Bitter Envying

Envy, a feeling of discontent or dissatisfaction due to another having more or better, is traditionally considered one of the worst sins. (Pr 27:4) It desires others to have less or worse, and is thus purely and uniquely destructive. It’s also grounded in the primal lie that God Himself does not satisfy (Ps 63:5), and that something else will.

Bitterness is resenting God for not treating us as well as we deserve (if we knew we deserved worse we’d be thankful; since God could improve our lot and hasn’t, our resentment must be toward Him). It presumes God’s not good, that He’s not ordering things rightly, that we could do it better. It’s born of pride; thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. (Ro 12:3)

So, bitter envying is quite the combination! a feeling of resentment toward God for others having more or better; it combines the destructiveness of envy with the arrogance and pride of bitterness. As we find this within we should admit the corruption and deceit it reveals, and turn ourselves back toward the truth. (Ja 1:14) The truth is we don’t deserve better, and what we’re after won’t satisfy us.

Bitterness and envy cripple, trapping us in brokenness; they don’t move us to healthy living. Thankfulness and worship are the healthy counterparts, setting us free to become all God has designed us to be, to live in the fullness (Ep 3:19) and adventure to which He’s called us, a life of ultimate pleasure and goodness. (1Pe 3:10-11)

Truth is, we deserve to be burning in Hell forever; no one suffers eternal Hell who doesn’t fully deserve it, and we’re as bad or worse when left to ourselves. (Php 2:3) Anything else is mercy, God restraining us and giving us repentance (2Ti 2:25), for which we should be exceedingly thankful.

Also, we’re designed to enjoy God supremely; pursuing anything apart from God (as opposed to pursuing it in God, for God and with God) is to try to replace Him with part of His creation. (Ro 1:25) This is based on the primal lie and it will always fail; be sure of it.

We may know these things academically, but when we’re bitter and unthankful, envious and wanton, we reveal another belief system in opposition to God operating within our sub-conscious, our core selves. We did not learn this in Christ. (Ep 4:20) Rather than dismissing this as natural, confess it as a work of the devil, reckon ourselves dead to it (Ro 6:11), ask God to destroy it (1Jn 3:8b), and consistently expose the sub-conscious mind to truth with a prayerful intensity that takes no prisoners. (Mt 5:29-30)

Christ in us, living in and through us, always believes unto joyful obedience. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us. (Ep 3:20)

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Lusteth to Envy

James asks if we think the scripture speaks in vain when it claims our spirits lust to the point of envy. (Ja 4:5) The claim stumps scholars: there isn’t a quote quite like this anywhere in the Tenach (Old Testament). Mystery calls; there must be treasure here. (1Co 2:7)

If we look prayerfully at the context, James is addressing the difficulty we all face, particularly in times of suffering, as we observe the prosperity of those around us, wanting to have what they have and be more like them. (1) To the degree we fall into lusting after the comforts of this world (2) we align with and imitate the world, alienating ourselves from God. (4) Even our prayers may become warped (3), until we’re totally out of step with God.

There’s only one way out: grace – God enabling us to see more from His perspective (6a), a gift He bestows on the humble. (6b) As He realigns our desires in holy vision we resubmit to God (7) and draw near to Him again. (8a)

So, to overcome our lust and envy James exhorts us through this claim of scripture to repent, to cleanse our hands and hearts (8b), to grieve over our wayward affections (9); it’s the path of deliverance. (10)

James’ quote of scripture then, supporting his prescription for healing, would likely be found in a description of this conflict in the godly, where this gracious remedy, this heavenly perspective, is revealed and applied. Where might this be?

Perhaps Psalm 73.

The Psalmist, evidently a godly soul, finds himself struggling with envy as he observes the wicked prospering. (Ps 73:3) Some folk seem to have it so easy, skating through life, doing as they please, everything going their way, with no thought of serving God.

