Editorial: The Ruinous Rot of Envy

Why can’t I look like her? Why can’t I make people laugh like he does? Why can’t I own a car like his or afford a vacation like theirs? Perhaps we’ve all allowed such questions to invade our minds and to take up residence there far too long. Scrolling through nearly endless social media posts only exacerbates the problem. Questions can even spill over into the spiritual realm. I might wonder why I can’t sing like her, preach like him or lead like others. Once we open the door to envy, it doesn’t take long to consume us. Solomon said, “Envy makes the bones rot” (Pro 14:30).[1]

Solomon’s father was envied by Israel’s first king, Saul, a case study in the rot caused by envy. When David proved successful on the battlefield, he returned home to an enthusiastic crowd of women singing, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1Sa 18:7). Brimming with envy and fear of losing his kingdom, Saul “eyed David from that day on” (v9). In the chapters that follow, Saul’s jealousy of David’s gifts are front and center on nearly every page of the sacred text. Ultimately, the rot of envy would consume Saul, leading him to attempt brazen acts of violence against innocent David. Envy’s power is accurately described by another of Solomon’s proverbs: “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (27:4 KJV). The following features of envy may motivate us to recognize and remove all traces where the rot exists.

First, envy denies your uniqueness. Saul was unique among the Israelites (1Sa 9:2) and could have expressed thankfulness for his and David’s particular abilities (see 1Sa 16:18). To question why you were not made a certain way with particular features or given specific gifts is to deny that you were “fearfully and wonderfully made” by your Creator (Psa 139:14). God did not make you to be someone else.

Second, envy destroys your usefulness by infecting your mind, exterminating your joy, contaminating your motives and damaging precious relationships. One wonders what a relationship Saul might have had with his son-in-law had he not opened the door to envy.

Third, envy displays all ungodliness. There is no sin envy cannot lead me to commit. “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (Jas 3:16). The spear protruding from Saul’s palace wall and the pool of blood next to Abel’s body demonstrate envy’s deadly potential. No wonder we find it in the legendary list of the “seven deadly sins.”

How do we evict the enemy of envy and rid ourselves of its destructive rot? As with any of the works of the flesh, the answer is not far away, for although envy can invade us and stay far too long, we have a more powerful, pleasant and permanent Resident within. As we yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit, it will be impossible to gratify any fleshly desire (Gal 5:16), including envy. The rottenness of the bones will be removed and replaced by the beautiful fruit of the Spirit. Confessing the sin of envy will find cleansing through the blood of Christ. Contentment with the life God has given us will keep the enemy of envy outside where it belongs.


[1] All Scripture references in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.