Envy Steals Happiness
The author of a popular book series for children has written a story specifically about envy. It describes one of the book’s main characters, Sister Bear, as a “green-eyed monster” who is jealous of her brother when he gets a new bike for his birthday. I can’t read this story to little ones without it also touching me. Even now in my seventh decade in life, I feel this temptation closely. Sometimes envy comes in fleeting thoughts, but other times it remains as a battle.
It is not realistic, however, to think that we would never wish for something another person has. Longing for something, or working to get something more, doesn’t mean it is sin or wrong. But when we begin to look at another’s gifts with greed in our heart, it can cause strife and bitterness. These are traits that come from our flesh, and we need to battle against this, with God’s help. We know how sin works in each of us and how we need and desire to have even these sins forgiven.
Already in the Old Testament days, God’s commandment warned His people to not covet or lust for something that another person has, but “be ready to assist and serve him in keeping it” (Tenth Commandment). This instruction is just as important for us today. We too can envy or begrudge another person for what they have, or we can also try to gather more and more for ourselves.
We see already in little ones the effect of the enemy of souls when we watch toddlers fight over toys. Does this change as we get older? No, we all carry that inherited, sinful portion that began with Adam and Eve’s fall in Paradise. There, everything was perfect and all was provided, but God commanded His first people to not eat the fruit of one certain tree. The serpent tempted Eve to taste of this fruit, saying they would become like God. Eve wanted what she didn’t have, so she took the enticing fruit, ate and also gave some to Adam. The enemy of souls works in the same way today. When we want and take what God has not given us, just as Adam and Eve fell in Paradise, the enemy has gained a victory.
If I think of something in my life that has surely hindered happiness, it is envy. Sometimes it is easy for me to want what another person has. I remember coming home from a ladies’ shower gathering, thinking about the home I had visited. Why is my house so plain? And how can someone be so fortunate to have such a beautiful home? Their furniture looked new, the décor like I’d see in a magazine, not like my assortment of garage sale finds and other used items. And how did they know how to put everything together so nicely?
As I did after the shower, we often compare ourselves to others, and we can also begin to envy another’s gifts or talents. Perhaps he or she is more organized, works quickly, is creative and can paint or draw, is a good writer, or maybe learning comes easily. We can want another person’s nature or situation. We might notice that someone has many friends, the ability to connect well and communicate with others, and we wish we were that way. Others along with me might know how it is to envy another for their appearance and how they carry themselves. Or perhaps we envy another for his or her job or career, for earning a higher salary or position, or for not having to work so hard to make ends meet.
Envy can even extend to a person’s life-situation. Perhaps our friends have married, but God hasn’t given us a spouse. Perhaps our siblings and friends have children, yet we haven’t any. Or maybe it feels that God has given so many children, that we envy someone whom we perceive to have more free time, whose days aren’t all spent in caring for their family. Could there even be people whose spouse has passed away and they envy others who still have a loving helpmate? Or might one envy another person’s good health or stamina if they have struggled in that way?
Scripture includes many examples about envy. Joseph’s brothers were jealous that he was one of their father Jacob’s favorite sons. Jacob gave him a special coat of many colors. Then, Joseph’s brothers became angry when he told them about his dream. Joseph had dreamed that he was with them in the field binding sheaves when his sheaf suddenly stood up, and his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to it. We can understand how envious the brothers were. Some of his brothers even wanted to kill him, but instead, they sold him as a slave. This Bible story later portrays a precious example of God’s grace and forgiveness. The brothers’ hearts were humbled and penitent, and Joseph was able to forgive the evil that his brothers did to him.
God’s love does not envy, as His Word reminds: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” (1 Cor. 13:4). We know that God gives unique gifts to each person and promises to give His children everything they need. “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:8). A contented mind is central to happiness in life and helps us to also be happy for our fellow brothers and sisters when we see how God has richly blessed them.
I often forget to be thankful for all God has given me, so much more than I can comprehend, and much more than I deserve. Most of all, He has given me the greatest gift any person can own: the gift of living faith and the forgiveness of sins. So then, why would I envy another when God has given me so much?
We can pray for God’s help to battle envy, bitterness and all sin. Believing Christ’s gospel gives strength to see the joy and blessing in all that God has given, also to me.