Deliverance from Envy
Briefly review the purpose of studying these “lament” Psalms—to learn how to relate to God when we are in pain so that we can receive the help he already wants to give us.
This morning, we will study Psalm 73, in which the author (Asaph) describes a specific kind of pain, and shares how God delivered him from this pain.
What is envy?
Read 73:1-3. 73:1 is the summary of this Psalm—he will explain it later. 73:2 describes the pain that he experienced—he almost lost his faith in God and fell into the abyss of despair. 73:3 describes the cause of his pain—he had become full of envy. In his case, he had come to envy the material prosperity of the godless (read 73:4-14).
What is envy? Envy is not a mere emotional reaction; it is sinful anger because others have what I want. Like all sins of the heart, envy is the corruption of a virtue—in this case, righteous indignation at injustice that causes others to suffer. Asaph may have started with righteous indignation against the wicked rich, but he says this morphed into envy.
You may or may not envy the prosperous wicked (e.g., celebrities)—but none of us is exempt from this sin. Our hearts have a capacity for many different kinds of envy:
You may envy others’ family advantages: e.g., family upbringing (including love & attention by a parent); economic stability & well-being; etc.
You may envy others’ personal gifts: e.g., their beauty, intelligence, personality, athletic or artistic talent, spiritual gifts, etc.
You may envy others’ prosperity or success: e.g., material (career advancement); relational (enjoyable marriage; kids “doing well”); spiritual (ministry fruit; period of spiritual refreshment)
You may envy others’ lack of hardships: e.g., lack of physical, emotional, or psychological problems; not having your besetting sin; not having to deal with the damage/consequences of past wrong decisions; etc.
“Do you have the habit of (turning your peers into rivals)? Do you feel called into question by their achievements? Do you feel that their success is more than they deserve and yours somehow less? Are you disappointed, even angry, at the gap between your desires and your accomplishments?”
Every one of us is vulnerable to envy. If you can’t relate, you may just be self-deceived, or you may just be “on top” right now compared to your peers in the areas you value (this is the context in which envy usually emerges). When you are in the grip of envy, it feels so natural and justified—but it is perverse and highly toxic...
What kind of pain does envy cause?
Envy brings great pain into our lives, and it spills out into others’ lives (GULF OIL SPILL). In 7:21, Asaph says his envy pierced and embittered his heart.
Envy results in the piercing grief of self-pity. You begin to see yourself as a victim. No one has it as rough as you do. This makes you miserable, and also makes being around you a real drag for your spouse and friends, and a toxic influence on your children. (J. B.)
Envy results in bitterness—corrosive resentment toward those who have what you want. You are galled by their prosperity, you take perverse delight in their adversity, and you even begin to plot how to make their lives more painful. This is why the Bible describes envy as giving the other person “the evil eye.” (e.g., CAIN & SAUL)
“Whenever we find envy, we find the wreckage... of community. Envious people backbite. They deliver congratulations with a smile that, in another light, might be taken for a sneer. They acknowledge someone’s praise of a rival but then push their rival into the shadow of a master... The envier gossips. He saves up bad news of others and passes it around like an appetizer at happy hour. The envier grumbles. He murmurs. He complains that all the wrong people are getting ahead. Spite, bitterness, ‘discord which undoes all friendship,’ accusation, malignity—all these things flow from envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous shambles.”
How can we be delivered from envy?
This is pretty depressing, isn’t it? Praise God this Psalm doesn’t end here! Asaph writes because God has delivered him from envy—and he wants us to know how so we can share in his deliverance. God delivered him through a process, a series of realizations and responses to them.
First, realize the cost of your envy. Asaph realized that his envy was going to ruin others unless he got freed from it (read 73:15,16a). Sometimes the oppressive misery from envy is sufficient motivation to change. Sometimes seeing that we are damaging our children or other loved ones provides the conviction we need to seek deliverance. Is God bringing this home to you this morning?
