What does it mean to envy? A quick, superficial answer might lead us to any drama series where one woman is jealous and petty because the man she fancies is in love with another. But the reality is envy is something we all face daily.
When we are critical of someone else, the root of it is envy towards some aspect of their lives (real or perceived).
We envy someone’s possessions. A job. A relationship. The way we presume their life. Social media is the ultimate envy machine because all we see is someone else’s filtered life.
Envy is the root of all jealousy.
Three of the Ten Commandments deal with envy. Adultery (or lust) and stealing get at the action of taking what is not ours. God gets at the heart of things with, “thou shall not covet.” While we do not deal with servants and oxen anymore, the idea requires us to banish any desire we have for what someone else has. This means more than a passing look. It is a fixation on what is not ours. It is envious attention to what we do not have.
“Covetousness works like this: the eyes look upon an object, the mind admires it, the will goes over to it, and the body moves in to possess it. Just because you have not taken the final step does not mean you are not in the process of coveting right now” (David Guzik).
Envy left unchecked can lead to a lifetime of covetousness.
Envy: a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc. (Dictionary.com)
Envy works in two ways. We all struggle with being jealous of what others have. Whether it is longing outright for what belongs to someone else, or if we desire to have the kind of life we think they live. The truth is we rarely get through a day without, on some level, wanting what someone else has (even if it’s just a pair of shoes or a pristine (on Instagram) house).
The other way is truly insidious. It goes beyond wanting something to thinking no one ought to have it. It happens when we do not understand why we do not have X or Y and begin to begrudge someone who does. This can be anger at your friend who got engaged when you are not. Or wishing harm or a change in circumstance for someone who has something or has reached a certain place. It is the little barbs we rarely admit but that ping us as we scroll social media and start the comparison game and deflect our jealousy by bashing someone else’s character and trying to belittle them so we feel better.
It is the envy that will allow us to destroy someone we love so we feel better about ourselves.
As William Barclay says, “Meanness of the soul can sink no further than that.”
Love “does not begrudge the greater privileges and gifts of others, or seek out gain for itself,” Alan Redpath writes. “Only love can see all the inequalities of life and remain content with its own place. Where there is no love, there will inevitably be envy.”
David Guzik sums it up well. “Envy is one of the least productive and most damaging of all sins.”
Envy can be a small voice prodding. If left unchecked it can grow. Without intervention, it can lead to actions we would be incapable of if our focus was on the right things.
Envy led Cain to murder his brother.
Envy led Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery.
Envy led Rebecca to conspire with Issac to steal Esau’s birthright.
Envy led Leah to sell a night with her husband for some fruit.
Envy led David to beckon Bathsheba to his bedroom.
Envy led the disciples to bicker over who was the best.
Envy led the Pharisees to approach Judas with an offer.
Envy accomplishes nothing, except to hurt. Love keeps its distance from envy and does not resent it when someone else is promoted or blessed.David Guzik
Envy loves to get you to compare.
Envy loves to get you to look at what you “lack.”
Envy loves to get you to say, I’d be happy if only _______________.
Envy murders love. It breaks relationships. It infects our minds and hearts with intention and jealousies that have no purpose but to destroy.
But love cannot envy. I cannot love you and envy what you have. I cannot love you and be jealous of your position, your marriage, your home life, your children, your place.
Love looks at what I have, dirty counters, a 10-year-old car, a dog scared of everything, and does not peek over at what you have. Love lets me scroll Instagram and be happy for you without feeling like I lack. Love kills comparison which does not let envy take root.
As I said before, often the object of our envy, whether it is a possession, a person, a relationship, the ability of someone to relate to someone we value, the attention someone is giving someone else, is not the point. The root of envy goes back to our hearts. And if you have been with me for a while, you know the heart is the place God longs to be.
The outward signs of envy are not pretty: pettiness, snottiness, complaining, gossip, overspending to chase an ideal, working to reach what someone else has, flirting with the wrong person, settling to check a box, abandoning friends so the “right people” like us.
But the inward damage is even more caustic. A deadened heart, black and cold. Eyes blind to our gifting. A tongue only aimed with jealousy and hurt. Simply put, God cannot co-exist with envy.
The second commandment warns against making an idol of any form. Dear friends, envy is the idol we call our “voice of reason” and feed it with the things God put in our lives to bring us joy.
We overlook relationships because they are not the one we want.
We disregard our homes, families, and marriages because our versions do not meet the Pinterest or Instagram ideal.
We stop doing our best because so and so got the promotion over us.
We become so fixated on the man we cannot have we do not see someone who loves us standing right over there.
We put all of our attention on someone’s ministry, not understanding why God does not use us to do X and Y.
Jealousy, envy, comparison, coveting – they are off-shoots of the same weed.
And love frees us from all of them.
I wanted to pull this attribute out by itself because it is something we all face and it can be really hard to recognize or admit. But if we can do the hard work and face what we allow to have so much control over our lives, we will find a flower field full of beauty on the other side.
The Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 13 for envy (zēloō) can also mean to: desire earnestly, purse, to strive after, busy one’s self about Him, to be zealous in the pursuit of good… God can take what once “boil(ed) with envy, hatred, (and) anger,” and turn it into something that earnestly pursues loving others! We just have to be willing to see what is there and let Him work within us.
We will be able to love better and more fully when the lies of envy, comparison and lack have been vanquished by the One who showed us the greatest act of love.
So who are you comparing to? What are you jealous of? Make a list. When you catch yourself comparing (or more likely being mean about someone) stop and ask why. Why does their fall wreath, new job, number of likes, a day with her kids trigger you?
Not easy questions at all and ones we will face daily for the rest of our lives. But until we find the grace to do so love cannot be made real in our lives. We cannot truly love others until we are free from what could be twisted to make us put up defenses.
- Alan Redpath: The Royal Route to Heaven
- BlueLetterBible Translation
- David Guzik’s Commentary on Exodus 20
- David Guzik’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13
- William Barclay’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13
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