The short answer to this question is: yes. Envy is a sin.
In this post, I will share with you why I believe envy is a common temptation, the root causes of envy, a personal story about when I felt envious of another person, the solutions to envy and the Gospel that sets us free.
What is envy? Is envy a sin?
Envy is at heart a belief that what someone else is, does, or has is somehow better than what I am, do or have. It’s a desire to have that which another has.
So why is envy a sin?
Because God calls it so. It is a work of the flesh. (Galatians 5:19–21)
My (very honest) experience
Let’s be honest here. Envy is a common condition for us as humans, and to illustrate my point I will share with you a recent experience that happened with me.
I scrolled through Instagram one sunny Saturday morning, and I stopped on a post shared by a fellow writer.
This Instagram post was about her book launch. I glanced over at her like count and my heart dropped. Over one hundred likes! And here I was sharing posts that barely got thirty.
I wanted to have the same amount of social media engagement as her, and envy took over me like fast-spreading poison.
Until the moment the Holy Spirit convicted me. This attitude of envy was sinful.
I confessed it to Luís, and then I used reason to free myself from the envy.
“After all”— I rationalized—“Instagram is not an authentic metric of real followers and real engagement. And even if this writer does have real followers and real engagement, maybe it’s just because she’s been in the business longer than I have.”
But still, the envy did not disappear. What I rationalized may have been true, but it didn’t get to the core of the issue.
When I analysed myself more deeply I realized I believed two things: this other writer was more popular than I because she was better than I and that was a problem; this other writer was a rival because she was in the same niche.
So I did what I knew I needed to do. I aligned my thoughts to what I felt God had been showing me recently with regards to the Gospel’s impact on this heart issue. And when I did, the envy disappeared and I got on with my day.
So, dear reader, it’s my pleasure to share this with you. Perhaps it will be a reminder to you of that which you have already heard, or perhaps it will be completely new. Or maybe, like me—before I delved into this topic—you know the Gospel and you know its impact on many areas of your life, but you’ve never applied the truth of the Gospel to this particular heart issue.
Now before I proceed to what to do to deal with this issue I will explain the root causes for envy.
Why is it such a common temptation?
The reason, I believe, women face this particular heart issue so often nowadays is that there is a toxic comparison culture. Social media has a part to play in this. What with social media vanity metrics and the culture of only sharing your beautiful highlights, instead of your mess, chaos and imperfection.
Despite this social media phenomenon, however, I want to point out that as women we have a responsibility. It’s not simply that Social Media is to blame. It’s that we don’t always filter what we look at with truth from God’s word.
So while envy is often put into motion by the toxic comparison culture, we need to understand what causes this culture of comparisonitis in the first place.
The root causes
Comparison culture happens due to several false beliefs.
The first is that our worth is tied to what we own or what we do as an occupation. In other words, you have more worth if you drive a BMW, or if you have a high-paying job, or even if you have a very large beautiful family.
This results in people having a need to prove themselves: to show everyone on social media that they have an X type phone, or that they have a painting by Y artist, or that they have a Z house. Or that they work as a doctor. Or lawyer.
The other cause for toxic comparisonitis is the belief that those who have influence and popularity are somehow better than the unknowns. They’re more gifted, more inspiring. So your popularity status is tied to your worth too.
Again, you see this on social media with vanity metrics. Those who have a large number of followers and engagement must certainly be more gifted, more interesting, more entertaining.
The mindset that worth and identity are tied to performance, ownership, and influence is caused by each person’s innate perception that there is a standard.
There is an ultimate standard of beauty. There is an ultimate standard of fame. There is an ultimate standard of behaviour even.
5 solutions to Envy
I’ve noticed that some people believe that the best way to deal with envy is by helping people, especially women, feel more confident about themselves.
It’s precisely because of this that you’re enough affirmations, as well as affirmations like “you have no rival” “there’s none like you” “you’re beautiful” and so forth, have taken over social media recently.
I believe that we are beautiful and unique but it’s important we understand that although this is true, we are no better than anyone else.
Let’s not put other people on a pedestal. But let’s also not put ourselves on a pedestal!
So the real solution to envy isn’t just about us feeling confident about ourselves (although it helps to know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made).
The real solutions to envy are humility, truth, contentment, trust and responsibility.
Let’s unpack these a bit.
Humility and Truth
Understanding that God alone sets the standards and that we are imperfect changes everything.
Humility means not making idols out of people. And not making idols out of situations, or appearances. It’s understanding that we live in a broken world where people and situations are imperfect.
