Charity and Its Fruits - charity envieth not

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture VI, part one

(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Six. We will continue with the "Application" portion in next week's reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)
Charity is inconsistent with an envious spirit.
"Charity envieth not." 1 Cor. 13:4

Here we discuss the feelings Christian love will lead us to have regarding the goods, happiness, honor, and comfort of others as compared to our our own. Edward's thesis for today's lesson is this:


 In explaining this we will discuss the nature of envy, how it is that the spirit of a Christian opposes it, and the reason and evidence for this doctrine.

I.  The nature of envy.
"Envy may be defined to be a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own.  The thing that the envious person is opposed to, and dislikes, it the comparative superiority of the state of honor, or prosperity or happiness, that another may enjoy, over that which he possesses."
In other words, envy is the unhappiness or discomfort we feel upon recognizing that someone is superior to us, or better than us in any way. An envious person dislikes more than anything to see someone excel above them, either monetarily, spiritually, aesthetically, or in any measure of success.
"It is a disposition natural in men, that they love to be uppermost; and this disposition is directly crossed, when they see others above them. And it is from this spirit that men dislike and are opposed to the prosperity of others, because they think it makes those who possess it superior, in some respect to themselves."
And beyond this, men are also strongly inclined to feel the same way toward those who are their equals in honor or happiness:
"...they cannot bear a rival much, if any, better than a superior, for they love to be singular and alone in their eminence and advancement. Such a spirit is called envy in the Scriptures....From such a spirit, persons are not only unwilling that others should be above them or equal to them, but that they should be near them; for the desire to be distinguished in prosperity and honor is the more gratified just in proportion as they are elevated, and others are below them, so that their comparative eminence may be marked and visible to all.""
In other words, we want our superiority to be obvious to all.  We aren't content even to be on the same level as others. We want to stand out as the best. When we do not, and someone else does, we will be prone to envy.

There are two ways in which we will find envy manifesting itself:
  • " an uneasiness and dissatisfaction with the prosperity of others."  Rather than rejoicing in the good and honor another receives, the envious heart is troubled by it.
"From such a spirit, the envious person stands ready to rejoice at anything that happens to diminish the honor and comfort of others.  He is glad to see them brought down...the sight even of others' prosperity often sets the envious on talking against them and speaking evil of them, even when perhaps they do not know them."
  •  " a dislike of their persons for it."
"They entertain and cherish an evil spirit toward them, for no other reason but that they are prospered.  They are embittered against them in spirit, only because they are eminent in name or fortune...the envious generally resent the prosperity of others, and their coming to honor, as if in it they were guilty of some injury to themselves."  (emphasis mine)
 II. ...a Christian spirit is the opposite of such a spirit of envy.

1.  A Christian spirit disallows of the exercise and expressions of such a spirit.

If we are born of and led by the Spirit of God, we will not be able to tolerate the stirrings of envy in our soul.  When they rise up from our flesh our spirits detest them and vehemently oppose them. We all experience the sprouting of the seeds of envy, but a child of God will not be able to rest in their presence.  I'll quote at length here, because Edwards' words are just so good.
"He that is influenced in the course of his life and actions by Christian principles, though he may have envy as well as other corrupt feelings in his heart, yet abhors its spirit, as unbecoming in himself as a Christian, and contrary to the nature and will and spirit of God.  He sees it to be a most odious and hateful spirit, and he sees its odiousness not only in others, but also and equally in himself....he will be alarmed at it, and will fight against it, and will not allow its exercise for a moment. He will not suffer it to break forth and show itself in words or actions; and he will be grieved at whatever he sees of its movements in his heart, and will crucify within him the hateful disposition, and do all in his power to go contrary to it in his outward actions." (emphasis mine)
2.  A Christian spirit not only opposes the exercise and outward expressions of an envious spirit, but it tends to mortify its principle [source] and disposition in the heart.
"A Christian spirit disposes us to feel content with our own condition, and with the estate which God has given us among men, and to a quietness and satisfaction of spirit with regard to the allotments and distributions of stations and possessions which God, in his wise and kind providence, has made to ourselves and others. Whether our rank be high as that of the angels, or as low as that of the beggar at the rich man's gate..., we shall equally be satisfied with it, as the post in which God hath placed us, and shall equally respect ourselves, if we are endeavoring faithfully to serve him in it."
When we trust in the wisdom and sovereignty of God, we are inclined to be content with the way He deals with us, and to glorify Him in every way we can, whatever our current circumstances. Such contentment is a strong deterrent to envy.

3A Christian spirit...disposes us to rejoice in the prosperity of others.

When you truly love someone, their happiness is your happiness.  Every mother, and anyone who has ever been in love knows this full well.  A heart full of joy over the happiness of another has no room for envy.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Rom. 12:15

III. show that it is so, and why it is so, that a Christian spirit is thus the opposite of a spirit of envy.

1.  The Scriptures warn Christians against envy frequently and in the strongest of terms:

"Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy."  Romans 13:13

"...for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?" 1 Cor. 3:3
"For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder." 2 Cor. 12:20

"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal. 5: 19-21

"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." Titus 3:3

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." James 3:16-16

"So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." 1 Peter 2:1

The Scripture is clear.  Envy is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic".  A Christian heart will not be dominated and characterized by envy.  If you find that this is who you are, a personality characterized by envy, do not despair.  Christ died to save the envious.  Run to Him. And if you are a Christian fighting the ongoing battle against envy, run to Him.  

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 1:8-10

2.  The great doctrines and the history of the Gospel are opposed to a spirit of envy.

In the Gospel we learn:
  • " far God was from begrudging us the most exceeding honor and blessedness, and how he has withheld nothing as too much to be done for us, or as too great or good to be given us."
  • " far Christ was from begrudging us anything that he could do for or give us. He did not begrudge us a life spent in labor and suffering, or his own precious blood which he shed for us on the cross."
  • " Christ came to deliver us from the power of Satan's envy toward us; for the devil, with miserable baseness, envied mankind the happiness that they at first had, and could not bear to see them in their happy state in Eden, and therefore exerted himself to the utmost for their ruin, which he accomplished."
  • " Christ came into the world to destroy the works of the devil, and deliver us from that misery into which his envy hath brought us, and to purify our natures from every trace of the same spirit, that we may be fitted for heaven."
 3.  Christian love will lead us to honor these teachings and yield our lives to them.  It does this in two ways, by it's own tendency, "...for love does not grudge, but rejoices at the good of those who are loved." and "by inclining us to humility":
"It is pride that is the great root and source of envy.  It is because of the pride of men's hearts that they have such a burning desire to be distinguished, and to be superior to all others in honor and prosperity, and which makes them so uneasy and dissatisfied in seeing others above them.  But a spirit of love tends to mortify pride, and to work humility in the heart.  Love to God tends to this, as it implies a sense of God's infinite excellence, nothingness and unworthiness.  And love to men tends to a humble behavior among men, as it disposes us to acknowledge the excellencies of others, and that the  honors bestowed on them are their due, and to esteem them better than ourselves, and thus more deserving of distinction than we are."
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2: 1-8


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