In 1975 country music was going through some major changes. The old Nashville style of slicked back hair; rhinestone suits; and songs about trains, trucks, and cheating was being replaced by a new style - characterized by shaggy hair; bell-bottom blue jeans; and songs about sunshine, love, and peaceful easy feelings.
John Denver led the pack of this new breed of artist. He was more successful than any "country" singer had ever been. Before 1975, only a handful of country artists had earned gold records (A gold record is 500,000 copies). John Denver's records, however, went platinum, meaning they sold more than a million copies. He was wildly successful and had a huge crossover audience that blurred the lines between country and pop music - and many, many people in the country music industry hated him.
In fact, in 1975, at the Country Music Awards show, singer Charlie Rich had been picked to announce the Country Artist of the Year award. The award went to John Denver, but when he opened the envelope, rather than call Denver's name, Charlie took out a cigarette lighter, set fire to the paper, and walked off stage.
I don't know what motivated Charlie Rich to do what he did that night, but I know what motivated a lot of the resentment country music people had for John Denver in those days - envy. Many of them had worked their whole life to achieve modest success, and he came on the scene and in just a few short years became the best selling "country" artist of his day. In their opinion, it just wasn't right. He didn't deserve it. It wasn't fair.
Fair or not, it's a fact of life that when some people succeed, other people become envious. For every successful person on the planet, there are hundreds (or thousands) who say, "He doesn't deserve to succeed. It should have been me. I deserve it more."
In one of Dik Lapine's cartoons is a drawing of a Promise Keeper's Pastor's Convention. There's a man on stage speaking before thousands of people in an arena, his image projected onto a jumbo screen. The caption shows that most of the pastors in the audience are thinking to themselves: "I could do better than this guy." Envy. It's that voice that tells us "He doesn't deserve to succeed. It should have been me." The dictionary defines envy as a: "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with the desire to possess the same advantage."
How many of you have ever heard of the seven deadly sins? According to Dante, there are seven deadly sins: gluttony, lust, envy, pride, wrath, greed, and sloth. For years these served as a catalog of sins to definitely avoid. Many puritan and early American works contained discussions of these 7 sins and how harmful they are. Some of your grandparents may have grown up hearing about these, but we seldom hear them - or any sin for that matter - discussed in our own times.
MTV did a special in August 1993 on the Seven Deadly Sins which involved interviewing various well-known entertainers from the music and television industry. They pretty much all agreed these were not vices and the list was "dumb." This expresses the attitude of the day - envy is no big deal! To our culture, envy may be no big deal, but it is to God as He has made clear in the Bible.
Job 5:2 (NKJV) For wrath kills a foolish man, And envy slays a simple one.
Proverbs 14:30 (NKJV) A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.
Romans 13:13 (NKJV) Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.
1 Peter 2:1 (NKJV) Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,
Is envy really that big of a deal? Is it really a damaging sin? Yes, it is. In the workplace, envy has sidelined more careers and stalled more projects and, most likely, bankrupted more companies than we'll ever know. When envy and petty jealousy overtake a person's heart, that person becomes totally ineffective in all they do. They become consumed. They develop a victim's mentality. They say things like "Why me? It's not fair!"
The Bible is filled with illustrations that portray the disastrous effect envy has on personal relationships. The first sin in the Bible is a sin of envy.
Genesis 3:5 (NKJV) "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Eve was envious of God's knowledge, she wanted to be like God. Cain envied Able and killed him. He was envious because his brothers sacrifice was accepted and his wasn't. Jacob's sons were envious of Joseph and they sought to kill him.
Genesis 37:1-4 (NKJV) Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
Jacob had a special place in his heart for Joseph, and he showed that love by making a richly ornamented robe for him. Because Joseph was his fathers's favorite, his brothers hated him, and they showed it by not being able to say a kind word to him. And when the right moment came, they sought to kill him:
Genesis 37:20 (NKJV) "Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!"
After some deliberation, they decided not to kill him but sell him into slavery:
Genesis 37:26-28 (NKJV) So Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh." And his brothers listened. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Joseph's brothers were filled with envy. They were resentful of Joseph. And their envy caused them to seek his death.
