What is Envy According to the Bible?

Envy vs. Jealousy

What is Envy According to the Bible?

Understanding What the Bible Says About Envy

The Bible warns us against many reactions and emotions that cause us to sin. One of the topics that is discussed in great detail throughout the Scriptures is that of envy. As Christians, we must understand what the Bible says about envy so that we can better defend ourselves against this reaction in our daily lives.

So, what is envy according to the Bible? The Bible has much to say on the topic of envy. In one of the most popular verses on the topic, Proverbs 14:30, envy is said to “make the bones rot”. It is regarded as a word of the flesh in Galatians and, in James, is coupled with disorder and vile practices. From these few references, we know that envy is not a characteristic that should be displayed in the life of any Christian.

I don’t know of any Christian that would argue that envy is a characteristic that benefits their testimony. Sadly, however, envy is often on display in Christian circles. How do we learn to identify envy in our own lives? Is there an effective way to stop this habit dead in its tracks?

In this post, we will dive into what the Bible says on the topic of envy. From this framework, we will discuss how we can defend our hearts and minds against the temptation of envy in our daily lives.

What is Envy?

Envy is described in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage”. 

When we envy someone for their position, possessions, or even their looks, we are discounting the unique blessings that God has given us! When we are envious of another person, we are discontent with the lives that we have been given. We may feel ill will towards another person or quickly become resentful of their belongings or situation!

While none of us actively envy others, this habit is far too easy to slip into, even for the most devout believer. Our sinful natures easily identify the blessings of others, telling ourselves that we deserve the very thing that they have been given. 

Jealousy vs. Envy

In many situations, jealousy and envy are used interchangeably. Both of these words can be used in a similar context. However, they are not synonyms, especially when viewed through the lens of Scripture. 

We already discussed the meaning and practical implications of envy. Jealousy, on the other hand, is often attached to a stronger emotion. Jealous stems from the word ‘zealous’, another word for strong devotion to someone or something. In a Biblical sense, jealously is more strongly associated with protecting or having strong feelings towards something that is yours rather than coveting something that another person possesses.

Viewing Envy Through the Lens of Scripture

Biblical Definition of EnvyAs we begin to study envy through the lens of Scripture, it is important to remember that envy is a sin that virtually every one of us will struggle with to some extent. We must learn to quickly identify envy in our hearts and our minds, allowing us to put a stop to this sinful behavior. 

The first Biblical example of envy is found in Genesis 4 where Cain kills his brother Abel due to envy. This simply the first of many stories outlining the dangerous consequences of acting out of envy. Other Biblical examples of envy include Korah’s envy of Moses in Numbers 16 and Saul’s envy of David in 1 Samuel 18.

We live in a sinful world where envy is prevalent. As Christians, we must understand the consequences of letting envy fester in our hearts. Envy causes division, bitterness, and leads us to act in a way that is not glorifying to God. 

Envy Causes Us to Overlook Our Blessings

When we envy another person, we are actively believing and telling ourselves that what they have is better than what we have been given. Envy displays itself in nearly every area – we can be envious of the way someone looks, envious of their position in life, their wealth, or even their relationships. When we are envious of another person, we are overlooking the blessings that we have been given! 

Envy is the Result of Searching for Fulfillment 

Envy begins when we wish we had something that we do not have. Our sinful nature tells us that our source of fulfillment is in our belongings, status, or appearance. When we begin to feel envious of another person, we are no longer finding our true fulfillment in Jesus Christ! We must learn to identify this behavior so that we can actively realign our hearts and our minds, seeking fulfillment in Him alone.

Envy Steals Our Joy

There are not many things worse than spending days, weeks, months, or even years in a bad mood. When we envy others, we are allowing envy to steal our joy! By focusing on the things that we do not have, instead of finding joy and fulfillment in Christ, we are allowing our days to lack joy. 

Bible Verses About Envy

There are countless Bible verses warning against envy found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Here are just a few of the most common Bible verses about envy:

Proverbs 14:30

“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”

Galatians 5:19-21

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

James 3:16

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

1 Peter 2:1

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

Proverbs 24:19-20

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers,  and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future, the lamp of the wicked will be put out.”

Galatians 5:26

“Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

These are, of course, just a few of the Bible verses that speak on the topic of envy. To continue your studies on this important topic, you can find more Bible verses about envy here.

Tips for Overcoming Envy

Envy is a result of discontent and an ungrateful spirit. We must learn to identify envious behaviors and patterns in our own lives so that we can overcome these emotions! 

Actively Practice Gratitude

Perhaps the most effective way to overcome envy is with gratitude. Regardless of your current position in life, you have been given blessings that are unique to you! The next time you are tempted to be envious of another person, list your blessings and thank God for each of them. This will help you to refocus your heart and mind on the things that you have been given rather than the things you believe you lack.

Pray for a Grateful Heart

We know that prayer is one of the best ways to realign our hearts and our minds with God. When you are feeling envious of another person, you are no longer allowing yourself to be filled by God. Pray that He will help you to have a grateful heart. Seek to find your fulfillment and joy only in Him. By realigning your life in this way, you will overcome envy with thankfulness.

Search for Opportunities to Be Joyful

While it is true that we will all experience hardship from time to time, there is no reason to sacrifice joy due to envy of another person. When you are tempted to feel envious towards another person, search for opportunities to be joyful! By taking time to notice even the smallest blessings in life, we find reasons for joy that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

In Conclusion

The Bible clearly teaches against envy. Envy is a temptation that virtually everyone will struggle with at some point in their lives. Even the most devout Christians actively fight back against thoughts and feelings of envy! 

We must learn to identify the warning signs of envy in our own lives. Do you wish you had what someone else has been given? Are you saddened by comparing your life to the lives of those around you? Do you get excited about your friend’s promotion or do you find yourself wishing them ill-will? 

While the temptation to be envious is a common one, the struggle with envy doesn’t have to be. Seek to realign your heart and mind with Christ, focusing on the truths found in Scripture. If you are feeling discouraged by your struggle with envy, consider reading one of these encouraging books of the Bible

Seek to learn more about what the Bible says about confidence and seek to find your true fulfillment in the blessings that He has given you! By working to actively fight against envy, you will be able to live a more joy-filled and Christ-centered life. 

You can learn more about gaining a Biblical perspective on other important topics here.

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