How do you feel when you’re scrolling social media and see that a friend got a job promotion or had a wonderful vacation with family? How do you react when someone tells you good news about themselves? What is your inner dialogue when you compare your life to the lives of those around you? If the blessings of others cause feelings of discontentment and resentment in you, then the sin of envy may be trying to destroy your life!
What Exactly is the Sin of Envy?
Envy is feeling negatively towards another person because they are what you want to be or they got what you wanted to have. It arises from a scarcity mentality that involves believing that there are not enough blessings to go around and that God is stingy and withholding from you. Envy is different from jealousy. While envy’s eyes are glaring at the person who has received the blessing that it wishes to have, jealousy’s eyes are lasered in on what it currently has, feeling fearful that precious things will be taken away. Both can be going on in the same person at the same time, but the focus is different.
A vivid example of envy in the Bible comes from 1 Kings 3. Two women who lived in the same house both had babies, and one of the babies died in the night with no one to witness it. Both women claimed that the living baby was hers, and they came to Solomon to settle the dispute. In order to force the truth into the open, Solomon acted as if he would cut the baby in two with a sword and give half to each woman. The woman who was truly the baby’s mother was horrified and said, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the lying woman brazenly said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” (1 Kings 3:26). The lying woman’s reaction is a perfect illustration of how envy is a life killer.
Envy in the Bible
Old Testament examples of the sin of jealousy include the rivalry of Joseph's brothers over the favor that Joseph received at the hand of God (Genesis 37:12-36; Acts 7:9), and Saul's animosity toward David for his physical and spiritual prowess (1 Samuel 18).
Envy inevitably leads to personal harm and debilitation, affecting one's physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being:
- "Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple." - Job 5:2
- "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." - Proverbs 13:30
Unchecked, envy gradually leads to a destructive and remorseful way of life and ultimately, to estrangement from God:
- "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" - Proverbs 17:4
- "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." Romans 1:28-32
Here are five specific ways the sin of envy may be destroying your life from the inside out:
1. Envy Saps Energy
Envy is powerful, but it doesn’t make us powerful. Instead, it weakens us at our core. Proverbs 14:30 says that “a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Envy causes us to be always running but never finding rest. The writer of Ecclesiastes warns: “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person's envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4). When we spend our time negatively comparing what we have with what others have, we are spinning our wheels while stewing in hatred.
2. Envy Makes Love Impossible
Paul says simply: “Love...does not envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love and envy cannot coexist, since when you love someone, you wish for their highest good, but when you envy someone, you harbor hate in your heart for them and by wishing bad things for them. As Christians whose highest calling is to love God and love neighbor, envy will short-circuit everything we are seeking. Indeed, envy is not even loving ourselves, since many have pointed out that envy is like drinking poison and wishing that the other person would die. And the poison of envy can spread throughout a person’s life, creating havoc because it never exists alone.
3. Envy Is Associated with Evil Things
In the Bible, envy is seldom mentioned alone. Instead, it is usually associated with all manner of evil companions. James says that “where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). Peter urges Christians to “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Peter 2:1). Paul lists various “acts of the flesh” with “envy” listed among other things like “idolatry” and “fits of rage,” concluding that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). When envy takes hold in your life, other sins are likely to congregate with it and conspire to destroy your life and the lives of those around you.
4. Envy Leads to Hate and Harm
Envy isn’t private; it’s not something that stays hidden in the heart. Instead, envy puts our eyes on people rather than on God, and we start wishing evil for them because we resent that—at least in our perception—God has shortchanged us while blessing them. Envy leads us to think that there is not enough blessing to go around, so we harbor hate toward our neighbors that causes us to wish for and sometimes even to cause harm to others.
Paul warns against this tendency when he urges: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:26).
He describes life without the influence of the Holy Spirit, saying: “We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). In Paul’s own life, he says that “some preach Christ out of envy...supposing that they may stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15-17). Christians are warned: “Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways” because those ways lead to destruction (see Psalm 37:1-2). In Scripture, the envy of wicked people is seen as antithetical to wisdom and understanding.
5. Envy Does Not Lead to Wisdom and Truth
If we are seeking wisdom and want to understand the truth, envy will keep us from our goals because it takes our eyes off of the God who gives wisdom and redirects our focus unhelpfully onto earthly things, often leaving us confused and in conflict. Paul warns that false teachers “have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy...and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:4-5). As mentioned above, envy never travels alone but always associates with other unsavory elements like fighting and falsehood.
James warns: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life” (3:13). Then envy is mentioned as the very opposite of the good, wise, and understanding life! “But,” James continues, “if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth” because “such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:14-15). Where wisdom is, envy is not. Where envy is, wisdom cannot grow.
Envy puts our focus on the wrong things—looking at others and resenting their blessings and success rather than looking to God and seeking his true and wise perspective on the world. The distraction of envy leads us down a path that is ultimately destructive to others and to ourselves. The antidote to envy is gratitude to God for what he has blessed us with and a love for others which rejoices in the gifts they have been given, knowing that God’s gracious gifts can never be exhausted nor can his rivers of blessings run dry.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MatthiasLindner
Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.