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(122) Inscription 27_The Problem of Envy

Notes & Transcripts

Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 27: The Problem of Envy

1 Samuel 18:6-9, Psalm 37

July 18, 2010


Main Point(s) of sermon:

· Envy slanders God, harms the community, and distracts us.

Objectives of sermon:

· Confront our sin of envy.


·         Skim Saul’s stories, Ps 37, PEtAl notes

Scripture reading: 1 samuel 18:6-9 (peter r.)


Penetrate our hearts, help us clearly see what lurks there, and bring it to light and free us of the sin that entangles us.

A Comparison Problem

Have you ever noticed our tendency to comparing ourselves with those around us? It doesn’t matter what the item is, we compare ourselves – health, clothing, the how nice of a Bible (story of LIFE student).

Q   Have you ever done something silly like that?  

Can comparison ever end well? It’s either going to lead to pride or envy – either we will come out ahead and be proud of that or behind and feel envious of what the other person has.

When we got our Sienna, it was the nicest, newest car we had ever gotten (and the highest payment). I felt pretty cool in my nice mini-van, comparing it to the other ones, until Cecil started calling me a “soccer mom,” then I wanted an SUV too.

Saul’s Jealousy Problem

As I plan out the sermons I pray and ask God to know what part to preach, I ask God what he wants to speak to his church at this time. Usually there is no shortage of possible topics, but I want to know which one to focus on.

The story of King Saul is no exception – I was going to talk about his lack of a heart for God and his fear of man, but I believe God directed me to focus on something I know that all of us struggle with: Envy and jealousy.

Saul is tragic character – on the outside he looked good, “tall, dark, and handsome” but it’s only skin deep. He didn’t have a heart for God and his continued rebellion gets him rejected by God, who chooses David.

·         You watch as David’s stock goes up and Saul’s goes down, and Saul sits on the sidelines becoming more and more jealous. 

Of all the characters in the Bible, Saul stands out as the greatest example of jealousy and envy. No one’s life is more wrecked by jealousy, and no one destroys more lives because of his jealousy. His life is an example of where jealousy can lead.

Are you shallow?

Saul started so strong, but flames out so quickly. You know what he reminds me of? The parable of the Sower – he is the shallow soil. In other words, he is shallow.

What do you think of when you think of a shallow person? A person who is more concerned with appearances and surface stuff than things of real meaning and importance.

When you don’t have anything going on under the surface, when you lack strong roots in God and character, what else do you have but all the stuff above the surface?

Q   Are you a shallow person?

Of course not! I mean, no one thinks that they are shallow, right? But we know lots of people who are – models, movie stars, family members who are always comparing themselves and trying to keep up with the Jones.

·         You know, if their neighbor get a new car, they get one, if their neighbor goes on a nice vacation, so do they.

But I wonder if we are also a little shallow – we are not a rich congregation, so we don’t see a lot of obvious “keeping up the Jones,” but I wonder if we don’t still care too much about shallow things.

Q   If you found out that one of us got a new 4G iPhone, what would be your first response?

Would you be happy for them, or wish you had one? Would you maybe be questioning their spending habits (which is symptom of envy – being suspicious of the other)?

Maybe you don’t care about phones, maybe it is clothes, time at the gym, eating out. How do you feel when someone else gets something you wish you could have?

·         Maybe you are focusing on shallow stuff!

A deadly sin

We all get it’s a sin, I don’t need to convince you of that. But just how bad do we think it is? We can speak of it so casually – “I am so jealous of...” or Andrew’s shorter version “Jealous!”.

The Bible is clear: “Do not covet” made the Ten Commandments. And Paul warned envy can keep you out of the kingdom of God. Notice the sort of things it’s grouped with:

NIV Galatians 5:19-21 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 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Since the Bible uses several terms that we use interchangeably (envy, coveting, jealousy), here’s some definitions:

·         Jealousy: Fear of losing something you feel belongs to you.

·         Coveting: Wanting something that is not yours.

