We compiled a sermon series on the Vices & Virtues, the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues. We are no stranger to the vices. We have been fighting anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, vainglory, and greed for years. But what about envy? Do we also carry this small, subtle vice? The answer is yes. And that is a big problem because envy is the death of love.
In envy, you lose your ability to love others because others almost always have something better than we do. We lose our ability to care for ourselves because we are constantly comparing. We lose our ability to love God, because how dare He give that thing or that talent or that opportunity to someone else, and not us. Self-love kills. Envy kills love.
Genesis 37 tells us that envy is as old as sin itself. We see envy in the story of Joseph and that crazy, colorful coat.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4)
Envy begins with comparison
We’re always comparing. Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more. It’s been said: Envy is feeling bitter when others have it better. Honestly, who has not felt bitterness at some point!
Envy is rooted in identity
Envy begins with comparison, but it is also rooted in identity. Envy is always personal because it’s never really about the thing we’re envious of. Rather, it is more a reflection of our own fragile sense of self.
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8)
In a patriarchal society, the brothers all want to be in charge, and that right should fall to the oldest, not Joseph, so they hated him even more.
Our comparisons, our envy, reveal much about our true selves. Our envy reveals our desires, idols, and sense of self-worth. Envy is often rooted in our own damaged sense of self and insecurity and often reveals itself in very passive-aggressive ways. We secretly celebrate when things go wrong for others, we quietly spread rumors, respond sarcastically, or just assume the worst about them.
Envy alienates us. It pushes us further away. Tragically, envy does not stop there.
Envy takes us where we don’t want to go
If left untreated, the trajectory of envy will take everything!
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:18-20)
Joseph’s brothers rip off his colorful robe, throw him in the pit, but decide not to murder him. Instead they sell him into slavery. They are all ruined. Envy is the death of love.
Envy can only be killed with kindness
Like all the vices, envy can be killed. But envy can only be killed with kindness. It is more than simple behavior modification or trying to get better. It is not about doing more good deeds. It is about character formation and growing in virtue, both of which take time and effort.
Joseph was a slave, a falsely accused prisoner, a nobody. Ironically, he ends up in a prominent position and protects the people against famine. His brothers go to Egypt to get food, and they bow before Joseph. Joseph provides for and feeds them. And by doing so, he rescues the people of God.
The brothers continue to live in fear after the death of their father. They are not expecting the kindness Joseph will soon offer them. After 40 years, Joseph has learned and embraced kindness, forgiveness, love. Not in an instant, but through decades. His response is kindness to his brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)
To kill envy, we must:
1. Embrace God’s kindness toward us as enough
We cannot be kind on our own. We must first embrace that God’s kindness towards us is enough. We are not God. God decides who gets what. This can only mean that our envy problem is not really with another person. It is with Him! Will we trust Him enough to let Him decide what is fair?
2. Extend God’s kindness toward others
If we want to kill envy, we must extend God’s kindness towards others. We must comfort them even when we don’t feel like it.
“So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:21)
Envy is the death of love
Our ultimate hope lies in the fact that God has not just been nice to us. Kindness Himself was killed on the cross for us! Jesus took all of our envy and all of our shame and offers us His love in return. God has not given us less, but everything we need because of the cross: forgiveness, hope, life, joy, power to kill envy, a new identity. We are the daughters and sons of the King. We have everything! With whom are we trying to compare ourselves?
Envy does not have to be the death of us. Being made in His image and as a redeemed people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us practice His kindness together.