What Jesus Says About Envy
Do you ever worry about the future? Whether you’re on the right path and truly where you’re supposed to be right now?
Do you ever compare yourself to others? Wondering whether what somebody else is doing is more worthwhile or valuable than what you’re doing? Or why they seem to be getting the blessing you want before you?
Making these kinds of envy-fuelled comparisons is a toxic influence on any Christian community and one that Jesus warned us against in John 21.
After His resurrection, and after having enjoyed a tasty meal, He told Peter what his life’s assignment would be – to feed His sheep. Peter listened and then turning, he saw John – ‘the one Jesus loved’ and apparently seemed to feel some envy towards him. This being so, He asked Jesus:
‘Lord, what about this man?’
Or put another way ‘What’s his life’s assignment?’. But Jesus refused to answer.
It turns out that questioning our own callings or looking enviously at the paths others are on, isn’t healthy for us. God has a particular path for us, and we just have to stick to it – keeping our eyes on the road before us and not looking with jealousy to the right or the left at how He’s working in the lives of others.
Living It Out In Practice
Now, I don’t know about you, but while this kind of thinking makes sense to me on a theoretical level – I usually find it very difficult to live out in practice.
When I hit moments of tense uncertainty, I still like to feel myself somewhat in control – with my options open. You know, able to switch directions suddenly if a path arises that seems to lead to something better than the one I’m currently on.
Take for example, how I deal with that world of uncertainty that is a Bogota bus station.
Now these bus stations are extremely confusing places. There’s an app you can download that helps to make sense of them to some extent, but you’re still left with a lot of questions. The main one being – when is the bus actually going to arrive?
It could be in the next minute. It could be in the next forty. Quite honestly – who knows?
Now, if you’re a wise and patient person, you could probably manage these kinds of levels of uncertainty better than I do. For me though, as I’ve mentioned, I like to feel prepared. I like to know (or feel like I know) what’s happening and that I have a certain amount of control over my circumstances.
And so, when I’ve got some place to be, I arrive at my nearest bus station and, having researched the buses that could take me to my destination – I hedge my bets. I stand by the gate of the bus I think most likely to arrive first.
Sometimes it does arrive first and I get on the bus with a sense of timely accomplishment. Other times, it’s one of the other buses that arrives first – which is a very difficult situation for me.
It turns out (call it a kind of ‘FOMO’ if you will), I don’t like to see other people embark on their journeys without me. I don’t like to see other people get what they want before me. It makes me annoyed – especially if it means me watching on as they leave me behind in a continued state of infuriating uncertainty.
So, instead of waiting patiently at my own gate, I usually try and run for it … even if it means running the full length of the bus station. And, more importantly, even though I know from experience that such an approach rarely ends well for me.
By the time I make my breathless arrival at the given gate – the doors have shut, the bus is moving and I’m still no closer to getting where I want to but even more infuriated than I had been waiting at my own gate.
There was one time that I got super unlucky. So unlucky that I found myself running up and down the bus station four or five times, each time … not quite making it to the bus I’d set my sights on.
Combatting Envy – Trusting God
It turns out that when it comes to the notorious transport system of Bogotá – you, as the humble traveller, are anything but in control.
And let’s face it, in life we’re not either.
Only God knows the complex twists and turns, arrivals and departures that make up the intricate networks we move along in life.
Trying to create the illusion of being in control really doesn’t help. Watching with envy as people seem to get what they want before you, even less.
Instead, we need to wait at the gate God’s assigned us to and trust in His timing and Grace.
Otherwise, we may just find ourselves like me at a Bogotá bus station – breathlessly running around in circles with doors slamming in your face every which way you turn.
And trust me. It’s not a good look.
That being so, here are some verses to help remind yourself not to compare yourself to or envy other people.
#1 Bible Verses About Envy – It Harms You As Much As Anyone
Proverbs 14:30; “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”
Most sinful tendencies hurt you as much as they hurt the people around you. In Proverbs we find a verse about envy that reminds us that envy is no exception. Here, envy is presented as the opposite of life-giving peace.
It turns out that stressing over what other people have that you don’t is deeply destructive to your peace of mind – even your health. Don’t give into it. No good can come of it.
#2 Bible Verses About Envy – It’s the Opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit
Galatians 5: 19-23 “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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
1 Corinthians 13:4; “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant”
Not only is envy the opposite of peace but these verses about envy in Galatians show us that it’s the opposite of other fruits of the spirit as well.
In Galatians we’re warned that envy belongs to the old life – the life we had before we were Christians. Instead, we should be growing spiritually so that we demonstrate other kinds of behaviour – ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness’.
1 Corinthians shows us that we can’t demonstrate the fruit of the spirit ‘love’ and envy at the same time. Jesus called us to love one another and love is opposed to envy – love doesn’t envy.
#3 Bible Verses About Envy – Envy is a Slippery Slope
James 3:14-16; “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
In this verse from James, we’re reminded that envy often comes along with other kinds of sins too. This isn’t surprising. It was after all Satan’s pride and envy that caused him to fall.
#4 Bible Verses About Envy – How to Combat Envy
Psalm 37:1-3; “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”
1 Peter 2:1-2; “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—”
So, we know that we need to keep envy firmly in check – but how?
That’s where these two Bible verses about envy from the Psalms and 1 Peter can help us out.
In the Psalms, we see that trusting God is one way we can combat envy. We must learn to trust in God. Trust in His faithfulness. Trust in His goodness. He won’t let evildoers triumph and forsake good people.
In 1 Peter, we learn that reading the Bible can help us learn to grow spiritually and leave behind destructive tendencies like envy.
Prompts for thought
Do you see a dynamic of envy in your church or Christian community? How might the wisdom taken from these verses help you to combat it?
Do you find it difficult to trust God? Do you ever find yourself trying to control your circumstances like me at a Bogotá bus station?
How do you try to keep envy in check in your life?