Envy at Church
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.
(Titus 3:3, emphasis added)
Paul is pointing out that to be in sin is to be enslaved. But then he narrows it down to two particular sins. It’s an odd pairing at first glance: malice and envy. If you don’t know what malice means, he explains it in the very next line: hate. What does hate have to do with envy? Hate is about people. Envy is about stuff, right?
I rode in a bike race recently. Bike racing is a funny thing. It’s basically a sport for middle aged men who shouldn’t be wearing spandex but still are. You see way more than you want to see.
As soon as I pulled in to the parking lot, I noticed something else in addition to spandex. People are not actually looking at each other. First, they look at your bike and then they look at you. The assumption is that the quality (or really cost) of your bike, directly corresponds to how fast you ride it.
What does this mean for competitors in a bike race? Simple. The better your bike, the more threatened I am by you.
You how I know this? Because I was doing the same thing. A few miles into the race, I found myself thinking about this bike that a guy next to me was riding. It was probably an $8,000-10,000 bike. I know. That’s silly. But I thought to myself, “Eric, what do you think of that bike? Well, Eric, I like it. I wouldn’t mind riding that bike. In fact, I bet it’s real nice. I bet I’d be faster on that bike. Yep, I need that bike.” So far, what I was doing was coveting the bike. I was dealing with greed. It had nothing to do with him; it had to do with the bike. But because it’s a race, a competitive scenario, beneath all of those thoughts about me wanting that bike was another thought: “Not only do I wish I had that bike, but I wish he didn’t.”
That is envy.
Envy operates as though all of life is competition.
In her book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, Rebecca Konynndyk DeYoung makes a great point about envy and competition. She says that we don’t tend to envy the rich and famous. Why? Because we don’t compare ourselves to them. The people we tend to envy are the people most like us. Our peers. (As an example, she points to the movie Amadeus, in which the great composer Salieri envies Mozart because Mozart is just like him, only better.)
So, the very people who have the greatest possibility of being close to you are the ones you are most likely to envy. The ones who are most able to support, encourage, and challenge you are also the ones you are most likely to hate.
You know where that can happen? At church. I cannot help but believe that’s why envy shows up in so many New Testament vice lists. That’s why it’s a “deadly” sin. It is almost guaranteed to happen at church where people are closest and need each other most.
Think about that for a moment. Who at my church have I envied and why? What has that done to our relationship? What has that done to the body of Christ?
Envy is in your church, if not in your heart as well. Envy and malice, when joined together, make it impossible to foster the kind of love a church needs. Love and envy just can’t coexist
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Cor 13:4)