Envy is a terrible thing. It is one of the chief sources of evil in the world. Here are some of the things the Bible says about envy: It can destroy someone (Job 5:2); it will steal a person’s peace (Proverbs 14:30); it can overwhelm people (Proverbs 27:4); it can cause people to act shamefully (Acts 7:9), even to the point of wronging close family members; it was the underlying reason for Jesus’s betrayal (Mark 15:10).
Because of all this, envy has absolutely no place in a Christian’s life (Titus 3:3). We should never under any circumstances envy those who succeed but aren’t living for God (Ps. 37:1); we should not envy a fellow Christian (Galatians 5:26), for envy can cause the church to self-destruct; we should get rid of envy (1 Peter 2:1), before envy does us in.
I’m afraid that envy is far more instrumental in our lives than we realize. People are controlled by envy who don’t know it, would categorically deny it, and who truly believe it is not a problem for them. Envy blinds people so that they cannot see the things in their lives for which they should be grateful. It blinds them so thoroughly that they cannot see that a monster has taken up residence in their lives.
If, as I believe, many people are infected with envy who don’t know it, we should ask God to show us if we have it. Sometimes, the way to diagnose envy – which can be very hard to detect – is to look for its accompanying morbidities. Peter lists them for us in 1 Peter 2:1. They are: malice (feeling that it would be good if someone or some group of people did poorly – lost, hurt, suffered); deceit (bending the truth to serve one’s purpose); hypocrisy (pretending to be different than one really is); and slander (saying bad things about another person, frequently about their motives).
Where these things are, envy is usually present; and where envy is, St. James says, “you will find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). “Envy cannot bear,” as Dorothy L. Sayers once wrote, “to admire or respect. It cannot bear to be grateful.” It kills a person’s peace.
We should ask God to show us if our lives have been infected by envy and, if we conclude that they have, we need to act. This may include seeking counsel from a pastor or spiritual director. Regarding envy, the one thing we dare not do is ignore it.