we can put it like this: If you associate with envy you will rub shoulders with strife, quarreling, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (cf. 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20).

The account of Joseph and his brothers in the OT (Gen. 37ff) gives a very revealing picture of the nature and manifestations of envy. In a word, this example shows that envy is a major obstacle to loving-kindness. Note how the comparative element leaps from the text: “his brothers saw that their father loved him [Joseph] more than all his brothers” (v. 4). Their hearts were filled with envy (jealousy, v. 11) that manifested itself in hatred and non-peaceful speech (v. 4). Remarkably, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. What an ugly sin to lack peace in your speech toward someone. Their speech stirred up quarreling, strife, and dissension. What they wanted was something good in itself, the love of their father. Having that desire was not wrong. It was not wrong to have that desire in a deep and consuming way. Sin enters the picture when what they want but lack is given to their brother and they dislike him for it. The wants in question may be okay in themselves. But when we step off the path of righteousness in jealous pursuit of our wants we sin. When our wants are enflamed, unsettled, and stirred up by the knowledge that others have what we want, then we tend toward envy in attitude and action. Then our attitude is such that we cannot rejoice in their joy in some good that we want but lack in a comparative way.

2B. Analogies, illustrations, and examples

1) If we think of an envy tree, what holds the tree in place, what roots it to the earth? It is held in place by pride. The comparative aspect helps us see how envy is rooted into our conduct. Pride is “the great root and source of envy. It is because of men’s hearts that they have such a burning desire to be distinguished, and to be superior to all others in honor and prosperity, and which makes them uneasy and dissatisfied in seeing others above them” (Charity 121).

How does it branch out? It involves attitudes like malice and bitterness and various actions that overflow in tearing others down. This leads to various branches on the tree of envy such as hating them, wishing for their demise, and being glad when they fall. In our actions, we may tare them down with the hidden agenda of raising self up.

2) An example can be taken from my tennis playing. I want to win at singles. But here I go each week for “my weekly beating” as if I am a glutton for punishment. But another player wins in singles all the time (or 99% of the time). An envious spirit shows up when I have feelings of dislike for this person because he does what I want to do but cannot do. An envious spirit would include thoughts like being happy to hear that he has tennis elbow or upon hearing that he dropped some weights on his foot, I say to myself, “I hope he broke it good.”

3) Comparison with covetousness will help us see what envy is clearly. Envy overlaps with coveting, excessively wanting what others have. But as we have seen the hallmark of envy is comparison by which we become acutely aware of the relationship between what others have and what we want but do not have. Like coveting, envying involves being discontent with what we have. We are discontent in a way that takes us down a path of sin in thought and deed.

When we covet we have excessive desire for something that belongs to another. We may covet their spouse and their possessions. Coveting leads to adultery and theft. But the excessive desire of envy is not so much that we want something that belongs to another (to move it from their home to ours). It is an excessive desire that is inflamed by a competitive or comparative spirit. We want a higher salary, more success, more friends, and more praise than someone with whom we are comparing ourselves. We want to race ahead of them. We want to excel above others within our circle of influence. And we dislike it if we are unable to do so while someone else is able to do so. At the point of such comparison and dislike of their success we have an envious spirit.

4) Consider the scenario of a college graduate. Imagine that you have a child that finishes college and gets a better paying job than you have, that took you twenty-five years to get. Will you be envious? You will probably not be envious of someone so close to you because this case involves either your love or your pride. But the temptation to envy commonly occurs when someone inferior to you in education, experience, or prestige has a child that graduates from college and gets a salary far above what you get from the same company where you work. The desire to excel can be so aggravated that you find yourself disliking the young graduate. You may wish for his down fall. You may speak ill of him telling others about his faults. You may even do things that help him fall. If he does fall, you will experience a cruel sense of joy (cf. Charity, 123-125).

5) Finally, envy may exist in matters spiritual like preaching the gospel out of envy (Phil 1). This is a subtle and perverse aspect of the sin of envy because spiritual growth involves advancement in righteousness. If we seek to grow in righteousness and at the same time we dislike it when others appear to grow in righteousness at a faster pace than we do then an area in which we most need growth is the area of envy. Its scope is such that any area of need and want could become an occasion for envy.

2A. How do we deal with our tendency to be envious rather than loving?

1) We should humbly acknowledge this tendency.

The coals are there warm and ready to be fanned into a flame. And we should call it sin without making excuses or covering it up.

2) Focus the duty in its true spirit and intent.

This command is given in many places in the NT and it has quite a bite given the evils with which it is associated. It is also commanded here in the context of the love chapter (cf. 12:31), that shows that Paul is commanding by description. The love that He describes is the excellent way in which we are to walk. Weighing this fact will help us find the proper stance to take in this field of battle.

It is a command to believers to put off a style of life, of the inward life (of attitude and desire). And a command to believers comes with a promise of grace to help in time of need. So consider the fact that part of the true spirit of this command is that it comes with promise. In this way we can take our stance with confidence and hope that God will be our strength and shield.

