Summary: This sin of envy is capable of any evil, even to the point of killing the Son of God to eliminate Him from the competition. We live in a dangerous world because of the potential of this sin. Paul lists it with the worst sins of depravity

We seldom get the whole story on anything. No doubt, most of

us are aware of how the rocks brought back from the moon were

kept in isolation for some time less the contain some organism that

could spread disease for which we have no defense. That made a lot

of sense, and made everyone feel more comfortable about bringing

back to earth that which was unearthly. But what I didn't know

until I read Isaac Asimov is that man was thoughtful enough to be

concerned about taking earth's germs to the moon, and elsewhere,

as well. So at enormous expense the space vessels we have launched

have sterilized. If there is life of any kind out there, man did not

want to be responsible for destroying it with his diseases.

Man, even in his fallen state, is certainly more noble than Satan,

for he did not hesitate to contaminate our planet with the deadly

virus that got him booted out of heaven. He enticed Adam and Eve

to be envious just as he was. He wanted to be like God, and even

better than God, and this envy cost him the loss of all godliness

rather than its acquisition. Satan then deceived Adam and Eve by

saying they could be like God knowing good and evil if they ate the

forbidden fruit. The envied God having what they did not have, and

so they ate, and every since we have lived in an envy infested world.

It is the major plague of all time. It infects more people than

small pox ever did in the past, or that aids does in the present. Yet,

you will have a hard time finding any government spending big

bucks to study it. It is terribly destructive to Christian lives, and the

ministry of the church, but you will have a hard time finding

sermons on this serious issue. You can find sermons on murder, for

most Christians don't murder, and there are plenty of sermons on

all of the Ten Commandments because most Christians do not break

these basic laws of life. But when it comes to envy, you are really

meddling, for there is not likely a Christian anywhere who is not

infected with the virus of envy. We do not like to deal with stuff like

this, for it is not comfortable like dealing with the sins of other

people. All I have to do when I hear about the sins of others is to be

grateful I am not one of those sinners. It gives you a sense of pride

when you can say with the Pharisee, "I thank God I am not as other

men." But envy is not in the same category.

The first thing we need to understand about envy is that it is a

common Christian sin. It is common in non- Christians too, but it

does not go away because one becomes a Christian. These people

that Paul is referring to here are not pagans or Jews, but Christian

men who preach Christ. There is nothing wrong with their message,

but their motive is sinful. It is amazing, for Paul says it is possible to

do the highest things in life with the lowest motives. These good

Christian preachers were motivated by envy, rivalry, and selfish

ambition. Their goal was not the body of Christ being built up, but

their own reputation being built up. They wanted the fame and

glory of Paul, and they were willing to hurt Paul if that would help

them achieve the goal.

In spite of these terrible motives, Paul rejoices because people can

be saved by the Gospel even if those preaching it are jerks. The

message that faith in Jesus Christ can cleanse and free you from sin,

and make you a child of God, is just as true, and just as effective, no

matter what the source. It can come to people by the printed word;

by radio; or television, and it doesn't make any difference what the

motive is of those who spread it. It is not the messenger, but the

message that is the power of God unto salvation. If an atheist sees a

chance to make a quick buck by selling Bibles, those Bibles will be

just as effective as Bible given by the Gideons.

Paul says that it makes no difference how people hear the

Gospel, for faith comes by hearing, and the messenger can be awful

sinner, but the message will still save. Paul is not saying that it is

okay that some Christian preachers are motivated by envy, rivalry,

and selfish ambition. These are sins are that condemned everywhere

in the Bible. Paul is not saying that he enjoyed having Christian

brothers stir up trouble for him, for this would be to confess he was

a sadistic person. There is nothing good about the motives of these

men. To think so would be to make hypocrisy equal to honesty.

Paul is not rejoicing in them, but in the Gospel they preach, for that

is his first love, and he will not attack, even these self-centered jerks,

as long as they preach the Gospel.

There are many things that bother me about preachers. There

are so many self-serving ministers in the world. Many get rich off

the Gospel by false pretenses. People are appalled by the revelation

of a popular youth evangelist who has made millions in his ministry

because of his fantastic testimony of being a cult leader before he

came to Christ. His story deeply impressed me along with millions

of others, but it was all concocted out of selfish ambition. It worked

to keep the checks coming in, but it was all a lie.

