Play Audio


             I remember it as if it were yesterday.  I pulled into a church parking lot in Florida.   I was greeted by a parking lot security guard who inquired about my business at the church.  I stated, “I’m delivering these inserts to the church office.  I will only be a minute.”  He pointed me in the direction of the church office.  It was a long walk.  It was a huge Presbyterian church.

            On the way I passed the church’s newly constructed “Family Life Center.”  It was big and attractive.  I read signs about their newly formed elementary school that met at the Center.  I walked by a couple of the church’s maintenance people.  They looked different than most maintenance people in my congregation at the time.  They wore shirts that matched and had their names sewn over their pockets.  I thought to myself, “I wish our maintenance staff looked that classy.”

            When I reached the receptionist’s office, I said to her, “I’m here on behalf of the Presbytery.  I’m delivering these bulletin inserts describing the ministry of the Presbytery.  I hope you will use them in the weeks ahead to inform your congregation what the Presbytery is doing.”  I paused for a moment and said, “Should I leave them here with you or should I leave them with someone else?”  She responded, “I’ll call our Communications Director.  He’ll be down in a minute to speak with you.”

            I thought to myself,”Communications Director?  They have a Communications Director?  I wish we had the luxury of employing a Communications Director.”  As I stood waiting in the lobby, I watched the overhead television monitor inform me of upcoming events and the day’s schedule.  I thought to myself, “I wish we had a monitor like that at our church where we could scroll through the events of the day, week and month.”  I read the listing of the pastoral staff.  Seven pastors!  They had five more than we had.  I wished we had seven pastors.  That way I could do less of what I wasn’t so good at and more of what I was good at. 

            After waiting ten minutes, I left.  The Communications Director must have been diverted.  When I got back to my office I looked up their web site on the internet, and e-mailed the Communications Director, informing him about the bulletin inserts I had left with the receptionist.  He had designed the web site.  It was spectacular.  I wished our web site looked that good.

            Envy.  Shakespeare called it “the green sickness.”  Francis Bacon said it “has no holidays.”  The Book of Proverbs warns us that it “rots our bones.”  St. Augustine said, “It tortures the soul.”  The head of the Jerusalem church, the Apostle James claimed that envy “leads to disorder and wickedness of every kind.”  That great philosopher of our time, Yoda from Star Wars, said that envy leads to anger, and anger to the dark side.  An old Danish proverb says, “If envy were a fever, all the world would be ill.”

            So, if you have the fever, and according to the Danish proverb, you have at one time in your life if not now, you know the damage it can cause.  You know envy’s ill effects.  It has been called the “if only” disease:


            If only I had a car like his ...

            If only I had a job like that ...

            If only I were thin like she is ...

            If only I could travel like they do ...


            Webster defines envy as the “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”  As such, it differs from jealousy, even though we often use the words interchangeably.  Jealously starts with full hands and fears losing what it already has.  Envy, on the other hand, starts with empty hands and mourns for what it does not have, and of the two emotions, jealousy and envy, envy is the worse of the two.  After all, God is sometimes described as a jealous God, but never as an envious God.

            And, as a quick aside, do you know how the color green became associated with envy?  In the Middle Ages church leaders came up with behaviors people needed to avoid at all costs.  We know them today as “The Seven Deadly Sins,” and they gave a representative color to each of the “deadlies.” . For example anger was red.  Pride was violet, the color of royalty.   Green was assigned to envy because envy can make us sick inside, turning us green around the gills.

            Of course, there are numerous examples of envy in the Bible.  Joseph’s brothers were envious of their father’s relationship with Joseph, to the point that they sold him into slavery to get rid of him.  Envy drove David into exile all because Saul was envious of David’s popularity among the masses.  Of course, the worst, involves Jesus.  In the 27th chapter of Matthew we read, “So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’  For he knew it was out of envy that they (that is, the Jewish religious leaders) had handed Jesus over to him.”

            Unfortunately, envy continues to raise it’s ugly head today.  I smile at the story of the woman who decided to have her portrait painted.  She told the artist, “Paint me with diamond earrings, a diamond necklace, emerald bracelets, a ruby broach, and a gold Rolex.”

            The artist replied, “But you know you are not wearing any of those things.”

            “I know,” she said.  “It’s just in case I should die before my husband.  I’m sure he will remarry right away, and I want his new wife to go crazy looking for the jewelry.”

            Just in case she died first, she wanted her successor to be envious of her!

