Sunday, March 22, 2015

Good Stuff to Give Up in Lent #6 ENVY

In an article USA Today reported,

Nine year old James Darby wrote the following letter to President Clinton on April 29, 1994:  'Dear Mr. Clinton, I want you to stop the killing in the city.  People is dead and I think that somebody might kill me.  So would you please stop the people from deading.  I'm asking you nicely to stop it.  I know you can do it.  Do it.  I know you could.  Your friend, James.'  Before he could get an answer to his letter, James Darby was gunned down in New Orleans in a drive-by shooting."[2]

In major cities across the land we are acting out the inheritance of Cain.  Why do we do it, and why did Cain start it all?  Envy!

Why are there wars, riots, racism?  Why are children killing children in our schools?  Why do one in five American children carry some kind of weapon to school every day?  Envy!

Envy is always born of hatred and greed. Envy is murdering your brother in your heart, because of the sin of covetousness which imagines, that person has more than I do, and he should give it to me. 

Envy was wrapped up in what the late Senator Ted Kennedy said, "Frankly, I don't mind not being President.  I just mind that someone else is."[3] 

Envy is a sin of lust; and this sin has a process that will, when it is finished, bring forth death.

These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  James 1.15 (NLT)

Our purpose this morning is to examine that process, the downward spiral of envy:

Envy's Cradle

Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant.  When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!”  Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.  When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground.   Genesis 4:1-2  (NLT)

With the exception of Adam and Eve, who never experienced teething, or dirty diapers, every one of us had our beginnings in the cradle. 

What was it like to live in the first family?


We are prone to think of Cain as being an ugly character, despicable from the beginning.  I don't think so.  Cain was loved.  His name means, I have gotten a man from the Lord.  Eve named him.  He was the sign of more life to come, the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.  Adam and Eve had sinned, but God had forgiven and promised a Redeemer, a Savior, someone to make everything right again.  Cain was the offspring that would crush the serpent for his deception.  His name is connected with the verb in Hebrew which means to create.  Eve, the sinner, was allowed to return in part to God's original purpose for mankind – participation in the creation. 

Eve looked at Cain as the promised Messiah.  We look at Cain's hands and imagine the bloody club that killed his brother; Eve kissed those little baby fingers.  Cain was a loved, probably spoiled, only child. 


Cain was a tiller of the ground, while his brother Abel was a tender of sheep.  It was never a question of the work that Cain did; it was the obedience he didn't do that rankled God.


The rub came for Cain, I'm certain, when his brother Abel arrived.  Abel's name means, Son of Adam.  Now, Cain was firstborn, and Abel was the younger.  In Hebrew culture (as contemporary Western culture) the name Jr. belongs to the firstborn.  In ancient times it meant everything, including a double portion of inheritance. 

Could this be a problem of favoritism that fueled the fires of envy between the brothers?  Did Eve step out of her submissive role, naming Cain before Adam got home from tilling the ground? 

Either way, the sibling rivalry is not new.  When our firstborn was 18 months old, we brought home her new brother from the hospital.  Soon the new baby developed a peculiar problem of screaming every time Elizabeth would feed him.  We finally discovered the older sister would get great delight out of standing behind Mom, and pinching her little baby brother's outstretched arm while Mom wasn't looking. 

Envy's cradle is that little place where rivalry begins.

Envy's Crouch

Verse 7 says that sin crouches at the door when we do not do well -- what a vivid picture.  How does this happen? 

When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord.  Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock.  The Lord accepted Abel and his gift.    Genesis 4:3-4 (NLT)

Cain knew the right thing to do.  His parents had certainly told him of the sacrifice of God, and the necessity of blood to atone for sin.  He either didn't want to, or was too lazy, or too proud to ask his brother to trade some of his produce for a suitable animal.  Cain discarded his allegiance to the Lord.