Second, take your envy to God (read 73:16,17a). Asaph couldn’t overcome his envy until he “came into the sanctuary of God.” This is the structural “hinge” of the Psalm. This means not just that he “went to church,” but that he came into God’s presence—he personally admitted his envy to God, he asked God for insight, and he went where he could get counsel and instruction from God’s Word through other spiritual people. Are you willing to do this—to say to God: “Whatever I need to see, please show me,” and (if needed) to seek his counsel from godly people?
Third, receive God’s correction of your perspective and attitude. What God taught Asaph was painful, but this was a pain that helped him (read 73:21,22). The reason for his envy was not that the wicked were prosperous while he was not, but that his thinking was profoundly skewed—like an ignorant and senseless beast. As he humbly submitted himself to God’s correction, God gave him two insights that began to break up his envy:
God showed him that his perspective was short-sighted—the wicked do not ultimately prosper (read 73:17-20). The people he was envying (and that many of us envy) were headed for a very unenviable end. It is the destination that matters far more than the conditions in which we travel. The unrepentant wicked may travel through this life in comfortable coaches, but they are travelling to hell. They seem to powerful and imposing—but the day is coming when God will judge them and they will “dissolve” before us like a bad dream when you awaken to a sunny morning.
God showed him that his root problem was his own perverse attitude (read 73:13,14). Like Asaph, we think our envy is caused by other people’s sin or because of God’s injustice. But envy actually germinates from two perverse attitudes that we adopt toward God. Look carefully at Asaph’s words here—can you see these attitudes?
Asaph is deeply self-righteous. He is saying: “You owe me—I have been good, I have served you—so I deserve better than this.” But what do I actually deserve from a holy, righteous God? I owe him perfect righteousness, and the first time I violate his righteousness, the only thing I deserve is his condemnation. The only way God’s justice can operate toward sinful people is in judgment.
Asaph is idolatrous. He is saying: “What good are you, God? I served you and you didn’t give me what I really want!” In other words, following God didn’t “work” because he didn’t get what he really desired. But this means that God was not truly the object of his worship; God was only the means to what he really worshipped. Like Asaph, when we are envious of others, we believe that certain gifts from God are more precious and important than God himself. So we try to use God to get our true god, and then get disappointed, angry or cynical about him because he failed us as our Genie.
As God’s correction smote Asaph’s conscience, his heart suddenly became deeply appreciative of something that he had been taking for granted (read 73:23). Even as he realized that he deserved God’s judgment for his foolishness and sin, he realized that God still loved him “nevertheless.” In other words, he embraced and rejoiced in God’s grace—his undeserved favor on all who personally entrust themselves to him.
Maybe being in the sanctuary reminded him how God could be so gracious. The sanctuary/Temple is the animal sacrifices were offered. God prescribed these sacrifices as a reminder that our sins against him deserve death—but that He would one day provide a Substitute whose death would pay for the guilt of our sins.
Today, we know who this Substitute is. It is Jesus, who came as “the Lamb of God” to live the perfect life that we owe to God and to die the death that we deserve to die. It is on this basis, and this basis alone, that we can be fully forgiven and accepted by God. Have you personally entrusted yourself to Jesus to be your Savior? If so, you can join Asaph in rejoicing in God’s grace!
God’s grace is more than mercy and forgiveness; it is God’s provision for all our deepest needs. Grace means “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Asaph realized this, and rejoiced in God’s multi-faceted grace:
Summarize Asaph’s process of deliverance. Where are you? What next step do you need to take? What questions and/or comments do you have about this?
“When we remember that God... continues to think about us every moment and will continue to think about us when time shall be no more, we may well exclaim, ‘How great is the sum!’ Thoughts such as are natural to the Creator, the Preserver, the Redeemer, the Father, the Friend, are evermore flowing from the heart of the Lord. Thoughts of our pardon, renewal, upholding, supplying, advocating, perfecting, and a thousand more kinds perpetually welling up in the mind of (God). It should fill us with adoring wonder and reverent surprise that the infinite Mind should turn so many thoughts toward us who are so insignificant and so undeserving. A God always thinking of us makes a happy world, a rich life, and a happy hereafter.” C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (London: Marshall, no date), 7:241.