Because of Saul's envy of David, he killed 85 of the Lord's priests:
1 Samuel 22:17-18 (NKJV) Then the king said to the guards who stood about him, "Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled and did not tell it to me." But the servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests of the LORD. 18 And the king said to Doeg, "You turn and kill the priests!" So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests, and killed on that day eighty-five men who wore a linen ephod.
Daniel was thrown into the lion's den because of the envy of his fellow officials in Babylon.
The high priest and his associates were filled with envy and jailed the apostles:
Acts 5:17-18 (NKJV) Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.
The word indignation is the Greek word zelos, which is often translated: "envy".
The prodigal son's brother was envious when his younger brother came home. And there are many more biblical illustrations of envy and it disastrous effects.
The Scriptures strongly condemn the sin of envy:
James 3:14-16 (NKJV) But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
According to this verse, every evil work spawns itself out of envy and jealousy.
1 Corinthians 3:3 (NKJV) for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
Their envy was a sign of their carnality. This was a real problem in the church at Corinth as it is today. It's a problem that we all have to deal with.
Recently a family went out to eat. They all love Mexican food - especially the son - so the Father took them to an upscale, expensive Mexican restaurant. His daughter got to bring a friend along, and the son didn't. Dad wasn't playing favorites; the daughter just happened to have a friend over, and she was invited to come along. This made the son unhappy, and he pouted through most of the meal. When the boy was asked what was wrong, he finally said, "Why did she get to bring a friend tonight, and I didn't? She always gets special treatment. I get nothing." So the boy sat there, not eating, just poking his food and pouting, because his sister got something he didn't get. Instead of enjoying a meal at his favorite restaurant, he was miserable all evening. Sound familiar, anyone?
It happens in families, it happens at work, it happens in the ministry, it happens among friends. When people become envious, they lose their ability to enjoy life. They lose their ability to appreciate what they have, because they're too focused on keeping track of what everyone else has. That's what envy does to you. It prevents you from enjoying life. It prevents you from enjoying your own success, and it causes you to resent everyone else's.
David wrote Psalm 37 to encourage us not to become envious when other people succeed - especially the undeserving, the wicked. He says if their success isn't deserved, it will not last. He begins the Psalm by saying:
Psalms 37:1-2 (NKJV) Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. 2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb.
Whether the person we envy deserves their success or not, whether they're good or bad, wicked or not, right or wrong, our feelings of envy have the same debilitating effect on us. So, the question is not "Does John Denver deserve to be Country Artist of the Year; does your sister deserve to bring a friend along for a meal?" The question is not, "Does he or she deserve success?" The question is: "How will I deal with my feelings of envy, resentment, and jealousy?"
If you tend to be envious of others' success, David shows us four things in Psalm 37 that we can do to get our mind off of their situation and get your mind focused on what God wants to be doing in your life. There are four words to remember. The first word is:
Psalms 37:3 (NKJV) Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
The gospel of John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection. Jesus told Peter that he would die the death of a martyr. Peter pointed at John and said, "What about him?" Jesus said:
John 21:22 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me."
Jesus was saying to Peter, and he's saying to us today, "Take your eyes off them. Put your eyes on me. Don't worry about anyone else. Just follow me, and trust me."
Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other's business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival. One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, "I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?" The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, "Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!"
We laugh at that, but we know the depth of this sin, we may have felt this way our self. Envy says to God that you are not content with what he has given you. The opposite of envy or jealousy is contentment. Discontentment is questioning the goodness of God. When we learn to trust in God, we will be content and stop envying.
If you find yourself struggling with envy, you need to trust God more. He will take care of you. A second word I want you to remember is...
Psalms 37:4 (NKJV) Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Think for a moment about what causes you to become envious. Is it that someone has a better car? Or they earn more money? Or they get more recognition? Or they have a bigger office, with a better view? Or they get to travel to places you've never been to?
The things that so often make us envious are things that aren't supposed to be that important to us in the first place. We need to ask ourselves, "Does this really matter. Is it really that important?" I mean, 25,000 years from now, will it matter how big your office was? Will it matter whether or not you were the one the company sent to Orlando? When these things stir up envy and resentment in us, it tells us that we are delighting in the wrong things. Our delight must be in the Lord, not in the trappings of success.