When you forsake God's instruction, you forsake God.  You discard your allegiance.

but he did not accept Cain and his gift.  This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.  “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain.  “Why do you look so dejected?    Genesis 4.5-6  (NLT)

God rejected Cain's offering as unacceptable, but received Abel's.  Wow!  What a thing to do when there was already a sibling rivalry going.  Didn't God ever read Dr. Spock?  Man, you're supposed to be soothing and kind to a child throwing a tantrum, aren't you?


God knew, and we know, that you confront something as unholy as a tantrum.  Isn't it interesting that the very first anger and temper tantrum was experienced at the altar – the church house?  It is a true saying that religion will either redeem or damn a person. 

Attitude is usually the dividing line.  Cain discarded his allegiance, and God confronted his attitude, and warned him that if he didn't change his ways, his pathway would have a serious collision course....

You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out!  Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you.  But you must subdue it and be its master.”   Genesis 4:7 (NLT)
Here is the very first mention of the word "sin" in Scripture.  Preacher Clarence Macartney wrote: 

What is the saddest word in the Bible and in human speech?  What is the word that is the fountain of woe, the mother of sorrows, as universal as human nature, as eternal as human history?  What is the word that is the cause of all war and violence and hatred and sorrow and pain?  What is the word that is man's worst enemy?  What is the word that nailed the Son of God to the Cross?  That word is, Sin."[4]

The Lord said sin was at the "door."  Isn't this the foothold the Bible talks about – the one Satan looks for in the life of a believer?  Crouching is generally the position of the predator, waiting for the right opportunity to spring on the prey.  My friends, sin does that! 

Another preacher said it well, "It is easier to find [a man] who has never sinned than to find one who has never committed the same sin twice."[5]  

Sin multiplies quickly.  It only took a short time in the history of man for sin to jump from munching on forbidden fruit to murdering of brothers.  It all happened in one family. 

Part of Eve's punishment was a nature that "desired" her husband -- desired to rule over him, dominate him.  Sin is crouching at the door for each of us, waiting for envy to rise, take a foothold and rule over our lives. 

From envy’s cradle, to envy’s crouch, to...

Envy's Compulsion

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.”  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.      Genesis 4:8 (NLT)
I do not know if Cain lured his brother into the field with a premeditated design to kill him.  I do know, however, that once the hatred of envy enters a man and settles in his heart, it won't be long before the desire becomes a deed. 

Some years ago a lady in Arkansas called the local police station to ask if there was a penalty for fighting, and if so, how much.  The sergeant told her that she could be charged with assault and battery.  The fine was $100, and he asked her why she needed to know.    She said, "Oh, well, I want to beat up my sister.  I just needed to see if I can afford it."

Once you allow envy a foothold, sin is already crouching at the door, and the “foothold will become a compulsion. 

One of the reasons Christians ought to come to the altar privately and publicly, is that humility will drive out the envy that is crouching in our hearts.  If you haven't been to the altar since the day you got saved, today would be a good time to come, kneel, and feel the sweet release of joy God will give you.  That's the "doing well" God tried to tell Cain about. 

Envy is birthed in the cradle, crouches at your door's heart if you entertain him, and grows into a fully blown compulsion which will do the deed, and require.....

Envy's Cover-Up

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother?  Where is Abel?”         “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”   Genesis 4:9 (NLT)

Isn't it interesting how Cain inherited his father's "reaction mechanism?"  When God asked the question, Cain wanted to squirm away from a direct answer, just like Adam.  Now, Adam was the first, and admittedly, he was breaking new ground; he didn't have an earthly father to learn from about lying to his father.  But Cain did!  And Cain didn't learn from daddy's folly.  Someone wisely said, anger gets us in trouble; pride keeps us there.

Pride will keep you from confession.   (Or confession will keep you from pride!)  Cain did not want to confess his murderous ways to God, so he lied.  A four year old was asked his definition of a lie.  He said, "A lie is an abomination before the Lord -- and a very present help in time of trouble." 

He was wrong!  Lies, distorted truth, cover-up – none of these work with God.  God wants the unvarnished truth from you.  He already knows what you've done; He is simply awaiting your confession. 