            Of course, the saddest place of all to find envy is among Christ’s people, the church.  The Apostle Paul hoped it would not be a distinguishing mark of our life together.  He counseled, “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”  But envy we do.  Pastors envy the success of other pastors.  Church members envy the attention some folk get that they don’t get.  They wonder, sometimes out loud and to other people, “How come the pastor takes them to lunch and not me?”  Or “How come Judy was asked to serve as an elder and I wasn’t?”  Or “How come Bill gets all the recognition, while I do just as much work as he?”

            So what, if anything, can we do to curb envy in our lives?  As you might have guessed, I have some suggestions.   

            Well, first, we can practice being thankful for what we have.   I love what Tony Campolo has to say about his wife.  In his book, The Seven Deadly Sins, he writes,


            Giving thanks is a wonderful therapy for envy.  My wife uses this remedy with great success and I attribute her optimism and contentment to her ability to see the positive aspects of her circumstances, whatever they may be.  If we miss an airplane and have to wait two hours for the next one, she looks upon the two hour wait as a gift from God so that the two of us can have this uninterrupted time to visit with each other.  If I go out in the morning and find that my car battery is dead, she tells me how lucky I am that I did not have this trouble when I was out on some deserted highway.

            Now, I ask you, how can I not love a woman like that?

            When I asked her if she ever felt the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, she answered, “If you think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it is probably because you are not properly caring for the grass on you own side.”  If each of us would care for and appreciate ... what we have, we would cease to envy what others have.


            In other words, we need to dismiss the myth of more.  It’s like the puppy in the children’s sermon chasing its own tail.  We often allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking we are just one purchase, one promotion, one relationship, one accomplishment, one good time or one gut busting experience away from true, lasting contentment.   We need to learn to be thankful for what we have and stop chasing our tails.

            Second, we can love heaven first.  

            I think of Howard Hughes.  It was reported that all Howard Hughes wanted was more.  He wanted more money, so he parlayed inherited wealth into a billion-dollar pile of assets.  He wanted more fame, so he broke into Hollywood and became a film maker.   He wanted more thrills, so he designed and built the fastest aircraft in the world.  He wanted more power, so he dealt political favors to the highest government officials in the land.  He was absolutely convinced that more would bring him true satisfaction.  Howard Hughes, however, never got enough.  You know the story.  He concluded his life emaciated, colorless, with fingernails shaped in inches-long corkscrews.

            Jesus, however, said, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”   I wonder how Howard Hughes life would have turned out if he had sought heaven first and less of the other stuff?

            I heard about a little, old, wonderful Christian lady who sought first the Kingdom of God, I mean she really loved heaven first, and she lived next to an atheist.  Every morning as a witness to her neighborhood this little Christian lady would walk out on her front porch and call out, ‘Praise the Lord’.  The atheist hated this so he would call out, “There is no God.”   This took place every morning with the same results. “Praise the Lord!”  followed by “There is no God.”   As time went by the lady ran into some financial difficulties and had trouble even buying food so one day on her porch she prayed and asked God to help her and then called out, “Praise the Lord.”  The next morning she went out onto the porch and there was the groceries she had asked for and seeing them she called out, “Praise the Lord.”  The atheist jumped out from behind a bush and said, “Ha, I bought those groceries. There is no God.”   The lady looks at him and smiles, she shouts, “Praise the Lord, not only did you provide for me, Lord, you made Satan pay for the groceries.”

            We can love heaven first. 

            And thirdly, we can get a handle on envy by knowing our calling.  I think of Charles Cerling, who enjoys recreational volleyball even though he is only five feet, seven inches tall.  Because of that, he does not spike the ball very often in his volleyball league.  In fact, he never spikes it, yet he frequently makes a set from backcourt that yields a smashing, point-winning spike by someone else on his team.  The spiker gets the praise and much of the glory, but Charles is a vital part of the team.  That’s OK with Charles.  He knows his role on the team.  Most of us are setters and not spikers.  Is that OK?

            I read about a guy I would like to meet.  His name is Steve Harris, and he pastors a small, country church.  In America we sometimes place more value on pastors from big churches, Steve though, knows his calling.  He’s a setter and not a spiker.  He says, “I’m not sure I would be able to be a pastor of a ‘superchurch.’  I don’t have the preaching and organizational gifts for it.  But some people in my church on the side of Highway 55 are struggling with their marriages.  One woman’s husband is dying from cancer.  A girl who just graduated from high school  is wondering what she will do with the rest of her life.  Those are significant issues.  They don’t get much bigger.  And it’s in those places, as a simple country pastor, that I shine.”

            Oswald Chambers said, “God puts his saints where they will glorify him, and we are no judges at all of where that is.”

            When we become comfortable with where God has placed us, we can say goodbye to the green sickness.