Sermon Illustrations on envy


Christian Love: the Antithesis of Envy

The Christian’s self-understanding is that she is precious before God—however much a sinner, however much a failure (or success) she may be by the standards of worldly comparisons—and that every other person she meets has the same status…This vision is not only one that levels every distinction by which egos seek…glory…This vision, when appropriated, is also the ultimate ground of self-confidence.

For the message is that God loves me for myself—not for anything I have achieved, not for my beauty or intelligence or righteousness or for any other “qualification,” but simply in the way that a good mother loves the fruit of her womb. If I can get that into my head—or better, into my heart—then I won’t be grasping desperately for self-esteem at the expense of others, and cutting myself off from my proper destiny, which is spiritual fellowship with them.

Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 69. See the updated chapter in his Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

Envy Defined

Envy is wanting what another person has and feeling badly that I don’t have it.  Envy is disliking God’s goodness to someone else and dismissing God’s goodness to me.  Envy is desire plus resentment.  Envy is anticommunity.  Paul said that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  Envy causes me to mourn when others rejoice and rejoice when others mourn.

Envy is dangerous because it is opposed to other people.  Sins like greed and lust are simply about the gratification of my desires.  Envy not only seeks self-gratification, but it seeks to diminish the one I envy. …

Envy is primarily a sin of the eye.  It makes my brother’s piece of cake look bigger and better than mine.  A child may have a hundred toys, but envy makes the one toy that a sibling asks to play with the most desirable of all.  When it comes to envy, the eyes have it.

Taken from John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

The Focusing Illusion

Bestselling business author Simon Sinek gives a motivational speech called “Understand the Game,” where he mentions a study asking people if they would rather have a $400,000 house on a street where all the other houses are $100,000, or a million-dollar house on a street where all the other houses are two million dollars. People chose the $400,000 house, even though it was lower in value than the million-dollar house, because they wanted to be better than their neighbors.

…There is a theory that psychologists have described as the “focusing illusion.” This theory suggests when we compare our lives to others, we often focus on small details and assume if these small details were different, we would be happier.

For example, have you ever been having a fantastic day and then decide to scroll your feed? Suddenly, you come across another picture of Sydney. Sydney is perfect. Her hair is always perfect, her outfits are stellar, and her thighs don’t touch (which honestly just feels unhealthy), but you are jealous, so . . . whatever. Sydney is on another vacation. Greece, hashtag Mykonos. Suddenly your perfect day is spoiled. You can barely afford the Olive Garden, let alone Mykonos.

Taken from It’s Not Your Turn by Heather Thompson Day. Copyright (c) 2021 by Heather Marie Day. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.


An Englishwoman, Frenchman and a Russian

Joseph Epstein tells a joke that illustrates envy’s malicious and impotent character well. Once there was an Englishwoman, a Frenchman, and a Russian: 

Each [was] given a single wish by one of those genies whose almost relentless habit is to pop out of bottles. The Englishwoman says that a friend of hers has a cottage in the Cotswolds, and that she would a friend of hers has a cottage in the Cotswolds, and that she would like a similar cottage, with the addition of two extra bedrooms and a second bath and a brook running in front of it. 

The Frenchman says that his best friend has a beautiful blonde mistress, and he would like such a mistress himself, but a redhead instead of a blonde and with longer legs and a bit more in the way of culture and chic. 

The Russian, when asked what he would like, tells of a neighbor who has a cow that gives a vast quantity of the richest milk, which yields the heaviest cream and the purest butter. ‘I vant dat cow,” the Russian tells the genie, “dead.’

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, Brazos Press, 2009.

Envy in The Disney/Pixar Film The Incredibles

Syndrome (formerly called Incrediboy) in the film The lncredibles is one example of envy’s futility and the envier’s inferiority, which together secure the inevitable lack of success in besting one’s rival to which the envier feels doomed. Early in the film, Incrediboy is an ardent but annoying admirer of the superhero Mr. Incredible.

Having been spurned and his inferiority openly acknowledged, he launches on a lifetime’s work of killing off superheroes while at the same time creating a machine that only he, with his superior technological props, can defeat.

He spends all his energy trying to make himself into an imitation-superhero. His plan, as revealed to Mr. Incredible, is simple: perfect the machine, defeat it in a mock battle to win acclaim, and then sell his technology to the masses.

His rationale? If everyone can be “super,” then no one will be. His efforts are shown to be a pathetic failure when he sends his machine to wreak havoc in the city, and his charade of “defeating” it with pseudo-superpowers is exploded for the second-rate fakery it is. No technological imitation can be a real superpower. His position of inferiority cannot be changed, despite his best efforts. His inferiority can only be exposed even more painfully for all to see.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, Brazos Press, 2009.

Fearing to Want

In her thought-provoking book, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes the tension in listening to our deepest desires: some of them these desires are integral to our identity, but they also can easily be marred by sin:

Brennan Manning was a man ordained into the Franciscan priesthood who struggled with a lifelong addiction to alcohol. He writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” Like Manning, every human is drunk on the wine of paradox and riddled with fear. We each have great capacity for evil and terrific incapacity for good.

These fears can obstruct our will to want. How can we allow ourselves to want, especially when we’re so infinitely adept at sin? How do we ever decide that our desires are anything other than sin-sick expression of our inner corruption? Can we trust our desires if we ourselves can be so untrustworthy?

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.


Coveting Yesterday and Today

Remember how you felt that Christmas when your sister opened the gift you wanted? Or when your brother got a T-bird for graduation and you got stuck with the family Nova? Fast-forward to today and ask yourself how it hits you when a co-worker gets a raise but you have done more work—or perhaps, his work?

Or when a neighbor decorates her home from an unrestricted budget and you’re gluing the peeling wallpaper back on the wall? We find ourselves kids again, pouting around the Christmas tree amid our piles of toys. There’s a reason Scripture has to command us not to covet. It’s in our (fallen) nature. It’s systemic. It’s the kneejerk reaction of jerks. If we can’t have more than others, at least we want it equal. But less than others? Uh, no.

Wayne Stiles, Waiting on God, Baker Publishing Group, 2015, pp.16-17.

Envy’s Wish

A Poem by Victor Hugo recounts an opportunity granted to Envy and Avarice to receive whatever they wished, on the condition that the other receive a double portion. Envy replied, “I wish to be blind in one eye.”

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, Brazos Press, 2009.

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