Envy

Parrott and Smith (1993) say, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that envy is an emotion which “occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” The dictionary defines envy as:

Envy. [ˈenvē]

NOUN – A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck: “She felt a twinge of envy for the people on board.” Synonyms: jealousy · covetousness · resentment · bitterness · discontent

VERB – Desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else): “He envied people who did not have to work on weekends.” Synonyms: be envious of · be jealous of · begrudge · be resentful of

And Wikipedia has a remarkably comprehensive list of biblical references on envy.

At the end of 2015, we covered the topic of envy, as presented by the Apostle Paul, in our post Honor Our Feet.

Here, let us consider the Apostle James warning against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, makes three main points about the passage. First, Calvin states that their strife arises from acting on unchecked desires:

From whence come wars. …They created confusion among themselves [by their contentions]; and…these arose from their invidious desires and lusts, rather than from a zeal for what was just and right; for if everyone observed moderation, they would not have [injured] one another. They had their hot conflicts, because their lusts were allowed to prevail unchecked…

But their contentious actions brought no satisfaction as they had hoped; only punishment:

You lust, or covet, and have not. …They derived no benefit from [violent] contentions [which prevailed among them] for…they received the punishment of their own wickedness. God, indeed, whom they owned not as the author of blessings, justly disappointed them.

…For when they contended in ways so unlawful, they sought to be enriched through the favor of Satan rather than through the favor of God…It was therefore no wonder that they were frustrated in their efforts [to be happy], since no success can be expected except through the blessings of God alone.

And finally, Calvin says in summation, subjecting our desires to God brings about peace and His blessings:

You seek and receive not. In short…James meant briefly this, — that our desires ought to be bridled: and the way of bridling them is to subject them to the will of God [i.e., His will as revealed in the scriptures]. And he also teaches us, that what we in moderation wish, we ought to seek from God himself; which if it be done, we shall be preserved from wicked contentions, from fraud and violence, and from doing any injury to others.

Do you envy someone? Do you want to stop envying that person? You can through Christ. Please trust Him.

Cain Kills Abel, circa 1610, Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582–1622)

Cain kills Abel, circa 1610, Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582–1622), public domain in the United States

The Lord Is Always Before Me

Can you make the claim in the title like the psalmist David did? I find I can’t; at least not consistently. But I want to. I want to very much.

I have set the Lord always before me;

    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;

    my flesh also dwells secure.

Psalm 16:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says with regard to verse 8:

…The meaning, therefore, is, that David kept his mind so intently fixed upon the providence of God, as to be fully persuaded, that whenever any difficulty or distress should befall him, God would be always at hand to assist him.

He adds, also, [always], to show us how he constantly depended upon the assistance of God, so that, amidst the various conflicts with which he was agitated, no fear of danger could make him turn his eyes to any other quarter than to God in search of succor.

…David then reckons himself secure against all dangers, and promises himself certain safety, because, with the eyes of faith, he beholds God as present with him.

And with regard to verse 9:

In short, calmly to rejoice is the lot of no man but of him who has learned to place his confidence in God alone, and to commit his life and safety to his protection.

When, therefore, encompassed with innumerable troubles on all sides, let us be persuaded, that the only remedy is to direct our eyes towards God; and if we do this, faith will not only tranquillize our minds, but also replenish them with fullness of joy.

…Farther, although the body is not free from inconveniences and troubles, yet as God defends and maintains not only our souls, but also our bodies, David does not speak groundlessly when he represents the blessing of dwelling in safety as extending to his flesh in common with his soul.

David’s statements in verses 8 and 9 pertain to us if we’ve trusted in Christ. However, verse 10 does not.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

    or let your holy one see corruption.

Psalm 16:10 (ESV)

This verse didn’t even apply to David as the Apostle Peter rightly points out in his sermon at Pentecost. Peter uses this psalm (esp. verse 10) as a testimony of Christ’s resurrection. The passage is found in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, verses 25-28 (ESV).

We serve a risen Lord always ready to provide mercy and grace in our time of need. Call to Him.

