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« Your Career Relationship: Jesus as Success | Main | Your Worldly Possessions Relationship: Jesus as the Pearl of Great Price »

Materialism Breeds Envy

(This is the final segment of the chapter on “Your Worldly Goods Relationship:  Jesus as the Pearl of Great Price)

Materialism Breeds Envy 

Materialism often provokes the dark evil of envy to surface.  Envy is defined as a feeling of discontentment or resentment aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.  We find it in another list of detestable sins, as Paul wrote to the Romans.  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers.  Romans 1:28-29.  Envy bears the blame for the arrest of Jesus and His deliverance to Pilate.  For he [Pilate] knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. Mark 15:10. Eventually, envy is a cancer to anyone who is possessed of it.  A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones. Proverbs 14:30. 

Covetousness simply wants what others have, whereas envy allows the desire for someone else’s possessions to corrupt the heart and become an obsession.  Envy is covetousness on steroids.  Darlene Lancer traces the deadly path envy takes: “We may even feel superior and disparage the person we envy. A malignant narcissist might go so far as to sabotage, misappropriate, or defame the envied person, all the while unconscious of feeling inferior. Arrogance and aggression serve as defenses along with envy. Generally, the degree of our devaluation or aggression is commensurate with the extent of underlying shame.”  Your motivation to buy should be based on a demonstrable need, not on what others have.  

In a larger sense, envy is disruptive and antithetical to the will of God in your life.  All things being equal, the realities of your life are the product of your willingness to fulfill God’s will for you, not for someone else.  In a famous exchange with Jesus, Peter asked about the will of God for his fellow disciple, John.  Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” John 21:22-23. Each person’s possessions, talents, blessings and destiny involve that person alone. 

Envy is incompatible with Christ. A true relationship with Jesus Christ reveals and removes envious feelings.  Our Lord displayed an anti-materialistic attitude; He focused on the spiritual welfare of others instead of the things they possessed—unless He discerned that their possessions were detrimental to their souls.  If your brother or sister inherits material or financial blessings, make it a cause for rejoicing, not envying.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15.

Do Not Let Your Possessions Possess You 

A popular expression goes, “The two happiest days of my life are 1) the day I got my swimming pool, and 2) the day I got rid of my swimming pool!”   It’s just another way of saying that a long-anticipated possession quickly became a tiresome burden, or you got what you wanted but you didn’t want what you got.  It’s the nature of accumulated stuff.  Many people start out thinking they own their possessions.  Then, upkeep costs, maintenance chores, loan payments, insurance premiums and security issues blast and nearly bankrupt them.  Eventually, they realize that their possessions actually own them. 

The more you have, the more you become a prisoner to what you have.  If you opine about the preciousness of freedom, don’t put your own wrists into handcuffs and ankles into chains of your own making.  It is far better to live as simply as possible and remain free to follow Christ wherever He might lead.  Had the rich, young ruler not been tied to his possessions, he would have been free to follow Christ.  Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:21-22.  Concerning the Old Testament law, Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1. Possessions can be just as oppressive a taskmaster as was the Law to the Pharisees.  Possessions can also entangle people in a yoke of bondage.  Another popular slogan fits here: “less is more.”  That’s a small package of wisdom.

Learn How to Abound; Learn How to Suffer Loss 

Whether you have many possessions or few, your quality of life remains constant if the premise is a relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my observation, great blessing can be as disastrous as great loss—sometimes, even more so.  People who become too attached to their possessions, or who enjoy their newly acquired gains too much are vulnerable to a spirit that is not Christ-like.  But, the task is to define the “too.”  How do you know when you are overdoing it?  One way is to take yourself through this little exercise: Imagine that you were suddenly reduced to nothing—no house, no car, no bank account, nothing but clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet. How would you feel?  What would be the saving, stabilizing factor in your life?  Could you see yourself surviving?  That experience, even though it takes place in your imagination, must become the default position of your existence.  If you can look to Jesus Christ as your life’s true value—the Pearl of Great Price—then you can hold your possessions at arm’s length.  You can remain free from a materialistic spirit  

Dealing with a surplus of blessing is probably preferred over a lack of blessing, but what if the unthinkable happens?  A catastrophic loss throws people up against a brick wall where nothing is the same, the look and feel of life is forever transformed.  How does one come back from that horrific event? Again, the Apostle Paul speaks to this situation.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Philippians 4:12. Paul did not boast that these reactions were automatic.  They had to be learned.  The learning process was brutal.  Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. 2 Corinthians 11:23-30. 

“When people tell me that my life is so much better now and they wish it would happen to them, it is well-intentioned, of course, and comes from a place of deep longing, I think. It is that longing for simplicity, that longing for the freedom of youth, when we had no “stuff,” and few responsibilities, and lots of dreams. What I believe is this – We all have a “house” that needs to burn down. It’s the house of bad relationship, or dead-end work. It’s the house of too much stuff and not enough joy. It’s the house of dreams deferred. If we could just burn that house DOWN, we think, we could get on with the business of life, with what we were really meant to do. If that house burned down, we could live our dreams now, instead of later.”  

-Andi O’Conor, Ph. D.,

When you live on the mountaintop, many things happen in the valley below, but none of them touch you.  Your relationship with the Pearl of Great Price is all that matters.

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