A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short series of articles on The Lost Sin of Envy, saying that envy is a sin that few of us still have a category for and, therefore, a sin that many of us have unwittingly fallen prey to. As I studied envy, I saw mounting evidence of it in my life and as I shared what I had learned, I guess quite a few of you saw its presence in yourself as well. It’s strange how sin can sit like that, hidden in plain sight.
The heart of envy is the feeling that comes over a person when he sees another person’s success or advantage. When I see a person succeeding in an area where I long to be admired and acknowledged, that person’s success somehow calls me into question. His success makes me feel like a failure; the love people have for him makes me feel hated. Eventually the feeling begins to take action, usually in grumbling against God and in gossiping against the person. Eventually, of course, it proceeds into deeper and darker territory.
Through my study of envy I came to see that I am prone to this sin and that I will need to be constantly vigilant against it. While writing those articles brought me face-to-face with the sin, it certainly did not destroy its power in my life. Envy remains, and I continue to fight against it.
Those articles generated a lot of discussion, including one between myself and some of the men of my church. As we discussed envy I found myself challenged by a thought which became a prayer. It was something like this: Do not allow me success that exceeds my sanctification. In retrospect it sounds a little bit odd, but what I came to see is that I may well lack the character to handle a great wave of success. In any area of life or vocation in which I am prone to envy, an area that will be all tangled up in my pride, great success might just crush me. And so I ask God, please don’t give me success that exceeds my sanctification.
I guess this thought came out of the knowledge that envy calls me to lose faith in God’s goodness and sovereignty, and to deny that God expresses his goodness through his sovereignty. My envy is a declaration that I believe that I can be a better god than God, and that if God is truly good and wise, he will give me the success or the advantage that he has given someone else. There is a very dark and anti-God element to all envy.
However, when I affirm the goodness and sovereignty of God, now I am forced to the conclusion that God is good and wise to give me the level of success he has given; in fact, he has done well to not give me any more. This may be in part because I simply could not handle any more. A godlier man—a man who has spent more time with the Lord, who knows more of the Lord, who has developed greater Christian character, who is not so prone to envy—may be given greater success because he can handle it without falling prey to pride and envy and all the ugliness that attends them. But a wise and loving God has determined that I will not have more than he has given, not for now.
When I can say that God is good to give me what he has given (I will always be tempted to say only what he has given), then I can see that the reason God has not given more may simply be that I cannot handle more. God loves me enough to not give me more than my character will allow me to handle. If he were to give me more, it might harm me and my pride and envy might just drive me away from him. God’s goodness and wisdom and sovereignty inform me in such a way that I can now thank him for giving me exactly what he has given and not a bit more.
And so I ask the Lord not to give me success that exceeds my sanctification. And then I ask that he will make me increasingly holy, that he will grow my Christian character, sanctify me in greater measure, that I may have more success and steward it wisely and for his glory.