Envy is not a new emotion invented by our self-centered, materialistic society. It has existed since before the creation of man (and social media). Satan, who was not content with his position as the perfectly beautiful guardian cherub, envied God’s sovereign position as Lord of the Universe. He was thrown out of heaven down to the earth. Misery loves company, so he schemed with doubt and deception hoping Adam and Eve would want what God had and what they were not to possess, the knowledge of good and evil. They did not disappoint. This led them to disobey God and eventually led to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The very first children born of Adam and Eve were not exempt from this sin. Their firstborn son Cain killed his very own brother Abel out of envy of God’s acceptance of his offering, and the downward spiral of the sin of envy continues to this day.
Shakespeare may have been the first to refer to envy as “the green-eyed monster,” but he was not the first to write about it. The Old Testament of the Bible not only tells of the horrific results of envy on the first family, but also contains numerous teachings on the subject. Job’s friend Eliphaz the Temanite wrote, “envy slays the simple (Job 5:2).” King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:30 that “envy rots the bones” and in Proverbs 27:4 he states, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” He even went so far as to say that “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4).
Not even God’s chosen people were immune to envy. It was jealousy of their younger brother Joseph that drove Jacob’s older sons to first try to kill Joseph then sell him to merchants heading to Egypt. In Warren Weirsbe’s commentary book on Genesis he quotes an author of a fourteenth-century preacher’s manual which said that envy was “the most precious daughter of the devil because it follows his footsteps by hindering good and promoting evil.” These sons of Jacob acted like the daughter of the devil in their envious relationship with Joseph.
When Jesus walked this earth he was not immune to the affects of the envy of others. The Pharisees who were jealous of Jesus were always trying to trip him up by asking ridiculous questions concerning man-made laws. On one such occasion Jesus called them hypocrites and then taught the crowd that it’s what comes out of someone that defiles them not what they put into their body. He was speaking of the heart where evil thoughts originate (Mark 7:1-23). He then listed the evils that come from within a person:
sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, ENVY, slander, arrogance, folly
Whew! What a list! Did you catch the one four-letter word tucked toward the end of the list? (I kind of made it obvious!) We don’t often think of envy in this way. We think and sometimes out of ignorance say, “After all it’s not one of the BIG sins like murder.” But Jesus called it evil, so that’s what it is!
Lately, a great deal of the devotions I have read deal with this very evil. I believe God is trying to get my attention. I am always telling myself and even God that I am content with every part of my life. After all, I have all I need – a loving husband, an adult son who still calls, a part time job I love, food in the pantry, a house, cars, and a boat that we own, not the bank. So why does the green-eyed monster show up at my door uninvited? God’s been showing me ways I’m envious that have nothing to do with material possessions. I can’t fool God. He knows my heart better than I do.
Do you remember the story of Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him (John 21:15-23)? Once Peter answered affirmatively, Jesus told him to feed his lambs, take care of his sheep and feed his sheep. Then he gave Peter a look into the future by revealing in a round about way that he was to die in his old age a martyr’s death, possibly by crucifixion. Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” You may be asking yourself, what in the world does this have to do with envy? Stay with me.
Right then Peter turned and saw John following them and he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” He told Peter “If I want John to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Basically Jesus was telling Peter to mind his own business and don’t worry about his plans for John. It’s just possible that Jesus knew that Peter would be envious of his plans for John. If I were Peter I would have said, “But Lord, why can’t I die of old age, naturally? That’s not fair.” Oh, Peter… (Oh, Cindy…)
Here’s where God has been speaking to me about envy.
I see and hear of godly women working in ministry, writing for and speaking to women in amazing ways and it dawned on me (or Satan put this thought into my head) that they all seem to have had some horrendous tragedy in their life such as rape, sexual abuse, abortion, divorce, debilitating disease or even the death of a child. Then I start questioning whether or not God has really called me to write since my life experiences have not been so tragic. The green-eyed monster rears it’s head again! I realize that I envy the fact that these women have awesome God-delivering personal stories to reach others. Let me make it clear that I am not asking God to give me a tragedy!
The Lord spoke to me through a sweet friend when I shared my doubts about writing. She said that there are many women out there who like me have not had terrible life experiences, but they may think they are saved because their life has sailed along smoothly and they don’t realize that they need Jesus. Wow! What a revelation! Just like Jesus had a different plan for John, he has a different plan for me. These are the women I can reach for Christ! So when I ask God, “What about all those other writers?” He says, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”
One last thought about envy to really shake us up (as if Jesus’ words are not enough)! Not only does the apostle Paul include envy as one of the traits love is NOT (1 Corinthians 13:4), but he also includes it in the list of the sins of those who did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God. The result was that God gave them over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:28-31). Depravity is not my life goal, therefore, I do not want to give God any reason to ever do this to me!
Love does not envy and through my daily prayers asking for the Lord’s help, I will not either!