Who among the godly can’t relate to this, especially as we’re suffering through no obvious fault of our own? The wicked prospering alongside us just makes it all the more painful. (12)

Who doesn’t want to prosper and be in health? We certainly wish this on those we love (3Jn 2), so we tend to expect the same from God. Yet when God chastens and corrects us as we pursue Him (Ps 73:14) we may fall into doubting and resentment, hesitating and turning back from the very things James calls us to: cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts. (13)

But even as we notice our hearts straying, we know speaking aloud in such frustration is going to offend others in pursuit of God; so few have the wisdom to navigate this one. (15) Yet, as we contemplate these things and try to hold it all in, we may find the pain unbearable. (16)

The scripture’s saying here that the spirit within most all of us struggles with unholy desire at some point, particularly as we’re being scourged by God (He 12:6), and this inevitably leads to envy, wishing others didn’t have it so good since we can’t seem to get there ourselves. Consider it a universal problem, for all practical purposes; James evidently sees the scripture proclaiming it here, as well as the remedy.

In his unbearable pain, the Psalmist is driven into God’s presence for answers, and promptly finds deliverance in a new perspective. (Ps 73:17) He observes the end of the wicked, that they’re suddenly destroyed, without warning or remedy. (18-20) Their very prosperity blinds them to the urgency of their need, and effectively destroys them. (Pr 1:32)

This insight moves the Psalmist to repent, to realign his beliefs with God once more. He’s initially grieved at his foolishness (Ps 73:21-22), repenting and appreciating once again the precious hand of God in his life. (23-24) He is then able to refocus on the treasure he has in God (25) and is delivered from his trouble. (26)

Though James’ quote isn’t verbatim from scripture, it’s faithful to what scripture indeed proclaims. He hasn’t added to God’s Word as much as he’s distilled and summarized it for us, as those prayerfully filled with the Word may wisely do. (Mt 13:52)

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Lusteth to Envy

God asks us an interesting question: “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?(Ja 4:5)

Albert Barnes says of this text, “Few passages of the New Testament have given expositors more perplexity than this. The difficulty has arisen from the fact that no such passage as that which seems here to be quoted is found in the Old Testament.”

This text is evidently a commentary on the verses prior, warning us of the dangers of covetousness and lust (Ja 4:1-3), and that alliance with the world means being God’s enemy. (Jas 4:4) This implies that those who are not of God tend to have unrighteous desires, and require that we join them in this unrighteousness to be allied with them.

Scripture affirms that the natural inclination of the human spirit is dissatisfaction, such that we’re insatiable (Ec 1:8), never satisfied (Pr 27:20), continually lusting, craving things we shouldn’t. (Ro 7:7b-8a) Our inability to satisfy our own lusts tends to foster envy (Ps 73:3): a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or fortune, an ill will toward those who have more, and a desire that others be as dissatisfied and empty as we are. Envy is one of the most evil of all sins, very destructive to the soul. (Pr 14:30)

So, finding our spirits prone to lust, how do we combat this? The root cause of discontentment, lust and envy, the insatiable desire of our hearts, lies in our very design; we’re created to enjoy something vastly superior to ourselves, infinitely beautiful, infinitely majestic, infinitely good. Until we’re enjoying that, we’ll be constantly longing for it.

The most primal and basic of all lies is that God isn’t the answer to our longings. Satan began with this lie in the Garden* (Ge 3:5), and he relentlessly continues to reinforce it in the lives of all who’ll listen. (Jn 8:44) As we fall here we forsake the fountain of living waters (Je 2:13) in a dry and thirsty land, where no other water is. (Ps 63:1)

God Himself is the antidote to covetousness: He’s what we’re craving. (He 13:5) Contentment lies in enjoying God, in knowing Him, knowing that He’s enough, and being satisfied in Him. Once we realize that He’s all we’ll ever need, that He’s with us, and that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, there’s nothing more to worry about, or to lust after.

Sometimes the scripture speaks indirectly, containing and conveying truth that’s implied from other truths. It’s still a way of saying something, and those who’re hearing and seeing what’s being said directly, meditating on this, taking it into their heart, asking and seeking (Mt 7:7-8), also find these precious, implied truths. (Mk 4:24)

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