I don't have any intention of attacking his evil motives. God will

deal with that. The fact is, he exalted Christ as the Savior, and

people were saved by his dynamic preaching. You will seldom hear

me denounce any popular preacher or evangelist because, even if I

question their methods or motives, if they preach the Gospel, it is

cause for rejoicing. This is the spirit of Paul, and of Christ who told

His disciples who wanted to forbid a certain man to perform

ministry: If he is not against us, He is for us. It is a shame that

Christians can be so sinful in their motives, but it is wonderful that

God can use even these stained vessels to carry the water of life.

Being a Christian optimist does not mean being blind to the sin,

folly, and pathetic weaknesses of God's people. It means an

awareness that God gets His will done, and His kingdom expanded,

regardless of the sorry motives of His messengers. Optimism about

God and what He can accomplish does not mean there is no place

for Christian pessimism about people. Paul was so honest it was

shocking as he deals with the negative side of the Christian life.

These were men of God, yet they were full of envy. The Greek word

Paul used here is phthonos, and it also means jealously. They were

jealous of the way God had used Paul, and envious of the love and

fame he had gotten in preaching the Gospel.

Before we throw too many rocks at these Christian slime balls, we

need to examine what the rest of the New Testament says about this

sin in the Christian life. We might just discover that the New

Testament will say to us what Jesus said to the Pharisees who were

ready to stone the woman taken in adultery: " He who is without

sin among you cast the first stone." I say this because the New

Testament makes it so clear this is a basic Christian weakness, and it

is a flaw in Christian personality. It is no minor sin either, but one

of the worse that the New Testament deals with. In fact, it is the sin

that sent Jesus to the cross.

In Matt. 27:18 we read the thought of Pilate when he was trying

to release Jesus. It says, "For he knew it was out of envy that they

had handed Jesus over to him." The Jewish leaders were jealous of

Jesus. They saw people flock to Him, and He was not even an

ordained man. They hated it that the people loved Jesus, for they

were suppose to be the ones that people turned to for spiritual

guidance. It makes trained professional people angry when the

non-trained amateurs get more fame than they do. Lawyers are

screaming mad at a layman who wrote a book telling people how to

make out their own living will.

This sin of envy is capable of any evil, even to the point of killing

the Son of God to eliminate Him from the competition. We live in a

dangerous world because of the potential of this sin. Paul lists it

with the worst sins of depravity in Rom. 1:29. In Titus 3:3 he lists it

again as one of the terrible sins of the Christians in their

free-conversion days. He writes, "At one time we too were foolish,

disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and

pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one

another." Paul uses the same word when he describes these

Christian preachers and teachers in I Tim. 6:3-5 where he

concludes, "...who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."

There is nothing new under the sun. This is a major problem in

our day as millions of Christians fall for the health and wealth

gospel. They send in millions of dollars to those preachers who tell

them God wants them rich. They do just what the false teachers of

Paul's day were doing by convincing people that the point of being a

Christian is to become financially independent. Paul goes on in this

context of I Tim. 6, and urges Timothy to learn to be content, and

not seek for riches that lead to so many desires that ruin Christians.

Then he says those famous words in verse 10, "For the love of

money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money,

have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many


The point is, Christians can get so full of envy of what others

have that they will harm the cause of Christ, become deceitful and

dangerous, and even forsake their faith in the pursuit of keeping up

with the Jones. Envy is a curse on all men, but especially the

Christian. We do not have the time to study James chapter 4, but in

that chapter James teaches the same thing as Paul. He says a major

sin of the Christian life is the envy that makes them love the world

and materialism more than the spiritual values of life. When they

do this, they are submitting to the devil, and resisting God, which is

just the opposite of what should be the Christian commitment.

Can Christians really be that worldly, and out of God's will?

Peter in I Pet. 2:1 confirms Paul and James by writing to Christians:

"Therefore, rid yourself of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy,

and slander of every kind." You don't have to rid yourself of what

you can't have, and so it is established beyond a doubt that

Christians can be loaded with envy that makes them a danger to the

body and to themselves. It is a powerful feeling that can make them

behave like the devil himself. We think lust is powerful, and it is,

but here is a more hidden sin that is just as powerful, if not more so,

and it is scary what it can do to the Christian. Lust may slay its

thousands, but envy slays its tens of thousands.

