Don't Let Envy Color Your Thoughts
Good News Magazine
May 1984
Volume: VOL. XXXI, NO. 5
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Don't Let Envy Color Your Thoughts
Philip Stevens  

If you turn "green" with envy at the success of others, then here, from God's Word, are a few points you should consider.

   It was almost like a carnival.
   Several energetic bystanders had climbed nearby trees and were waving enthusiastically. Other watchers had cut branches from the trees and spread them along the road, along with their own cloaks, to form a carpet on which the ass could walk.
   And as the excited chorus of the crowds grew louder, even more people came out of their houses to see what the noise was all about.
   "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" was the chant that echoed around the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ was entering the city for the last few days of His human life (Matthew 21:8-9).
   From the shadows of the adjacent buildings, the religious leaders looked on with mounting displeasure. Hatred welled up inside the scribes and Pharisees as they watched this spontaneous show of affection. After all, no crowd had ever greeted them in such a spectacular way.
   During the next few days they did little to hide their feelings. Their vehement dislike for Jesus Christ was evident in all their actions. So obvious was their desire to eliminate Him that, later, Pontius Pilate "knew that because of envy they had delivered Him" (Matthew 27:18).

An age-old problem

   Envy the painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another has been around since the beginning of human experience.
   The very first murder occurred as a direct result of Cain's resentment for his brother Abel (Genesis 4:4-8). Years later, Joseph found himself in Egyptian slavery because of his brothers' envy (Genesis 37:28, Acts 7:9). King Saul developed an envious attitude when he realized that David was overtaking him in popularity (I Samuel 18:7-8).
   From these few biblical examples we can see that envy is highly destructive in nature. Romans 1:29 lists envy in the same category as murders and fornications, sins that in one way or another destroy both mind and body.
   Obviously, therefore, envy is an attitude that must be eliminated from the Christian life (I Peter 2:1).
   Envy is, however, an integral part of the makeup of the natural human mind. It is among the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:21), and James was inspired to write, "Do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us tends toward envy?" (James 4:5, New International Version).
   It really is, then, a strong test of character to overcome this carnal propensity of our nature.

How does envy start?

   Resentment and the subsequent envy often germinate from a feeling of having been slighted in some way. Another person may have received more acclaim than us, or perhaps we were overlooked for a promotion we thought we deserved. Or we may feel that others should not own the wealth of physical possessions that they do.
   But whatever the reason, once we allow negative thoughts about the blessings of others to creep into our minds, then we are on the road to becoming envious.
   The time to overcome envy, therefore, is before it takes a hold. If another person receives what we see as a blessing a promotion on the job, a new car, a nicer home, a position in God's Church or anything else then God's command is that we be happy for that individual: "Rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15). Our approach should be one of helping the individual toward success.
   Consider the example of John the Baptist. He had acquired a sizable following. People came from miles around to hear him preach (Matthew 3:5, Mark 1:5), and some even thought that John may have been the expected Christ (Luke 3:15).
   If John had merely been seeking the recognition of people, then he had good reason to be satisfied. But notice what happened as soon as Jesus Christ arrived on the scene. John stepped down and left the focus of attention on Christ, telling the crowds, "It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose" (John 1:27).
   Later John acknowledged of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
   John recognized that while he was preaching alone he had a major role in the work of God. But he also knew that as soon as another person was appointed to fulfill a more important position, then he should gladly submit and offer help to that individual.
   Look now at the life of Saul's son Jonathan. Jonathan reacted to David in a manner totally unlike his father did.
   Jonathan could have expected to be the next king of Israel, but somehow he must have known that David was to receive that position. And he handed David his robe, sword and bow, almost as symbols of the authority being passed to the already anointed son of Jesse (I Samuel 18:4).
   Probably from their first encounter, a great friendship developed between the two young men. Each was willing to serve the other with no thought of personal gain.
   Humanly speaking, Jonathan could have become envious of the ex-shepherd. But he didn't. And Jonathan's example of encouragement and help for one who was to receive promotion and honor is something we should emulate.

A carnal reaction

   Unfortunately, we are more often inclined to think inwardly or even say outwardly something along the lines of "Huh! If only they knew what so and so was really like, they'd have given me the promotion."
   But it is well to remember that an opportunity or a higher office may be given to an individual in order to stretch that person's ability. Going through the testing that a new position offers helps someone grow.
   Consider this: It might be that you have already grown in that particular aspect of life and completed that part of the course. However, if you allow envy to enter your mind, then you may lose out altogether on the final reward.
   And bear this in mind, too: We are not all equal. While the overall goal of the Kingdom of God is common to all real Christians, our individual potentials within that framework are diverse. To achieve His purpose, God has to deal with us in different ways.
   If we remain close to God in prayer and Bible study, then He will work out a way of giving us just what is needed in our lives. God also knows that what we need is not always what we want!
   If, in spite of fervent prayer about some need you feel you have, some position you would like to be in or an opportunity you hope will come your way, you are passed over, then remember this: "To whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). Then ask yourself, "Am I certain that I could have seen the assignment through?" Disappointment now could be better than possible failure later.
   Having an envious attitude toward another individual is like having a cancerous growth in your body. It will eat away at your mind and give you a distorted view of the attributes of others and yourself. As the author of Proverbs was moved to observe, "Envy is rottenness to the bones" (Proverbs 14:30).

Envying false wealth

   People in this world often feel envious of film stars, business tycoons and the like who live in expensive homes, drive flashy cars and generally seem to have a lot going for them physically, at least.
   Perhaps we in God's Church sometimes feel this way, too. And maybe we think the world has got it easy when we look at the trials that we and other Christians have to endure.
   On one occasion, David let similar thoughts get the better of him: "For I was envious of the boastful... they have more than heart could wish.... Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence" (Psalms 73:3, 7, 13).
   But those thoughts lasted but a short time: "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.... For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish" (verses 17, 27).
   The people in this world have no possessions that will last, so why be envious of them? And if we are inclined to think their lives are trouble free, then we, too, should consider the soon-coming end result of this world's ways.

The antidote

   The antidote for envy is love (I Corinthians 13:4), and that comes from God's Holy Spirit.
   If we have trouble acknowledging the success of others, then we need to ask God for help. He will answer a prayer offered in sincerity, for it is His will that we develop concern for others.
   As the apostle Paul wrote, "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being" (I Corinthians 10:24). And, from the same writer: "Love must be sincere. ... Honor one another above yourselves" (Romans 12:9- 10, NIV).
   If an opportunity presents itself for someone else, we as Christians must do whatever we can to make the situation work out well for the other person. The instruction is this: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Philippians 2:3).
   Envy will lead to hate. And hate takes the happiness out of life and makes us miserable and embittered. But, more important, hate is an attitude that will keep us out of God's Kingdom.
   So the next time you are tempted to envy the blessings of another, remember that we should "walk properly... not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13, 14).

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Good News MagazineMay 1984VOL. XXXI, NO. 5