November 22, 2015

James 3:16-18

In February 2000, a Fox reality show garnered an audience of 22 million people by staging a two-hour show in which one woman from each state competed to be the bride of an unknown multi-millionaire, whom they did not see except in silhouette.  The millionaire, ultimately revealed as Rick Rockwell, selected Darva Conger of California and they were married on the show.  In addition to her new husband, Conger was given a three-carat diamond and $100,000 in prizes.

If you want to dress the morality of this experiment up a bit you can look to the Old Testament, written during a time when women were closer to property than autonomous individuals.  A woman’s father had the responsibility of finding her a husband.  He did the choosing and had the discretion to pawn her off to the highest bidder, if he so chose.  The better looking the daughter, the easier it was for the father to find her a home and get something material for himself in the process.

Our culture and understanding of love has evolved, although sometimes I’m not so sure, and we no longer believe that such manipulation and control of women reflects God’s plan.

A woman’s autonomy and freedom to make decisions independent of men was reflected in a Virginia Slim cigarette commercial way back in the 1960’s with the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Well, we’ve have come a long way on some things.  Some things have changed for the better.  Other things remain locked in a virtual time warp.

There is an ancient Greek legend that tells of an important race where an athlete competed well but he did not win the race.  The crowd applauded noisily for the winner and he became a hero in the eyes of many.  However, the man who came in second place was all but forgotten.  The winner of the race had a statue erected in his honor.  Though he did well in the race, the second place winner could only think of himself as a loser.

Corrosive envy ate away at him physically and emotionally, filling his body with stress. He could think of nothing else but his defeat so he decided he had to destroy the statue that was a daily reminder of his lost glory.

A plan took shape in his mind, which he began cautiously to implement. Late each night, when everyone was sleeping, he went to the statue and chiseled at the base hoping to weaken the foundation so that eventually it would topple.  Obsessed with this venture, night after night he chiseled away.  One night, as he was chiseling away at the sculpture, he went too far. The heavy marble statue teetered on its fragile base and crashed down on the disgruntled athlete. He died beneath the crushing weight of the marble replica of the one he had grown to hate.  But in reality he had been dying long before, inch-by-inch, chisel blow by chisel blow. He was the victim of his own stressful, competitive envy. (Lloyd Ogilvie, “Making Stress Work For You,” pages 101, 102)

Fifty women competed to marry a multi-millionaire, perhaps for fifty different reasons.  Could it be that envy was a common denominator that caused these women to parade themselves in front of America so they would have the chance to marry a complete stranger just because he had lots of money?

Envy is a feeling of discontentment and resentment aroused by contemplation of another’s desirable possessions or qualities, with a strong desire to have them for oneself.

It is a destructive emotion of the mind that chisels away at common sense until we are convinced and fooled by the illusion that fulfillment in life can be acquired if we had the positions that someone else has, a wife or husband that looked as good as the one someone else has, the amount of money that someone else has, the kind of children that someone else has, the position in the company that someone else has, the property that someone else has, the respect, or power that someone else has, followed by the desire to obtain it.

Fifty women stepped out in front of America looking to be the wife of a multi-millionaire because at some point they looked around and saw the lifestyle of someone else who was married to a wealthy man and decided that could be IRS.

In fact it should be the IRS.  Here’s my chance.  A contest.  A man wanted a trophy wife, perhaps because he had envied other wealthy men who had beautiful wives and he’d been unsuccessful in attracting one.

There is a fable that Satan’s agents were failing in their various attempts to draw into sin a holy man who lived as a hermit in the desert of northern Africa. Every attempt had met with failure. So Satan, angered with the incompetence of his subordinates, became personally involved in the case. He said, “The reason you have failed is that your methods are too crude for one such as this. Watch this.”

He then approached the holy man with great care and whispered softly in his ear, “Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria.”

Instantly the holy man’s face showed that Satan had been successful: a great scowl formed over his mouth and his eyes tightened up.