In the Old Testament envy turned the sons of Jacob into brutal

brothers who were willing to kill Joseph to get him out of the way.

God used their envy for good, just as He used that of Pharisees who

killed Jesus, and that of the preachers who envied Paul. God can

bring good out of evil, but those who do the evil are just as guilty,

and just as accountable. God's using of evil for good does not excuse

the evil. Envy in the Christian life is pure evil and not good, even if

Christians with it can still share the Gospel. Those who are poor

Christians can still do a lot of good, but their badness is still bad,

and they will suffer loss in both time and eternity.

If you start turning green with envy you are getting right for

judgment. Psychiatrist Willard Gaylin describes envy as a mental

illness. It is the feeling that anyone else's achievements or happiness

diminish mine, and, therefore, it is a desire to bring others down and

spoil their dreams because it makes me seem better. When you hear

a Christian put others down, you can diagnose their problem as

envy. That is what Christian brothers were doing to Paul. They

had the common perception of the envious which says, there is not

enough love to go around, and so, if somebody else is getting it, I am

losing it.

Envious people resent anyone who seems to have more than their

share of life's blessings. They are easy to find, for there is always

someone richer, more successful, prettier, or more handsome. No

amount of good fortune can make envy go away because you are

never ahead of everybody. Satan was, but he still had God to envy,

and because he could not be number one he lost his status in heaven

and eternal happiness. Envy is the entry way to hell, and Christians

can live that close to the devil's sphere of influence. Experts say that

it is a hard emotion to unlearn, for it becomes a habit because one

gets pleasure out of tearing others down.

The Christians tearing Paul down were, no doubt, feeling

completely justified, for Paul was in prison and they were not. Who

is the most blessed of God? Is it those of us who are free, or Paul

who is a jail-bird, and bringing disgrace on the cause of Christ?

They would have facts like this to point to in order to justify their

mean spirited competition. The envious Christian lives in a

self-centered world where the I is lord, and not Jesus. The result is,

he or she is not a team player. It is not what is good for the kingdom

that matters to them, but what is good for me only. If someone is

getting too much love and praise, that is not good for me, and so I

must find some dirt about that person to put a stop to their pleasure.

Most gossip is a tool of envy, for it is a means to lower others so

we can be exalted. It is very hard to avoid this sort of thing, for even

this sermon is an illustration of it. By putting down these Christian

brothers were envious of Paul, we can all feel better, for by

comparison with them we are paragons of virtue. Finding terrible

Christians to compare yourself with is a good way to feel good with

little cost. These guys are so bad that being better than them is a

snap. This can lead to pride and self-deception that makes us feel

mature when we are an inch taller than these pigmy Christians.

Envy is so common and so dangerous that it has always been

listed next to pride in the 7 deadly sins. Being aware of it is a key

factor in controlling it. Every relationship in life where you feel

inferior to another person is a potential temptation to become

envious. We are tempted to envy anyone who is superior in any

way. Envy is makes people delight in the fall of the great. Where

big name people blow it, and fall from their height of fame, it gives

us pleasure because we had envy in our hearts, and envy glories in

the fall of the famous. We feel bad when great Christians lose their

fame and fortune by sinning, but on the other hand, we also feel

satisfaction, for what right did they have to be so honored and

happy? They are no better than we are, we say, and that is envy at work.

One of the burdens of greatness is the host of people who watch

for your downfall. Psa. 106:16 says, "They envied Moses also in the

camp." Every major leader in the Bible was envied, and there were

those just hoping they would fall.

Men are a lot like lobsters. They say if you have a bucket full of

them none can ever get out, because if one starts to climb up the

others will pull it down. Men love to pull each other down lest

someone climb higher than they are. That is envy at work. If you

aspire to be a star in any field of life, be prepared to be both loved

and hated, for envy will be inevitable in the hearts of many,

including those who love you.

Envy does not have a positive side effect. When criminals do not

treat each other fairly it is a blessing, for envy usually trips them up.

Police count on successful robbers making their friends and

neighbors envious of their prosperity, for this brings them forth with

information. In a one hundred thousand dollar swindle the man

who got only two thousand squealed on the others who took ninety

eight thousand. Envy is the policeman's friend and that is true until

one of his fellow officers gets to be captain, and then it is the same

old enemy of peace of mind.

