I think it was Shakespeare who first called envy the “green-eyed monster.” I don’t know about green eyes, but it is certainly one ugly beast.
In Romans 7 Paul acknowledges his own struggle with the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Perhaps he focuses on this one because, unlike the other nine, it is so internal.
I have pretty much avoided murder, theft, and idolatry. Envy, not so much. I know this is probably just me (you don’t struggle with this), but…
One of my best friends is smarter than I am. No contest. Sometimes I covet his brain. It’s probably a good thing that it’s stuck in his head, or I might violate that stealing commandment.
Another friend is tall, good-looking, and extroverted. Imagine being roomies with that guy when you are short, average, and mostly introverted. Sometimes I covet…well, pretty much everything about him.
One guy is a better public speaker than I am. It’s been said that George Whitefield could make people cry by saying the word “Mesopotamia.” I have never heard my friend say it (most modern sermons don’t discuss the subject a ton), but he could probably evoke tears. At least from me. Sometimes I covet his skills.
So how do I deal with all of this covetousness and envy? How do I slay the beast?
Paul is fairly explicit that we slay the beast of envy (and any sin for that matter) through the power of the Spirit (see Rom 8:1). As long as I stand around saying, “Don’t covet, don’t covet, DON’T covet” the problem just keeps getting worse.
Here’s the good news: The death and resurrection of Jesus paved the way for His Spirit to live inside envious people like me. So how does the Spirit improve upon the Law? It has to do with empowerment. Under the Law I have a commandment with no internal resources to obey it.
But in Jesus I have a command AND the resources. Why? See Romans 8:3-4:
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
In other words, the Spirit lives in me now. I have Jesus’ power to overcome even envy! So I listen quietly. And I ask for help. And I submit to His work. And the Spirit moves.
Suddenly I can praise the Lord for working through my genius friend, my awesome roommate, and my fellow minister.
And guess what? I can even praise Him for working through somebody like me. Because it’s not about my greatness or lack thereof. It’s about His power.
One final thought from Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Amen. The beast is still growling a bit…but Somebody is slowly killing him for me.