·         Envy: Wanting something that isn’t yours and resenting the person who has it.

The Bible considers it a “biggie.” Furthermore, when the early church created a list of “The Seven Deadly Sins,” envy made the list. That’s not just speaking metaphorically – how many have been killed because of envy and jealousy?

From the story that was read, because of his jealousy, Saul tries to kill David numerous times. He sends him into dangerous battle, he uses his daughter to get to David. David eventually takes a hint and flees, and even has to hide his parents.

·         It becomes an obsession and madness, reaching its lowest when he kills 85 innocent priests.

And envy continues to damage and destroy people:

Q   Have you watched children suffer because parents worked to buy things they didn’t want to impress people they didn’t like?

Ä  Sin is that which hurts us, hurts others, and destroys our relationship with God. Envy does all three. Let’s look:  

1. Envy slanders God 

Envy is a sin against God. We start here because every sin is first and foremost a sin against God. Before we can worry about how envy affects other, we have to worry about God.

Q   How is envy a sin against God?

Because envy slanders God’s character.

Q   Think about that for a moment: How does envy slander God?

I am not trying to cram everything into a “God box.” I deeply believe that this is at the root of envy, and if we don’t start here, we just trying to clip the dandelions, but they will keep coming back.

How does envy slander God? Because at its root envy is about ingratitude and unbelief. Envy says “God, you cheated me. You didn’t give me what I deserve, you haven’t given me enough.”

Envy says the reason I don’t have what that other person has is because God isn’t watching out for me. I don’t believe that God actually cares or is able to provide for me.

·         To accuse God of favoritism, not caring, not being able to take care of you slanders his character.

If I give something to Grace, but have to go back to carry Sarah’s, and she thinks I have forgotten her (kids have a high honed sense of “fair”). Do you think God has forgotten?

Trust test

In Psalm 37, David deals with envy, especially when the wicked are prospering. He brings it back to trusting God:

Psalm 37:1-3  Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;  2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.  3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 

To put it another way:

Q   If you deeply and wholeheartedly trusted God to take care of you, to give you everything you really needed, to ensure that receive appropriate honor, would you be jealous of another?

Let’s put this into practical terms: Let’s say you have a car that barely runs and is embarrassing to drive. Then an family member gets a really nice car that you couldn’t afford.

Q   How can trust and gratitude stop your envy?

Gratitude says, “Thank you for taking care of me, thank you for the car I do have.”

Trust says, “I know that you will take care of me. I don’t know why I have to drive a clunker and they get a nice car, but I chose to trust you.”

There could many reasons why God didn’t give you the nice car:

·         He knows that you struggle with materialism and having more stuff would pull your heart away from him.

·         He knows you would be too proud of it.

·         You have not worked hard and giving it too you would enforce your lazy habits.

Saul vrs. David

When you compare and contrast Saul and David, you see a huge difference in how they trusted or failed to trust God, and how that played out in terms of jealousy:

Saul lost the kingship because he did not trust God and took matters into his own hands. Once God had taken it away, he clung on to it jealously, killing those getting in his way.

David on the other hand was promised the kingship by God, yet trusted God to give it to him in proper time. He didn’t try to grasp it from Saul, even when he had every reason to kill Saul, and God honored that trust.  

·         I wonder if Psalm 37 was written to himself about Saul? “Don’t fret because of evil God!”

Glorify God!

One last thought before we move on: What does it say to non-Christians when we are jealous? Does it demonstrate “Taste and see that the Lord is good” or does it leave the impression that he is meager and uncaring?

Our highest goal is to glorify God (it’s in our mission statement), and when we are envious we lose an opportunity to give him glory by showing that he is good and trustworthy

2. Envy damages relationships

Furthermore, envy damages relationship. Envy pulls us apart from others, at every level (families, church, etc).

Let’s imagine that Micah has one slot for another worship vocalist, and I really want it, but Elizabeth gets it because she can sing. At that point I have a choice: I can either be genuinely happy for her, or I can resent her.

