Controlling Envy

In an ancient Greek legend, a very good, well-trained athlete competed in a race but came in second. The winner was immersed in praise and glory, and a monument was erected in his honor. But the man who came in second place was immersed in envy. He was resentful and decided to destroy that statue.

For many nights, the man went, hidden by darkness, to the statue and chiseled at the base, weakening its foundation. One night, as he was particularly angry, he went too far. The statue teetered on its base and crashed down on the athlete, killing him. His own envy had destroyed him.

Envy is a lack of thankfulness.

Envy is a lack of thankfulness motivated by the success of someone else. We focus on what he has or what she has accomplished, and we contrast that with what we do not have or what we have failed to accomplish. We forget to be thankful for what we have or what we have been able to accomplish.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard illustrates the attitude of envy. The vineyard owner hired workers for a day’s salary. He went out a second time and hired more workers, also at a day’s salary. He went out a third time, hiring more workers. Again, he went out to hire workers with but one hour left before time to quit.

At quitting time, in a society where workers were paid each day, the owner wanted to settle with the workers. He gave each a day’s salary, even if they only worked one hour. Those who had worked all day were envious. They thought they should get more than what the others had received, although they had received a fair day’s salary.

The owner responded to them, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15).

King David is another example of envy. He saw Bathsheba, another man’s wife, who was “very beautiful in appearance” (2 Samuel 11:2). He had already married Abigail, who was both intelligent and beautiful (1 Samuel 25:2ff). But he envied Uriah and his wife. David took Bathsheba and killed Uriah.

The way to control our envious feelings is found in God’s response to David, “I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!” (2 Samuel 12:8).

We should be thankful for what we do have. Refusing to be thankful is despising the gifts of the Father. It is worse than revenge. Revenge is giving back evil for evil. Unthankfulness, motivated out of envy, is giving evil in return for good. That’s what envy causes us to do. Rather, we are commanded to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15) and be thankful for what we have (Colossians 3:17).

Envy is a lack of reflection.

To control envy, we should remember that God knows how to distribute His gifts to the right person, in the right way, in the right quantity. In the context of giving miraculous gifts, Paul writes: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). God knows what you need. He will give you what you need, when the time is right. All good gifts come from the Father of lights who does not change (James 1:17).

Envy is a lack of faith.

Finally, envy shows a lack of faith. We see what others have. We cannot see what God has planned for us. So, because we cannot see, we envy what others have. So envy is failing to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

So, let us control our envy by: (1) being thankful to God for what we have, (2) remembering that God will give us what we need, and (3) walking by faith in the wisdom of God.