Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Envy
In the 14th post in this series covering the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5, we look at several strategies we can use to combat envy in our lives.
We often think of human envy in rather simplistic terms: a girl with a small lollipop looking at another girl with a much larger lollipop. Envy, like coveting, involves strongly desiring something that we don’t have. But envy includes a feeling of resentment and anger at another person because of the perceived unfairness of it all.
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the Greek word for “envy” in Galatians 5:21 means “the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others.” Many would say that envy is not a big deal. Why should we be concerned about wanting the bigger lollipop? The truth is, envy can produce much more serious problems—such as adultery, theft and murder. Envy is the opposite of two important biblical virtues: contentment and love toward others.
Consider this example of the destructive cycle of envy: An employee who makes three times more than a friend is constantly envying his friend’s free time. That same friend constantly envies the money of the other. Neither is happy or content despite the fact that they both have the blessing of stable employment! This perpetual state of feeling cheated and ignoring what we have is just one negative example of envy at work.
Lies about envy
Lie No. 1: “Wanting bigger, newer and better (and more of it) drives our economic system. It is good for the country to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’”
This lie is just an excuse to justify a negative moral trait. The enormous personal credit card debt that millions of people carry should be enough to combat this lie. But the debt keeps growing and people keep buying what they want, but can’t afford. Even when 90 percent of Americans have not seen an increase in their wages since 1988, somehow our personal spending and debt continues to increase! The lie about keeping up with the Joneses has led to all kinds of financial worry, personal meltdown, divorce and even (in extreme cases) suicide.
The Bible tells us that “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). This is the nasty reality of credit card debt. Envy and the resulting debt can be overcome by Paul’s admonition, “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). In fact, having an understanding of how people live in developing nations can help us realize the importance of this verse!
Envy is the opposite of two important biblical virtues: contentment and love toward others.Lie No. 2: “A little fantasizing about having what someone else has never hurt anyone.”
This lie is based on the false idea that what goes on in our mind is harmless, as long as we don’t act on it. But the truth is, even if fantasy never leads to action, it does something to the human mind. Fantasy can twist normal thinking and lead to discontentment, bitterness and even hatred toward others. This thought process is the farthest thing from harmless. Actions don’t come out of nowhere; they are a result of thought patterns.
The 10th Commandment states, “You shall not covet,” and then goes on to give several examples, ending with “anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). God forbids coveting for a simple reason: It leads people toward petty selfishness, which is the basis of envy, instead of outward love.
Strategies to combat envy
1. Thank God for all your blessings.
When we hear the phrase count your blessings, it’s easy to casually think, “Yeah, I know.” But do we really take it to heart? It is a very revealing process to try to write out all our blessings. Start with the large blessings and narrow it down. You can start with life, then move on to oxygen and water, which sustain life, then food, then clothing, then shelter, then family … then stop.
This is where billions of people in most developing nations have to stop. Have you ever thanked God for electricity, running water, paved roads and the ability to have a checking account, even if the balance is not as high as you would like it to be? Millions around the world do not have these basic amenities.
Remembering all that we have should help us be more thankful and even prompt us to do what we can to assist others in need, rather than harboring selfish envy.
2. Differentiate between healthy wants and envious desires.
There is nothing wrong with wanting special things, deeper friendships, a nice house and so on. In fact, God wants to give us nice things and good gifts (Matthew 7:11). But a problem arises when we want unhealthy relationships or strictly material things for the sake of having what others have.
Most healthy “wants” shouldn’t be based solely on self or dominate our thoughts. Unhealthy “wants” put us dangerously close to the sin of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). After striving to be content with our needs being met, we should examine our “wants” to see if they are based on unhealthy envious desires.
3. Learn to hate envy.
The Bible tells us to “hate evil” (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13), which certainly includes envy. Instead of following this instruction, Satan the devil envied the authority of God and even tried to make himself equal with God (Isaiah 14:13-14). Human beings mimic this by constantly wanting more and refusing to be satisfied with the blessings given to them. When we think about it, envy is easy to hate because of its petty selfishness.
One of the best biblical principles for overcoming envy is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). When you live for the future, the desires of this present life don’t seem as important. Envy lives only in the present; don’t live there with it.
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