The Envy of Cain

When God accepted Abel's sacrifice and rejected Cain's, Cain had several responses he could have chosen. He could have celebrated the success of his brother. He could have asked his brother (or God for that matter) what about his offering wasn't acceptable and learned from his mistake. He could have stolen Abel's flocks and offered that up as a sacrifice. He could have just left the whole family and tribe altogether.  He didn't have to kill his brother. It didn't gain him anything. Such is the power of envy.

We tend to use the words jealousy, envy, and coveting interchangeably.  While that’s not necessarily a huge deal, it is important to understand the variations of the sin of envy.

When you are jealous, you are afraid of someone taking what you already have. A common expression of jealousy is what we feel when a friend or spouse gives attention that’s normally reserved for us to someone else. The etymology for ‘jealous’ comes from the French word for possessive. Jealously implies your ownership (or at least your perception of ownership.) So when we say we are ‘jealous’ or someone’s awesome vacation, we are using the word incorrectly.

Another word we often hear the Bible use is coveting.  This is tied to one of the Ten Commandments- “Thou shalt not covet.” To covet means to lust after or desire something that someone else has. To crave or obsess over it. It’s important to note that it is not wrong to be inspired by someone else’s success. If you see that someone has a great marriage or a healthy financial life and aspire towards the same thing, that’s fine and healthy. Admiration is a good thing. It becomes coveting when you want their wife or their money. So while jealousy is being afraid of losing something you have, coveting is wanting something someone else has.

Envy is slightly different than jealousy and coveting. With envy, we aren’t worried about losing something (jealousy.) We aren’t focused on taking something (coveting.) Envy is even more insidious. Envy is wishing that the other person lose their qualities or possessions or popularity so that you can feel better about yourself. It seeks the destruction of the other. What did Cain gain from the destruction of his brother?

Envy is toxic because it not only seeks the destruction of the other but it also eats away at your own soul. Solomon writes: “A heart at peace gives life to the body. But envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30) We become envious when we fall into the comparison trap. Someone is more successful, wealthier, more popular, more attractive.  We compare and feel inferior and build resentment. As Teddy Roosevelt notes:

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

Externally, While me might not literally murder people in the way that Cain did, we murder them with our words. Envy leads us to all sorts of destructive behaviors, and we need to be on guard for its ruinous effect in our lives.We gossip. We slander. We dismiss or reduce or explain away someone else's accomplishments and don't give them adequate honor or credit. We talk about how we could have the same success if we weren't committed to some other self-righteous pursuit.

Envy can be destructive and obstructive. Perhaps we don't go out of our way to tear someone down, but we also don't put forth any energy in helping them succeed. Either way, it is harmful. So how do we combat envy?

When looking at the seven deadly sins, the corresponding virtue to the vice of envy is kindness. While envy seeks to destroy and take away, kindness means to intentionally build up. So give someone authentic and sincere praise. Marcus Aurelius writes:

“Kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere— not ironic or an act. What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight— if you get the chance— correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm. “No, no, my friend. That isn’t what we’re here for. It isn’t me who’s harmed by that. It’s you.” 

We have to learn to "rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15), to celebrate and honor the accomplishments of others. Choose humility and curiosity rather than hostility. Admiration rather than comparison.

Envy is deceptive and it is poisonous. If you aren't aware of when it's happening inside of you, it can eat way at your joy and erode your relationships. Pay attention to your thoughts.

The First Time I Got Fired.

I remember the first time I got fired. My boss was a hulking, ex-college football player. I was a young, snot-nosed intern who thought I already had it all figured out.  I kept getting in trouble for not following through on some of the 'smaller details' because I was 'too busy' doing the 'important stuff.' I was pretty arrogant about it.  Eventually, it caught up to me. I remember feeling so small in that office as I was being let go, and it wasn't just because my boss could bench press me. It was all of the air coming out of me as my ego deflated. Pride came before the fall.

Pride is an inflated sense of one's abilities or importance. You think you are better than you are or are more important than others. That's a common thing for people in ministry. We think we are doing "God's work." People who know us primarily from our stage presence might think we are better than we are. And we believe the hype. It's easy for people in any leadership position to have their ego swell with pride. Ironically, humility is probably the most important quality of a strong leader. Pride erodes influence.

Another word for pride, arrogance, means to 'claim something for yourself.' To always make it about you. Even people with low self-esteem can be full of pride if they still make everything about themselves. One-Uppers and One-Downers.  People with a victim mindset can often be full of pride... Woe is me

Pride As The Foundation of the Seven Deadly Sins

Pride was the primary sin in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve thought they were more important than God. They believed they could rise above or beyond the authority of God. They believed the serpents words that they could be their own gods. We've been believing that same lie ever since.

Pride is the foundational sin that leads to all other sins. We think we are more important than God or others so we take, take, take. The advocates of the seven deadly sins believed all other sins could be traced to pride. Thomas Aquinas said it like this:

"Inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin.”

