Smiting the Green-Eyed Monster

It’s everywhere you turn, yet so easily keeps itself hidden.

It’s pervasive in advertising and steers the course of political debates. It lives in all our hearts, but seems so petty that we’re unwilling to admit its presence.

But in God’s economy, envy is sinful and dangerous. It makes frequent cameos in the New Testament lists of nastiness (Mark 7:22; Romans 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:3). We hear that “love does not envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4), that sadly some “preach Christ from envy” (Philippians 1:15), and, worst of all, that “it was out of envy” that they delivered up Jesus to be crucified (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). And so we’re directed to fight it (Galatians 5:26; 1 Peter 2:1).

Envy and Its Accomplices

Envy, says Joe Rigney, is a feeling of unhappiness at the blessing of others. It’s different than jealousy, which orients on what we ourselves own and is not always a sin. Envy orients on others and their blessing. And it hunts in a pack, keeping company with other “works of the flesh,” like covetousness, malice, rivalry, and resentment (Galatians 5:19–21).

But as tricky as envy is — in both its pervasiveness and hiddenness — it is highly susceptible to the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17; Romans 8:13). Awareness of envy’s masks, and direct confrontation through faith in the promises of God, go a long way in smiting the green-eyed monster. As does thankfulness. “It’s hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart,” says Rigney.

God’s Lavish Inequality

In this new episode of Theology Refresh, Rigney takes this bull by the horns, not only making us mindful of its power and patterns, but also preparing us to fight. He gets us ready not just to play defense against envy — “the great leveler,” as Dorothy Sayers called it — but also to go on the offensive in pursuit of the riches of God’s lavish inequality. That’s right, there’s a kind of inequality that God loves, and discovering the beauty of God’s gracious variety (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Peter 4:10) just might be one of the breakthrough for you against envy.

To access this 13-minute episode, subscribe to Theology Refresh in iTunes, listen at the resource page, or download the audio.

Joe Rigney is professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis. He gave the seminar “Live Like a Narnian” at the recent Desiring God 2013 National Conference, and is author of a new book by the same title, available in softcover and for Kindle.

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