Envy: The Sour Aftertaste of Sin

Photo by Govinda Valbuena

Envy is not simply a longing to have the same kind of thing the other person has; the envious person wants to strip another of something in order to possess it completely and solely (Proverbs 14:30). Apostle Peter’s spiritual weight loss program tells us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

Christians are not immune to envy. Ananias and Sapphira saw the praise Joseph the Levite received when the apostles changed his name to Barnabas (Acts 5), and their envy led to their deaths. In our time, one preacher envies another minister’s success and begins to slander him because he is eaten up with envy.

Henry Stein wrote, “A convincing case can be made that the entire free enterprise system is fueled by envy.”[1] Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed, “We worship success, but we really don’t like the successful. We are envious of them.”

Sometimes it is easier to understand the meaning of a word by looking at its opposite: light/dark, heavy/light, fat/thin. The Greeks considered “envy” (phthonos, φθόνος) the opposite of “the love of people” (philanthropia, φιλανθρωπία). [2]

Envy expresses itself in all walks of life. Children want other children to envy their toys. Adults engage in “conspicuous consumption.” People marry a “trophy spouse.” Envy often leads to overspending and consequent marital conflict. (Disagreements over money are the most frequently cited cause for divorce.)

Early Christians saw envy as “the end result of all human sins.”[3]. As such, envy – our fundamental dissatisfaction – is the fruit of all the other sins. Envy is like the sour aftertaste of sin. It is a fundamental problem for us all and is considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. [4]

Think about it. Envy is a major cause of unhappiness and self-contempt. The man who covets another man’s wife becomes dissatisfied with his own. The student who envies another’s grades underestimates his own abilities. The woman who envies another woman’s appearance becomes a supporter of a cultural system that diminishes her own value and encourages her own unhappiness. Envy diminishes people’s enjoyment of life because they cannot be content with what they have.

Peter, help us! How can we strip away our envy? This might sound strange, but the root of envy is doubting God. We need to understand that God wills the very best for us! We may think we need something, but the Lord knows what we really need! Therefore, I believe the best way to counter envy is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude!

[1] Henry Stein, Ethics (and Other Liabilities), 1982

[2] See Demosthenes, “Against Leptines” 165. Cited in Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1054). University of Chicago Press.

[3]Didache: “ἔσχατον τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων ἁμαρτημάτων”

[4] PEWSLAG: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Avarice, and Gluttony

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