Many years ago, a friend asked whether I struggle with envy, and I hastily and confidently answered, ‘No’. Off-hand, I couldn’t think of anything someone had that I wanted, nor could I think of any blessings my friends possessed that I didn’t want them to have. Sure, pretty things, well-decorated houses, and the latest fashions are all nice. But I genuinely didn’t envy anyone their stuff.
I still feel like I can confidently say that about stuff. But if you asked me today if I struggle with envy, I’d have to answer a bit differently. Over time, the Lord has revealed to me that the kinds of envy I must battle are relational envy and situational envy. In other words, the types of envy God has graciously made me aware of involve my envy of someone’s relationships or happy situation in life.
More often than not, I’m tempted to believe that if only I had the kind of relationships that woman has, I would never suffer loneliness and I would always feel a deep and rich sense of belonging. My flesh is inclined to believe that the godly woman I admire never has real trials, at least not the type I face. Her life is easy compared to mine, I tell myself, so her godliness and peaceful, joyful relationship with the Lord aren’t so hard to come by.
Envy is Fed
Envy is an unambiguous sin. It has specific characteristics: unmet desires and anger at others who possess what we long for. If I’m being honest, my envy is most often fed by my own vain imaginations, and furthered by social media intake. In fact, if I’ve maintained a steady diet of images or videos of people with seemingly easy lifestyles and no obvious trials or worries, my natural inclination is to believe that I’ve been short-changed. I begin to imagine I’ve been overlooked and I’m missing out, thus becoming hurt or angry at the people who have the thing I long for.
Another source of envy, though, can be discouragement or grief over real and painful losses, whether physical, relational, or situational. At times, I’ve nurtured these kinds of sorrows with tightly-closed fists, hardened with envy and unwilling to acknowledge God’s care and sovereignty in my loss.
By the Lord’s great mercy, I have not spent my life obsessing over possible alternative life scenarios. God has often used the demands of the real life He’s given me (namely, caring for my children and home) to distract me and hold me back from being completely consumed by imaginative longing while He draws me to repentance. He’s also warned me sharply by allowing me to see what happens to other people when they live envious lives.
Do Not Entertain Sin
It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of believing that feeding and entertaining envy will somehow assuage our grief or loss or meet the needs and desires we feel so intensely. It’s our natural, sinful inclination to blame the Lord for not providing what we think we need in order to put away covetousness, as though He’s the one producing envy in our hearts by withholding good from us.
But there’s no hope in a life spent entertaining envy because indulging our sin will never bring us peace with God or with our desires. We might try to deceive ourselves that we aren’t sinning by passively feeling whatever emotions come our way when we encounter the people who have what we long for. We might try to convince ourselves and others that we aren’t really envious; we just don’t have what we need to be happy and someone else does. But this is envy, plain and simple.
As Christians, we may not entertain envy, and the answer is not just to passively throw up our hands in resignation and despair. In Christ, we must wage war on our envy through confession and repentance. Whether we’re envying someone’s possessions or their situation, we first need to agree with God that we’re engaged in sin and then we must name and confess our sin. We must turn away from our sin and turn toward our Savior.
Life in Christ is the Death of Envy
We will often feel that laying down our envy is a lot like dying – and it is. It’s always a type of death to lay our sin down and relinquish something we have no entitlement to. But the real, more painful death would be clinging to our desires with tight fists and charging God with wrong for giving the good and beautiful gifts and circumstances we want to someone else.
It is a type of death to open our hands and say, “Everything I have is from Your hand, Lord. Everything You give is good.” In Christ, death is not the end of our story, though. We have died to sin and have been made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5).
Your Savior has charged you with living a life free of covetousness and has promised to supply all you need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). He has promised never to leave or forsake you and to be your helper (Heb. 13:5).
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (Ps. 84:11-12 ESV)
Jesus, your Savior who took your deadly envy in His own body, has been resurrected for you and has given you His own Spirit, the Comforter. His hands, pierced for you, are strong enough to hold your desires for good and beautiful things as you submit them to Him. And He is faithful to supply you with strength for the battle against envy.
Whatever God has ordained for your good, He will provide for you. He will be your light and He will shield from the fiery darts of the Enemy. He has assured you of victory and blessing in Him. Friend, confidently wage war on your envy because in Christ, you’ll win.