August 22, 2000
Have you ever wanted to be someone else? How about Bill Gates? Or Oprah Winfrey? Would you like their empire? Their stardom? Their money?
Perhaps the green-eyed monster bites less deeply. Maybe it’s just the neighbor’s car or the hairdresser’s hair. Whatever that person has, we want it.
The Bible has two words for wanting what someone else has. One is jealousy, the other is envy. Jealousy is simpler; it stays at wanting what someone else has. While it is a reflection of an ungrateful attitude (doesn’t God richly provide all we need?), jealousy is not as serious as envy.
Envy runs deeper. Instead of wanting something, it also wants to deprive the other person of it. Jealousy would like Bill Gates’ income; envy would like Bill Gates to be poor.
Envy is the destructive force that ruins another life. It drives a man to kill another in order to have his wife. It drives thieves to plunder another person’s home or rob a bank. A person can burn with jealousy but envy moves him to make sure other people experience loss and pain.
Envy killed Jesus. The religious leaders of His day were fearful of His popularity, envious that people listened to Him and not to them. They plotted to discredit Him and when that did not work, they plotted to destroy Him.
Pilate, the Roman governor, knew what motivated these envious men. In Mark 15:9 he says, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” The next two verses add: “knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.”
Having their motivations uncovered was not enough to stop envy from moving them to imprison and then kill an innocent person.
Later, some envied the Apostle Paul’s ministry. In Philippians 1:15-17, he says, “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” They not only wanted Paul’s success, they also wanted trouble for him.
With the next three sentences, Paul shows that even envy is not as powerful as God’s grace: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Even though God used envy for good in that situation, He does not want us to be motivated by envy. He says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”
How is that possible? Again, it is only by His grace. Those who come to Him in faith and repentance can claim this from Titus 3: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . .”
As powerful as envy is, this sin or any other sin is not a match against the power of God and the fullness of His salvation.