--"envy." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 07 Oct. 2008.
Envy is an ugly word. Short. Abrupt. Say it aloud. “Envy.” It doesn’t flow smoothly off the tongue; it sort of hangs there, suspended in midair, exposing an inner ugliness that we can’t hide. It almost sounds like a curse word. Come to think of it, envy ends up as a curse for those who indulge in it, short-circuiting the ability to live a life of gratitude and fulfillment.
What does Scripture say about envy?
As you read through these passages, ask God to show you which one you need to take to heart today.
First, notice how envy show up in Paul’s description of love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.—1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Look at the effect of envy on the person who indulges in it:
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.—Proverbs 14:30
Envy motivated the religious leaders to turn against Jesus:
So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.—Matthew 27:17, 18
Envy is listed among the acts of the sinful nature against which we are cautioned, in contrast to the characteristics of a Spirit-led life:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.—Galatians 5:19-26
James warns about denying or harboring the presence of envy in our lives, and points us to the characteristics of wisdom that come from heaven:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.—James 3:13-18
Peter directs believers to rid themselves of envy and to grow up in their salvation:
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart…Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.—1 Peter 1:22, 2:1-3
Entitlement is a close friend of envy, and is a prevalent mindset today. Unlike envy, entitlement has a sense of intellectualism, justice, and righteousness about it. It doesn’t seem to bother us as much to admit to feeling entitled.
What do you feel entitled to have or entitled to do, regardless of the impact it has on others?
Remember the line from Disney’s The Kid, when the psychologist tells Russ Duritz that he is “entitled to a 50 minute hour, just like everyone else”? Always makes me laugh! Yet, having an attitude of entitlement isn’t a laughing matter.
Entitlement: “qualified for by right according to law; ‘we are all entitled to equal protection under the law’."
--"entitled." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 07 Oct. 2008.
Governments define the rights that their citizens are qualified to receive. But many of us have taken entitlement to a new level. Forget what the government says we’re entitled to, we think we’re entitled to have it all!
We think the world owes us…something, whatever we need, whatever we want, whatever others have—in short, everything the world has to offer.
In Philippians 3:20, Paul tells us that we are citizens of heaven. This is good news, yet we may be tempted to live a lifestyle of entitlement when it comes to spiritual matters, too. While most of us wouldn’t be so bold as to blurt it out in front of others, the basic attitude that drives both envy and entitlement is pretty straightforward:
“God owes me!”
Have you ever uttered those words, or thought them? Maybe it’s more subtle for you, maybe you’re not even aware that a tendency to envy or entitlement lurks in your unconscious, until things go wrong and you find yourself wondering how this, whatever “this” is, could happen to you!
Have you ever found yourself acting like you deserve more than what you have, thinking that life is unfair? What do you think you deserve?
What does Scripture say that we are entitled to?
All that we have as believers is through Christ, because of His sacrifice on our behalf. The New Testament is filled with the benefits that we reap through coming to God through Jesus. Try looking up Romans 5 and highlight the things we have received through Christ. Here are a few things to get you started:
1 peace with God
3-5 hope in suffering
10-11 reconciliation to God...
Moving on to other books in the New Testament, we find that we are free to:
“approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”—Hebrews 4:16
We can be confident that God will finish what He started in us:
“that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 1:6
We can be confident that God hears and answers our prayers:
“…if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”—1 John 5:14, 15
We can be confident that God is for us and that nothing that happens to us, as bad as it might be, can separate us from His love:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose….If God is for us, who can be against us?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."—Romans 8:28, 31, 35, 37-39
These blessings through Christ, the things we are entitled to spiritually, are just the tip of the iceberg! Yet envy and a sense of entitlement trip up many who claim to know Christ.
Envy and entitlement destroy our ability to enjoy the life that God has given us, to receive His blessings, to appreciate His grace, and to experience the encouragement and support of Christian community.
Envy causes us to grasp after things that belong only to God—judgment, control, position, power, authority—and to blame Him and others instead of taking responsibility for our own lives and choices. It turns us from worship and gratitude to complaining, bitterness, resentment and grasping. It separates us from God and others, destroying the very relationships that God designed to sustain us.
Where is envy destroying your relationship with God? With others?
What blessings sustain you as a Christ-follower?
What changes do you need to make to destroy envy’s power and receive the blessings Christ has for you?