The sin of envy is often overlooked because it is under the surface. We often don’t recognize it in ourselves, and so we unknowingly nurse it along until it breaks out in strife. Nevertheless, it’s listed right along with some of the big uglies in Galatians 5 and Romans 1 (murder, drunkenness, fornication, wickedness…). God does not like envy: “They which do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). It is a work of the flesh, and is not of the Spirit. It brings confusion (James 3:16) with it, as well as fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions and all the rest (Gal. 5:21). “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, ‘The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy’?” (James 4:5). Envy is easy. Envy satisfies the flesh, but only temporarily because envy always wants more.
Not only do we need to identify our own temptations to envy, but we have to teach our little ones about it as well. They can easily fall into envy at a very tender age and learn to live quite comfortably with it. This can be envy of siblings, envy of Mom and Dad’s attention, etc.
Here’s how envy gets out of the starting blocks. The dictionary defines envy as “a painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” So let’s break this down.
First of all we become aware of someone’s blessing, success, advantage or achievement. Noticing that someone else is blessed is not a sin; we all have eyes in our head. It’s what we do next that leads to envy. Rather than rejoicing in the good fortune of another, we give way to desire. We see their blessing and we desire to have the same one.
If we ask the Holy Spirit to identify this sin in our hearts, I am confident that He will. Then we can seek forgiveness for any existing envy and move on to learn how to resist this temptation. That means we must pay attention to our own hearts. We must notice the point of temptation and resist it.
Here’s the scenario: You see a woman who looks beautiful, is dressed well, and is surrounded by her friends. You are aware of her and all her obvious advantages. Now you are at the point of decision, teetering on the edge: you can either choose to rejoice that God has blessed her, or you can desire her blessings for yourself. If you give way to desire, you are set up for other companion sins of resentment, discontent, self-pity, gossip, and a host of others.
If you choose to resist the temptation to desire, you must quickly do something else. You must choose to rejoice with her, and thank God for her blessings. This directs the awareness away from envy to admiration. You are pleased for her, you admire her, you may even want to imitate her in positive ways, but you do not envy her.
Teach your children this principle. Show them how to steer their hearts away from envy to admiration. When little sister wins the prize, teach big sister to thank God for giving it to her. Show her how to rejoice. This isn’t easy! It is a work of the Spirit.
Don’t give way to fleshly desires. Ask the Spirit to give you joy and contentment in the advantages others enjoy. After all, God has apportioned His gifts in wisdom. This is the only way out of the envy trap.”But he giveth more grace” (James 4:6).