- I Want What I Haven’t Got
- Matthew 25:14-30
- Lyndol Loyd March 10, 2019
In the sixth century of the Christian era, there was a very influential bishop of the church known as Gregory the Great. He was an incredible leader with a bright mind.
It was Gregory’s contention that there are clusters of virtues and vices that we all deal with in life. So he went about identifying these vices into what would later become known as the Seven Deadly Sins. His thinking was that by cataloging these sins a person could more easily contemplate self-examination on a journey toward wholeness.
Gregory’s list included the sins of: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony and Lust.
During this season of Lent, I want to invite you to join me on a journey as we examine together these sins that we love and more importantly the virtues which can replace them in our lives taking us from our brokenness and giving to us the hope of wholeness. Today we examine – Envy.
Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Have you ever wanted to possess what someone else has? When I was in the fifth grade I wanted to be Jim Verden. I thought he was about the coolest person there was.
Jim was a senior in high school. He was the All-State captain of the football and basketball teams, State champion in the discus, played the trombone in the band, acted in school plays, and sang in my church’s choir. All the girls wanted to date Jim. All the guys wanted to be his friend. It seemed to me that he had it all and could do it all. He eventually went to college and played football at Texas Tech.
There was a certain amount of hero worship from most boys my age in Wheeler, Texas and why not? Jim was a great guy. He spent time working as a summer church camp counselor. He was perfect for crying out loud.
If I’m completely transparent with you, I would have to confess that I didn’t just want to be like Jim Verden. I was envious of Jim Verden. I didn’t just look at Jim and think, “Wow, isn’t he cool.” I looked at Jim and lost sight of who God had created me to be. He became my fifth ideal.
Because I was not a gifted athlete I wound up fantasizing about something that I could never attain. I could have spent hours and hours practicing and never would I have been able to kick a football through the goal posts with the accuracy and distance that he could or throw a discus to such lengths.
That is what envy does. It gets us looking down our noses at ourselves and peering over our neighbor’s fence wanting what he or she has. Wanting what you haven’t got doesn’t lead to a peaceful, joy-filled life.
Envy means you buy a brand new Ford Explorer because your friends have one and that makes you want one too; even though financially it isn’t the best time for you to do so, but you really, really want it. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that when I was younger.
Why is it that we always seem to want what others have? Why is it that people who are short wish they were tall? Why is it that brunette’s want to be blonde? Why is it that people covet another’s ability to sing? Why is it that we want what we are not and what we haven’t got?
It seems so silly when we see others paralyzed by envy, but we don’t have to search too deep to find a good healthy dose of it within ourselves most of the time.
The source of envy lies in our misunderstanding of God and the realities of human life. Envy causes us to be wrongly introspective. You see, when we begin to envy others, we simultaneously begin to forget God. We forget that we are His unique idea. We forget we have God-given talents that we are specially called upon to utilize in order to fulfill our purpose in life.
There’s a great story found in Matthew 25:14-30
14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!
22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
It seems to me that envy is a symptom of separation from God. When we are separated from His perfect love for us it shakes our foundations and makes us unstable. We don’t know where to find love, meaning, or purpose.
At its core, envy comes from a misunderstanding of who God is. Imagine the three servants in Jesus’ parable of the talents that we just read together. Two servants think the Master is a wonderful, gracious gift giver. They are free to risk, free from fear, empowered to succeed.
Then there’s the third servant. Diametrically opposed to the first two servants, he gushes words of fear, judgment, distrust, and blame. Where in the world did this response come from?
The essential message of this story is that the Master is a gracious giver and that we can leverage and capitalize on the gifts He has given us.
Envy makes us look away from what God has given us and question His wisdom. When I second-guess God about my personality, my body, my gifts, etc., I call into question God’s ability to skillfully rule over creation.
Like the misguided investor from the parable, we can easily begin to see God as cruel and exacting, not understanding of our needs, wishes, and desires. In fear and disappointment, we bury our gifts and let them rot.
You’ve heard, “You can be anything you want to be.” I find that there is a pervasive idea in our society today that everybody ought to be able to be and do anything that they wish. We all want to have it all and do it all, and most of us want it now.
Frankly, that doesn’t work. But I wonder if our individualistic and materialistic society hasn’t created a myth, a fantasy, which can’t be corrected in our time.
Think about the television rating juggernaut, American Idol, now in its second rendition and you’ll get my point. How many of you have ever watched American Idol at some point?
At the beginning of the season, they go through a massive audition process searching across the nation for the one who will be the next American Idol and quite often people show up for the tryouts who have absolutely no vocal ability. They couldn’t sing their way out of a paper bag.
You would think someone who loves them – a friend or a parent – would let them know that they don’t have any talent when it comes to singing before they embarrass themselves on national television.
