Whatever you call it, we have all struggled with it. When we were little, envy appeared when your sibling got a cooler Christmas present than you. When we were teens, envy was there when “that girl” took our crush to the prom. In our college years, it was envy stirring in our hearts when another woman had the perfect hair, perfect apartment, perfect complexion, perfect GPA; her life just seemed…perfectly easy. Moving beyond college, envy still seems to be able to rear its ugly head. There’s always “that woman” in your life. The one with the better house, the sportier car, the easier job, the more attentive husband…the comparisons go on and on.
As women, there’s a competitiveness to our nature that can be seen throughout the generations. We saw it in the very first woman when Eve desired the knowledge of God (Genesis 3:6). Sarai’s jealousy grew as Hagar brought Abram’s son into the world, an event she herself set into motion only months before (Genesis 16:4). It’s seen in the rivaling relationship of Rachel and Leah (Genesis 30:1). Envy is the reason the phrase, “Keeping up with the Jones,” exists, and as women, we all identify with it. As common as envy and comparison seem to be, there’s something cancerously destructive at its core that we so often forget or simply ignore.
When jealousy against someone grows in our heart, we’re the first person it hits. And even though our betterment is often the motive for our envy, we’re not made better by envy. In fact, Scripture talks about it not only affecting our spiritual walk, but our physical health as well. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” Envy is deceptive. We think the poison it produces is spilling out onto the individual we compare ourselves with. But in reality, it’s defiling us. Mark 7: 21-23 says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” When our focus is on what we lack, our attention turns inward. It becomes all about us – our wants, our desires, our felt-needs. God’s Word says our focus should be on fearing the Lord (Prov 23:17). It’s impossible to fear the Lord AND focus on satisfying our wants. Our attention always goes one way or the other.
Envy and jealousy are closely linked to a lack of love. Paul makes this clear when he defines love for the church in Corinth. And he compares the two for the Romans, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
James realized how envy divides people when he asked, “What causes quarrels among you?” He answered the question with, “Is it not this that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
Disunity and division spring out of an envious heart. We’ve all seen this happen in our own lives. We see something in a friend’s life that we want, and envy takes root. As we mull it over in our minds, why we’re perfect candidates for that blessing as well, resentment builds, leaving us discontent and frustrated. Sooner or later, we’re angry…seriously angry…with this person we once called friend. This is the cycle our hearts falls into when we choose to entertain envy.
At the base of an envious thought is a misconception of who God is. Scripture says that God is good, and that He gives good gifts to His children (Psalm 145:16, 104:28). But an envious heart looks at what others have and questions why they don’t have them as well. “They are good, and I am a child of God,” the envious heart reasons, “So why don’t I have those things in my life? God must be holding back his goodness in my life. God must be cheating me out of something special….God must not be truly as good as He makes Himself out to be. Sure, He’s saved me, and His Word comforts me, but that is the extent of His goodness in my life.” And just as surely as envy’s negativity deters our focus away from God and onto self, it also maligns the very character of a good and gracious God.
John Piper’s Future Grace defines envy as “desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God.” He suggests at the root of envy is idolatry. “It is desiring anything other than God in a way that betrays a loss of contentment and satisfaction in Him. It is a heart divided between two gods.” It’s ironic that it comes at the end of the Ten Commandments when “You shall have no other Gods before me,” comes at the beginning. It’s almost as if having idolatrous free children was the whole point of God giving us the Ten Commandments. God wants undivided hearts, hearts wholly turned to fearing and loving Him alone. Envy not only distracts us from this, but it directly interferes with it, takes God away from His rightful place in our lives, and replaces Him with an idol: our want.
Envy is often called the “Green-eyed Monster.” Perhaps because it eats away at us and the relationships we have with those we’re envious of and with God. Perhaps because it grows like a monster taking up more and more space in our lives. But the Good News is, however, the Green-eyed Monster doesn’t have to destroy everything in its path. There is victory in Christ! When we have envy in our hearts, there are three things we can do:
- Confess your envy to God.
Because envy’s biggest offense is against God, He’s the first we must go to. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is always ready to restore our relationship, but we must make things right.
- Take every thought captive.
At the beginning of 2 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about spiritual warfare and how it’s won. He says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “Taking captive every thought” means every time an envious thought enters your mind, every time you’re tempted to look at your friend and think, “I wish I had her beauty, or her comfortable lifestyle, or her abilities,” take that thought and line it up with what you know about God: God made you just the way you are for a reason, and He never makes mistakes. (Psalms 139:13-15) God orchestrated your days and your life before you were even born. (Psalms 139:16) God has given you certain talents to accomplish His purposes for you.
- Pray for contentment in that area of your life.
Praying for contentment aligns your desire to God’s desire. He wants you to see all that He does for you and not compare yourself to others. He is a good Father who gives good gifts. First Timothy 6:17 says, “Hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” So, pray for contentment. As you rehearse the goodness of God in prayer, contentment will come.
Envy. We all have struggled with it at one time or another. But NONE of us have to live with it.