The Danger of The Green Eyed Monster

When I was a kid I wondered why we said someone could be “Green with envy.” Why not say someone was “orange with envy?” Back then, I thought it had to do with money. Money was green and that seemed to be what most people envied. If we search the history of the envy’s association with green, we find it goes way back to Shakespeare. Pick up Othello, The Merchant of Venice, or Anthony and Cleopatra and you’ll find the “green-eyed monster” in some form. That’s around 500 years of English speaking tradition right there.

Maybe, the association with green comes from the Greeks. For the Greeks, green (or paleness) was the color of sickness. Envy is a sickness, after all. It can eat away at a man’s soul like cancer. I’ve seen it destroy the life of a few people. It affects our vision of others and ourselves, our speech, and our actions. The funny thing that I’ve observed about envy is that when someone is consumed with it they can’t see the danger. In fact, with the examples I’ve seen, they think everyone else has a problem—not them.

We don’t hear a lot of warnings in sermons about envy today. We have warnings about sexual immorality, sharing our faith, or how to be the church—but hardly about envy. Maybe it is because I am a protestant and an evangelical protestant at that. We emphasize missions and the gospel (both good things) rather than individual, albeit dangerous, sins. Though often overlooked, envy is a big sin—it made the list of the seven deadliest for the Catholic church.

Clement of Rome saw the danger in envy. In his First Epistle he warns his readers against it. According to Clement Cain murdered Abel because of envy. He says, “Ye see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother. Through envy, also, our father Jacob fled from the face of Esau, his brother. Envy made Joseph be persecuted unto death, and to come into bondage.” (Ch. 4) The list of those charged with envy by Clement stretches from Moses to David. You may find Clement’s reading of the text exegetically flawed, but something is at work there. Was it just sin nature that caused Cain to murder his brother? Or, can we name that sin as envy? It isn’t that much of a stretch, even if envy isn’t mentioned in the passage.

Clement goes on to say, “Envy had alienated wives from their husbands, and changed that saying of our father Adam, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.’ Envy and strife have overthrow great cities and rooter up mighty nations.” (Ch. 6) Envy divides. It erodes the created order of human relationships. Even the most intimate of relationships are broken because of envy. It is sickness that says, “I am the important one here! Not You!”

There is a cure for envy though.  It is the gospel (protestants rejoice!)

“Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares,” says Clement, “and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.” (Ch. 7)

Dare we suggest that those “vain and fruitless cares” that Clement mentions might include “envy?” I don’t think it is a stretch. Envy plays a prominent part in the previous paragraphs leading up to this quote and would be in the back of the reader’s mind.

So, the cure of envy is simple (if we depend on Christ). Look to Christ and his gospel. Remember the wealth of love that we have in Him. Place our hope in Him not in material wealth or recognition.

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Lasting Glory-Excerpt from Chrysostom

I have been reading through the book, Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers. From time to time, when the mood strikes me, I may publish an excerpt from it. Today it comes from Chrysostom.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. (Malachi 4:1)

Run from pride, for it is a passion more treacherous than any other. Covetousness and love for wealth spring from it as well as hatred, wars, and fights. For those who want more than they have will never be able to stop. Their desires come from nothing other than their love of displaying their accomplishments…If we cut off pride (the head of all evil), we would kill all the other members of wickedness with it. Then nothing could keep us from living on earth as though it were heaven. Pride doesn’t just thrust its captives into wickedness, but even co-exists with their righteousness. When it can’t get rid of all their virtues, it severely damages their ability to exercise them. It forces us to work hard and deprives us of the fruit…Therefore, if we want to earn glory, we must flee from human glory and only desire glory from God. Then we will obtain and enjoy both through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ. (page 8 of the book, there are no citations to Chrsysotom’s work).