The Sin of Envy
Dr. Jim Denison
Webster defines “envy” as “(1) a feeling of discontent and ill will because of another’s advantages, possessions, etc; resentful dislike of another who has something that one desires (2) desire for some advantage, quality, etc. that another has.” Envy is the byproduct of greed. It is wanting what someone has enough to resent them for having it.
Why does our culture value envy? Because envy promotes materialistic greed. If I envy what you own, I’ll try to buy it. And we live in a world which measures success by possessions. And because envy promotes self-reliant achievement. If I envy what you have done, I’ll try to do it. And we live in a world which measures success by performance.
Envy is one of the devil’s most effective weapons. No matter who we are. Years ago I came across this painfully relevant story: Once there was a monk who lived in a cave in the wilderness. He had a great reputation for holiness. His reputation reached Hell itself, whereupon the devil took three of his key demons with him to tempt the monk out of his sanctity. When they reached the wilderness, they found the monk sitting at the mouth of the cave with a serene look on his face. The first demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great power, with visions of kingdoms and their glory. But the face of the monk remained serene.
The second demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great wealth, with visions of silver and gold and all that money can buy. But the face of the monk remained serene. The third demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of sensuous pleasure, with visions of dancing girls. But the face of the monk remained serene.
Annoyed, the devil barked, “Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed.” The devil strolled up beside the monk, leaned over and whispered, “Have you heard the news? Your classmate Makarios has just been named bishop of Alexandria.” And the face of the monk scowled.”
What makes you envious this morning? Someone else’s possession? Position? Status? Family? Happiness? Health? Where is the enemy using this deadly sin against you?
What is wrong with envy?
Scripture answers our question in five ways.
Envy is forbidden by God
•”Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong” (Psalm 37:1)
•”Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways” (Proverbs 3:31)
•”Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 23:17).
•”Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble” (Proverbs 24:1).
•”Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).
•”Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
•”Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another” (James 3:14).
Envy destroys souls
•”A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). When we envy what others have, we will never have enough. We are never done. And the cancer grows until it consumes us.
•Remember Cain and Abel: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast” (Genesis 4:4-5).
•”Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73.1-2).
Envy keeps us from God
“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city [of Pisidian Antioch] gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:44-46).
Envy destroys relationships
Isaac “had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth” (Genesis 26:14-15). Joseph’s “brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind” (Genesis 37:11).
Envy destroys lives
It harms the envious, as Haman proved “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s table. His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.’ This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built” (Esther 5:12-14).
It harms the innocent, as Daniel demonstrates: “The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God'” (Daniel 6:4-5).
And it crucified Jesus: “When the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him” (Matthew 27:17-18).