Overcoming Sin through Christ: Envy

  Overcoming Sin through Christ

A Comprehensive List of Sins

(Alphabetically Arranged)

Richard Hollerman

The plan of this study is simple.  We will look at a large number of sins, one by one, alphabetically.  We will define the sin, describe it, and comment on it, along with noticing Scripture references on the particular entry.  Some illustrations will be offered along with the description.

Envy

Throughout Scripture, we see envy’s evil hand ruining personalities and darkening relationships.  We might think of Sarah’s envious thoughts toward Hagar (Genesis 16:5-6; 21:9-10), Rachel’s envy of Leah (Genesis 30:1), and Joseph’s brothers’ envy of Joseph (Genesis 37:4-11, 18-20; Acts 7:9).  Miriam and Aaron envied Moses (Numbers 12:1-10); Korah, Dathan, and Abiram envied Moses (Numbers 16:3; Psalm 106:16-18); Saul envied David (1 Samuel 18:8-9, 29; 20:31); and Haman envied Mordecai (Esther 5:13). 

We recall how Asaph confessed, “As for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3).  What led to our Lord’s rejection and crucifixion?  Matthew says that Pilate “knew that because of envy they [the Jews] had handed Him over” (Matthew 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10).  Envy is a prominent sin in both the Old and the New Testaments.

The Scriptures always condemn envy.  Do you ever look at the wealth and pleasures of the sinner and wish that you could enjoy life as he does? The psalmist warned, “Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers” (Psalm 37:1; cf. vv. 7-8).  Solomon wrote, “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways” (Proverbs 3:31).  Why should we envy the sinner who will one day perish?  “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (23:17-18).  Again, “Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them” (24:1).

Just what is envy?  The Greek phthonos is “the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others.”[1]  “Phthonos is ‘a kind of pain at the sight of good fortune,’ ‘pain at another’s good,’ as the Stoics defined it.”[2]  Richards says that envy “is that bitter feeling roused by another’s possession of what we want but do not have, whether material possession, popularity, or success.”[3]  Jesus says that envy comes “from within, out of the heart of men” and “defiles the man” (Cf. Mark 7:21-23).  No wonder that Jeremiah observed, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (17:9).

Schlink writes:

Envious people cannot bear to see their neighbors—especially their equals or those they live with—get something more or better than themselves.  That is especially true in the areas that interest us most, for instance, intellectual endowments, physical beauty and strength, or recognition and popularity, material advantages and various blessings at home or at work.  For instance, it hurts the envious mother when she sees that her neighbor’s child is more popular than her own, or if he has a happy marriage when her child does not.  How often do we look askance, just because the other is getting along all right!

. . . . In the more harmless cases we are unfriendly to others; we repel them; we quarrel with them and make life difficult for them.  But often—just as the Pharisees took revenge on Jesus—we take revenge on others, because they have taken honor, recognition and popularity away from us through their own popularity.  We try to humiliate them somehow, to take them down a peg or two in the sight of others, or to put them out of the limelight as best we can. . . . And if we become conscious of our envy, perhaps we try to make it seem harmless or we even feel sorry for ourselves, because God has not given us something that He has given to others.  If we do so, we are justifying our envy.[4]

The Word of God everywhere condemns the sin of envy.  Paul says that the pagans are “full of envy” and this is “worthy of death” (Romans 1:29, 32).  He also says that one of the deeds of the flesh is “envying” and this will prevent one from inheriting the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).  He urges us, “Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26).  When we envy a brother or sister, we are harboring wrongful attitudes toward that believer and what he or she has.  Paul says that before coming to Christ, we lived lives of envy (Titus 3:3).  It is no wonder that Peter says envy should be “put aside” from our life (cf. 1 Peter 2:1).

Within the believing community of Christ, the occasion for envy will be decreased since extremes of poverty and wealth should be eliminated.  Paul explains this principle that is the “way of equality”: “At this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).  The first Jerusalem believers “began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45).  Later we read, “The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (4:32).  Without extremes of wealth, the opportunity for envy is somewhat decreased, but not eliminated.

Schlink points out that we need to “admit that we are envious because another has something we do not have,” then we must ask ourselves, “Are we willing to surrender our selfishness and our claims on possessions and talents to Jesus and to be poor with Him in the way of material goods, abilities, love and respect?”  A root of envy is “mistrust in God.  It is comparing ourselves with others, as though the Father in heaven had been unjust when He distributed His gifts and burdens.  Therefore, it is a matter of renouncing our rebellious, mistrustful thoughts.”  Another connection is ingratitude.  “We must begin to give thanks for everything that we have received, and then there will be no more room for envy.  If we give thanks to God for the gifts that others receive, the poison of envy must yield.”[5]

Let’s be aware of envy in our daily life.  Let’s not be envious of someone with a better position, a better paycheck, a better house or car, or a better station in life.  Let’s not be envious of our neighbor’s athletic husband or our neighbor’s shapely wife.  Let’s not be envious of our friend’s talented and “gifted” children, when ours are mediocre.  Let’s not be envious of someone who seems to have perfect health, when we have a chronic physical problem and poor health.  Let’s not be envious of someone who has his master’s degree when we barely made it through high school.  Let’s beware of the many expressions of envy in our daily life.

It may also help you to think of the reasons why you should not have a particular characteristic, material item, or ability.  For instance, if you tend to envy a person because of his high intellect, remember that very few people with high I.Q.s are called of God (1 Corinthians 1:26).  If you tend to envy the wealthy, you can remind yourself that few rich people will be saved (Mark 10:23, 25).  If you often envy those more attractive than you, remember that “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

Besides this, if we have love, we will “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26).  We won’t be tempted to feel pain when another disciple has better health, is more attractive, has a better home life, has a better marriage or better children, or a nicer house.  We will feel confident that if another saint has certain advantages, he will not use such advantages for his selfish enjoyment but to bless others within the body.  Further, if God has entrusted certain advantages to a fellow-believer, more will be required of him.[6] True love is to seek the highest good of the beloved, thus we need not envy another. 

Let’s renounce the sin of envy and embrace the attitude of love.

 



[1] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[2] William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit, p. 47.

[3]Expository Dictionary.

[4] You Will Never be the Same, p. 82.

[5] You Will Never be the Same, pp. 83-84.

[6] Notice Ronald Siders, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

 

 

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