It took all of three seconds to decide that Carol’s accomplishments exceeded mine.
Since we both appeared as speakers on the agenda at a day of workshops for Christian writers, I decided to spend some time online “studying the competition.”
Her work appeared in almost every major Christian periodical! How could I compete with her? To avoid embarrassment, I considered calling the conference director, explaining that some deadly virus had ambushed me and rendered me incapable of uttering even one intelligible word. I was certain that she would understand.
Eventually, I decided against it and, instead, reminded myself that God had called me to speak at this gathering. I would walk forward in obedience despite my insecurities. After all, it is human nature to compare ourselves with others. In fact, experts tell us that within the first three seconds of meeting someone, we form opinions that determine our future interaction with that person. We evaluate how we compare to the person. If his or her accomplishments exceed ours, we fall prey to envy and jealousy.
It starts as early as childhood. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” our parents may have asked. It gets worse when we enter school, where we learn to compare ourselves to the “popular kids” at school who receive the acceptance and affirmation we need. By adulthood, we struggle with deep-seated insecurities that spill over into every area of our lives. Instead of taking our cue from God’s Word, we take it from the media, which bombards us with messages that we need to be thinner, prettier, or more successful.
Envy Displeases God
In Numbers 12:2, we overhear a conversation between Miriam and Aaron as they speak against Moses. ”Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” God wasted no time in dealing with Miriam and Aaron’s envy. The Bible says, “The anger of the LORD burned against them” (Numbers 12:9, NIV). Once the cloud of God’s presence departed, Miriam found herself “leprous, like snow” (v. 10). Clearly, envy displeases and dishonors God.
Furthermore, seeds of envy sow disorder, unrest, and discord into our lives and relationships until we ultimately reap its bitter fruit. Consider the following Scripture passages:
- “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple” (Job 5:2, NIV).
- “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30, NIV).
- “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16, NIV).
Sin, in any form, always brings death and destruction into our lives. Consider the fruit envy bears:
- Envy separates us from God.
- Envy contributes to declining health.
- Envy takes my focus off God and His plan for my life.
- Envy destroys fellowship and friendships.
- Envy breeds ambition and striving.
- Envy devalues my self-worth.
- Envy mars the image of God within us and weakens our testimony.
Most of us know that envy displeases God and harms our relationships, but how do we Biblically overcome its destructive hold in our lives?
Steps to Overcome Envy
The first step in overcoming envy and its destructive consequences in our lives is to recognize it as sin and repent. Because envy often originates from a misplaced focus, the antidote requires a corrected, laser-sharp focus. Gregory the Great said, ‘The lessening of envy is the feeling of inward sweetness arising, and the utter death of it is the perfect love of Eternity.” As we seek God first through His Word, worship, and prayer, we develop an eternal perspective, which helps to decrease feelings of envy.
Envy often surfaces when we fail to understand our identity in Christ and His unique plan and purpose for our lives. Once we began to understand our unique personality, temperament, gifting, and abilities and find a place for their expression, we experience greater freedom and struggle less with envy.
We must also stop making comparisons and mentally placing people in a hierarchy. The Bible says, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12, NIV). Above all, we must learn to “put on” love, which binds us together in unity and the bond of peace.
Envy—though part of our fallen nature—need not control us. We can slay the green-eyed monster of envy in our lives when we honestly recognize its existence, repent, and refocus our lives, time, and energy where it belongs: on Jesus Christ.