View from the Cross

What Our Lord Saw from the Cross, 1886–1894, by James Tissot (1836–1902), in the public domain in the US

Do You Swear?

During the Lord Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, He defined God’s standards for a righteous life. He cited common understandings for principled living and then raised the bar. Among these principles, He declared swearing (i.e., oath taking) off-limits.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5:33-37 English Standard Version (ESV)

Specifically, Christ prohibits using God’s name (or euphemisms for it) to bolster our sincerity in what we promise or declare to others and to God.

John Calvin comments:

You shall not swear falsely… The man who perjures himself is not the only person who takes the name of God in vain, (Exodus 20:7). He does so, who idly and contemptuously pronounces the name of God on trivial occasions, or in ordinary conversation.

Calvin points out that some have used the Lord’s command to reject all vows. He says they’re mistaken:

Do not take an oath at all… His statement amounts to this, that there are other ways of “taking the name of God in vain,” besides perjury; and, therefore, that we ought to refrain from allowing ourselves the liberty of unnecessary swearing: for, when there are just reasons to demand it, the law not only permits, but expressly commands us to swear.

Stating the obvious, Calvin concludes:

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Christ now prescribes… that men act towards each other sincerely and honestly… Fairness and honesty in our words are, therefore, demanded by Christ, that there may be no longer any occasion for an oath.

And James, in his letter to the churches, echoed his Lord’s admonition:

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:12 (ESV)

Therefore, let us speak truth, one to another.

Us – Michael Been, The Best of The Call

Legalistic?

I’ve heard it said that those who profess Christ shouldn’t try to put off the old self and put on the new self, to pursue sanctification, or intentionally obey the word of God.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some would have you believe that Paul must have been mistaken. John Calvin comments on these verses:

It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration.

…There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying?

Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. …For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God.

…For we acknowledge that we have from nature an inclination, but as it is depraved through the corruption of sin, it begins to be good only when it has been renewed by God. Nor do we say that a man does anything good without willing it, but that it is only when his inclination is regulated by the Spirit of God.

Hence, in so far as concerns this department, we see that the entire praise is ascribed to God, and that what sophists teach us is frivolous — that grace is offered to us, and placed, as it were, in the midst of us, that we may embrace it if we choose; for if God did not work in us efficaciously, he could not be said to produce in us a good inclination.

As to the second department, we must entertain the same view. “God,” says he, “is ̔Ο ἐνεργῶν το ἐνεργεῖν he that worketh in us to do.” He brings, therefore, to perfection those pious dispositions which he has implanted in us, that they may not be unproductive, as he promises by Ezekiel, —

I will cause them to walk in my commandments.” (Ezekiel 11:20)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

According to his good pleasure. …For Paul has it in view to ascribe everything to God, and to take everything from us. Accordingly, not satisfied with having assigned to God the production both of willing and of doing aright, he ascribes both to his unmerited mercy. By this means he shuts out the contrivance of the sophists as to subsequent grace, which they imagine to be the reward of merit. Hence he teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

With fear and trembling. From this Paul deduces an exhortation — that they must with fear work out their own salvation. He conjoins, as he is accustomed, fear and trembling, for the sake of greater intensity, to denote — serious and anxious fear. He, accordingly, represses drowsiness as well as confidence…

The inference, also, is to be carefully observed: “You have,” says he, “all things from God; therefore be solicitous and humble.” For there is nothing that ought to train us more to modesty and fear, than our being taught, that it is by the grace of God alone that we stand, and will instantly fall down, if he even in the slightest degree withdraw his hand. Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance.

…For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God. And this is what Paul’s words import, for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

Work out your own salvation. …Salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things, by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which he has predestinated us by his gracious choice. This no one will deny…

We are said to perfect it, when, under the regulation of the Spirit, we aspire after a life of blessedness. It is God that calls us, and offers to us salvation; it is our part to embrace by faith what he gives, and by obedience act suitably to his calling; but we have neither from ourselves. Hence we act only when he has prepared us for acting.

Addressing the whole issue, James wrote ironically:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

Know this then, that faith without works is dead.

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18, 6th century, Public Domain in US