Here's how pride plays out in the other deadly sins:

  • When you have envy, you tear others down or seek their destruction because you don't want them to look better or have more than you.
     
  • When you have lust, you objectify the other person and they become objects solely to be used for your pleasure.
     
  • In gluttony, you make your pleasure (and not your nourishment) the ultimate purpose of food, wine, etc. and you overindulge for temporary pleasure...often to the expense of your own health and the supply for others.
     
  • In wrath, you plot the destruction of others in response to how you've been wronged. You work yourself up into a froth as you multiply the offense over and over again (usually with a distorted version of the story that puts you solely as the victim in it.)
     
  • Perhaps greed's connection to pride is self-evident. You want more and more and are never content. Thomas Aquinas notes, "It is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them." A greedy person views themselves as more important or entitled than the others around them.
     
  • The connection between sloth and pride is an interesting one.  Another word for sloth, in the context of the deadly sins, is apathy.  Or in other words, "no passion." When a person is apathetic to the plight of the people around them, that is pride and entitlement at it's worst. I don't care because I don't have to. It doesn't impact me, so why should I bother? We are seeing this on a national level right now with people that are not willing to engage with the reality of racial inequality. It is easy for people that are not impacted by racial discrimination to ignore it. This type of apathy is a dangerous expression of pride. Followers of Jesus must learn to move from apathy to empathy. From pride to humility.

The Cure For Pride

Although pride is an inflated sense of self, its opposite, humility, is not a deflated sense of self. It is an accurate sense of self. To know who you truly are so that you can both grow and give. Pride plays itself out by taking from others. Humility is about giving to others.

In order to give to others, you must have value. Humility implies dignity and value. John Dickson defines humility like this in his book Humilitas

“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” 

In order to serve someone else, you have to have something to offer. Humility means recognizing your value (and your weaknesses) so that you may use what you have to bless others. While pride seeks to protect us from our weaknesses, to blind us to our shortcomings, humility demands self-awareness. Flannery O'Connor writes:

“To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility . . .”

The Bible says repeatedly that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. I think it's just as true that the proud resist God. They don't see the need for God. They've got it figured out. As Epictetus wrote, "It is impossible to teach a man something he already thinks he knows."

But God gives grace to the humble. He's patient, present, and generous to the person who is willing to engage with who they are and who they are not. For the person that is willing to learn, Jesus is a great teacher.

Getting fired was a wake up call at that time in my life. I stuck around that church, kept learning, and eventually that boss offered me another position. He stuck with me, encouraged me, gave me opportunities to grow and lead. Pride is something that still impacts my life every day of course, but I'm more aware now of how my attitude and actions impact the people around me.

Getting to the Root.

In the 4th century, an aspiring minister named Evagrius Ponticus fled Constantinople to escape the temptations of having an affair. (He took Paul's admonition in 2 Timothy 2:22 to flee temptation literally.) He joined a monastic community in Jerusalem but eventually moved to Egypt where he became one of the "Desert Fathers." An intellectual who was well versed in the teachings of Plato, Socrates, and the Stoics, Evagrius would become a well-known spiritual leader and his writings would be widely read.  Perhaps most familiar to us, he developed what we know as the "Seven Deadly Sins."

The monicker of 'deadly' might be a little misleading. They are perhaps better understood as root sins. The seven deadly sins are the things that take root in our heart and lead to all types of destruction in our lives. Pride, envy, lust, sloth, greed, wrath, and gluttony. To address external behaviors without considering these internal motivators is a fool's errand. 

Paul talked about the deadly sin of greed in this way when he wrote, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

We often shorten this verse and quote it as saying, "Money is the root of all evil." But look at it again.  "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." Wealth is not condemned in the Bible. Greed is. A person whose heart is consumed with greed will wreak havoc on the lives around them. This is true of the other deadly sins as well.

Jesus was such a powerful teacher because he aimed to move past the symptoms and into the heart. We see this often in His teachings:

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45) 

When Jesus uses the word "repent," the literal meaning of the word for repent, metanoia, means to "change your mind." Transformation isn't just about modifying behavior, it's about changing the way you look at things. He says this a little more explicitly here:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23)

In other words, how you see things (perceive, interpret, and respond) impacts every aspect of your life. And though he uses the metaphor of the eyes as the lamp, your perception of things is more of a mind and heart issue. This is why Paul tells us to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)

Solomon wrote, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

So when you blow it, ask questions about the beliefs and assumptions and emotions that are going on underneath.

When I gossip about someone else, what is really going on here?  Am I angry with something they did? Do I envy their success or reputation and want to tear them down? Am I just wanting to make myself look better or be the center of attention or paint myself as a victim? (Pride.) Or some combination of all three? Gossip is the external sin that is flowing out of the internal issue.

