Once there was a monk who lived in a cave in the wilderness. He had a great reputation for holiness. His reputation reached Hell itself, whereupon the devil took three of his key demons with him to tempt the monk out of his sanctity.
When they reached the wilderness, they found the monk sitting at the mouth of the cave with a serene look on his face. The first demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great power, with visions of kingdoms and their glory. But the face of the monk remained serene.
The second demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great wealth, with visions of silver and gold and all that money can buy. But the face of the monk remained serene.
The third demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of sensuous pleasure, with visions of dancing girls. But the face of the monk remained serene.
Annoyed, the devil barked, “Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed.” The devil strolled up beside the monk, leaned over and whispered, 'Have you heard the news? Your classmate Makarios has just been named bishop of Alexandria." And the face of the monk scowled.
Numbered among the seven deadly sins is envy. Envy is mentioned several times in the Bible and every reference is negative. Envy is what led Cain to kill Abel (Gen. 4:3-5), sold Joseph into slavery (Gen. 37:4) and threw Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:3-5). It was out of envy that King Saul turned on David, setting off events that would end in the destruction of Saul's family and civil war in his nation (1 Sam. 18:9). Finally, it was out of envy that Jesus was falsely accused by the religious authorities of crimes that sent Him to the cross (Matt. 27:18).
The spirit of envy is one of the classic signs of human sinfulness (Rom. 1:29). The spirit of envy is numbered among the works of the flesh that turns a person from God (Gal. 5:21). Shakespeare called it "the green sickness" while Philip Bailey, the eloquent English poet of yesteryear, vividly described it as “a coal that comes hissing hot from hell.”
And speaking of hell, no one has done a better job of portraying envy than Dante. In his Purgatory, you may recall, the envious sit like blind beggars by a wall. Their eyelids are sewed shut. The symbolism is apt, showing the reader that it is one of the blindest sins--partly because it is unreasonable, partly because the envious person is sewed up in himself. Swollen with poisonous thoughts. In a dark, constricting world of almost unendurable self-imposed anguish.
Scripture offers several reasons to beware of envy. First, envy is not good for you. Proverbs 14:30 puts it bluntly: “A mind at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones.” can kill your joy, your hope, your peace, and your capacity to love. It can kill your faith and your relationship with Christ.
The second problem with envy is that it only grows and festers with time. I recently read a story about a man who nursed a grudge for 50 years over a classmate who embarrassed him in high school. After several years of letting the poison of envy get worse, this man finally tracked down his adversary, knocked on his front door and when the man answered he shot him between the eyes.1
Finally, envy can drain or sense of gratitude. Have you ever known anyone who was envious of someone else that was truly content with life? Me neither; that’s because it’s impossible to be happy when you’re always looking at the greener grass across the fence.
If you are struggling with envy then there is only one anecdote, double your efforts to help that person succeed by praying from them. I have found you can’t hate a person you are praying for. The act of praying for them will turn your envy into love and jealousy into contentment.
Finally consider the advice of Charles Swindoll, “Having some big struggles with envy? Eating your heart out because somebody's a step or two ahead of you in the race and gaining momentum? Relax. You are you--not them! And you are responsible to do the best you can with what you've got for as long as you're able. Remember, the race isn't over. And even when it is, a lot of things you got hot and bothered about during your lifetime won't even show up in eternity. I don't care how many trophies or awards or dollars or degrees may be earned or won on earth, you can't take 'em with you. So it isn't worth the sweat. Death always cures ‘the green sickness.’”2
1. Cameron Smith, “Bizarre S.D. murder caused by resentment over 50-year-old locker room jockstrap prank,” Yahoo! Sports, 18 June 2012 <http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/bizarre-d-murder-caused-resentment-over-50-old-183136429.html>
2. Charles R. Swindoll, "Envy, part 2," April 14, 2009, <http://daily.insight.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=13927>