“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Prov 14:30). “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov 27:4) Envy (and its first cousin jealousy) are two of the most destructive sins. Envy eats away at the person from the inside, while jealousy inevitably leads people to devour others. Together they create a “green-eyed” monster.
The Apostle Paul makes several points about envy and jealousy in the following verses. Consider Romans 1:28-29 where Paul points out that envy and jealousy are products of a debased mind, and that this frame of mind is the result of not acknowledging God as our rightful creator and ruler. Moreover, Paul notes that those whom God gives over to this debased mind are not merely characterized by envy and jealousy (among other base sins), but they are filled with these sins. It is as if they are bubbling up from the well of sinful hearts. Envy and jealousy are overflowing from the hearts and lives of those who deny God his rightful place on the throne of heaven and earth.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4, Paul makes the point that envy and jealousy are incompatible with love. You cannot have envious love for someone because love in the presence of envy ceases to be love. While there is a jealous love that is righteous (for example, the love of husband for his wife that he will not share with another person), love and jealousy are basically incompatible. This kind of sinful jealousy squashes love by suffocating it, always being suspicious of it, and never content with it. This kind of jealousy and love cannot coexist. It is boastful about the love it “owns”, never considering that love is a gift that cannot be earned. Love is a gracious gift to be received with love and thankfulness, and never jealous because someone else has a more desirable love than we have been given.
Paul teaches in Galatians 5:19-21 that envy and jealousy are works of the sinful flesh. They are not merely bad personality traits, or passing emotions. They are so bad that those who practice envy and jealousy will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is for such sins and envy and jealousy that Christ had to shed his blood and give his life in sacrifice. Envy and jealousy must be forgiven; God will not tolerate them.
One cannot help reading what the Bible teaches about envy and jealousy without noting the kinds of things that tempt people to become envious and jealous. In Acts 5:12-17 and 13:44-45, the Jewish religious leaders were provoked to envy and jealousy by people being healed of various diseases, and the effusive attention the apostles were receiving from the crowds.
First Samuel 18:6-9 narrates how King Saul became envious of the praise that David his servant was receiving from the crowds. Saul was being praised as well, but because the greater praise was given to David, Saul felt slighted and became suspicious of David, even though David did nothing to provoke Saul. All David did was bravely and faithfully serve his king.
As Genesis 4:4-8 shows, Cain murdered his brother Abel because Abel’s offering was accepted by God but Cain’s was not. The approval of God for Abel tempted Cain’s heart to react in fratricide. The same family jealousy is evident in the account of Joseph and his brothers as recorded in Genesis 37:4-11 and 18-20. Jacob loved his son Joseph in a special way, and gave him a special coat to share his love for him. Joseph’s brothers became envious of the coat and jealous of Joseph’s favored status, and they were tempted to commit fratricide, opting instead to sell him into slavery to appease their consciences of the guilt of bloodshed.
Esther 5:9-13 tells the story of Mordecai the Jew who refused to bow and show obeisance to Haman the Babylonian official. Haman’s rage flared when his lust for honor was denied by Mordecai, so he plotted to kill both Mordecai and all of his people the Jews.
Envy and jealousy give birth to other sins as well. Bridges writes, “Closely allied with envy and jealousy is the spirit of competitiveness—the urge to always win or be the top person in whatever our field of endeavor is.” Is there a difference between doing your best and being driven by envy and jealousy? The following verses address the notion of people doing their best: 2 Tim 2:15; Col 3:23; 1 Cor 9:24-27. To do one’s best is different from being competitive. To do your best in anything is to seek the glory and honor and praise of God alone. To act in the same way, but with a competitive spirit, is a double sin. It is to seize the glory due to God for yourself, and to step on those who labor in the same field. Being competitive at the expense of doing your best is a sin against both God and neighbor. We are to work for the Lord, and not men. We are to work for the Lord, not for a glory greater than our fellow worker. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul says that we ought to run the race of faith in such a disciplined and self-controlled way, not so we may win the race so as to defeat the other runners, but we must run so we may not be disqualified. In other words, we are to run the race to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matt 25:21) not “You are the winner!”
But competitiveness can easily lead to a person being driven by envy or jealousy. The Bible addresses this problem in the following verses: Eccl 4:4; Song 8:6; Jas 3:16. When we work hard competing with our neighbor, we will in the end find meaninglessness and dust in the wind. Competitive jealousy and selfish ambition are bedfellows with disorder and every vile practice.
I am reminded of those silly Saturday morning cartoons where two characters are competing for a prize (a pretty girl, a trophy, a bag of money, fill-in-the-blank with whatever). You know what I’m referring to. The gag is that one of the characters (the underdog) is the virtuous player, while the favorite is the scoundrel. In the course of the contest, the favorite will try every sort of dirty trick to keep the underdog down and out, but disorder (Karma? Proverbial providence?) always follows. All the tricks backfire on the favorite and he is eventually disqualified for all his vile practices. The virtuous underdog keeps his nose to the grindstone and his eye on the prize, trusting that all will work out for the one who does his best. And that is always what happens! I think there is a biblical truth behind all the gags, parodies, and jokes in those cartoons. God looks upon the one who seeks to always do his best favorably, while he frustrates the plans of the wicked. There’s probably a proverb that sums it up just like that. Search the Scriptures for it, and then live by it, trusting God to sort it all out in the end.
I wonder if envy and sinful jealousy is worth the energy. Seriously, what does it accomplish? What good is it? Such a revelation should be a breakthrough in my pursuit of denying envy and jealous sinfulness. I suppose that the only positive thing that envy and jealousy reveal is that I am observant. If I didn’t notice my surroundings, I couldn’t be envious or jealous of something or someone outside of me. But that cannot be the answer, for that cure is worse than the disease. No, I am thankful that God grants the ability to discern what is going on in my world, yet I pray that he would deliver me from envy and jealousy so that I may be content with what I have, and happy in God.
Thank you God, for the promise and gift of your Spirit to all who trust in Christ for salvation—both in this world and in that which is to come. Please God, give me the will and power to keep dealing with my “respectable” sins, and the desire to daily walk the path of discipleship, following you on the path to holiness and eternal life. Redeem me from the slavery of ungodliness by making yourself know in my thoughts, words, and deeds. Deliver me from the pit of unthankfulness, a trap that I am prone to fall into and always have trouble climbing out of. Save me from the sins of anxiety, frustration, and discontentment by reminding me that your eye is on the sparrow and you clothe the lilies of the field, things that are much less valuable than your children. Rid me of the beasts of pride and selfishness, those sins that clearly not “respectable” yet manifest themselves in such subtle ways that they are ever-present in my sinful flesh. Give me grace to bring my impatience, irritability, and anger to your cross whenever they rear their ugly heads from my heart. Cure me of latent judgmentalism and overt sins of the tongue—those hateful sins that do so much damage to your name. Convict me of bouts of envy, jealousy, and all losses of self-control, and grant sanctifying grace so I may leave those sins behind more and more as I pursue the way of the King. God, I know that none of these prayers will be answered fully in this life, but I am also confident that your promise is sure that when I meet you face to face someday, all the tears shed for sin and sins will forever, once-for-all-time, be wiped away. Amen.