Dear Envy, we just can’t quit you.
We all agree envy plagues the soul and harms our relationships, but it’s a common struggle. Our battles with envy range from sporadic scuffles to full-out, crippling war. Where can we find respite and rescue? This three-part reflection on 1 Corinthians 3:21–23 was birthed out of an ongoing conversation among three friends about mortifying envy.
Autoimmune Disease and Christ’s Body (Beverly Chao Berrus)
Autoimmune disorders and diseases are strange things. The immune system confuses some part of the body as an antigen, and makes war on healthy tissue, joints, and organs. The physical effects range from merely annoying to debilitating and deadly.
In 1 Corinthians 3, we see God diagnose the Corinthian Christians with spiritual autoimmunity. The division concerning fellow servants was so bad that Paul begins this way:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. (3:1)
For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (3:3)
As our churches are filled with nothing but fully redeemed and rehabilitating sinners, we will inevitably experience jealousy and strife in the church. But Paul’s point is that we must deal with it.
Jealousy is hard to admit. Some sins are easy to paint as more acceptable. But jealousy feels petty and infantile. It can’t be disowned from its root of self-centeredness, especially when we are jealous of others’ spiritual gifts, Christian service, or godly relationships. We inspect others in order to justify our unsubstantiated angst and dislike.
Paul calls those who revert to this self-centered thinking fleshly, infantile, and merely human (3:3). It highlights a failure to live in the reality that we’ve been saved by Christ’s wrath-absorbing death and resurrection. It denies our corporate transformation into the palatial and glorious temple of God, with each individual indwelt by God’s Spirit (3:16–17),
Jealousy and strife in the local church is spiritual autoimmunity because it tears down Christ’s body of which each believer is a member and which Christ himself nourishes (Eph. 5:29; Col. 2:19).
“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose,” gifted and fit together for the purpose of bringing him glory (12:18; cf. vv. 4–11).
There is a heinous grievousness to committing spiritual autoimmunity on Christ’s body. He loves the church and died for her. But we deny Christ’s perfect arrangement of the members of his body when we say to another, out of bitter jealousy, “I have no need of you.” We foolishly presume we know better and would do differently.
Instead, let us take in the immense panorama of beauty found in the body of Christ, fashioned and formed throughout the entire course of human history.
If you struggle, as I do, with making peace toward fellow members of the body in your heart and actions, repent of malice and jealousy by identifying and killing it with the sword of the Spirit. Fulfill the royal law of love and claim this truth:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (3:21–23)
Don’t we usually leave a doctor’s office glad for a good report of health? We’re happy for the parts of our bodies to be working as they should. As it is with Christ’s washed and justified body, let us rejoice that we lack nothing in him. All are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s! May this sweet truth eradicate the spiritual autoimmunity among us and cause the healing to begin.
Considering the Silliness of Envy (Gloria Furman)
I hate that I’m envious of others. I know that in God’s kingdom, envy doesn’t make any sense. So why the disconnect? In his book Glorious Freedom, Richard Sibbes shoots straight about envy:
In spiritual things there is no basis for envy, for everyone may partake of everything. In the things of this life there is envy, because the more one has, the less another has. But for more to partake of spiritual things is a matter of glory and excellency.
In other words, envy shows up when what we seek is worldly, so we’re envious when others have what we want. But if what we seek is spiritual, then we glorify God when others have what we, too, desire.
Envy doesn’t become those who’ve been given everything in Christ to enjoy. We don’t boast in who we are or what we can do or buy or wear or eat or birth or whatever. We don’t boast in any of these things because we don’t need to. “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21).
Jesus is both able and right to secure all things for us because he is the Lamb who was slain. The Father has given all things into the Son’s hand (John 3:35), and everything exists for God, and all things are his servants (Ps. 119:89–91). All of these things—the world and everything in it, your inevitable physical death, your present circumstances (good and bad), your future (uncertain as it may seem)—in the hands of almighty God are your midwives, by your side helping to bring forth life and renewal of spirit in this age before the Son returns.
We need to be reminded that no competitors stand in the way of the gospel good that God has for us in Christ. No circumstance or person can rob us of the spiritual blessings God has promised us. Envy has no place. But sin steers our minds into irrational thought patterns, and the world confirms it: we ought to cut off our nose to spite our face. And indeed this is what we’re doing when we envy or diminish a brother or sister in Christ who is our joint member in Christ’s body. God’s gifts to others are his gifts to us. Why wouldn’t we long for our brothers and sisters to flourish more and more? After all, no one ever hated his own body, but nourishes it and cherishes it.
The God whom you love has freely given his grace to others—so look for evidence of this grace and glorify God for it. As Sibbes observed, “For those who can see so far into the life of another man as to love it and honor the grace of God there, it is a sign that some work of glory is begun in them.”
Give Us This Day Our Daily Scorpion? (Lindsey Carlson)
All things are yours, all.
How do we hold this verse in our minds while we also hold a list of things that, here on earth, are not ours? What about when the spouse, the baby, the dream job, the new home, are clearly not ours?
Paul may not have been familiar with the object of our personal jealousy, but he understood the human heart and its tendency to long for what it does not have—or thinks it does not have. Paul recognizes the Corinthians have not yet grasped what’s clearly theirs in Christ.
To understand and embrace the reality that “all things are yours,” begin with the promise Paul offered the Philippians: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
We can trust that our God is a faithful provider. We can rest in the fact that he created us, called us, saved us, and is redeeming us. Will he not also give us all we need? Maybe the problem is our definition of “need.” The Lord knows we don’t really a new car or an impressive position, but to be conformed to Christlikeness. He will faithfully provide all we need—the people, the places, the experiences, the things—in order to produce the greatest and most eternally significant fruit in our souls, for his glory.
We can trust that God is a loving provider. In Luke 11:11–12, Jesus asks, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” The point here isn’t that fish tastes better than serpent, or that eggs fry up better than scorpions. The point is, if a child needs to eat, his father doesn’t harm or poison him—he feeds him. If we don’t have something we want, God isn’t withholding—he’s feeding us with what will sustain us. We ask our Father to give us our daily bread, and he is faithful to provide.
We have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pet. 1:3). We have no need to jealously yearn for the things we do not have because we have been given all we need freely through Christ. All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.