Socrates called it “the ulcer of the soul.”
Solomon said it would rot the bones.
James said it would bring confusion and all kinds of evil.
Peter said in order to grow you must lay it aside.
Paul says love does not do it.
Today’s devotional is actually about contentment, but as you can tell, I have not started there. I started where I suspect there is the greatest hindrance to contentment. The place that seems 180 degrees from where we really want to be. The place that is counter to love, prohibits growth, confuses and compromises, rots us from the inside, and may be, as Socrates suggested, a festering sore to our soul.
You could rightly guess many things that distract or rob us of contentment. There is clearly more than just one that could hinder. But the one I’m going to point at has a characteristic that I perceive as distinct from all others. It stands uniquely alone in its opposition to contentment.
Take anger for example. For obvious reasons, anger can prevent you from being content. The problem is, there’s always a possibility you can twist anger into being virtuous. Perhaps you’re angry about something you can justify. In your anger, don’t sin. Righteous anger! A time of contentment may be lost, but for a worthy cause. No problem, right?
Or consider pride. God opposes the proud, but not all pride is bad, right? A favorite song of mine contains these lyrics, “I want to have pride like my mother has, and not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.” If you’re like me, and these lyrics, you want to have the good pride and not the bad. Fortunately for me, I’m so generous with grace for myself that I’m fairly certain most of the pride I’ve had has been the good kind. Same with you, right?
I hope you catch my sarcasm with anger and pride. The point is, so long as there is a way to view a characteristic from a positive angle, we’ll have a temptation to justify and validate. We can twist and spin things until we’re confident and satisfied that they’re not an issue. And we do.
That’s not true with envy.
I see no way to twist envy into a virtue. No one will ever say there was a moment when envy was the admirable path. Nobody brags about envy. No, envy is one we hold onto quietly, shielding others from detecting that within us is an ulcer that is rotting our bones, confusing and tempting us with evil, stunting our growth, and causing us to withhold love.
So, what are we to do? I’d like to offer two actions that can be taken.
First, allow God to cleanse you. Point directly at envy in your life and show it to God. For one, He already knows about it and loves you anyway. We were not made to be envious, and so long as that sin is hidden in our hearts, we harm no one but ourselves. John tells us that when we confess our sins (agree with God that this is indeed sin), He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). There is every reason to bring this to God. The only possible result is a good one.
Secondly, take up arms against envy. I would imagine we all have had a moment where a friend or a coworker has something happen in their life which causes our insides to turn with jealousy. You have a choice here. Take a proactive stance against envy in order to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Determine to make that decision. Sit down and examine the reasons you are envious. Make a list of reasons. Then write a note to that person expressing joy for them for those very same reasons. Take the awful selfishness of envy and turn it on its head. As Paul put it, do not let sin reign in your members as instruments of unrighteousness. Instead, use your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13). We are not helpless in the fight against envy.
Contentment frees us up to love others without jealousy. Contentment allows us to grow in the Word. Contentment brings clarity to life and shields us from all kinds of evil. Contentment is life to our bones.
Ironically, Paul says godliness with contentment is “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). Envy can’t get you that.
Grace to you,
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