Envy is an enemy. It lurks behind your eyes. It lies in wait deep within your ears. Its poison is stored up at the base of your tongue. At the most unexpected moment it releases its foul thoughts to devour your joy and destroy your usefulness to God.
Envy is so dangerous because it is so easily disguised. It is camouflaged beneath what seems to be justifiable complaints. “Why can’t I have what she has? I’m just as good as she is.” “Why does he get all the attention? He’s not perfect.” Such inequities make us feel right about our resentment. Yet, when someone’s good fortune makes you think of your misfortune, or when someone’s success makes you stew in your own failure, then envy has sunk its venomous teeth into your heart.
Envy’s pain is not restrained only to the one who possesses it. It radiates out like a stench to contaminate how we think about the possessions and relationships in our lives, until nearly everything is colored with the haze of our resentment. Envy is not a harmless thought.
The number of tragedies perpetrated by envy is staggering. It fractures families (think of Cain and Abel, Sarah and Hagar, Joseph and his brothers, just to name a few!); it disrupts nations (Moses and Korah, Saul and David); it destroys churches (1 Cor. 3:3); it led to the murder of the most righteous Person who ever lived, our Lord Jesus (Mark 15:10). So, is it possible that envy lies behind some of the problems you face?
Our envy is often inflamed when those who don’t follow God have it good. They take their trips and have their thrills, and we are left carrying our cross. Asaph captures our frustration when he wrote, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked … They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind” (Psalm 73:3,5). How can they ignore God and get to smile?
Envy begins to creep in. So, we fantasize about doing what they do, wearing what they wear, and having what they have. But, we forget that we do not want to go where they will go! Solomon reminds us, “Do not be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out” (Prov. 24:19-20; Psalm 73:17).
Our envy of the worldly reveals our own rebellion against God. Our envy displays our own belief that God is not enough. The envious heart really thinks, “If I am going to be happy in life I have to go outside of God’s will to get it.” Yet, may I ask you, do the worldly people accumulate those things and do those activities because they are seeking first the kingdom of God? Of course not. Then why should we envy them?
Strangely enough our envy is also aroused by those who are living more righteous than us. When a person has success in sharing the gospel, or sacrificially serves people’s needs, a flood of criticism is often released. Some may be Biblically warranted, but some arise out of envy. Deep down we resent their faithful service because it exposes our own selfishness. Instead of throwing rocks, perhaps we need to try repentance.
The real problem with envy is it slanders the character of God. When we harbor envy in our heart we are really saying, “I dislike how good God is to someone else, and I am dismissing how good God is to me!” Envy operates on the principle that God ought to give people what they deserve, and fails to see that everything we have is by God’s grace. Envy shouts, “Why them!?” While gratitude joyfully sighs, “Why me?” You see, envy fails to recognize that God is good, gracious and will have the final say.
Perhaps it’s time to unmask envy of its disguise and evict it from our hearts. Perhaps it’s time to admit the sin of envy that feeds our resentment and bitterness! Perhaps it’s time to quit blaming people for what they have and see the goodness God gives us. Here’s some practical ways to do that.
Rejoice In The Blessings of Others. When you see someone more gifted, more honored, more blessed than you, be careful of the sour taste of envy. That quick witted sarcasm does nothing but expose your covetousness. Your speedy criticism only shows your self-centeredness. Instead, remember the command, “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15). Honor God for what is good, and rejoice that undeserved grace was given to one more needy creature.
Be Thankful For What You Have. Envy is the lie that God has not blessed us enough to rejoice in the Lord always. But, if we spent more time counting our blessings we would spend far less time wanting what others have. As Peter put it, “Those who have tasted the goodness of the Lord, put away all envy” (1 Pet. 2:1,3).
Stop The Comparisons. You see, in Christ we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). What could be better? Our envy only reveals we are preoccupied with the temporary and the worldly. We need to be less impressed by possessions, fame and positions. They create a comparison game that only claims losers.
Be Most Concerned About The Glory of God. Envy is the inevitable result of being consumed with writing our own story. All our unfulfilled dreams and unmet expectations wind up in the pit of envy. But, if we will get caught up in God’s story and doing His works there is an never ending sense of purpose and joy (2 Thess. 1:11-12).
Envy is not worth the bitterness and resentment it sows, nor the fractured relationships it creates. Drown your envy in the endless sea of God’s goodness and grace.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14) … and by the way, “love does not envy” (1 Cor. 13:4)
Extra Bits On Envy
A Definition: Envy is your displeasure over the good that comes upon another, wishing it were yours instead of theirs.
A Quote: Horace famously wrote, “The envious man grows lean at the success of his neighbor.”
A Couple of Stories:
Story #1: Two men were walking down the road: one man was very greedy, the other man extremely envious. A stranger met them and promised to fulfill their greatest wish. There was one stipulation, the man who did not wish for anything would receive a double portion of what the other one wished for.
The greedy man and the envious man walked silently for a long time waiting for the other to wish. The greedy man wanted the double portion so he wouldn’t wish, and the envious man could not bear the thought of the other man receiving twice as much as him, so he wouldn’t wish.
Finally, the greedy man grew impatient and he grabbed the envious man by the collar and demanded that he make a wish. The envious man thought for a moment and wished to be blind in one eye—and the greedy man became blind in both.
Story #2: Oscar Wilde tells a story about a hermit in the Libyan Desert, who set himself apart so he could forsake all sin. The devil walked across the desert one day and saw his demons trying to tempt the hermit. They showed him great possessions, but the hermit was not tempted. They incited him to lust, and the hermit was not tempted. They couldn’t find anything to make him sin.
Satan finally got disgusted and said, “What you are doing is just too crude. Permit me to show you want to do.” The devil snuck up to the man and whispered in his ear, “Your brother has just been made bishop of Alexandra.” And Oscar Wilde wrote, “A sky of malignant envy cross the man’s face.” and Satan said, “That’s the kind of thing I recommend.”