Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (2 of 7)
Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things. The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.
Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to
“Mary Ann,” a character on the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.” Actress Dawn Wells played this character in all 98 episodes of the series. She and Tina Louise are the only surviving members of the cast.
The character of Mary Ann is chosen as a symbol of ENVY because it was clear that she envied the beauty and glamor of the movie star character named “Ginger.” In fact, in episode 92, “The Second Ginger Grant,” Mary Ann suffered a blow to the head and took on the persona of Ginger, wearing her clothes and acting like her.
Mary Ann’s envy of Ginger was purely a plot device and exactly at odds with reality. Of the two, Dawn Wells was the beauty queen (Miss Nevada, 1950), she was “Gilligan’s” personal favorite, and received more than twice as much fan mail as cast mate Tina Louise. In 2005, Wells consigned her costume for sale and it sold for $20,700! In forty years of polls on the subject, men have expressed a preference for Mary Ann over Ginger that is 3-1 or even 4-1. If art had imitated life, Ginger would have been envious of Mary Ann!
ENVY is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a list formulated by the Church in medieval times. We are examining this list and each week offering a virtue to take the place of the vice. Today we’ll see how and why believers must replace ENVY with CONTENTMENT.
1. The vicious vice of ENVY (Genesis 4:1-16).
What is envy? ENVY is wanting what you don’t have, often paired with an unwillingness to wait for it or earn it. It is a form of materialism that reflects on what others possess.
In his book, 7 Deadly Sins, the late Billy Graham wrote, “The envious man somehow feels that other people’s fortune is his misfortune, that their success is his failure and hat their blessing is his curse.” (p. 42)
Why is envy so deadly? It puts a priority on things over God and others. An envious person values material things over persons.
It drains happiness and prevents satisfaction. When your attention is fixed on worldly things you can never be satisfied, because the things of this world – even the good things – always end in an appetite for more. The other thing we must learn and relearn is that the things of this world – even the good things – are temporary. Even if they last generations, all worldly things are temporary.
Cain is a biblical example of envy’s deadliness. When we read the account of Cain and Abel, God’s choice of Abel’s sacrifice and his rejection of Cain’s is obvious. As the text states, GOD LOOKED WITH FAVOR ON ABEL AND HIS OFFERING (vs. 4+5).
What’s not spelled out is why. We infer the reason for God’s choice by a close reading of the text, particularly Cain’s reaction. He became envious and angry. So angry, in fact, he murdered his brother. Verse six says Cain was ANGRY AND DOWNCAST.
Cain’s anger motivated him to be disrespectful and evasive when God asked him about Abel; “Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9)” The best answer is “YES.”
Cain gave into envy. He looked upon Abel’s success and wanted it too. Abel’s sacrifice was motive by gratitude and/or love; some other God-honored motive, as seen in God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice.
This was a murder that God tried to avoid. In v. 7, God gave Cain an unusual warning: SIN IS CROUCHING AT YOUR DOOR. He should have heeded God’s warning and dispensed with ENVY.
Cain’s consequences were isolation and failure. Cain was sent away, separated from his parents and condemned to be a wanderer on the earth (vs. 12+14). We don’t know what the MARK of Cain was, but it was a two-sided thing: it separated him from every other human being who had no such marking, but it also warned off anyone who might want to take revenge. It was God saying; “This one is mine. Leave him alone.”
We see Cain cursed to failure. In 3:17-19, Cain’s father Adam received God’s discipline for his sin; the GROUND was CURSED because of Adam and it was only by hard work that it would yield any fruit. Cain’s discipline is worse, in that the GROUND will never YIELD CROPS for him.
Cain later enjoyed some worldly success as an urban developer (v. 17); in fact, the Bible credits him as inventing cities. But envy destroyed his brother, his family relationships, and worst of all, estranged him from God. ENVY is deadly; it demands to high a price and delivers only unhappiness.
2. The vital virtue of CONTENTMENT (Philippians 4:10-13).
What is contentment? Contentment is a sense of satisfaction that exists apart from your circumstances. It is an abiding trust in God that He will provide what is needed, when it is needed.
A contented person trusts in God’s provision, not their own. As the song says, “Put your hope in things eternal.” Unlike worldly things, heavenly things truly satisfy and their effects are everlasting.
Why is contentment a vital virtue? There are many reasons; here are a few.
It is God-honoring and faith-based.
It is part of a maturing faith.