“Envy,” said Satan, “is often our best weapon against those who seek holiness.”

Every time we listen to the whispers of greener pastures whispered into our ears by the demons of envy, our path becomes greased towards destruction.  Our holy lives are compromised because we have taken our focus off the spiritual and placed it on the temporal.

James 3:16-18

16    For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17    But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

18    Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.  (NIV)

The envy of Cain over God accepting his brother’s offering and God rejecting his, led Cain to kill his brother and God banished Cain from the land.

The envy of Jacob over his twin brother’s inheritance and birthright led him to tricking his brother Esau into giving him the birthright and later his father in giving him the blessing.  Jacob had to leave his home and lived most of his life in fear of his brother.

The envy of King Saul against the young hero David resulted in a life of bitterness and sorrow.

The envy of David to have another man’s wife led him to have relations with Bathsheba. Upon discovering that she was pregnant, David then arranged for her husband’s death.  The child he fathered died soon after birth.

Judas’ envy not only led him to help himself to the money in the treasury which he held; it led him to the evil of betraying his Lord.

If our desires are envious and filled with selfish ambition, then God has no desire to give us what we want. Instead, God wants us to have what we need.  What we need is what brings real lasting joy, peace, and contentment.

God wants us to focus on what is pure, on attitudes of love that promote peace, to have consideration for others, to place the needs of others before our own, to be full of mercy and good works, to be impartial and sincere. God wants to give us a new and fresh perspective on the world.

A woman confessed that she struggled with envy of her affluent sister, but she was able to put it into proper perspective after one visit. She and her son were visiting the sister in Dallas, where the sister resided in a palatial estate with eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms, and a large swimming pool.  Her young son was swimming in the giant pool while the sisters sat at poolside.  After enjoying the water for some time, he swam up to his aunt and said, “When I get home, I’m going to swim in our pool. We have a pool like this in the backyard.” Then he added, “All we have to do is get daddy to blow it up and put water in it!”

Children have a way of helping us put things in perspective. Rather than clinging to envy, we can recognize what we already have is special. True satisfaction in this life comes not from getting something bigger and better, but from learning to enjoy what we already have, and from learning that it is better to give than to receive. (Preaching-Vol. 10, #6)

Afterwards one of the contestants of the Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire confessed, “I was in a panic.  All I wanted was to go home and be with my friends.  Suddenly I was up there and the reality was looming.  I was shaking. It wasn’t until that moment that it occurred to me,‘I don’t want this.  I don’t want this.’”

What is it that you really want?  The way this world works is that we often get what we really want and then discover that it wasn’t what we thought.   God granted Israel a king, not because God wanted them to have a king but because they wanted one.  They saw that other nations had kings to lead them.  The prophet Samuel tried to talk sense to them but they would not listen.  Even after he told them all the negative things that would come with having a king, they still wanted one and so God gave them one.  Then when they got a king, they discovered they had been better off without one.

Envy might help you acquire what you want and in the process you will reap what you don’t need.   Envy can cause you to gain what the world values only to discover that you lost your dignity and your compassion and your love in the process.

We can become like the dog that had a treasured bone in his mouth.  Upon coming to a pond, he saw his reflection.  The bone in the dog’s mouth in the pond looked too good to pass up.  He dropped his bone in order to get the one he saw in the pond.  “Kerplunk,” went his bone as it fell into the pond and sank to the bottom.

As you stand before God this morning, God wants you to see an accurate reflection of your heart.  If your heart is green with envy, you are ripe for trouble.  Leave that emotion here this morning.  Drop it into God’s hand and allow God to fill your heart with contentment.  Be ambitious, but not selfishly.  Turn your focus away from the world and focus your life on the ways of God.   Only God can give you the peace and fulfillment that you ultimately seek.  No amount of money, power, prestige, or pleasure can bring peace, joy and fulfillment in life.  The only thing that can do that is the love of God.