You’ve got to wonder why someone hasn’t told them before that rather than singing like a bird they sound more like the shrieking of a monkey. If this doesn’t make the point that we cannot do everything we want, I don’t know what does.
Yes, we can develop our strengths and accomplish plenty, but we have to work with the basic raw materials God gave us. We may make progress in personality, social skills, moral behavior, and vocational competence, but all the progress is dependent on our tapping into the “real us” rather than trying to emulate others or have a style forced upon us by the prevailing culture.
In Genesis, there is a story of two brothers, Cain and Abel. The biblical account says that Cain and Abel both gave offerings to God out of reverence to the Creator. God really liked Abel’s offering and God rejected Cain’s.
God simply made a choice at that time. There was no condemnation of Cain, nor was there a reason to believe that things would always be this way – Abel on top, Cain in second place.
Maybe you know the story? Cain murders Abel so that his offerings will be the best that God can get from that point onward. Cain lived by the credo that “the way to get ahead is to eliminate the competition.”
We don’t know with certainty why Cain killed Abel as a reaction to God’s rejection of his offering. But my best instincts tell me that jealousy and envy were at work.
Envy is wanting something that belongs to someone else. If this is true then jealousy is almost the same. Jealousy is not wanting someone to have what they’ve got. Both envy and jealousy are preoccupations with others in a distorted comparison that results in serious problems.
So what do we do to combat a problem like envy? What resources do we call upon to put envy at bay in our lives? How do we break the power of envy?
How about something like contentment? Contentment is a virtue. Contentment implies that we are free of envy. But how do we get there? Is it simply by force of will? “Lyndol, just be content. Stop striving so much. Don’t look at others.” It never works.
If God’s Spirit is indeed at work in us, there must be some fruit of the Spirit, as Paul puts it, that enhances our capability to be more content and less envious.
Contentment isn’t something we simply muster. It is the by-product of a life enmeshed with joy. When we discover a life rooted in joy it makes all the difference.
Joy is that sense of overall well-being and an inner knowledge that “all is well, everything is in its right place.” Let me explain what I mean by telling a story.
Back when my family lived in Florida, one day when the girls were out of school, Joni and I took them to the Orlando Museum of Art to see a special exhibit of the works of Norman Rockwell. I’ve always liked Rockwell’s paintings.
The closest I had ever come to seeing Rockwell’s paintings was to see a cover of the Saturday Evening Post or a framed print. It was something altogether different to be face to face with the genuine article, to see brush strokes.
It was amazing to actually see the brush strokes on the canvas. I thought Rockwell was an amazing artist beforehand. I realized his genius when I stood in its presence.
Reflecting upon that experience I have to wonder why it is that I’m not able to view more of life the same way I took in the works of Norman Rockwell. Why is it that so often we are unable to see the true art of everyday life?
I have to wonder if the answer isn’t that we lack joy in our lives. We don’t take the time to look for the beauty of life in ourselves or others, instead, we approach life more like a judge or a critic.
We look at others, judging their performance, comparing ourselves to them, feeling superior in some situations and inferior in others.
Is it possible that we have trained ourselves to look for the negative, rather than searching for glimpses of grace? Do we really try to live with an appreciation for the beauty of life in ourselves and others?
Here are some tips for how to institute joy in your life and reduce envy:
- Refocus your life on God rather than on yourself. Realize God has created a world of beauty. Look for beauty in others. Look for the art that is all around you. Appreciation for God as Creator goes a long way in defeating envy.
- Tune into the fact that God is crazy about you. Use prayer and statements of faith like, “I’m a child of God. I’m alive because God created me. My existence brings joy to God.” God is crazy about you. He values you. He cherishes you. Give in to the idea that God uniquely created you. You are loved or as one modern philosopher put it, “If God had a refrigerator your picture would be on it.”
- Discover and unleash your unique giftedness. Whether it is music, drama, business, law, medicine, parenting, carpentry, or writing, we all have gifts. When we intentionally discover and deploy our gifts, we make serious progress in the business of self-acceptance and our eyes tend to start moving away from the envy of others.
Eric Liddell was a Christian missionary and runner for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics. His story was recorded in the movie Chariots of Fire. As the story goes, Liddle was home from China with his sister raising funds for their mission and ministering to the Scottish people they had befriended.
Liddell was winning some important foot races and he was considering the Olympics. His sister urged him to drop running and turn his energies to the mission work he came home to do because she felt God had gifted him to excel at ministry.
His sister said, “We need you here. God made you for this.”
Liddell’s response was “Aye… and He also made me fast. And when I run, I can feel his pleasure.”
Feeling God’s pleasure as our gifts and talents are put to use surely evicts envy from our lives and introduces a quality of joy this deep and abiding. There is little room for envying others when we are caught up in joy. God’s pleasure in us is a far better motivator than the comparison game we play in envy.