I started thinking about envy the other day when one of the wives of a polygamous community was asked whether she ever envies her husband’s other wives. Her response seemed honest. She admitted that it happens but is sure that those who don’t practice polygamy aren’t above such problems.
She’s right isn’t she. None of us, as right or as wrong as we may be, has a free pass or monopoly on envy or any other problem of the heart.
But let’s stay with envy for a minute. I’d hate to have to pay with my taxes a dime for every envious thought I’ve had in the current year. It’s an underrated motive that causes more than its share of problems. When teamed up with “pride,” it forms a “Bonnie and Clyde.” It prompted our first parents to lose Paradise. It moved the religious leaders of Israel to call for Christ’s death (Matthew 27:18). It moved the highest and most privileged of angels to lead an attempted coup. Ever since, it is at the heart of our personal conflicts and international wars (James 3:14-4:4).
Envying eyes-a longing for what we don’t have; a wish to be on the level of another; a sense of having been deprived. Behind our envying eyes are shadows of discontent that cause us to ignore everything we have, while looking longingly at the perceived advantages of another. Behind such eyes is a malignant desire that gives rise to discontent, ill will, and finally an attempt to take for ourselves– things that, in the end, won’t be ours to keep.
The Apostle James said that where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is confusion and every evil thing (James 3:16). We recognize it in ourselves from time to time when someone else gets high marks and compliments at our expense. Someone else gets a promotion. They get good looks, a happy family, or a nicer house– without deserving it– we think, any more than we do (Psalm 73).
It really does seem to be a recurring theme not only of the Bible, but of our own struggles. As far as we can tell, the Devil’s own problems began when he envied God. Then later, the first family envied God. Are we different? Do we too envy not only one another, but God himself? Is that what is happening when we struggle with Him for the control and honor and time of our lives?
What do you think? I’m sure you’d agree that it would be a mistake to think that envy only shows its ugly head in polygamous communities. So what’s the solution? How do you think we can come to terms with this universal problem? And when is envy good?