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  • Writer's pictureKendall Ellis

The Threat of Envy

This is a sermon preview for the fourth sermon in the “Promise & Threat” sermon series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.

“Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’” –Genesis 21:8-21.

In the opening scene of Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out, Baby Riley’s parents try to introduce her to broccoli. (And any parent who’s ever had a picky toddler knows where this is going.) Disgust–who claims “to keep Riley from being poisoned physically and socially”–causes Riley to point her nose up away from the smelly green substance. Then Anger–who “cares very deeply about things being fair”--causes Riley to throw the broccoli away in a tantrum when her dad threatens to take away dessert.

Oh how true to life this scene is! Like all emotions, disgust and anger are things God created as integral to our humanity. This means that our emotions can be helpful tools that God has given us to connect with one another and worship God. But unfortunately, the reverse is also true: our emotions can be affected by sin and lead us astray.

In Genesis 21, we see how Sarah’s emotions betray her. More specifically, we see how disgust and anger sometimes work together to create another powerful emotion: envy, one of the strongest threats to God’s promises that we’ve seen so far.

So what’s the big deal about envy?

Simply put, envy is a lot like jealousy. Envy happens when we perceive someone else having something that we think we deserve. In other words, we become angry that God has blessed someone else, and that causes us to be disgusted by that person and act hatefully towards them. Envy is rooted in a scarcity mindset, and envy leads to broken relationships and resentment.

At his point in the Genesis saga, Abraham and Sarah have already started to receive the promises of God fulfilled. Though they do not yet have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, Sarah has given birth to her first son, Isaac. Finally, after years of prayer, waiting through old age, and laughter, God has proven God’s faithfulness and blessed them with a child! Thanks be to God!

And the blessings continue. Isaac continues to grow and be healthy. Abraham decides to host a party to celebrate another one of Isaac’s great milestones of life. It seems like all should be well. It seems like Sarah should be rejoicing that she finally “has it all.”

But Sarah is not celebrating. Sarah is not content with God’s promises or God’s faithful actions. Sarah sees Isaac playing with his half-brother Ishmael and she is envious. The only thing on Sarah’s mind is that it should be her son (Isaac) who inherits all the promises given to Abraham. Not Ishmael. And this is why she has Abraham send Hagar and Ismael away–to live alone and fend for themselves in the desert.

But there’s a problem with Sarah’s envy.

Not only does envy steal her joy, preventing her from celebrating her son. Not only does envy break up their extended family and give them a death sentence. Her envy also becomes an idol.

In our own lives, we may not think of an emotion becoming an idol. But make no mistake about it: we worship whatever we think holds the greatest amount of power and influence in our lives.

For Sarah, God couldn’t possibly be big enough or good enough to bless Isaac and Ishmael. For Sarah, God didn’t have enough power or resources to care for the entire family. For Sarah, the promises of God were scarce. And if there couldn’t possibly be enough promises of God to go around for everyone, then her envy had to step up. Her envy had to take matters into her own hands and get rid of the competition so that she could keep God’s blessings for herself.

I’m reminded of William Shakespeare's words in Othello, “Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” I’m sure Sarah thought she was being a good mother, protecting her son’s inheritance. But in the end of the story, Sarah’s actions mock her. While she made envy her idol, God makes another promise. God promises Hagar that God will care for them, too. God promises that Ishmael’s descendants will be a great nation, too. God’s actions would not be limited according to Sarah’s lack of imagination.

Envy tries to threaten the promises of God by telling us there’s not enough blessing to go around. Envy tries to threaten the promises of God by telling us to take control instead of trusting God. But scarcity is not a word in God’s vocabulary.

God’s big enough, good enough, and powerful enough to bless everyone according to God’s will and purposes.

Reflection Questions

  1. How have you been like Sarah and allowed envy to influence your attitudes and actions towards others?

  2. How does knowing God is abundant and generous change the way you view the promises of God?

  3. What’s one way that you can turn away from your envy this week and refocus your attention on the abundance of God?


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