The Destructive Power of Envy

Editor’s Note: In this two-part series on the topic of envy, Stacey Salsbery covers first the destructive nature of this undesirable emotion. Then come back next Monday to discover how to kick envy to the curb. —Laura Elliott, Managing Editor

Do you know what steals my joy? Comparing myself to others. In particular, comparing myself to the successes, possessions, and attributes of others. Every time I do, it’s the first step on a slippery slope. It’s tough (if not impossible) to compare myself to someone else and not end up feeling either prideful or envious—neither of which draws me closer to God but always further away. 

Envy is not something we talk about very much. And if it is discussed, we tend to make light of it as though it’s not that big of a deal. In reality, envy is a deadly cancer of the soul. It means to desire something that someone else has, but it doesn’t just stop at desire. Envy covets and broods and often leads to resentment toward the person who possesses what we want. 

Envy does not play nice. 

While jealousy sometimes has positive connotations in Scripture, envy never does. Proverbs 14:30 says, “envy makes the bones rot.” We desperately need to fight against envy. And yet, due to the social media-fueled world we live in, I’m not sure there’s ever been a more envious society. We continuously carry everyone else’s lives around in our pockets, making it extremely difficult not to fall prey to envy’s silent but vicious attack. 

Envy Blinds Us to God’s Goodness 

God is good, and He’s good to us. There is no disputing that one. God proved His incredible goodness to us when Jesus willingly hung on a cross for our sins, paying the penalty we deserve so we can have what we don’t deserve: eternity in heaven with Him. 

But God’s goodness to us is blurred when we fall prey to envy’s clutch because, in reality, envy is a proclamation that God is holding out on us. If God is the giver of all things, but we don’t have something we want, then it must be God keeping it from us. Envy distorts God’s perfect character, leaving us with a wrong impression of our heavenly Father.

Envy acts like God owes us more than we’ve received, when the truth is, God owes us nothing. God has poured His blessings out on us since the beginning of time, but when we let our minds dwell in a state of envy, it keeps us from seeing God’s goodness to us in the past, the present, and the future. 

King Saul is a prime example of envy’s destructive power. Upon hearing the women sing, “Saul has struck down his thousands and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7), Saul grew extremely envious of David, who had it all: praise, glory, victory, success, and the blessing of the Lord. In fact, Saul was so overcome with envy that he sought to kill David with his spear the next day.

God had been good to Saul. God had anointed Saul, gifting Saul with the Spirit. It’s God who gave Saul the kingship. But envy blinded Saul from seeing God’s goodness to him in the past, the present, or the future. The only thing Saul could see was his own distorted view. 

Envy Blinds Us to What’s True 

Envy distorts reality. Saul was the one seeking David’s life, yet envy convinced Saul to believe that David intended to murder him (1 Sam. 22:13). Envy feeds our sinful tendencies, fueling whatever it is we crave. James 4:2 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” 

Envy has the power to lure us into believing that what we want is what God wants as well. Saul said to the Ziphites who promised to surrender David to him, “May you be blessed by the LORD, for you have had compassion on me” (1 Sam. 23:21), as though Saul’s quest was a holy one. 

Here’s the bottom line: envy will not stop the Word of God, but it will prevent the Word of God from penetrating our hearts. Envy acts as a barrier between God and us because it’s always prideful. And I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is to put a barrier between myself and the most wonderful, amazing, holy God; I need the Lord. 

Envy Destroys Our Appetite for God 

Our focus is not on God when we are envious but on what we think we need. God is tossed on the back burner when we feed the fires of envy. We can’t love the Lord our God with all our heart when we are envious. Instead, envy creates idols we set over and above God. 

When we crave God, we suppress envy; when we crave envy, we suppress God. 

There are absolutely things we will desire and never obtain this side of heaven. Still, we will never get what we’re actually looking for when we seek to obtain it through envy because lasting happiness does not dwell in some earthbound thing, fleeting attribute, or brief success. 

God is the one who satisfies. He is the treasure that enriches our souls. In His presence is the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). 

Yet envy eats away at our affections for God like a raging monster, consuming us with lust and greed and pride and, much of the time, anger. Envious minds are never satisfied. Envy makes us miserable when other people are happy and happy when other people are miserable. And that is not God’s way. Romans 12:15 says we’re supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. 

There’s a reason God made the tenth commandment “you shall not covet” (Ex. 20:17). His commands are for our protection. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” says Paul to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:6), but dissatisfaction leads to dangerous places. 

Envy is widely accepted in today’s culture, but it’s not acceptable behavior to the Lord and not just because He doesn’t like it. Envy will destroy us, wreaking havoc on our faith. 

Envy will not give us what we want; it will only strip us of what we need. What we need is a God-filled heart but what we get with envy is a sin-filled heart. So don’t put up with envy—don’t even entertain it. Envy’s price is a hefty one and not worth the payment. 

Instead, trust the Lord to provide what’s best for you. Lean into Him for joy and satisfaction, and your heart will have all that it needs. 

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

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