The Ugliness of Envy

By Jason Harrison —


It came like a wave. I was on Facebook and saw one of my friends traveling abroad. Instead of being happy for him, I felt resentment. I love my life, and I am grateful for God’s provision, but in that moment, I wanted what he had.


I do not know about you, but those moments happen far too often for me. Even the mention of a person’s name causes jealousy and resentment to well up in my heart. The root of such feelings lies in envy.


Envy is a feeling of discontent over the blessing of others. Jerry Bridges calls envy “the painfuland oftentimes resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else” (149).


Envy emerges when a person receives the affection you want. It shows up in thoughts like: “I wish he didn’t have that,” or “I wish I had it better than her,” or “She experienced a benefit in life I wish would happen to me,” or “He has something I value.” These are a few voices of envy which convince me I am competing, and when I “lose,” I am worthless.


The Bible says envy is sin with negative consequences. “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Prov. 14:30). “Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple” (Job 5:2). Jesus says that envy comes from within us, out of our hearts (Mark 7:21-22). The apostle James says “disorder and every vile practice” flows from envy (James 3:14-16). One thing is clear: Envy is ugly. No one enjoys or delights in envy.


So, what grace is available for the envious? I have found four helps in my battle against envy.


First, we realize it is only by God's grace that we can kill any sin, including envy. Sometimes, it feels like a dam we cannot break through or a mountain we cannot climb. God does this for many reasons, but one is to bring us to the end of ourselves. So, we turn to God and ask Him to change us.


Next, we pray for the person we envy, bringing them before God. We spend time asking God to work in his or her life. God transforms our hearts as we give thanks for them in prayer. Joe Rigney says, “It’s hard for envy to hide in a grateful heart.” God calls us to move towards them in love, which begins with prayer.


Third, trust in God’s plan for your life. Envy reveals that we do not trust God—we do not believe He actually loves us or wants what is best for us. Remember the scene at the end of John’s gospel. Peter turns and sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. When Peter sees him, he says to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:20-21).


What is happening here between Jesus and Peter? Jesus has told Peter that he will be killed. Peter turns to John—you can sense the envy—and asks, “What about him?” Jesus responds, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”


Jesus is saying comparing circumstances is dangerous. Comparing gifts is dangerous. John Piper says about this text, “Look, don’t get all involved in comparing yourself with this other disciple. What I have for him, I have for him. Here is what I have for you: me. Is that enough?” It is like the teacher’s words in Ecclesiastes 6:10: "Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So, there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny” (NLT).


Fourth, delight in God in Christ. It is so easy for us to want what we do not have, but God says joy lies in enjoying what He has given us. And believers have access to God through Christ. Now, we can trust God that He is for us. He is good, and His goodness is not founded on our shifting circumstances but in his love for us in Christ, who is our atonement. We delight in God because he first delighted in us.


I cannot say it better than Charles Spurgeon: “The cure for envy lies in living under a constant sense of the divine presence, worshiping God and communing with Him all the day long, however long the day may seem. True religion lifts the soul into a higher region, where the judgment becomes more clear and the desires are more elevated. The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. The fear of God casts out envy of men.”


Bridges, Jerry. Respectable

Sins. NavPress, 2007.


Piper, John. “Battling the

Unbelief of Envy.” Desiring

God, 14 November 1988,

https://www.desiringgod.org/

messages/battling-the-

unbelief-of-envy.


Rigney, Joe. “Envy.” Theology

Refresh: Podcast for

Christian Leaders, Desiring

God, 4 October 2013,

https://www.desiringgod.org/

interviews/envy.

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