Summary: The fourth sermon of a seven part series, ‘Stepping Stones and Stumbling Blocks to Faith.’
(Slide 1) When I was a few months from graduation from seminary, the church I had attended during college had a position open and I was very interested in it. The pastor had become a spiritual mentor to me and I was hopeful for the opportunity to work with him.
When we met to discuss the position and situation, he said to me, (and I am paraphrasing after 23 years!) ‘I have talked to so and so (the pastor with whom I would end up working) and you are more a youth man while we need a Christian Education person. So, I am looking at other people.’
Along with the anger and the disappointment came a major stumbling block for me (and for many people) – envy. My major was in Christian Education! What made it harder was that the person who ended up taking the position was both a seminary classmate and a High School classmate of mine as well!
A few weeks ago as a ministerial colleague talked to me about a situation that he was dealing with, I prayed for him. As I prayed, I was convicted of envy of him and several other colleagues because of their successes. It was hard to admit to in his presence and seek the forgiveness of God for.
I have heard jealousy (and probably envy as well) called the ‘green eyed monster.’ It is a common stumbling block. No one, preachers including, are exempt from its placement in our path.
I would even suggest this morning that envy took root in Eve’s soul when the Serpent pointed out that she and Adam would become like God if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. His question in Genesis 3:1 I think created not just doubt but envy: “Really?” he asked the woman. “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”
Can you begin to sense how envy of God may have entered her heart and soul? God had this great power and ability to see and understand good and evil and the Serpent’s temptation. ‘You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil,’ added fuel to the fire.
Can’t you see the look on Eve’s face change, “Humm…I can become like God? Yeah… I can have His power and His ability! I can know the difference between good and evil! Why shouldn’t Adam and I have this ability?” Envy of God’s power and knowledge takes root and the rest is history.
The Bible contains several references to envy and as I studied them this week two passages stood out to me.
The first is found in Ecclesiastes 4:4, ‘Then I observed that most people are motivated to success by their envy of their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless, like chasing the wind.’
This verse comes at perhaps one of the bleakest places in the book. The writer (who many believe was Solomon) had been lamenting the lack of purpose in life and that all of the striving and effort that people do to find meaning and happiness was proving to be futile.
But, his statement about envy of one’s neighbor as motivation for success is one that is reflected in both an honest assessment of our own life and in the fact that the final commandment is ‘do not covet your neighbor’s house’ and everything that is a part of it: wife, possessions, animals, etc.
Dr. Gary Collins has written, ‘To envy is to want something which belongs to another person.’ I envied my classmate who got the position that I wanted.
I would suggest this morning that the constant pursuit of many things because of both envy and jealousy leaves us, as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes would say, ‘chasing the wind.’ And as we chase the wind of this product or that product or this opportunity or that opportunity or this relationship or that relationship it does leave us breathless and soulless at times.
(Slide 2) Let me suggest this morning that one way we avoid the stumbling block of envy is to learn to be content with who we are and what we have.
In 1 Timothy 6:6 and following we read, ‘true religion with contentment is great wealth. After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.’
Envy is never satisfied but if we can become content with what we have and who we are (while still growing and maturing in our faith and life as followers of Christ) then envy’s power and influence is limited.