Parrott and Smith (1993) say, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that envy is an emotion which “occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” The dictionary defines envy as:
NOUN – A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck: “She felt a twinge of envy for the people on board.” Synonyms: jealousy · covetousness · resentment · bitterness · discontent
VERB – Desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else): “He envied people who did not have to work on weekends.” Synonyms: be envious of · be jealous of · begrudge · be resentful of
And Wikipedia has a remarkably comprehensive list of biblical references on envy.
At the end of 2015, we covered the topic of envy, as presented by the Apostle Paul, in our post Honor Our Feet.
Here, let us consider the Apostle James warning against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)
The theologian, John Calvin, makes three main points about the passage. First, Calvin states that their strife arises from acting on unchecked desires:
From whence come wars. …They created confusion among themselves [by their contentions]; and…these arose from their invidious desires and lusts, rather than from a zeal for what was just and right; for if everyone observed moderation, they would not have [injured] one another. They had their hot conflicts, because their lusts were allowed to prevail unchecked…
But their contentious actions brought no satisfaction as they had hoped; only punishment:
You lust, or covet, and have not. …They derived no benefit from [violent] contentions [which prevailed among them] for…they received the punishment of their own wickedness. God, indeed, whom they owned not as the author of blessings, justly disappointed them.
…For when they contended in ways so unlawful, they sought to be enriched through the favor of Satan rather than through the favor of God…It was therefore no wonder that they were frustrated in their efforts [to be happy], since no success can be expected except through the blessings of God alone.
And finally, Calvin says in summation, subjecting our desires to God brings about peace and His blessings:
You seek and receive not. In short…James meant briefly this, — that our desires ought to be bridled: and the way of bridling them is to subject them to the will of God [i.e., His will as revealed in the scriptures]. And he also teaches us, that what we in moderation wish, we ought to seek from God himself; which if it be done, we shall be preserved from wicked contentions, from fraud and violence, and from doing any injury to others.
Do you envy someone? Do you want to stop envying that person? You can through Christ. Please trust Him.
Cain kills Abel, circa 1610, Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582–1622), public domain in the United States