Envy: “Discontent at the excellence or good fortune of another, frequently in the Bible with the distinct idea of malice or spite. The revisions often replace it with jealousy” (Cruden’s Complete Concordance).
From this definition we can see that envy is a feeling of ill will or discontent or resentment because of another’s power or promotion or high position. Envy is one of the vilest emotions which can ever be cultivated in the human heart. It is capable of rising up and surging to even viler emotions. Envy is committed by the worst and also by those who are religious; most of the time those who are guilty of this vile sin can rationalize it away and make excuses for it in their lives.
You can observe envy at work through many of the characters and their deeds recorded in the Holy Scriptures. Cain, the first murderer, rose up and slew his brother because of envy (Gen. 37:12-28 — note especially vv. 18-19). The poison that envy is full of causes one to despise the very presence of noble and good people (Luke 6:22). And then there was Haman who had a gallows built to hang Mordecai. Why? Because of envy. Even though Haman was in a high position himself, he was greatly disturbed that Mordecai would not bow down at his feet (Esther 5:13; 6). Envy can become exceedingly cruel and cowardly!
It was due to envy that a trap was set for Daniel by the presidents and princes (Dan. 6). In this example we learn that oftentimes envious men are crafty and clever. They descend to trickery. When we come to the New Testament, we see a classic example of envy in the elder brother in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. He resented his brother’s return and especially his loving reception by his father (Luke 15:25-30). He could enumerate every sin his brother had committed, but he could not see his own envy, jealousy, and impenitent heart. Is that not true of all envious people?
The sin of envy was involved in the delivering up of Jesus to be crucified by the Jewish leaders (Matt. 27:17-18). Jesus was sinless, but that only created more envy in the hearts of men who had no intention of living up to His standard. The soul that is full of envy has no appreciation for the best people in the community or the congregation. If they are envious, they can twist everything said or done into a charge of wrongdoing. How sad!
What about today? A brother blackens the name of another brother because of envy. How does he do this? By gossip, by lying, by whispering, by slander, by evil speaking. When a malicious man sees that he cannot equal a brother in virtue or in honor, he begins to belittle, to defame, to downgrade, etc. Remember James said: For where envying and strife (selfishness) is, there is confusion (disorder) and every evil work (James 4:16). If we could eliminate envy from the world, we would go a long way toward eliminating a lot of other sins as well.
How should we react to envy? Envy often reaps what it sows (Gal. 6:7; Matt. 26:52). It reaps what it sows in like kind (quality) and it reaps more than it sows in quantity (Hos. 8:7). The individual who inflicts injury upon another suffers injury to himself. Cain became a fugitive and a vagabond after allowing his envy to overrule his reason (Gen. 4:11-14). The brothers who sold Joseph into bondage were humiliated and frightened when they learned that he was alive and in position to harm them (Gen. 42-45). Cruel and heartless Haman was hanged on the enormous gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:10). The Jewish leaders who had Daniel cast into the lions’ den were devoured by the beasts themselves (Dan. 6:24). The Jewish leaders, who through envy delivered Jesus to be crucified brought sin upon their own heads (Acts 2: 22ff).
If we want to react properly to envy and if we want to help eliminate envy, we need to practice the divine remedy for that terrible sin. The divine remedy is love (I Cor. 13:4; I Pet. 1:22). Love is not grieved when others are honored, promoted, or highly praised (I Cor. 12:26; Rom. 13:8-10). What about you? Are you guilty of envy? Let all of us work at ridding ourselves of this terrible vice in the new year and always!
– Paul M. Wilmoth January 18, 1944 – April 5, 2021