If you refuse to confess and let Jesus take the marks of sin on Him, you prefer the mark of Cain, which is...

Envy's Cost

Notice the progression here:  The "mark of Cain" is the result of the growth of envy in the human heart.  It begins in the cradle with a soiled and fallen human nature that leans towards sin.  It crouches at the door of your heart, awaiting the opportunity to take up residence.  It becomes a fully grown compulsion, springing into the deed of death.  It repulses the truth and opts for a cover-up, even in the face of God. 

And, my friends, be not deceived, God is not mocked, envy has a cost...

But the Lord said, “What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!    Genesis 4.10 (NLT)

The discovery of sin is not so much that God has found out.  God always knows!  It is that moment when God confronts you with your sin.  When I was a child, my mother always knew!  It was just a matter of time before she made me face things I'd done. 

Beloved, in a confrontation with Almighty God, the creator of heaven, earth, and the universe; the eternal Father, who could enter time and space as an infant, yet be the God with no name – in a confrontation with ultimate truth, you lose!  The mark of Cain means your sin is uncovered whether you want it that way or not.

Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood.  No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work!  From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”  Genesis 4:11-12 (NLT)
Sin is a downward spiral.  When Adam first sinned, the ground became cursed.  When Cain sinned, the curse came back from the ground.  Adam had to fight thorns and thistles in his tilling of the ground – now Cain would have an even greater struggle, as sin reduced even further the yield of produce. 

Sin has a degrading effect on creation.  The mark of Cain means we walk in the reduced strength of our own resources.  We walk without God's help.

Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear!   Genesis 4.13 (NLT)

Cain said, I can't bear it!  To bear means to accept the burden.  A common reaction in grief is, I can't believe it; I can't believe she's gone -- I can't believe he's dead.  

I can't bear this punishment.  I can't believe God would do this to me.  What do you mean there's a hell?  How could a loving God punish people? 

My friends, in the words of the great philosopher, Lucy, "Get over it; Get a life; That's the way it is!"  We may deny sin – that is the mark of Cain.  God confronts us with our sin.

You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer.  Anyone who finds me will kill me!” The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.”  Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him.  So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.   Genesis 4:14-16 (NLT)

Three words show us the final significance of the mark of Cain:  fugitive (in Hebrew, noo-ah), vagabond (nood), and Nod.  The first two words are adjectives, used in the sense of nouns; they describe the inner lostness of Cain.  "Noo-ah" and "nood"  mean wandering and shaking, signs of someone who has lost his way, and is searching for some sign of home. 

When the Bible says Cain dwelt in the land of Nod, God is telling us Cain was dwelling in lostness, always wandering, always shaking his head in disbelief.  This is the mark of Cain – he dwelt in what he was – lost.  Why would no one kill him?  How can you kill a dead man?  To be lost is to be dead, without God. 

My friends, Sin brings forth destruction of the soul.  It brings a wandering lostness that you dwell in. 

You can try to fill up the void with things that are bright and shiny.  You can try to fill up the void with sex and hobbies.  You can try to fill up the void with activities and religion.  But the mark of Cain means you're already dead!

How do we stay clear of the mark of Cain, Preacher.  Tell me what can wash away that horrible mark.  I don't want to be lost; I don't want to wander. 

Only one thing in the universe can scrub that well – the blood of the Lamb. 

"What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Oh, precious is the flow, That makes me white as snow,
No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Friend, you may have come in with the mark of Cain.  You can go out with the seal of the Spirit of God.  God wants you whole -- the Devil wants you marked.  Choose!

[1] Title image:  Carl Spitzweg, via Wikimedia Commons
[2]7-14-94, 3a
[3]From a Gridiron Dinner, quoted in Forbes Magazine, (Apr 20, 1987), 22
[4]Clarence Edward Macartney, THE GREATEST WORDS IN THE BIBLE AND IN HUMAN SPEECH, (Nashville, Cokesbury Press, 1938), 11
[5]Clovis G. Chappell, THE VILLAGE TRAGEDY, (NY, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1925), 73

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