I’m preaching on envy this Sunday. Jonathan Edwards defined envy as “a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own.” Envy has historically been listed as one of the seven deadly sins. It’s hard to identify in oneself, and unlike many of the other deadly sins, it doesn’t even give a quick hit of pleasure before the negative side kicks in.
As I’ve preached this message to myself, I’ve been thinking about envy as an occupational hazard for pastors. It’s very easy to be dissatisfied with the prosperity of other churches, especially in comparison to what we may be experiencing.
The story is told of a monk lived in a wilderness cave. He was known far and wide for holiness, so much so that his reputation reached even to hell itself. So the devil took three of his most effective demons with him to tempt the monk out of his godliness. They found the monk sitting at the mouth of his cave, a serene look of contentment on his face. The first demon planted in his mind the temptation of great power, with visions of glorious kingdoms. But the monk’s face remained serene. The second tempter planted in the monk’s mind the temptation of great wealth, with visions of gold and silver and prosperity. But still the monk’s face remained serene and contented. The third demon planted in his mind the temptation of sensuous pleasure, with visions of beautiful women. But the monk’s face remained quiet and godly.
Annoyed, the devil barked, “Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed.” He strolled up beside the monk, leaned over, and whispered into his ear, “Have you heard the news? Your classmate Makarios has just been promoted to bishop of Alexandria.” The face of the monk scowled.
When a pastor hears of another church in town that’s doing really well, it’s easy to become envious. Tomorrow I’m going to argue that it’s not entirely wrong to be envious in the right way. But as long as we are, as Edwards says, dissatisfied with and opposed to the other church, we’re in deep trouble. The scary thing is that we often aren’t even aware of envy even as we’re experiencing it.
More to come.