Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Envy

 We have all had our moments of being “green with envy.” Whether we desired that fun, new purse our friend carried to church, or the latest smart phone or tablet; whether we grumbled over our coworker receiving a promotion instead of us, or silently griped over our friend who always seems to have more free time, or a cleaner house, or a less stressful life than we do, we have all been on the wrong side of envy.

And that’s okay…isn’t it?

I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:4)


The biblical definition for coveting is to “lust after or long for with great desire.” And while there may be a few minor differences between “coveting,” “jealousy,” and “envy,” at the end of the day, all three of these terms point to a deeper, spiritually crippling heart issue.

Yes, but, no one is harmed by my envy or my jealousy. It is not as if I stole that purse or electronic device that I liked so well, and it’s not like I would give up my family or anything else just to have less stress or more free time. So what’s the big deal if I’m a little envious of my neighbor?

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17)

We see, then, that Scripture is quite clear that God forbids us to desire something that does not belong to us.

Yes, but those verses are from the Old Testament.

Okay, fine.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Romans 1, though often limited in use to solely condemn one particular sin, is actually describing all wicked, godless people. The verses above describe those who hate God, and the description is not limited to one specific sin. The wicked are also characterized by their gossip, greed, deceit, and envy, among many other unsightly traits.

In the verses above from Galatians, the Apostle Paul is quite clear about the destiny of those who are unrepentantly filled with jealousy or envy. It is, in fact, the same eternal fate that awaits those who willfully engage in immorality, sorcery, anger, and other fleshly works.

So why is envy not simply unbecoming of a Christian, but forbidden?

Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:13-14)

Let us pause on these verses for a moment and make an observation. Verse 13 describes the improper behavior of sexual promiscuity and sensuality, and strife and jealousy. The inclusion of these four behaviors together is curious, especially as Paul goes on to exhort his readers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust.”

This is not incidental.

Strife and jealousy are fueled by men’s sinful lusts just as much as is sexual sin. Envy and jealousy are works of the flesh.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; cf. 1 Timothy 6:4)

Envy, jealousy, covetousness—all of these, like all sins of the heart, ultimately are manifested in evil behavior (James 3:16). If planted, and if allowed to germinate, and if cultivated, a longing after our neighbor’s possessions or position can lead to resentment, anger, and even hatred. One’s heart grows more bitter and, eventually, that wicked, bitter heart will be revealed in all of its blackness.

Think for a moment of some examples of envy from Scripture. Think first of Cain.

Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:1-8)

Think also of Joseph’s brothers.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Genesis 37:3-4)

Simply read through the remainder of Genesis 37 to be reminded of how that story unfolded.

The list goes on, but these two examples illustrate some of the ultimate results of covetousness. It begins as envy in the mind and heart, but manifests in outward evil. Envy, jealousy, and covetousness hinder our spiritual growth, and a display of such attitudes directly contradicts the gospel that saves men from the power of such sin.

Yet, all men experience envy or jealousy. This is because, though it is a work of the flesh, those who have been regenerated by God still struggle against their flesh in this life.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-24)

What a question! Who will set us free from such bondage?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:25)

Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ!

This is precisely why the gospel is good news. There is forgiveness for him who covets. There is grace for she who is envious. There is mercy for the one who burns with jealousy. And as we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, may we strive, by the enabling, indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, to mortify the covetousness of our flesh.

In this may our precious Lord continually conform us to His image, so that He alone will receive the glory for the transformation of such wicked, envious sinners.

Share this post: