Today we are going to finish up our Soul Detox series by looking at what might be the spiritual toxin the leads to all the rest: envy. In his book, Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel defines envy as the marriage of comparison and resentment. Comparison + Resentment = Envy. When we compare what we have to what others have and resent that they have it instead of us – it’s envy. Harold Coffin says that envy is counting the other person’s blessings instead of our own.
Envy is dangerous because it leads to many of the other toxic things we have been talking about. Envy can lead to toxic words because we not only resent what others have but we end up putting them down because they have what we want. Envy can lead to toxic fear when we see others get ahead in life when we aren’t and we wonder what will happen to us in the long run. Envy can lead to toxic relationships when we start comparing our marriages and children with others and when everyone else’s families look perfect we start asking ourselves what’s wrong with ours. Envy can lead to toxic beliefs about ourselves because we tell ourselves the reason we don’t have what others have is because we aren’t good enough. Envy also permeate much of today’s toxic culture because everywhere we turn we are told to compare ourselves to others and that if we want to be happy we have to have all the things that everyone else has. In so many ways envy, or our toxic comparisons of others, is at the root of much of what is poisoning us.
Now envy is not just an issue with material things. While we can be envious of someone else’s bigger house, newer car or smaller phone, we can also be envious of relationships. When we start comparing our marriages to the marriages of others and our families with the families we see around us it can lead us to want something different or something more. We can also envy appearances. When we start comparing what we look like to what others look like, we can begin to envy someone else’s shape and size and ability. This kind of envy leads to eating disorders in some and the use of steroids in others. Some people are looking to get smaller and others are looking to get larger. Toxic comparisons keep us unhappy and dissatisfied by always by telling us that we need to be someone and something we aren’t.
In high school I was envious of Dave Lyons. Dave was athletic, good looking and had lots of friends. One day I happened to hear that Dave weighed 135 pounds and so I thought that if I could just weigh 135 pounds I would be happy. Remember I was overweight and so I envied those who were thin and I believed that if I could just be thin – I would be happy. To this day I tell people that my ideal weight is 135 pounds. Now I know it’s not but that toxic comparison has stayed with me for 35 years.
After college I envied the manger I worked with. I worked harder than she did and I had better relationships with our staff than she did and our district manager even said, you know I really see the two of you as co-managers – which was nice, but I wasn’t getting the salary or the bonus she was getting. I had to fight the poison of envy in that job and sometimes I have fight the poison of envy in this job. Pastors are not immune to toxic comparisons. In both Altoona and Lewisburg I envied the parking lots that other churches had because we had almost no off street parking. Do you know what I did my very first week here at Faith Church? I walked through the parking lot and counted every space! I was excited to have a parking lot that with 237 parking spaces, but I’ll be honest, there was a little bit of pride and ego that I now served a church that had this kind of parking. I’m not proud of this, but I share it because envy is all around us and if left unchecked it can lead to many other kinds of evil. That’s what we read in James 3:14-16. Every evil practice!
The truth is that envy is not only all around us; it has been around from the very beginning. Let’s go back to Adam and Eve. God placed them in the Garden of Eden and told them they could eat anything they wanted except the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but then the serpent came to Eve and started talking to her about that particular tree and how good the fruit looked. It was then that she started to make some toxic comparisons.
Look at Genesis 3:6. Look at the words here, she saw that the fruit was good and pleasing and desirable. All the rest of the fruit that she had been given was also good and pleasing and desirable, but Eve wasn’t looking at those things, she was looking at what she didn’t have. She knew this fruit wasn’t hers, it belonged to God and she knew God said don’t eat that fruit, but because in her comparison it looked better than what she had, she and her husband both took it. Toxic comparisons and envy was part of original sin which means that in some way we all struggle with it.
To prove this point, let’s look at the children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able. Cain was a farmer and Able raised livestock and one day they both made an offering to God. God looked on Able’s offering with favor, but not Cain’s and while we don’t know what the difference was in their offerings, we know that Cain looked at his brother and envied the blessing he received and instead of being happy for his brother and working on his own heart and life in order to bring an acceptable offering to God himself, he went out and murdered his brother. For Adam and Eve, envy led to disobedience to God but with their children it led to murder. Envy leads to all kinds of evil and we see it all through the Bible.
In Genesis 30 it says that Rachel envied her sister Leah because Leah could have children and Rachel could not. Rachel and Leah were both married to Jacob and because Rachel wanted children like her sister, she sent her servant to have a child with Jacob in her place which only led to more children and more dysfunction until that family became the poster-family for toxic relationships. Envy led to a broken family full of strife. The brothers born to Leah and Rachel and their servants also struggled with envy because they compared their fathers love and favor for his favorite son Joseph with how they were being treated, and that comparison and resentment led them to sell their brother Joseph into slavery. Again, we see envy leading to all kinds of evil.
