Envy is something that most people are familiar with. When we see that someone has something we would like to have – physical possessions, or personality traits, or ministries, or talent – then a natural human reaction is to envy them. It takes a conscious work to become free from it, so that we can be thankful for what we have been given and “rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Romans 12:15)
Why is envy wrong?
When envy springs up and is allowed to live and grow in a person’s heart, it has horrible consequences. We can see many accounts of that in the Bible.
When Abel’s sacrifice was respected by God, and his was not, Cain killed his brother out of envy. (Genesis 4:3-8) When Korah was envious of Moses, he was swallowed up by the earth. (Numbers 16) When Saul let envy of David enter his heart the end result was that he was killed in battle. (1 Samuel 18) Even Jesus was killed by the religious leaders of the day out of envy.
“A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones.” Proverbs 14:30.
It is not a sin to be tempted to envy, but if it is allowed to live and fester, it becomes destructive. It divides people. It destroys relationships, sows discord, and creates a spirit of bitterness, and evil. It causes people to act and speak in toxic ways. To become envious is definitely a sin, and is defined as such in God’s Word.
“For where envy and self- seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” James 3:16.
How does one overcome envy?
But temptation doesn’t have to lead to sin! There is a way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:13) When He lived on earth, Jesus conquered all sin. He was tempted in every way just like we are, yet without sin. As a result, He can sympathize with our weaknesses and help us when we are tempted. There is a throne of grace we can go to boldly, so we can obtain mercy and find grace (power from the Holy Spirit) to help us overcome envy every single time we are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16) We can overcome like He overcame.
How do we overcome it? We have to begin by acknowledging it. It is natural for us to insist that we are not envious. But if the desire of our heart is to truly become free from all sin, then we need to humble ourselves and acknowledge the truth.
It begins with a thought. “That’s not fair.” “Who do they think they are?” “Why don’t I get the recognition? Why is it always they who are blessed?” Simple things like that which cause our soul, also know as our feelings and “reasoning” to react and overreact. Our ego is concerned. We can find it at work, at school, in our marriage and families, and with our service for God.
Paul testified that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. By faith, we too can reckon ourselves – our feelings, thoughts, opinions, ego, etc. – to be crucified with Christ. Then we are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:7-11) When we live according to this faith we can overcome the temptations to be envious, and grow in contentment and thankfulness instead. When we are tempted we can pray for strength to remain there on the cross with Christ, and remember that it is He who lives in me now, and that I can react according to His virtues, regardless of what I feel like. Then all “confusion and every evil thing” aren’t born from my actions. Instead I am creating life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
The result of overcoming envy
Then we also get revelation about the Body of Christ. In order to serve Christ and the members of His Body (the Church), there can be no envy or divisions; only unity. The members of the Body cannot work against each other, otherwise the Body wouldn’t function. Paul writes so clearly about this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. If one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. There is no envy there!
(Further reading about the Body of Christ in Romans 12:3-6 and Ephesians 4)
Imagine if we grow in virtues rather than allowing something like envy to waste our time and opportunities and steal our joy! When we recognize our boundaries and see instead the works that God has for us to do, we will fit into the Body exactly as we should, not taking up more space than we have received grace from God for, and being useful members that can work together in unity and harmony. What a complete rest and peace we can come into, growing in contentment and thankfulness.
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22-25.