We need to say, "Lord, I choose you over all those things. And rather than pursue them, I will pursue you. I am putting you first in my life." That's what it means to delight in the Lord; to put him first, to choose him over everything else. When you do that, guess what happens? David tells us:
Psalms 37:4 (NKJV) Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
It's a matter of the cart and the horse, and a question of which will come first. When God has first place in your life, you're in a position to be blessed. Here's how it works: When you put God first, and take your delight in him, you begin to get your priorities straightened out. You discover that many things that once seemed so important are suddenly insignificant. When you put God first, your heart's desires become more like his. They become more holy, and less self-serving.
For example, your desires will change from "I want a magnificent house" to "I want a magnificent home." See the difference? A magnificent house is pretty much determined by the price tag; a magnificent home is one that is filled with happiness, where love and laughter bounce off the walls. It's easier to build a house than a home, but if you take delight in the Lord, he'll give you the home of your dreams. When God becomes your first priority, some of your heart's desire will certainly change, but they will all be fulfilled.
Do you feel envious sometimes? Stop wanting what others have, and start wanting God more than anything else. Take delight in him. The third word I want you to remember is:
Psalms 37:5 (NKJV) Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.
This reminds me of the verse in Proverbs:
Proverbs 16:3 (NKJV) Commit your works to the LORD, And your thoughts will be established.
Do you know what this means, to commit your works to the Lord? It means this: You do all that you do to honor and glorify the Lord. What is it that God wants from us more that anything else? He want us to love one another. Notice what Paul says about love:
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NKJV) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
If we really loved the Lord, we would love others:
1 John 4:20-21 (NKJV) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
If we love others, we won't be envious of them. If we loved others, we would rejoice in their happiness and accomplishments. We see envy defeated by love in the life of David and Jonathan. Jonathan was king Saul's son and was in line for the throne. But when David came along, who was a greater warrior and more popular than Jonathan, and who also was a threat to the throne that Jonathan normally would have inherited, Jonathan was not envious or jealous. Why? Because he loved David and love does not envy.
Charles L. Allen, in The Miracle of Love, writes of a fisherman friend who told him that one never needs a top for his crab basket. If one of the crabs starts to climb up the sides of the basket, the other crabs will reach up and pull it back down. Some people are a lot like crabs. We hate to see anyone do better than us, because we are envious
Trust; Delight; Commit; And here's the fourth word:
Trent Dilfer became the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens this year. When he took over the job, he led them to eleven straight wins and a Super Bowl Championship. However, two years ago he didn't look like a championship-caliber quarterback. He was a back-up at Tampa Bay, and he was such a disappointment to them that they let him go. He knew he was good, but he wondered if he'd ever get a chance to prove it. He wondered if he still had a career in the NFL. He left Tampa Bay and became the back-up quarterback in Baltimore. And he waited. Finally, at mid-season this year, his time came.
Your time will come, too, if you're willing to wait. Don't let the success that others enjoy today destroy your chance to succeed tomorrow. Be willing to wait. David said:
Psalms 37:7 (NKJV) Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Waiting is not a passive activity where you do nothing until you get your "lucky" break. Waiting on God means that we keep doing what we know we should be doing, and leave the timing of the results in his hands. Just because you're not succeeding today doesn't mean you'll never succeed. Wait on God's timing. Keep being faithful to God. It's worth the wait. It's always worth the wait, if you spend your waiting time seeking God, being still in his presence. In fact, Dilfer told Christianity Today earlier this year that his professional struggles gave him spiritual insight he might never have gotten otherwise; they taught him to be still and wait on God.
Don't let yourself be sidelined by envy. Don't let it eat away at your effectiveness. Whether or not others succeed - whether or not they deserve it - is not your concern. Your concern is to keep pursuing the path God has called you to take.
Trust him; he'll take care of you. Delight yourself in him; he'll re-arrange your priorities and give you your heart's desire. Commit yourself to him; focus on giving him the glory. And wait on him; your time will come.