King Saul envied the praise and adoration that the warrior David was receiving with his victories in battle. Instead of being happy for David and even taking David along side of him to celebrate their victories together, his envy led Saul to be consumed with an anger and jealously that not only cost him the throne, but it cost him his life. And if you think it about, Jesus was condemned by the religious leaders of his day because they envied the crowds that followed him. The religious leaders envied the praise that Jesus had among the people and they feared losing their own power so they took action to not only silence Jesus, but to destroy him. So we see that envy leads to disobedience to God, family dysfunction, sibling rivalry, the loss of jobs, the loss of life and even the death of Jesus.
Envy truly does lead to all kinds of evil. Proverbs 14:30says a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Envy rots the very fabric of our lives and maybe it was the philosopher Socrates who said it best, “envy is the daughter of pride, the author of murder and revenge, and the perpetual tormentor of virtue. Envy is the filthy slime of the soul; a venom, a poison, which consumes the flesh and dries up the marrow of the bones. Envy is an ulcer of the soul.”
So how do we guard against envy and rid ourselves of this poison? The first thing we need to do is guard ourselves from the comparisons we make with others. Envy actually begins innocently enough when we stop and compare what we have with others and these comparisons aren’t bad if we can celebrate the blessings and gifts we see in others. The Bible tells us this is what we need to do. Romans 12:15 says, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Rejoicing with those who rejoice means looking at the lives of others and not wanting what they have but celebrating with them what they have and how God has blessed them. Think about the difference in the story of Cain and Able if Cain had celebrated with Able the blessing of God. Think about how Saul’s life and maybe the nation of Israel would have been different if Saul had taken David under his wing and celebrated his victories and success instead of envying them. Celebrating with others can transform our lives and bring its own blessing.
When someone is promoted at work above us – we should celebrate with them and not be bitter that we were overlooked. When people around us find success while we are experiencing failure we shouldn’t resent what is going in their lives but throw a party for them. It’s not easy, but when we do this we cut envy off at the knees and open the door for God to bless us as well. The same is true in relationships, when someone finds their true love we should celebrate that relationship and not be angry that our relationships are far from ideal or that we don’t have any relationships at all.
So we need to guard ourselves against toxic comparisons and one way we can do this is to just be thankful for what we have, look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. When we are thankful for what we have, it’s hard to be envious of what others have. When our eyes are fixed on the blessings God has given us it’s hard to see how green the grass is on the other side of the fence. One of the ways to fight envy is to simply make a list of all we are thankful for.
What are you thankful for today? When you look at your life, your marriage or friendships, your children and family? What are you thankful for? When you consider your job and career, your home and community, what can you give thanks for? Can you thank God for the love of family and friends? Can you thank God for a job and the resources to make it to through the day? Can you thank God for friends that support you and a church that provides opportunities for worship, support and service? I am convinced that once we stop comparing ourselves with others and begin to thank God for what he has given us – it begins to beak the power of envy in our hearts and lives.
Not only is giving thanks for all God has given us a way to clear out envy, but so is spending time with people who are truly thankful. This week at the Young at Heart lunch, Jim McKinley shared about his battle with guillain-barre syndrome and how in a matter of days that sickness took Jim’s health and strength and in time took his home, truck and much of his money. But it doesn’t take long being around Jim to see that he is an amazingly thankful person. When he shared with us on Thursday he said over and over again how thankful he was for our prayers, our love and our invitation to him to come and share his story. After feeding tubes for a long time, Jim is thankful that he can eat and he was thankful on Thursday for all the good food that was provided. I was humbled. When I envy what others have and get frustrated that my life isn’t what I thought it would be or want it to be and then see what Jim goes through… honestly, I’m embarrassed by my toxic comparisons. Jim doesn’t envy the life of others – he is thankful for his life and the blessings God has given him even in the midst of his limitations. I tell you what, spend some time with people who are truly thankful despite their situations and envy disappears while gratitude and humility fills the heart.
Toxic comparisons and envy leads to all kinds of evil and it enters our heart and minds so easily and quietly, so we need to guard against it and overcome it by everyday giving thanks for what we have and truly celebrating when we see God’s blessings in the life of others. If we can get this right, I believe that toxic words, relationships and beliefs begin to lose their power and we find strength to stand against the pull of the toxic culture around us. If we get this right and really learn how to give thanks – we begin to the find the life God has given to us.
Soul Detox ~ Toxic Comparisons
1. In what areas of your life do you tend to make the most comparisons?
• Material possessions
• Relationships and family
• Jobs and career
What might this tell you about toxic fears and insecurities that need to be overcome or how toxic words that have shaped your life?
2. In what ways have you seen envy lead to other problems in your life, relationships and family?
3. If one antidote to envy is to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”, who are the people in your life with whom you can rejoice? What might that celebration look like? Who are the people with whom you can weep?
4. Spend time each day giving thanks for what God has given you. Share these thanksgivings with others.
5. Ask people this week to tell you five things they are thankful for and help others overcome envy.