Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. Therefore, when peoples spurn Him and reject His moral law, He eventually hands them over to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Today we consider the fifth of these twenty three fruits: envy. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “full of envy.”
So what is envy? Let us begin by distinguishing envy from jealousy. While they are commonly confused, Scripturally they are quite distinct. Jealousy is the emotion aroused by the fear of losing something that is one’s own. So an unfaithful husband or wife will arouse the jealousy of their spouse. Their spouse fears to lose that which is lawfully theirs. While sinful men can be aroused to jealousy unjustly or use their jealousy to justify wickedness, jealousy itself is not condemned in Scripture. After all, God Himself is jealous of the affections of His people. Moses instructs the people of Israel, “you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex 34:14). God protects that which is rightfully His own.
While jealousy is not inherently sinful, envy is. Jealousy desires to protect what is one’s own; envy longs to possess or destroy what is another’s. Envy begrudges other people that which is lawfully theirs; resents the fact that God gives gifts to others without regard to our sense of “fairness.” And envy takes all shapes and sizes. We can envy someone’s parentage, their hair color, their beauty, their voice, their musical skill, their muscles, their intellectual prowess, their marriage, their influence, their friendships, their socks. Any time we observe another and see them blessed by God in some way and then wish them ill or hope for them to lose that which they have, envy is at work.
Envy taints our fallen human hearts and destroys ourselves and others. Paul writes that “we ourselves were also once… living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Tit 3:3). So envy moved Rachel to cry out to Jacob, “Give me children or else I die!” (Gen 30:1). Envy motivated Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Gen 37:11). Envy inspired Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to conspire against Moses and Aaron (Ps 106:16). Envy led the Edomites to make war on Israel and Judah and attempt to steal their land (Ezek 35:11). Envy moved the chief priests to plot Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 27:18). Envy is a destroyer.
I remember years ago, when Paige and I were young marrieds and poor, some friends of ours bought a used car. When they drove up outside our house, I was envious. The inner thought of my heart was, “Why don’t I have that car? I hope it’s a clunker!” It was only a couple weeks later that that same car died and our friends, who were also poor, struggled to find another. And I remember thinking, “Ah, Lord! Forgive me my envy!”
So what of you? Are you filled with envy? Envy is associated with the color green, even as sickness is, because the one who is envious frequently becomes sick at heart, full of bitterness and resentment. Solomon reminds us, “A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones” (Prov 14:30). Envy is a destroyer; its only antitode is a “sound heart”, a heart of thankfulness. So when envy rears its ugly head and you find yourself resenting the glory that God has given another, kill envy by giving thanks. Thank God for blessing that other person; thank God for preserving you from the trials associated with the gift He has given that other person; and pray God that He would yet further bless that other person. Give heed: Be killing your envy or be assured that your envy is killing you.
Reminded that envy is a grievous sin that destroys ourselves and others, let us confess that we are often envious and are in need of God’s grace to make us a thankful people. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.