Romans 12:15   15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

But envy turns that around. “Love rejoices over a neighbor’s good, envy grieves over it.”

Two gas station owners are in fierce, bitter competition. Once day an angel offers one of them one wish, but informs him that whatever he wishes for, his rival will get double. After mulling it over, he says, “I’d like to lose one eye.”

Envy turns friends into enemies. That’s what makes it worse than coveting – it wishes the other ill.

·         I could get really nasty against Elizabeth, setting up sides, hoping she’ll get laryngitis, and destroy the community.

James 4:1-2  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.

Hopefully no one actually gets killed (although I suppose I could take a hit out on Elizabeth).

Envy is unloving

What makes envy to damaging to relationships is that it corrupts their very foundation: Love. Here is how Paul describes love:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7   4 ¶ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This makes more sense now than ever: Love and envy and mutually exclusive. You cannot properly love someone if you are envious of them.

·         Chew on that for a second: Envy is failure to love the other person as you love yourself.

Q   Is envy and jealousy harming your relationships?

·         Are you unable to rejoice with a friend who got something you wanted? They’ll feel that resentment and it’ll tear you apart.

·         Do you find yourself badmouthing an acquaintance who is doing well financially?

·         Do you resent it when things are going well for your spouse but not you? They will be hurt by your lack of support.

Saul vrs. David

Looking at how envy damages relationships and thinking back on Saul: David was Saul’s right hand man, his son’s best friend, and his son-in-law.

·         I wonder how differently the story would’ve played out if Saul would have repented of his jealousy and gone with God’s plan:

He could have peacefully handed the kingdom over to David, he and his son would not have died on the battlefield; the nation would not have had a civil war after his death. 

3. Envy distracts us

Finally, envy is a big distraction. It both pulls our energy away from the things that really matter and takes our focus off of our calling.

1. On one hand, envy can take our focus off of our calling:

While it is a good thing to try to emulate good traits in people we respect, it is a bad thing try to copy their gifts.

Back to the example of Elizabeth getting the worship position: If I jealous of her and kept pursuing singing, which is not my calling, it would distract me from preaching, which is.

Q   Do you suffer from “gift envy”?

Do you wish you had someone else gifts? Again, you are telling God he doesn’t know what he is doing. And by doing so, you are neglecting the gifts he has given you.

·         If Satan can’t keep you out of heaven, he will try to make you as ineffective as possible, and “gift envy” is a great weapon.

2. On the other hand, envy can distract us from things of really importance:

Q   Have you ever noticed how often we are envious of things that just don’t matter?

In your head, make a list of the things you’ve been jealous of most recently:

·         A new xBox, an iPhone, nice clothes, money to go out for dinner on a whim, a fuller head of hair? (That’s my list.)

Are these things that you would die for? As we look further at David’s psalm about envy:

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. 

In other words, if you really want God more than anything else, God will give you himself. And God is everything we really want– there’s plenty of him to go around. But envy distracts us with lesser things.

·         Imagine a kid going to Jungle Playland but too busy fighting with a kid over one little ball to enjoy it.

To put it another way: Envy is idolatry. It is wanting something less valuable than God more than God.

·         It is specifically because Saul did not delight in God, that he lost the kingdom.

Throughout Scripture, the Bible says God is a jealous God, but it is not sin because we are what he is jealous for and we are rightly and fully his; he will not share us.

·         We should be jealously guarding our hearts to make sure they are wholly his.

What now?

End with this challenge: This week you will probably feel jealous: When you do, stop and repent. Ask God’s forgiveness for not trusting him and being grateful.

·         Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to treasure God more that it – you can’t do it yourself, need grace and the cross.

If you are still struggling with jealousy, ask God to help you love that person better. And if you really want to kick jealousy in the gut, pray that God richly bless the other person.

Q & A

Call to worship

One way God breaks the grip of possessions and things and comparing is giving.

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