I love yard work. I never lack amazement at the grandeur of God’s creation – even in my rocky backyard. But amidst the beauty of it all, I do not understand it all. For example, I have yet to discover any value in poison ivy. Once I get a little, it quickly turns into a lot – of misery. The spreading blisters and itching can last for weeks. I’m itching now, just thinking about it.
It is the same way with poison envy. I say poison because envy is just that to our lives. Once it gets on us it can spread, damaging our testimony and putting us at odds with God. Greg Peters, at Patheos.com, defines envy this way: “Envy refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for one self, even unjustly.” Envy is a sin that destroys.
Envy recently made the national news. Researchers revealed how pervasive envy has become among users of Facebook, the world’s largest social media network with more than one billion users. The study, by scholars at two German universities, disclosed that one in three Facebook users (more than 300 million people), who read about – and see pictures of – friends’ love lives, work successes and vacations are envious to the point they feel misery and loneliness.
“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” researcher Hanna Krasnova of Berlin’s Humboldt University told the Reuters news service. “The spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on social networking sites is shown to undermine users’ life satisfaction,” Krasnova and her colleagues say in the report, “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction.”
Of course Facebook is not the problem. Man’s sinfulness is the problem and the only remedy is a person placing their faith in Christ for forgiveness. Can you imagine the destructive power of so many people feeling envious?
The Bible tells us envy is destructive – even to the point of death. The first instance of envy is found in Satan’s relationship with God. Satan wanted to be like God (Isa. 14:13-14). He was envious of God’s power and authority, so much so that he acted. His rebellion against God ultimately led to death’s entrance into the world. One of the earliest accounts of envy in Scripture is Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel, in Genesis 4. While envy is not mentioned directly, it is obvious that Cain was envious of Abel’s acceptance in God’s eyes. The Bible offers many other examples of the sinfulness of envy, underscoring how seriously God views it.
The Bible warns that envy is something not to be desired. Proverbs 14:30 says a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Job 5:2 tells us, “For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.”
So how should we respond when envy tempts us? Obey the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exod. 20:17). By not coveting we do not give in to envy for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
I think Peters rightly suggests that we need temperance to counter the sin of envy. He defines temperance thusly: “Temperance is the virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable.” When we are temperate, our fleshly desires are directed toward what is good.
We can develop temperance by simply rejoicing in the merits of others and when others are blessed. Philippians 4:4 tells us to always rejoice and Romans 12:15 says we should rejoice with those who rejoice. As Christians our lives should be inundated with rejoicing, especially in God and what He has done for us through Christ. Instead of looking upon our neighbors with envy, let us rejoice in what God has given them.
Envy is a particularly dangerous sin for Americans because God has blessed each of us in so many ways. We are used to having all we need – and then some. If we are not careful, our blessed prosperity can cause us to fall into the trap of habitual envy.
As the Facebook research suggests, envy can cause people to become miserable and even lonely. We must not let this happen. Let us rejoice with others when God blesses them. Let us also rest in the eternal joy, peace and contentment that a personal relationship with Christ provides rather than in the fleeting pleasures of this temporary world.