“Envy! Envy is the reverse side of a coin called vanity. Nobody is ever envious of others who is not first proud of himself.” (The Cross of Christ, John R.W. Stott)
What seems basic to John Stott takes me a while to understand, so I’ve been mulling over this statement for a couple weeks. In context, he’s talking about the Jewish leader’s subterfuge and dishonesty as they plot to take down Jesus. Their vanity and pride — their tightened grip on their own place of self-importance — naturally leads to what they’d not have admitted: their envy.
Because they think highly of themselves and their self-perceived position in the world, they fear Jesus’ challenge to their authority. Because they’re determined to retain their self-glory, they’re angry at Jesus’ following. Because they secretly think they’re great, they secretly envy that the crowds think he’s greater.
I investigate my own heart. When am I the same? When do I envy?
- when she has what I want
- when she receives the acclaim I’d like
- when her life seems easier than mine
- when her life seems easier than mine and yet she still receives the acclaim I’d like
- the list could go on and on.
Oh, but I don’t want those things to be true of me! I’ll bet you don’t either! It strikes me as scary to find my heart in the same category with the Pharisees and Herodians who sought to crucify my Lord.
So, this is the part I’ve spent a couple weeks thinking through: What is the cure for the prideful vanity in my heart that leads to envious desire? How do I quit defaulting to the insistence that I’m better than others (vanity), and believing and that I therefore deserve better than what God has given me (I want what she has = covetous envy)? What truth and what steps would God use to convict me of my belief that I’m so important and have been cheated and therefore deserve better? The answer: Humility.
Humility? But how do I make myself humble? What do I do?
- I meditate, in an ongoing way, on Jesus’ spectacularness, and on my undeserved place as His follower. (And I mean in an ongoing, daily self-reminder sort of way.)
- I pray — as I remind myself to think the above thoughts — that God would be merciful to me, and not let me merely think the above thoughts, but that as I realize my undeserved place as His follower, He’d break my cold, self-consumed heart, and give me warm, uncontested love toward Him, instead.
- And that, as I fight to see my place in the cosmos correctly (completely undeserving, vain like a Pharisee, yet shed upon by the inundating love of God — how can that be?!), I’d be thrilled to walk in humbled gratefulness, amazed at His love for me, no longer craving the status or place of another.
- Why? Because I’m loved. I belong to God. He has the perfect path planned for me. I don’t want her path. I’m amazed I even get to live on this earth. I’m amazed, can I say it again, amazed, that God loves and wants me.
It doesn’t mean this is not a daily fight. But it does mean that by the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart it’s a battle that can be won. Covetous envy can become humble happiness for others. The ugly vanity of my heart can be dug up and faced head on, crushed and transformed into the freedom of sincere Christ-exalting humility. When I see me in my proper place, I’m free to love you without envy. A new coin is created. On one side is humility. On the other: love.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Painting: The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus, by James Tissot (1836-1902)