It removes the distraction of materialism.
It prioritizes our relationship with God, the Source of true satisfaction.
It allows us to use things without being used by them.
Let’s look at Paul as an example of contentment. Paul’s philosophy of financing ministry was simple: while he deserved each church’s support, he preferred not to need it.
The occasion for this letter to the church in Philippi was Paul acknowledging their gift to him, recently sent by Epaphroditus (v. 18). Keep in mind Paul was in prison when he wrote this. He said their gift gave him “immense joy” (v. 10). I’m sure Paul was happy that they’d remembered him, especially in his chains. But Paul wrote that his joy was IN THE LORD.
What’s important for our purposes was that Paul the prisoner had been content when he’d been with them and still practiced contentment while in prison! This was because Paul had learned the SECRET of contentment in EVERY SITUATION; keeping his priorities in order.
WHETHER WELL FED OR HUNGRY was not a rhetorical comment: prisons of that day did not feed their prisoners. Food had to be supplied by outsiders.
WHETHER LIVING IN PLENTY OR IN WANT is one way of summarizing Paul’s life. The Apostle Paul had been born into a wealthy family, but since accepting God’s call on his life, there had been lots of occasions for being in need, not the least of which was being shipwrecked! The SECRET is this; contentment is found in GOD in not self.
There is good evidence that Paul was well-educated and steeped in the Greek-influenced culture of his time. It’s likely he’d read what the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the contented man; “that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances.” What Plato misunderstood as an achievement of will, Paul rightly understood as an act of God’s grace. He wrote, I CAN DO EVERYTHING THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.
God’s strength and His love never fail. The love and strength of people will ultimately always fail, despite our best intentions. God never does. Philippians 4:13 is often taken as a promise of empowerment and it is that, but it is also the basis for our contentment, regardless of whatever we’re experiencing in the moment. To be content, we must seek to be
DEPENDENT on God,
INTERDEPENT on each other, and
INDEPENDENT of the support of others so we can avoid idleness and support others.
Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things. The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.
Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to
Facebook is an online social media and networking company. It was launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg, along with some fellow Harvard College students, with membership initially limited to Harvard students.
As of January 2018, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has become so commonly used that most of the people you know use it. In fact, some Millennials have abandoned Facebook because it’s gotten so full of “old people!”
We chose Facebook as a symbol of ENVY because it can become a way of looking into the lives of others, a view that can easily degenerate into envy. However, here’s a disclaimer: just because someone put something on Facebook doesn’t make it true. No, I’m serious!
In an article on the Independent’s website, Peter Walker cited an experiment by the University of Copenhagen involving 1,095 people, half of whom were asked to continue their Facebook habits and half ordered to abstain from logging on.
The data suggests Facebook causes people to suffer what they called “Facebook envy” and become particularly depressed. Users taking a week-long break from Facebook were found to be more satisfied with life and gave higher scores to their own well-being. So “Facebook envy” is not something made up to benefit this message, there is a reasonable connection between Facebook and the vice of ENVY and users suffering the consequences of ENVY.
God’s people are to practice CONTENTMENT instead of being guilty of ENVY. This leads to our final question:
How do I practice contentment?
One, simplify your life. Adopt the motto “Less is more.” Imagine what the object you want to buy sitting neglected and dusty on a shelf or in a closet, as that’s how it will probably end up. Hum or sing the song “The Bare Necessities” as you shop. Understand the “Inverse Rule of Possessions” – “The more things you own, the more things own you.”
Two, keep your ambition within your means. This is a financial philosophy: “debt is dumb” as financial guru Dave Ramsey says. It stresses relationships and creates financial chaos that will take more effort to undo than it did to do. This is also a philosophy for all of life. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Envy happens when we mistakenly think we ought to have things that are not actually in our power to possess.
Three, put your priorities in order. Do we need to be reminded that God is to come first, others second, and self last? We may not need a reminder to believe it, but we probably need a reminder to ACT on that principle. We affirm this truth in the way we act & speak.
It’s a fairly easy thing to say that the Bible is true and that we ought to follow God’s commands as revealed in the Bible. However, so much more than a nod of one’s head is required. We must act as if it is true by having our attitudes and actions be determined by what the Lord says.
Take ENVY for example. Envy is a poison we take hoping the other person will drop dead. Don’t do it. Replace ENVY and worry and all other forms of materialism with CONTENTMENT and trust in God.