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ENVYTHE ENEMY WITHIN
By Bob Sorge
RegalCopyright © 2003 Bob Sorge
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Most Common Problem That Nobody Has
I have a problem with envy-a huge problem with envy. Because any problem with envy is a huge problem. Envy runs so deep in the inner recesses of my carnal flesh that it's probably a whole lot worse than I realize. (Who of us knows our own heart?) This book exists simply because God has had to speak volumes to me about the envy of my heart.
My own struggles with envy are rooted in a certain competitiveness that seems native to my personality or upbringing. I don't know why-I just know I've been competitive all my life. Whether it was a sports event or a board game or a scholastic assignment, I have always been motivated to perform at my best. While the pursuit of excellence can be praiseworthy when it's submitted to Christ's Lordship, I've discovered that the desire to excel beyond my friends can actually be the seedbed for envious heart attitudes. When I stepped into the arena of Kingdom ministry, the old ambitious desires didn't completely fall away, even though I told myself they had. When I saw my friends enjoying successes that I desired for myself, envy quietly sulked below the surface. (Envy is the internal pain we feel over someone else's success-but we'll define it more clearly in thenext chapter.)
I didn't see my envy for a long time. But when God started to reveal it to me, I was appalled at what I saw of the true condition of my heart. Now I am fervently committed to radical repentance and walking in the light in this area of my life.
I am compelled to honestly share my own shortcomings in the area of envy for two reasons. Firstly, I've learned the power of the flesh is amazingly broken when we bring our sins into the light (see John 1:7; James 5:16), so I gladly receive the grace that comes to me through the humility of confession. Scripture tells us that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). I need that grace more desperately than I could possibly say. Secondly, I want to assure you that I'm not speaking from the aloof position of someone who is beyond envy's tentacles. I am still in process of victory. I hope you can receive the message of this book from a fellow pilgrim who is even yet in this journey with God.
Why This Book
As the Lord has challenged the envious tendencies of my soul, I have come to realize how pandemic envy truly is and how deadly it is every time it infects the church of Jesus Christ. Envy has the power to sabotage our own personal destiny in God because God cannot honor our efforts when they are subliminally driven by impure motives. As long as envy remains hidden in the crevices of our hearts, our fruitfulness in Christ will inescapably be impeded.
But more than that-and here's where I sense an even greater urgency-when we envy one another in the kingdom of God, we release dynamics that actually bind the progress of the Kingdom in our sphere, or region. Envy has the power to obstruct the release of Kingdom blessing, even in places where massive amounts of intercession for revival and visitation are ascending to God's throne. In fact, I will argue in this book that envy has been responsible, perhaps more than any other evil or vice, for quenching the fires of revival both in the past and in the present.
Envy killed the body of Jesus Christ when He came to this planet the first time, and it's still killing His body-the church-today. I pray that this book will be read by every saint-by the youth, by the elderly, by ministers, by servants and by believers of all tribes and denominations. The Spirit is sounding a clarion call in this critical hour that we understand what envy is, perceive it in our own hearts and know how to cooperate with God's grace so that this evil leech will stop sapping us of the Holy Spirit power we need to complete the task of global evangelization.
Perhaps you feel baffled, or even offended, that this little book would even suggest that you might have a problem with envy. Oh, how easily our hearts deceive us! We are so prone to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (see Romans 12:3; Philippians 2:3). Now please understand that I do not write this book from a spirit of accusation. Rather, it is my desire to bring the real issues surrounding envy into the light and then point the way toward healing and freedom in Christ.
I believe it is time for the body of Christ to wake up to the reality of envy and what it is doing to us. Let's own the truth: It's my problem; it's our problem. Envy is alive and well in the church of Jesus Christ, and it is wreaking havoc throughout the body as it impedes the progress of God's glorious kingdom. Let's launch this discussion by speaking the truth in our hearts (see Psalm 15:2) about our true state of affairs. It's time to lower our defenses and ask God to speak to us personally about this subject.
This isn't a book only to recommend to others; it is a book whose message we need to apply to our own lives. As the old song says, "Not my brother, not my sister, but it's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer."
If your first response is, "Envy? Not a problem for me, as best I can tell," then let me make an appeal to you: Read this short book anyway. You will not simply be educated to the nature and ramifications of envy. More than that, your vision of God's purposes for the church will be enlarged, and you will see why the Holy Spirit is strategically highlighting the issue of envy among believers today. It is of paramount importance that we gain our inheritance in Christ! If we will heed the Spirit's voice regarding envy and how it fractures the body of Christ, then this generation has the potential to see the power and glory of God manifest in the earth in an unprecedented manner.
Envy Is Everywhere
We are surrounded today by envy at every turn. About a month after the September 11, 2001 collapse of New York City's twin towers, our local newspaper carried an interesting column that reflected international anger toward the United States. Americans were surprised by some of the sentiments of people from other nations:
"Americans have had it coming for a long time," said a Canadian.
"The thug got beat up," is how one Moscow metalworker put it.
Newspaper columnist Rick Montgomery editorialized, "We were aghast: How could radical Muslims dance while thousands of innocents lay dead beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center?" The columnist went on to suggest that international criticism of the United States was based on the supposition that America is "the symbol of all that is big." Montgomery's analysis was that "military and economic triumphs here have bred envy and scorn elsewhere."
Montgomery's analysis carries a measure of validity. While envy is not the only contributing factor to such tensions, it certainly is a tangible part. There are some in other nations who rejoice over any outbreak of calamity in America because of their envy of America's strengths.
