Jean writes in to ask, “Pastor John, how do I handle the envy and jealousy that are eating away at me?” So envy and jealousy are two distinct topics on the table. Perhaps we can break this into two podcasts and address jealousy next time. Pastor John, starting with envy, what would you say to Jean?
It is not wrong to want something that you don’t have. We usually think of envy that way. I want that — something that that person has. In fact, we wouldn’t even pray if we didn’t want things we didn’t have. That is what prayer is. In fact, I would say that all of life is either thanksgiving for what God has given us or aspiration for something that might be good for us. So the question is, What makes envy evil? What makes the wanting of something evil?
“Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked” (Proverbs 24:19). It seems like people were looking at those who were prospering in their wrongdoing. They had things, and they were feeling envious of it. Or consider the following:
Proverbs 14:30, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”
Matthew 27:18, “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered [Jesus] up.” So envy is a horrible thing. It resulted in the killing of the Son of God. That was a motive behind the destruction of Jesus.
Romans 1:28, “Since [they did not approve to have God in their knowledge], God gave them up to a debased mind . . . They are full of envy, murder, strife.”
It’s the same thing in 1 Peter 2:1: “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
Restless and Resentful
Clearly this is a good question. We don’t want to be eaten up by something that crucified the Son of God and that is all tied up with hypocrisy and deceit and slander and evil. So when I try to get at what the essence of it is and how to handle it, it seems to me that those texts have some clues in them. Envy seems to be born of a restless heart that does not find God satisfying. We are craving and we are yearning. We are aching toward what somebody else has because God himself is not satisfying our soul.
“Envy seems to be born of a restless heart that does not find God satisfying.”
So envy is a wanting of something — some gift or some ability or some looks or something that somebody else has — with one of two feelings that make it bad. Either you have resentment that they have it, and you don’t, and so you heart is irritated not just that you want it, but that they have it and you don’t. And that is loveless. When we are upset that somebody else has something and we don’t have it and it makes us irritated and angry, we know that lovelessness has gripped our soul. Or we feel discontent — not just resentment that they have it, but a discontent in our own soul that makes us distrustful of God or angry at God: Why didn’t you give me that? Why do they have it and I don’t? Why did you withhold this from me?
Trusting God’s Goodness
I know, Tony, in my teenage years, the fact that I couldn’t talk in front of a group came the closest to make me envious. I would see these people who could speak so easily in front of groups. And I couldn’t.
Or to this very day, the fact that I read so slowly — I have to constantly go back to God and say, “Lord, I could accomplish so much more, I think, if you had just given me the ability to read as fast as Tony Reinke can read.” And you really have to revisit these things over and over again and lay them down and say, “God, I trust you. You are good.”
So I think at bottom the remedy comes from Philippians 4:11–12: “Not that I am speaking in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty” — so there you have got enough — “and hunger” — now you can start feeling envious. “They have more. I want more. I don’t have enough. They have plenty.”
And Paul says there is a secret of trust in the goodness of God that enables you to feel contentment in all that you have. So I think the key is to trust him with what he has given us, and only ask for things that would honor him more, and then be content with what God gives us.