Your sister has just moved into a beautiful new home and instead of being happy for her, you’ve got a little green-eyed envy monster putting the squeeze on your heart. Outwardly you’re all smiles and congratulations, but inwardly you resent the fact that she’s getting ahead while you’re spinning your wheels and stuck in a rut.
Envy is the age-old monster that motivated Cain to murder his brother Abel, and the wicked Queen to poison her step-daughter, Snow White. According to the Bible, it’s an evil that leads to quarrels, fights, disorder, and “every vile practice.” (See James 3:14-4:2)
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. Proverbs 14:30 (ESV)
Envy wraps its ugly green tentacles around our hearts whenever we observe the success or advantage of others and feel a painful or resentful awareness of our own lack. The monster can show up in virtually any situation. We might covet a neighbor’s swimming pool, resent a co-worker’s promotion, begrudge the beauty of a lady in our exercise class, yearn to have a husband like our girlfriend’s, seethe when someone else’s child gets the MVP award, crave someone else’s talent, or feel slighted when others are recognized and we are not.
Envy Rots the Bones
Envy is one of the seven deadly sins identified by the early church Fathers. It was categorized as deadly because of the terrible damage it does to the soul. Medieval artists depict envy as a monster gnawing on the heart. As Proverbs says, a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot(Prov. 14:30, ESV). Envy is a malignancy that eats away at our spirits. Left unchecked, it can destroy us from the inside out.
Envy Distorts Perspective
The problem with envy is that it warps our perspective. When we perceive others to have an advantage over us, we subconsciously feel the need to level the playing field. We attempt to make up the difference by puffing ourselves up and pulling them down. Like birds, we splay out our own feathers and peck at our opponent’s eyes.
The envious person focuses on the other person’s deficiencies, and concludes that that person is full-of-herself, cold, arrogant, or flawed in character. The envious person is blind to the fact that the problem is not her competitor, but the green-eyed monster that has dug its talons into her own heart. That was the situation with King Saul, whose envy had so warped his perspective that he regarded David as the one with the problem.
Envy Causes Division
When envy festers, it erodes and damages relationships. When we envy, we obsesses with another person’s seemingly unfair advantage and become spiteful towards them. Our hearts become malicious. We want to cut them down to size. So we slander, whisper, spread gossip, revel in their flaws, and wait like a vulture for them to falter or fail. The monster of envy breathes out a poisonous vapor that can infect an entire community. It’s the root cause of many church splits and the breakdown of countless relationships.
Thankfully, with God’s help, we can replace envy with tranquility. A peaceful, tranquil heart breathes out blessing and life and chokes this terrible bone-rotting monster.
Why is Envy Green?
Why do we turn green with envy? . . . and not purple or blue?
In antiquity, the Hebrew word for envy, qinah, referred to the burning color in the face produced by a deep emotion. The Greeks believed that jealousy was accompanied by an overproduction of bile, lending a yellowish-green pallor to the victim’s complexion.
In the seventh century B.C., the poetess Sappho used the word “green” to describe the face of a stricken lover. After that, the word was used freely by other poets to denote jealousy or envy. The most famous such reference and the origin of the term “green-eyed monster” is Iago’s speech in Shakespeare’s Othello:
“Beware my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on!”
Choke the Monster of Envy Before it Chokes You!
So how do we choke the monster? Read James 3:14-4:2 in your Bible. Grab a pen and complete this section to begin to loosen envy’s grip on your heart:
Step One: Honestly Examine Yourself
James said,”If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (3:14 ESV). In other words, if you’re envious, admit it! To choke the evil green-eyed monster, you first need to see and admit that he’s there.
Take a hard, honest look at your heart. In your journal, write the names or initials of friends and acquaintances that you secretly envy. (Hint: Think of people that you privately criticize, mock, deride, slander, resent, or are malicious or insecure towards. Don’t be blind like King Saul. It could be that the problem is YOU!)
Step Two: Confess and Repent
James pointed out that it is possible to “boast” about the envy in our hearts. We do this when we shrug off our attitude as justifiable considering the other person’s behavior, and fail to regard our own sinfulness as a serious offence against God. To repent means to have a change of mind to amend one’s attitude. Are you willing to do this with regards to the names you listed above?
Step Three: Sow Seeds of Blessing
According to James, you can choke the monster of envy by sowing seeds of peace and blessing in your relationships (3:17). The way to do this is to purposefully change your behavior to bless (and not curse) the person you envy. Make a point of speaking well of her, encourage her, take her out for coffee, send her a card, ask the Lord to help you come up with a plan. Jot down your ideas. And make sure to follow through!
James guarantees that those who sow righteous seeds will kill the monster and reap a bountiful harvest: a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (3:18).