In our sermon text for this morning, Matthew notes that the Jews handed Jesus over because of envy. If envy can drive a mob to crucify a just man, we should not underestimate envy’s power in our own hearts, nor underestimate the underlying violence resident in the sin of envy. Jesus said that if you hate your brother in your heart, you have murdered him. James has this in mind when he asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” (Js. 4:1-2) James says that wars and fights come from lusts, desires, and covetousness. And it’s easy to spot envy in other people; people like to point out greed and lust for power in big targets like national governments, corporations, big businesses, and influential leaders, and these sins of course do grow up into big wars and fights. But if you would be part of Jesus’ ministry of peace and reconciliation, you must put this sin to death in your members. You cannot be ministers of the peace of Christ while clamoring for respect and honor. You cannot denounce the violence and oppression in our world while simultaneously feeding the war machine in your own heart. The military industrial complex in the human heart chafes at correction, is hungry for respect, lusts for authority and influence, and inexplicably finds itself in fights all over the map. Wrangling on the internet, snarling on the phone, snapping at your wife, miscommunicating and misunderstanding at every step, this pride and envy is the engine that drives all wars and fights. And James says that the root of this is spiritual adultery. The Jews told Pilate that if he let Jesus go, he was not Caesar’s friend for whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar. James inverts this by saying, whoever wants to be the friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Do people misunderstand you a lot? Do you have a knack for poking people in the eye? Examine your motives. What are you seeking? What are your desires? What are you grasping for? God resists the proud; the Spirit is jealous for our love and affection. So as you renew your commitment to Christ this Lenten season, crucify the envy and jealousy in your hearts.
James says: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (Js. 4:8-9)