August 23, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
SUMMER OF LOVE: IT DOESN’T ENVY
I Corinthians 13:1-10
The third in a series of four.
We’ve been enjoying those kids telling us what love is. Here are a few that didn’t make the video.
Rebecca, age 8: “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.”
Bobby, age 7: “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.”
Mary Ann, age 4: “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”
Tommy, age 6: “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
This is the third in our series of four sermons on love. We started by echoing what Paul says at the beginning of the Love Chapter. Love is everything. If you win at love, you win at life. If you lose at love, you lose at life. And we are either winning or losing, we are either becoming more loving or less loving, every day of our lives. Last week we looked at the verse that says, “Love is patient and kind.” We said that hurry is the great enemy of love in our day. It’s impossible be kind in a hurry. So we need to slow down, we need to be more patient and more relaxed, like Jesus.
Paul wrote these words to a church he had founded in a place called Corinth. It was part of a letter he sent them. If you read I Corinthians 13 all by itself, you might think that Paul was just sending them these beautiful inspirational thoughts so these wonderful, patient, kind, loving people would smile and feel good about how wonderful, patient, kind, and loving they were. But if you think this, you are mistaken. The Corinthians who first read these words would not have been smiling. The Love Chapter hit them like a slap in the face. These were challenging words for them, and they are meant to be challenging words for us.
All churches have problems. I hate to break it to you, but churches are made up of people, and people have problems, so churches have problems. That was true of New Testament churches. And of all the problem churches in the New Testament, Corinth may have been the biggest problem of all. These were some messed up people, including a problem with sexual immorality that I will let you research on your own.
We can summarize the problems in Corinth with three words. First, they are worldly. “You are still worldly” (3:3) Paul writes. That means they were more interested in the ways of the world than in the ways of God. “For since there is envy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?”
Second, they were boastful. “So then, no more boasting about human leaders” (3:21). Paul used the Greek word for boasting in I and II Corinthians more than it is used in all the other books of the New Testament combined.
Third, there is a rare word that we find only in First and Second Corinthians. They were puffed up. Over and over Paul uses this word. Here is one verse for example: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (8:1).
I don’t think they had balloons when Paul wrote these words, but if you think of a balloon it will help you understand what Paul is saying. When you inflate a balloon it looks big and impressive on the outside, but on the inside it’s just a bunch of hot air waiting to get popped. That describes the Corinthians. Worldly, boastful, and puffed up.
Paul is very direct in addressing these faults. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He lets them have it. So when we get to the beautiful, inspiring, feel-good Love Chapter, we can be pretty sure they didn’t read these words and say, “Isn’t that lovely!” It was a punch in the gut. Especially when he gets to the part we are looking at today and he tells them what love is not.
[Love] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not puffed up, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil.
Paul is telling them that what love is is what they are not. And what love is not is what they are. In other words, Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Here is what love is not like: Love is not like you. Love is the opposite of you.”
There was a thing going around when our children were still at home. It was called “opposite day.” When they would declare “opposite day,” whatever you said was supposed to be the opposite of what you really meant. So instead greeting someone with “Hello!” you would greet them with “Goodbye!” Instead of saying, “See you tomorrow!” you would say, “See you yesterday!” You would say “Good morning!” at night and “Good night!” in the morning. It was very confusing. Helen and I never caught on. But our children loved it. Especially when they could get away with saying rude, mean things to their parents because they could always remind us that it was “opposite day.”
So when Paul tells the Corinthians that “love is the opposite of you” he was basically telling them, “It’s not opposite day!” So stop it! Stop doing the opposite of what love requires!
There’s this list of things love is not. Eight things. Each one, the opposite of love. Love does not envy. Love does not boast. Love is not puffed up. Love is not rude. Love is not self-seeking. Love is not easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight at evil. We could be here all day talking about each of these eight, so I am just going to focus on the first one. “Love does not envy.”
Do you have a problem with envy? If you don’t, I envy you, because I do. I think most of us do. We might not admit it. We might be in denial about our envy because we are “puffed up” inside. We know it’s petty thing for petty people. We know we should be above this. We know we should be thankful for what we have and not worry about what we don’t have and what someone else does have. It’s embarrassing to be honest about our deep inner thoughts.
Like you see that beautiful shiny new car that you would love to have but could never afford and you notice it has a big, long, ugly scratch along its side. You say to the owner, “What a shame! I’m so sorry that happened to you!” But you are secretly saying to yourself, “Yes!!!”
I know that would not happen with any of you. But be honest. Have you ever felt good when you saw a certain someone’s name in the newspaper’s bankruptcy listings? Have you ever been to a class reunion and it didn’t bother you one bit that the most popular kid in your class has turned out to be a real loser? Have you ever felt secret pleasure when you noticed that the one who is always bragging about being in such great shape has put on a few extra pounds?
No? Me either.
But I’ve heard about others who are petty like that. And that’s the thing about envy. It is petty. It’s hard to admit because it’s hard to justify. It’s embarrassing. We don’t like to admit it because there’s no way to make it look like anything other than what it is – childish and mean.