Taking the time to chase down the internal issues can lead to long term success in living out the life that Christ has called us to. The next stretch of blog posts will look at each of these root sins (and their corresponding virtues) in greater depth.

The Need For Deep Friendship.

A week ago, I wrapped up a sermon series on the beginning of Genesis and what it tells us about the goodness of God, Creation, and Ourselves. I ended with a focus on the beauty of friendship. Listen to it here.

As this Boston Globe article suggests, and the current Surgeon General has said numerous times, isolation is one of the greatest health risks we are currently facing. For men, we often find it easy to connect over surface level things. For my circle of friends this it the time of year when we talk endlessly about fantasy football. And I love it.

But deep friendship has to be about something more.  Friendship means "having mutual regard for each other." You're connecting with someone over a common interest, commitment, or experience. One point that I didn't get to in the sermon was this:  A great friendship is built upon a common vision that is worthy of the people involved.

Marcus Aurelius says it like this: 

"A man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions."

Around 20 years, John Piper gave a famous sermon about a retired couple that spent the rest of their days working on their golf swing and collecting seashells. In Piper's mind, what a waste of our one life and finite time. I can't help but agree. My time is my most valuable and scarce resource. What am I going to spend it on? Will it be worthy?

Great friendships are built on honesty, truth-speaking, vulnerability, and grace. Solomon says a good friendship is like "iron sharpening iron." We push each other to grow and be better. We find people that encourage us and hold us accountable to being the type of people we want to be.

I think friendships are at their best when they are also centered around a vision for our lives that is bigger than ourselves. Generous, sacrificial, and making the world a better place. Find something worthy of your life and surround yourself with people committed to the same thing.

"Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction."

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
 

Take Care of Creation.

This past Sunday, I preached on Genesis 1:26-31 and unpacked a little of what it means to be made in the image of God. You can check that out here.

One part of being human, which has been clear since the beginning, is our responsibility to take care of our planet. This is connected with being image-bearers.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature.
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself." (Genesis 1:26-28, The Message)

God gives us creation to explore, enjoy, spread out, and carve out a life in. In turn, we have the authority and responsibility to take care of it.  God created us relationally. To live in relationship with God (evidenced in the Garden of Eden and the rest of Scripture), relationship with each other ("It is not good for man to be alone"), relationship with ourself (self-consciousness, awareness, worth, etc.) and with creation.  Creation Care connects to all of those relationships. How we care for Creation shows gratitude for the Creator that gave us this gift. It has an obvious impact on others, the people around us now and the generations to come. It impacts our own lives as we wander around the earth. Creation Care is an obvious and explicit aspect of being human.

So how do we do it? The information is overwhelming and sobering. I am certainly no expert in this. I'm a novice, exploring myself, and figuring out what practical steps our family is going to take to be good stewards of Creation. I've gathered some resources from some friends and wanted to share them with any who might want to explore more. This list is by no means exhaustive. My encouragement is to educate yourself, look for practical ways to adjust your day to day living, and become involved at a community level as well.

Sermons/Podcasts

Climate Change and the Christian Challenge
Pale Blue Dot (Liturgists Podcast)

Books

Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology
For the Beauty of the Earth
Caught in the Middle
The Green Bible

For People in Virginia

World Wildlife Fund: Bridging the worlds of faith and conservation https://www.worldwildlife.org/videos/bridging-the-worlds-of-faith-and-conservation

James River Association: Conservation organization for our James River, which has adrainage area that covers one-fourth of Virginia. They focus on local activities that reduce pollution reaching the river, foster individual and corporate responsibly and restore desirable aquatic populations. https://jrava.org/ 

Specific things you can dohttps://jrava.org/what-you-can-do/ 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Celebrating 50 years of working throughout Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to restore and protect the world’s most productive estuary…ourChesapeake Bay. Lots of local conservation activities for individuals, families and groups, organized by their Richmond-based Virginia office.   http://www.cbf.org/issues/ 

Virginia Natural Area Preserves (VA Dept. Of Conservation & Recreation)  Get outdoors and visit the most unique habitats and animal/plant communities in the Commonwealth. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/document/napbook4web.pdf 

Virginia Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates (by VA Cooperative Extension)  A great guide for those wanting to plant a garden and get things in the ground at the right time; Spring and Fall https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/426/426-331/426-331_pdf.pdf 

Va Department of Conservation and Recreation:
http://www.plantmoreplants.com/document/yardcare2.pdf

EPA Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services (lots of information on this website) https://www.epa.gov/greenerproducts 

Hiking Upwards: Great hike planning site with trail specific details and printable topo maps. Get out there and enjoy creation firsthand! http://www.hikingupward.com/ 

*Thanks so much to Jack, Nathan, Matt, and David for some of these resources.
**This isn't even the tip of the iceberg and is missing a lot of key areas in regards to Creation Care. (Treatment of animals, etc.)