Thankfulness: An Antidote to Envy

As I was thinking about the Thanksgiving season it occurred to me that one of the things that prevents us from being truly thankful is the sin of envy. Let’s take some moments to counsel one another about envy and our need for a grateful heart.

DEFINITIONS OF ENVY: Webster’s defines envy as, “a feeling of discontent and ill will because of another’s advantages.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says phthonos (translated “envy”) means, “the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others, this evil sense always attaches to this word.” Biblically speaking, envy is the product of a depraved mind (Rom 1:28-29), a fruit of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21), and a sin that we must actively put off (1 Peter 2:1-3).  If envy is a regular part of our lives it is evidence of walking in the flesh, not the Spirit, and always hinders our spiritual growth.

CAUSES OF ENVY: The NT epistles indicate at least four causes of envy.

  • A heart that is not thankful is perfectly fertilized for the seeds of envy to take root. When we know about God, but fail to honor Him as God, or give thanks, the soil of our hearts is prepared to be full of envy (Rom. 1:21, 29).  When we allow this to happen everyone else’s life appears better than ours.  All of a sudden, everyone else is happier, richer, better looking, and more suitably situated in life.  If not nipped in the bud, we become slaves to comparison.
  • Pride, manifesting itself in selfish ambition, is the perfect breeding ground for envy. Selfish ambition is the drive to be better than others. It is the quest for preeminence (Phil 1:15-17). We must examine our motives because as long as we are energized by the boastful pride of life, our hearts will be filled with envy toward those who “steal our glory.”
  • Envy demonstrates a lack of biblical love. “The Love Chapter” states that love is not envious (1 Cor 13:4). It is impossible to love and envy a person at the very same time. Envy is self-focused while love is others-focused. When we are obeying God’s command to walk in love (Eph 5:2), we will consider others to be more important than ourselves.
  • Those that have what I call a “debate mentality” often struggle with the sin of envy. Paul graphically described the conceited false teacher in Ephesusas one who has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy (1 Tim 6:4)This is a picture of a person who is filled with spiritual pride, a pharisee who needs to be recognized as the most spiritual person and, therefore, envies those who truly possess what he masquerades. As a result, he or she will have a morbid interest in arguments to prove they are “right.”

NEGATIVE RESULTS OF ENVY: The Bible recognizes at least four destructive consequences of envy. 

  • Envy often results in broken relationships. The fruit of the Spirit is primarily relational. This is why Paul instructed the Galatians, if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Gal 5:25-26). 
  • Envy often results in delivering up one’s perceived enemies. If the envious person cannot  “top”  those  he  is  consumed  with,  he  may  resort  to betrayal. Both Matthew and Mark inform us that Jesus knew it was because of envy [the chief priests and elders] had delivered Him up (Matt 27:18; Mk 15:10).
  •  Envy may even end up causing health problems. Proverbs 14:30 says, a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
  • Envy can have a snowball effect leading to other sins. Psalm 73:2-3 says, But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; my steps had almost slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity if the wicked. Envy and covetousness walk hand in hand. And, like bitterness (Heb. 12:15), envy often corrupts the people who associate with us. 

PREVENTING ENVY: The following are three steps of preventative maintenance for every believer. By applying these principles, we will rid our lives of existing envy and guard our hearts from its subtle intrusion, thus avoiding its tragic consequences. Let’ s counsel one another with these truths.

  • Nurture a thankful heart. Envy feeds off of ungratefulness. Therefore, in order to deal with envy, we must learn to be thankful. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, in everything give thanks. Instead of envying another person’s gifts or abilities, every believer should think of all the reasons why he or she should be thankful for that person. Sinful thought patterns must be replaced by godly ones. The “reasons” to envy another person can be turned into reasons to thank God for them. For example, if Bob envies Mark, then Bob should make a list of the qualities in Mark for which he can be thankful and then commit himself to thanking God every time Mark comes to mind. Giving thanks to God in prayer guards the heart from anxiety and fills it with God’s peace (Phil 4:6).
  • Nurture a content heart. Guarding our hearts from envy also includes cultivating contentment. We must remember that God wants His children to be content with the most basic provisions of life. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, and if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content (1 Tim 6:8). Paul’s own testimony is that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself in (Phil 4:11). Contentment is being satisfied with what God has given to us. To nurture contentment, make a list of all the blessings that you now enjoy that are above the bare necessities of food and protection. This list could then be used as a guide in your personal praise time with God.
  • Nurture a rejoicing heart. We must also learn to rejoice with other believers when their blessings seem to exceed our own. Here is where the utter selfishness of envy is revealed. Envy is selfish in that it leads to wallowing in self-pity and prevents us from truly rejoicing when others’ lives are blessed. Through self-discipline, we must strive to replace these automatic selfish feelings of displeasure with those of rejoicing so that we can indeed rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4), and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15).

As people who are actively engaged in a battle against the flesh we must recognize the base nature of envy and put it aside–repent of it. As we learn to nurture thankful, content, and rejoicing hearts; the peace of God and the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

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