Labor to absorb it into your heart and soul as a foundation for diligent application. Again, here is the duty: we are to throw up a red flag whenever we feel malice in our hearts toward those who prosper in ways we seek for ourselves but cannot prosper for the time being. The duty we have is to check responses that arise from seeing this disparity. Turn your thoughts away from comparing your progress with that of others, and set your mind on things above. Guard speaking out of such comparison (bite your tongue).

3) Consider the example of Christ

He made Himself poor (humbling Himself) that you may be made rich. Note that your state in life as to outward affairs is temporary. You are a pilgrim on this earth, just passing through. Your citizenship is in heaven. Ponder the fact that you have riches untold in the storehouse of things new and old. In this light, be assured that Christ will see to it that you receive this inheritance in glory when the very creation is delivered up into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. You really do not need to bother yourself with comparative attainments in possessions or honor on this earth. These are as God gives them. And the attainments and glory that matter most are promised with certainty. Consider His example and follow in His steps trusting in His promises.

4) You should attack the tree at the root level, which is pride.

One of the most important related virtues is that of humility. Put in the form of a prayer this simply means that you say, “Lord, I submit myself to you. I accept the limits you place on my life in relation to others. I know that you know best. So if I want to excel in some area but cannot do so, I leave that in your hands. If you choose to give what I want to others and not to me, then so be it. Your will is most important. Not my will but your will be done. I resign myself to your plan as it unfolds perfectly in every detail. I commit myself to the doing of your will of precept and commandment” (cf. the song, “My Jesus as thou wilt”).

Focus the fact that how you deal with what you attain in relation to what others attain is a double submission to the authority of your sovereign Lord. On one hand, it is a matter of submission to His command to avoid envy. On the other hand, it is a matter of submission to His Fatherly love accepting what He gives and withholds. Disobedience in the sin of envy is both rebellion and ingratitude rolled into one. We honor Him by submission to His providence and precepts, and we arrogantly dishonor Him when we do not submit to His providence and precepts.

5) Think of envy as a caterpillar and as a cancer.

This is a reminder of consequences. Edwards compares the envious person to a caterpillar that delights in devouring the most flourishing plants and trees (Charity 126). A consequence of envy is that it retards prosperity by wasting energy in quarrels and dissension.

Furthermore, envy is not only hateful in itself but it brings great discomfort to the envious person. Edwards cites the Proverb that says, “envy is the rottenness of the bones” (14:30). It is like a powerful cancer eating away on our vital organs. It is thus offensive and full of corruption. Therefore, it is nothing other than foolish self-injury “for the envious make themselves trouble most needlessly, being uncomfortable only because of others’ prosperity, when that prosperity does not injure themselves, or diminish their enjoyments and blessings. But they are not willing to enjoy what they have, because others are enjoying also” (127). Its foolishness should cause us to abhor it and shun its excuses as we seek the spirit of Christian love that will lead us to rejoice in the welfare of others (127).

3A. What positive aspect of love is implied (in the denial of envy)?

We get perspective here when we remember that desires are good. Strong desires are good as well, even consuming desires. This is the dynamic of the positive that is implied here. We are to have a consuming passion for holiness and righteousness in our daily living born of a deep longing and earnest desire to please the Lord Jesus and glorify His name.

This is the hungering and thirsting for righteousness that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. This has to mean that we cultivate a good diet on His word taking it into our hearts by memory, study, and understanding for application. It involves crying out for wisdom in prayer to the Lord and seeking to have all that we have in dedication and devotion to our risen Lord.

We thus sell all that we have for the kingdom and its righteousness (Matt. 13:44). But, lo and behold, we still possess things. “Sell all” means that we give it all away in exchange to receive it back with every earthly thing tied and connected to the kingdom. Thus in all earthly things (food, clothing, job, money, skills, accomplishments, and possessions) we seek His kingdom and His righteousness first (Matt. 5:19-21, 33). This is the passionate priority of our living across the board of all that we have and desire to have. What you want you want for His glory. Your wants are subject to His will and honor.

Conclusion

To not be satisfied with what we have so far attained in our Christian walk is not a sinful desire but the good kind of strong desire, and zeal. It is a consuming passion for the things of Christ. Like our Savior, accepting and doing the will of God becomes our food and drink.

How do we cultivate this kind of wanting and desiring? One way is to look deep into the value of the kingdom. When you see it you will seize it. When you see it as a treasure, you will seize it as a prize.

Be like a squirrel that climbs down a one-sixteenth of an inch wire to get some sunflower hearts, doing what it takes to get what he wants. Focus your desires and wants on Christ and His kingdom righteousness. Seek first and foremost to do His will of precept, surrender to His will of sovereign decree aiming at His glory in promoting the good of others. That is love.

With this heavy-duty obstacle to loving-kindness removed, with envy countered, we can then deeply desire the good of others and go about promoting their good in every way we possibly can. And by this obedience, the good that we passionately desire above all other things is the glory and honor of Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

[1]1 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations (Rockville, Md.: Assurance Publishers, 1979), 274.

[2]3 Hank Hanegraaff, The Prayer of Jesus (Nashville, Tenn.: W Publishing Group, 2001), 13–14.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2023 in 1 Corinthians

 

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