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Intersection of Life and Faith

When Someone Else Gets What We Want

  • Nicole Whitacre and Carolyn Mahaney Contributors
  • 2010 5 May
  • COMMENTS
When Someone Else Gets What We Want

Nicole: What do we do with a good, yet unfulfilled longing that won't go away? First, we thank God that by His mercy we desire one of His good gifts.

However, we must also regulate our desires. We must not love or long for one of God's good gifts more than we love or long for God Himself. If we do, then we have essentially made an idol out of this good desire and we are worshipping it instead of God. As teacher David Powlison paraphrases the eminent John Calvin: "The evil in our desires often lies not in what we want but that we want it too much."

One sure indicator as to whether or not a good desire has morphed into an idol is how we respond when someone else gets the very thing that we want but don't have. When a close friend—who was perfectly happy to be single—up and gets married, and we are, literally, left behind. Or when, as is the case for a friend of mine, we know five other girls who are pregnant and we are not.

And what about the woman who gets married younger than us, whose job is more glamorous than ours, whose house is bigger than ours, whose marriage is better than ours, whose life is easier than ours, whose children are more well-behaved than ours, whose popularity is brighter than ours, whose intelligence is greater than ours? Need I go on?

Envy is a sin common to women. But do we always see it for the rancid evil that it is? Several months ago, I found myself envying another woman's happiness. My husband encouraged me to study the topic of envy, and gave me some material to read. In the course of my study, the following string of thoughts by Cornelius Plantinga hit me straight between the eyes. Buckle your seat belt, for these are hard, yet necessary words.

"What an envier wants is not, first of all, what another has; what an envier wants is for another not to have it…The envier has empty hands and therefore wants to empty the hands of the envied. Envy, moreover, carries overtones of personal resentment; an envier resents not only somebody else's blessing but also the one who has been blessed" (emphasis mine).

Upon reading those words, I didn't want to admit that was me, that what I actually wanted was to empty someone else's hands. But that was the truth of it.  A good desire gone bad is often characterized by these wicked motives.

No wonder Scripture commands us to "Put away all...envy!" (1 Pet. 2:1) What wretched women we are! And yet, as Paul exclaims, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:25) We who have repented of our sins and put our trust in Christ are no longer bound by the sin of envy. We can receive forgiveness and cleansing and grace to change—grace to truly rejoice with those who have been blessed!

How do we get there? Mom will share a biblical strategy for overcoming envy.

A Battle Plan for Fighting Envy

Carolyn: "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good….Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:1-3, 11; emphasis mine).

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Nicole helped us take a good hard look at the sin of envy in our hearts. Today, I want to encourage us to do battle against this "passion of the flesh." As I Peter 2:11 tells us, envy is already waging war against our soul—the question is whether or not we are going to fight back!  

Here is a simple (not easy mind you) yet effective strategy for going on the offensive against envy:

1. Pray daily for the person we are tempted to envy. Persistent envy can be overcome with persistent prayer. We will find it is very difficult to go on envying someone for whom we are regularly asking God to bless and prosper.

2. Study and meditate on God's Word. We should direct our spiritual study to better understand and mortify the sin of envy. Let's consider verses such as Psalm 73, Proverbs 14:30, Proverbs 23:7, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, and 1 Peter 2 and many more. Also, I want to highly recommend one of Jonathan Edwards's sermons on envy which you can read online here.

3. Eagerly rejoice with and reach out to the one we are tempted to envy. The temptation to withdraw and avoid—in order to spare ourselves pain—is simply selfishness. Therefore, we need to purpose not to withdraw relationally. Isolation in heart and action will only become a hotbed for bitterness and resentment to flourish.

When we put this battle plan into action, do you know what will happen? We will, gradually, over time, weaken the sin of envy in our lives. It won't happen in one glorious moment or after a couple of tries. But gradually, the sin of envy will lose its power and influence.

So let us not give up, even if the fight is intense. Jonathan Edwards in his famous Resolutions, "Resolved never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be."

Regardless of whether we feel like we are winning the fight against envy. Regardless of how much of a challenge it continues to be, let us never slacken our fight. For it is God "who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57). 

Originally posted May 15, 2007

This article was adapted from "Girl Talk" - a blog kept by Carolyn and her three daughters for women in all seasons of life.

Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, homemaker, and the author of Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood and Shopping for Time: How To Do It All and Not Be Overwhelmed (written with her daughters). During her more than 30 years as a pastor's wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences, including those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which her husband, C.J., leads. C.J. and Carolyn have three married daughters and one sixteen-year-old son, Chad.

Nicole Whitacre is the oldest daughter of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, as well as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She assisted her mother with Feminine Appeal, and is the senior writer for Girl Talk. Nicole and her husband Steve—who is a youth pastor at Sovereign Grace Church—have a son Jack, age 6, and a daughter Tori, age 2.

Kristin Chesemore and her husband Brian are the busy parents of three boys. Andrew is 9, Liam is 6, and Owen is 5. In the little spare time she does have, Kristin supports Brian in his role as a Married Life pastor at Covenant Life Church.

Janelle Bradshaw has been married to her husband Mike, and they have beautiful daughters Caly, age 3 and MJ, 8 months. Mike serves as Pastor of Children's Ministry at Covenant Life Church.  

Pictured above, left-right: Janelle, Kristin, Carolyn, and Nicole