Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
How Envy Leads to Many Different Sins
Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 1 John 3:12NIV
We continue our study of Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The ninth part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are… evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration.” Last time we saw how sinful pride can tempt us to become faultfinders. Today we consider how the sin of envy can lead to many different evil actions.
The first sin in today’s portion of the Catechism is evil suspicion. Here the adjective evil is very important because there is a just kind of suspicion. When a crime is committed and the police begin an investigation to find the perpetrator, they start with a list of suspects. The list includes all those of whom the police have a certain amount of suspicion may have committed the crime; people who appear to have had opportunity or motive to do it. The degree of suspicion will then increase or decrease as the police eliminate the innocent and zero in on the guilty. In this kind of example where suspicion is based upon facts, it is good and necessary. On the contrary, evil suspicion is not fueled by a loving desire to find the truth in order to protect the innocent, but by a hateful mistrust of people motivated by selfishness.
Similarly, to envy or to grieve at the deserved credit of others or to try to hinder them from getting the recognition they have earned are attributes of hate. Even as 1 Cor. 13 – the love chapter of the Bible – tells us what love does and does not do, so by opposing phrases we can see what hatred does. Thus, love does not envy, it thinks no evil, it does not delight in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:4-6); on the contrary hate envies, it thinks evil, it does not delight in the truth but rejoices in unrighteousness. In the Scripture verses at the head of this article, Cain did all of these things. His brother Abel did well and so God accepted him. Cain did not and so God rightly rejected Cain. But rather than rejoice in his brother’s blessing, admit his own error and turn from it, Cain hated Abel for doing the right that he failed to do.
To refer to the next sins in our portion of the Catechism, Cain certainly would have rejoiced in Abel’s disgrace and infamy, but when he saw that those things were not going to happen he took matters into his own hands and killed his brother. What terrible deeds envy can lead to! How could a man kill his own brother because he did good? Yet as the text clearly says, Cain killed Abel because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s deeds were righteous. Thus, envy was the motivation that birthed the action of murder. We know that our Lord’s suffering and death were largely motivated by this same kind of envy. Even the calloused Roman judge Pilate could see that it was out of envy that the priests had handed Jesus over to him (Matt. 27:18).
The final two items on today’s list, “scornful contempt” and “fond admiration” at first appear to be opposites but are really two different expressions of the same sinful envy. Scornful contempt is direct and often violent opposition to someone. When the Roman soldiers placed the robe, thorny crown, and reed scepter on Jesus they were mocking Him in a most scornful way. Any thought of a Jewish king provoked hateful envy in them that quickly erupted in violence. They unjustly crushed Him to assert their advantage over Him. “Fond” admiration is like the “evil suspicion” we saw above; the adjective makes all the difference. Here we need to realize that the word “fond” used to have the primary meaning of “foolish, indiscreet, or impudent.” Admiration can be a good thing: when we admire someone for the glory of God and our own Christlikeness, but to fondly admire someone is to do so out of sinful selfishness for our own gain. Thus, when the people cried out to Herod at his speech, “The voice of a god and not a man,” they were fondly admiring him. They unjustly exalted him to obtain their advantage out of him. In the first case the position of strength led to a beating; in the second the position of weakness led to beguiling; but the sinful desire was exactly the same. Scornful contempt and fond admiration: two ways sinners use others to get what they want. May God grant that we may be delivered from both. Surely if we seek God’s grace to love and not hate one another, we will!