Those who have a lot of wealth or influence, have pressures we cannot understand. Those with high-paying jobs have a lot of money to handle responsibly without becoming slaves to it. Those who have a huge social media platform have a big responsibility to produce good content that is aligned with God’s heart.
So, you see, ultimate perfection does not exist in this broken world. But the enemy is cunning. He uses the truth (that perfection exists) to bring forth the lie (that some people manage to achieve it while others don’t) to poison our minds towards each other and keep us focused on ourselves.
The enemy loves to bring strife, discontent and pain. Pride, insecurity and fear. He wants to stop God’s children from moving forward in His will and from being content with what they have because they’re so focused on what everyone else has or is achieving.
So we need to hold on to truth so that we can see other people and situations as they are—imperfect and in need of God’s grace just like us.
Contentment and Trust
One of the main negative effects of envy is feeling discontent with what we have. I’m not talking about the things we can change, but rather those situations that God has allowed in our lives: what family we belong to, the covid-19 worldwide pandemic, a disability of a loved one that we’ve prayed for but God has not healed in His sovereignty, a work situation that just does not improve and no other door opens.
When I’m envious of another person’s circumstances, I’m basically telling God that I don’t like what He has given me or what He has allowed in my life to help me grow in character.
It takes deep faith and trust in the Lord to grow in faith and contentment (1 Peter 1:3-9) and let go of envy.
Envy denies both God’s sovereignty and my responsibility. God’s sovereignty in giving me certain gifts, circumstances and life experiences. My responsibility in developing those gifts and growing from those circumstances.
I don’t know about you, but I have often heard people say things like: “That person is so lucky, they get to act for a living.” or “that person was chosen to be a church elder / be in the worship band. Why wasn’t I?” without realizing that perhaps the reason God blessed that person with that role is that they got their gifts and put them to good use.
So instead of being envious of others who are in positions of leadership, influence, or simply doing what they are gifted to do, let’s look at our own gifts and steward them well. Let’s take responsibility for what God has entrusted to us.
The Gospel that sets us free
So I’ve delved into how envy is really a byproduct of a belief in the superiority of other people and circumstances because they meet and achieve certain perfection standards that we don’t. As such, we feel inadequate, insecure and envious.
The Gospel shows us that since sin entered the world, everything became broken and that ALL people have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and only ONE lived the sinless life (1 Peter 2:22).
Yes, there may be people in our peer groups who have acquired skills that we don’t have yet. Or there may be fellow sisters in Christ who inspire us because of their walk with God. Or there may be people in our career/occupation group who have developed their gifts more than we have.
But they are still imperfect vessels, just like we are. Indeed we have two major things in common, we’re all imperfect, and we all have worth in the eyes of God.
And when we look at ourselves through the lens of the Gospel we see that it’s through Jesus that we are redeemed. Not through our performance. It’s not about us.
It’s Christ in us the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Remember that story I told you about the fellow writer I was envious about? Well when I truly applied the Gospel truth, envy left me in an instant.
I no longer saw that fellow writer as a rival, but as a sister in Christ (ok, this may not apply to all the people we are envious about but when it does, it transforms everything). I saw her as an imperfect person just like I am (this is, of course, true about everyone). And I saw her as inspiration (perhaps this person has been a good steward of their role and knowledge, so how can I learn from her?).
And then I realized something else. It’s not about me.
It’s about Him
If God wants to use another fellow writer to reach people, what’s that to me? The important thing is that His word is being preached, whether it’s through me or someone else.
God can use me if He so wishes. God can use her if He so wishes.
In the end, it’s all from God, for God and about God.
God is sovereign and He is a good Father. He will give me that which He wants to give me according to His good will. And I have the responsibility to be a good steward of His good gifts.
Let’s remain humble. Let’s be good stewards of what we’ve been entrusted with. Let’s run our own races without looking at others. Let’s love God so much that everything becomes about glorifying Him. Not us.
Envy is a sin because it is a work of the flesh. Envy is a desire to be, to have or to do what belongs to another. It’s at heart putting other people, circumstances, and responsibilities up on a pedestal.
The solutions to envy are truth, humility, contentment, trust and responsibility.
- Understanding the imperfection of our fallen world
- Knowing that God alone is perfect and not putting anyone else on a pedestal
- Being grateful and content with God’s gifts to us
- Trusting God who gives according to His good will and sovereignty
- Taking on our responsibility to steward God’s gifts to us
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