One of the hardest things about failing is simultaneously watching others succeed. At some point, we all feel the bitter taste of loss, but nothing feels quite as painful as seeing someone get what you wanted.
For example, as a student, I found myself watching classmates who were more gifted than me get more A’s, recognition, and opportunity. As I watched others receive exactly what I wanted, I burned with anger, resentment, and hatred for their gifting.
It’s all too easy to get angry when we see God bestow blessings on others — a high-paying raise, a dependable husband, a beautiful wife, obedient children, a smart mind, that spiritual gift you always wanted, or the ability to serve the church better than you ever thought you could. It’s also too easy to rejoice at others’s loss because it opens up an avenue for our “success” — whatever that may be.
So what is this bitterness? What is this anger? It’s that killer called envy.
Envy reverses the biblical ordering — “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), to, “weep at those who rejoice and rejoice over those who weep” (Joe Rigney, Envy and Rivalry in Christian Ministry). Ultimately, envy desires to have what others have. It causes us to be unhappy until we possess what others have, or further, until we have more than them.
At its core, envy is the restless sin of anger and unhappiness at the God-given gifts enjoyed by another.
Like all sins, envy will surely bring eternal death. So, in order that we aren’t killed by envy, we must be killing it. But to kill it, we need to know that envy never hunts our hearts alone.
A Wolf with Sibling Sins
Envy is like a ferocious wolf, ready to devour your happiness. And like a wolf, it’s never alone — it hunts and lives with siblings. Envy travels in a bloodthirsty group of sins that desires to drain the joy in your heart until it’s bone dry. It leads the killer hunt, and its older siblings lay hidden in the grass, encouraging and fueling envy to rage against others who receive “better” from God. The names of these sibling sins are Idolatry, Ingratitude, and Pride. To feed their younger brother, Envy, they tell horrific lies. So, to kill envy, we must understand the lies it feeds on.
One of envy’s siblings, idolatry, turns your eyes away from God and looks, instead, at other people’s success, happiness, and gifts and says, “Behold your god.” From this, envy feeds and burns with wicked worship that elevates the gift above the Giver. We’ve all been fooled by this: we see the precious gifts of others and desire them as if they’re divine. And so, by telling us that these gifts are to be desired more than we desire God, idolatry makes a heart ready to envy.
Then, that grumpy sin called ingratitude adds more fuel to the fire. Ingratitude listens to its twin, Idolatry, and says, “Those gifts are far better. Why does God give you simple gifts?” But it ultimately says, “God isn’t enough. He won’t satisfy you, but those gifts will.” From this, we see that ingratitude feeds our envy because it blinds us to our God-given blessings, and puts the focus on others’s bounty, comparing what riches God has given you with what he gave them.
Then, the pompous sibling, that ancient sin called pride, uses the same old lie from the Garden, “You are worthy to have these gifts. Surely God withholds them from you because he knows that if you have them, ‘You will become like God.’” And we listen. We see the blessings of others and tell ourselves that we deserve them because we are far better. At the core, we want others’s gifts because we ultimately want to be praised as one who is gifted.
Envy isn’t a solo assassin. It prowls around in a group of vicious wolves. It’s a horrific sin that rejects God’s gifts and God himself. It’s idolatrous, ungrateful, and proud. It elevates gift above the Giver and ultimately rejects God as the soul’s supreme satisfaction.
Fight Wolves with the Lion
What man could stand against such a fierce wolf, let alone a group of vicious wolves? Surely this is an insurmountable task that only leads to being ripped apart. However, there is real hope. We have on our side the almighty Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ.
He has conquered not only all sin, but also death itself (1 Corinthians 15:54–57). And because we have his very own Spirit dwelling within us (Romans 8:11), we have not just a chance against envy, but a sure outcome that God will perfect us and bring his work in us to completion (Philippians 1:6). So, we really can be successful in fighting envy. But how do we actually fight it?
Destroying envy means pouring living water on the fiery lies of idolatry, ingratitude, and pride.
Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37–38)
Our best weapon, then, is believing what Jesus said in the Scriptures. And in the Bible, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Again the Scripture says,
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14)
Only when we live for Christ can we truly be satisfied (Matthew 5:6), and defeat our impulses to envy. Only when we forsake dry cisterns and come to the fount of living water, will we see the foolishness of desiring lesser gifts and be thankful for who God is to us. And when we trust Jesus’s promises that only he is our supreme satisfaction, we will know that, in him, we already have more than we could ever desire.