Envy is the opposite of love in a unique way. We might say greed is the opposite of love. I don’t know how you can express greed and love at the same time. If I am greedy, I want to have what you have. I want more than you have. Not a very loving attitude to be sure. But if I am envious, I not only want more for me, I want less for you. I want you to be diminished. I want something bad to happen to you. Which is uniquely childish and mean and sinful.
Do you know the first place sin is mentioned in the Bible? When Adam and Eve eat from that forbidden tree? That is sin. That’s the original sin. But the word “sin” is not used a single time in that story. The first time sin is mentioned is Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. It’s a story about envy.
Cain and Abel were the first two brothers. God’s plan for brothers is brotherhood. In other words, love. But envy gets in the way.
They both bring their offerings to God. Abel brings his best. Cain goes through the motions.
The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right sin is crouching at your door (Genesis 4:4-7).
That’s the first mention of sin in the Bible. And you know what comes next. Cain murders Abel.
I wonder how this story might have gone differently if Cain had answered God’s question. “Why are you angry?” He does not answer. He is silent. But what if he had told God why he was angry? What if he had confessed his envy? He might have been saved. But it didn’t go that way. Envy destroyed him and envy destroyed his brother.
From this story, the green thread of envy runs all through the Bible. Sarah and Hagar. Isaac and Ishmael. Jacob and Esau. Leah and Rachel. Joseph and his brothers. Each one a story of envy and rivalry.
Jesus comes along with a new way, the way of love. Do his disciples get it? No. Two of them, James and John ask for places of honor in the Kingdom. One wants to sit at his right hand and one at his left. The other ten disciples hear about this and get mad. They get mad not because James and John are out of line. They get mad because they didn’t think of it first. That’s where they wanted to sit.
Jesus sets them straight. If you want to be great, you have to be a servant. If you want to be first, you have to be last. In other words, your instincts are 180⁰ out of phase. Don’t do what you think is right. Don’t do what seems right to you. Do the opposite.
I think Jesus might say the same thing to our world. Whatever it is that we have been doing all these years has not been working very well. Maybe what we need is to do the opposite. Maybe what we need is not our way, but the way of Jesus.
In this summer of love series, I’ve been offering practical suggestions on how we can become more loving. That’s the whole point of this series and really that’s the whole point of life. But when it comes to envy, it’s tricky. Envy is kind of like a weed with deep roots that is difficult to kill. You can’t get rid of envy by trying your hardest to get rid of envy.
Kind of like weeds in a lawn. You can pull them and they will come back. You can spray them and they will come back. The best way, the only way that really works in the long run, is to grow a lawn that is thick enough and healthy enough that there is no room for weeds. The weeds get crowded out.
And so the practical suggestion on getting rid of envy is to grow love. Where true love is present, there is no room for envy to take root. A loving heart is a place where envy cannot grow.
I’m going to close with two stories.
There is a game kids love to play called “balloon stomp.” The idea is that everyone ties a balloon to their ankle and the object of the game is to stomp the other balloons without letting your balloon get stomped. The last one with an unpopped balloon wins. It’s a Darwinian game. Survival of the fittest. If you’ve ever seen it played you know that it can get rowdy. What often happens is people get their feet stomped instead of the balloon. The more timid souls will sometimes pop their own balloon and quietly exit the game.
A fourth grade class had just played the game. The biggest, toughest, meanest kid won, which always happens.
Then a class with developmental disabilities was brought in. Balloons were tied to their ankles. The teacher wasn’t sure this was such a great idea. Then an amazing thing happened. The class got it that the point was to pop balloons. But the part about competing with each other did not register. So what they did was help each other pop their balloons. One little girl held her balloon in place so a little boy could step on it. Then he held his so she could step on it. When the last balloon was popped, everyone cheered. Everyone won. It was not the way the game was supposed to be played. It was the opposite.
So which game are you going to play this week? How are you going to keep score? Here’s what I think Jesus would say: Keep score by seeing how many people you can help. How many people you can encourage. How many people you can compliment.
Or how about this as something practical? Think of one person you envy. One person you consider a competitor. Pray for the success of that person. Pray that they will win. If you can pray that prayer and mean it, you will win too.
The best way to get rid of envy is by winning at love. And we win at love when we can celebrate the victory of our rival.
The year was 2008. An election year. Aren’t election years fun? Barack Obama and John McCain were the nominees of their respective parties. It would be a hard fought campaign. You never got the feeling that these two men particularly cared for each other. But when the Democrats made the nomination of Barack Obama official at their convention in Denver, John McCain released a most unusual television ad. He congratulated his rival.
(YouTube: “McCain Congratulates Obama”)
Some might say that’s why he lost. He was too nice. He wasn’t mean enough. I like to think he was doing what we’ve been talking about today. He was doing the opposite. And I like to think the more we do the same – the more we lift up each other, the less we despise each other, the better this world will be.
Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart. Help us, each one of us, to grow love that is so thick, so healthy, so Christ-like that the pervasive, noxious weed of envy cannot survive. We confess to you that this is not something other people struggle with but we don’t. This weed is in all of us. And this weed is all through our world. So growing in love is not just a nice thing. It’s a necessary thing. Lord Jesus, our way is the wrong way. Help us to do the opposite. Amen.