There is good reason to connect the current tensions in the Middle East with the envy-induced parting of ways that happened between Isaac and Ishmael almost 4,000 years ago. (Because he envied the favor granted to his brother, Ishmael mocked Isaac and was cast out of the house by Isaac's mother, Sarah.) The ripple effect of the envy between those two brothers is still being felt today through their various descendants, most specifically in today's Israeli-Arab conflicts. Could it be possible that envy is linked, at least in part, to virtually every ethnic and religious war on the face of our planet today? My point in a sentence is this: Our world is filled with envy!
However, space won't permit us to deal with the many forms of envy in the world today. The scope of this book is to look at envy within the ranks of the church of Jesus Christ. We won't be looking at how someone might envy another's car or house, spouse, children, good looks, career or financial status. Rather, we're going to narrow our focus to the specter of envy that rises between Christian brothers and sisters and their differing ministries. Between my church and your church. Between my anointing and your anointing. Between my ministry and your ministry.
Do We Have to Use the E Word?
There's something fundamentally distressing about confessing to the E word ("envy"). A friend recently told me how the Holy Spirit was convicting him about envy, and it took him several days of wrestling with God before he could say, "Okay, Lord, I'm willing to admit it. I'm envious. Forgive me."
Maybe one reason we don't want to call it envy is because we would like to think we've grown beyond the carnality of the believers in Corinth, to whom Paul had to write a stern rebuke for their comparisons between various ministers.
I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:2-4).
We resist pinning the label "envy" on the struggles of our soul because of the implications that word carries with it. If we own up to envy, we are giving admittance to some powerfully indicting weaknesses. We are tacitly admitting the following attitudes:
• I am not fully established and at rest in my identity in Christ.
• I have insecurities that have not been fully healed through the power of His grace.
• I am ungrateful for what God has given me. His gifts are not enough for me; I also want what He's given another.
• I am striving against God's sovereignty and wisdom by questioning His giving differing gifts and endowments of grace to both me and my brother or sister.
• My heart is motivated at a fundamental level by an element of self-interest, self-preservation and self-promotion. I am not able to fully celebrate my brother's successes because of underlying feelings of competition and ambition in my soul.
• When all my energies should be focused upon the war against the enemy of our souls, some of my energy has been diverted to struggling over the successes of my fellow believers.
• Since envy, when it is full grown, culminates in murder, I have the seeds of murder within my heart.
• My carnality is impeding the unity of the body of Christ-the unity that is central to the bride's preparation. Hence, part of me is hindering, instead of hastening, Christ's return.
When God began to show me the envy of my heart, at first I was shocked. But I'm long since over that. Now, it never surprises me when I discover it afresh. Oh, it's that old ugly thing again, is it? The Holy Spirit seems especially committed to highlighting it to me. He shows it to me when it's in its budding stage so that I can repent early. I'm not sure how much progress I've gained over envy, but I do know I've become a faster repenter. So when I look at the list above, it has become very easy for me to confess, "Yup, guilty as charged." I'm no longer shocked, because I've been given a revelation of the iniquitous potential of my flesh. Here is what I've discovered: When envy becomes easy to confess, victory comes within closer reach.
Envy doesn't have to be full grown to be present. Envy can appear in our hearts in its most preliminary stages, and it can also develop into full maturity if we refuse to deal with it. All of us are tempted to envy. To be tempted is not in and of itself sinful (see Hebrews 4:15). But it's also true that most, if not all, of us have succumbed to envy at some point in our lives. In other words, we're dealing with a universal problem.
I remember reading of a poll among Christians where the respondents agreed that envy is primarily a sin among women. As a male writer, I have one word for that survey finding: Preposterous! It is a major issue for all of us. (They must have polled some delusional males.) Envy is one of the most fundamental by-products of our fallen human condition, and it's been with every generation since Cain and Abel. Little wonder that Jesus devoted some of His most powerful parables directly to this topic (see Matthew 20 and 25).
May the Lord empower us with the courage and understanding to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in this regard. Let's begin by asking the question, What is envy?
Chapter TwoWhat Is Envy?
I remember a leading secular magazine once defined envy as the pain felt when someone has what you want. We know from Scripture that that pain is, in fact, a sinful desire (see Galatians 5:21,26). Vine's Expository Dictionary has defined envy as "the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others." Webster's Dictionary defines envy as "the painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage." It's the pain or distress we feel over another's success. The meaning of the word "jealousy" is slightly different from envy. Webster's defines "jealous" as "disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness; hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage."
In many contexts the words "envy" and "jealousy" are virtually interchangeable. There are shades of meaning that are unique to each word, but those differences are not really important to the purpose of this book. It could be argued that jealousy is my attitude about what I have, while envy is my attitude about what another has. There are a variety of definitions out there, such as, "The distinction lies in this, that envy desires to deprive another of what he has; jealousy desires to have the same or the same sort of thing for itself." Such distinction seems somewhat artificial to me. "Envy" and "jealousy" are very similar in meaning, but "envy" seems to be the darker word. When confessing sin, I follow the policy of describing my sin in its worst possible terms. So I will use the word "envy" in this book.
Like most emotions, envy and jealousy have both a positive and negative side. There is a balanced jealousy that guards an exclusive, covenantal relationship (such as marriage).
Excerpted from ENVY by Bob Sorge Copyright © 2003 by Bob Sorge
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.