In many cases we can sympathize with the victims of envy.

Rachel wanted a child so bad, and her sister Leah could have them

easy. Gen. 30:1 says that Rachel envied her sister. It is hard to

condemn her for her envy, for her desire to have a child was valid.

It is not as if she wanted a bigger tent, or more jewelry. She just

wanted to have a baby. So even in areas of legitimate desire envy

can get into our hearts and make us have wrong attitudes towards

people that we care about.

The Emperor Tiberius Caesar exiled and architect because of the

beauty of the porch he designed, and he killed a poet for the writing

of a superb tragedy. The superior qualities of these men's works

made him so envious that he hurt them, because he could not

produce such works. History is full of such abuse of power. If you

can do something better than another, you will likely produce envy.

Mothers have killed their daughters-in law because they made the

sons love them more than mom. Such is the power of envy. There is

no sin envy will not commit to express its hatred of superiority. The

Emperor Caligula killed his own brother because he was more

handsome than himself.

The Queen could not tolerate it when the mirror on the wall said

Snow White was the fairest of them all. In a fit of fury she devised a

plan to rid the world of this superior competition. Envy wants to

deprive others of what they have. The willow asked the thorn,

"Why are you envious of the clothes of those who passed by us?

What good are they to you?" The thorn replied, "None whatever, I

have no desire to wear them. I only wish to tare them." If the

envious cannot read, he wishes all books to be burned. Envy hates

others enjoying what he cannot. Envy rejoices when others weep,

and weeps when other rejoice.

Some sins get less offensive in time, and their definition varies

with the culture, but envy has the unenviable position of being

consistently despised from Plato to the present. Horace wrote in the

first century, "Sicilian Tyrants never invented a greater torment

than envy." Envy robs people of what they have by making them

sad for what they have not. It is Satan's best foot in the door scheme

to get us miserable, for all of us have the potential for falling into

this sin. In the 18th century Richard Sheridan observed, "There is

not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy."

The paradox is that it is good that provokes this evil. Good

things happening to others is what makes people envious.

If Paul was just a poor or mediocre evangelist, who was basically ineffective

in touching people's lives, he would have been ignored, but because

he was so effective he made other Christian evangelists envious. His

success was their basis for failure. So we see that the very essence of

sin is a hatred of others for having what we don't have. Satan fell

because he wanted to be better than God. He brought Adam and

Eve to their fall by making them want what God had forbidden. He

made them envious to have that one thing they did not have, even

though they had everything else in the world. Every being with a

mind and a will can be brought down by the power of envy.

Sin is not a lust for what is bad, but a lust for what you don't

have that somebody else does. Envy says, he has a better wife than I

do, and this leaves the door open for adultery. Envy says, he has a

better car than I do, and this leaves the door open for stealing. Envy

says, he has a better life than I do, and this leaves the door open for

murder. Envy plays a role in almost all sin. Man just does not like

it that others have what he does not, and so every form of evil is

committed to get it, or at least rob the others of it. Man's

inhumanity to man is due to envy. Almost every Christian sin can

be linked to envy. Envy enables man to do on the negative side what

God does on the positive. God can bring good out of evil, but man

can bring evil out of good.

Every good thing that happens in this life can, by the power of

envy, be turned into an evil force that hurts the body of Christ. The

history of Christian evil and folly can be traced to this awful

emotion of envy. How do we conquer this green eyed monster that

can take over our emotional system, and damage our role in the

body of Christ? As with every sin, you first must become aware of

it. Face honestly that you too are in some way infected. Confess it,

and tell the Lord you know it is there, and you hate feeling it. Then

act your way out of this destructive feeling. That is Paul's advise in

Phil. 2:3-4, where he says, "Let nothing be done through strife or vain

glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better

then themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every

man also on the things of others."

Then Paul describes what Jesus did in giving up equality with the

Father to become a man and lay down His life for us. The opposite

of envy is humility, which is the ability not to grasp at what others

have, but to share what you have with others. This was the spirit of

Paul, and he had the spirit of Christ. May God help us to have that

same spirit, and escape the snare of the devil that can make us

envious Christians.