A Trait That Can Poison Our Minds—Envy
Napoleon Bonaparte had it. Julius Caesar had it. Alexander the Great had it. Despite all their power and glory, these men harbored in their heart a trait that can poison one’s mind. All three envied someone else.
“Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander [the Great], and Alexander, I daresay, envied Hercules, who never existed,” wrote English philosopher Bertrand Russell. Envy can plague anyone, regardless of how much wealth he has, whatever virtues he possesses, and how successful he is in life.
Envy is a feeling of resentment toward others because of their belongings, prosperity, advantages, and so forth. Distinguishing envy from jealousy, a Biblical reference work says: “‘Jealousy’ . . . refers to the desire to be as well off as another, and the word ‘envy’ refers to the desire to deprive another of what he has.” Not only does the envious man begrudge what others have but he wants to take it from them.
We are wise to examine how envy can arise in us and what its consequences are. Especially do we need to know what measures we can take to prevent envy from controlling our lives.
A SPIRIT THAT CAN FAN THE FLAME OF ENVY
While imperfect humans have “a tendency to envy,” various factors can feed and strengthen this inclination. (Jas. 4:5) Identifying one of them, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:26) The spirit of competition can make our imperfect leanings toward envy even worse. Two Christians named Cristina and José * discovered this to be true.
Cristina, a regular pioneer, says: “I often find myself looking enviously at others. I compare what they have with what I don’t have.” On one occasion, Cristina was sharing a meal with a couple who have the privilege of serving in the traveling work. Aware that she and her husband, Eric, were about the same age as the traveling overseer and his wife and had had similar assignments in the past, Cristina said: “My husband too is an elder! So how is it that you are in the traveling work and we are nothing?” The flame of envy, fanned by a competitive spirit, blinded her to the fine work she and her husband were doing and made her feel dissatisfied with their life.
José desired to serve as a ministerial servant in the congregation. When he was not appointed but others were, he became envious of them and harbored ill feelings toward the coordinator of the body of elders. “Envy caused me to nurse a hatred for this brother and to misinterpret his intentions,” confesses José. “When envy takes control of your life, you become self-centered and cannot think clearly.”
WHAT SCRIPTURAL EXAMPLES TEACH US
The Bible contains many warning examples. (1 Cor. 10:11) Some of these show not only how envy develops but also how it poisons those who allow it to overpower them.
For instance, Adam and Eve’s firstborn son, Cain, felt angry when Jehovah accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not his. Cain could have remedied this situation, but he became so blinded by envy that he killed his brother. (Gen. 4:4-8) No wonder the Bible speaks of Cain as one “who originated with the wicked one,” Satan!—1 John 3:12.
Joseph’s ten brothers envied the special relationship Joseph had with their father. Their hatred for Joseph grew when he told them about his prophetic dreams. They even wanted to kill him. Finally, they sold him as a slave and cruelly led their father to believe that Joseph was dead. (Gen. 37:4-11, 23-28, 31-33) Years later, they admitted their sin, saying to one another: “Unquestionably we are guilty with regard to our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he implored compassion on our part, but we did not listen.”—Gen. 42:21; 50:15-19.
In the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, envy arose when they compared their privileges with those of Moses and Aaron. They accused Moses of ‘playing the prince’ and of lifting himself up above others. (Num. 16:13) This accusation was false. (Num. 11:14, 15) Jehovah himself had appointed Moses. But these rebels envied Moses’ position. Finally, envy led to their destruction at Jehovah’s hand.—Ps. 106:16, 17.
King Solomon witnessed the lengths to which envy can go. A woman whose own newborn baby had died attempted to deceive her companion into thinking that it was her baby who had died. During the subsequent trial, the liar even consented to the idea of killing the surviving baby. However, Solomon saw to it that the child was given to the real mother.—1 Ki. 3:16-27.
Envy can have devastating consequences. The aforementioned Scriptural examples show that it can lead to hatred, injustice, and murder. Moreover, in each case the victim had done nothing to deserve what was unleashed upon him or her. Is there anything we can do to ensure that envy does not control our lives? What measures can we take as antidotes to envy?
Develop love and brotherly affection. The apostle Peter admonished Christians: “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth with unhypocritical brotherly affection as the result, love one another intensely from the heart.” (1 Pet. 1:22) And what is love? The apostle Paul wrote: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests.” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5) Would not developing such love for others in our heart stifle a negative tendency to envy? (1 Pet. 2:1) Instead of envying David, Jonathan ‘loved him as his own soul.’—1 Sam. 18:1.
Associate with godly people. The composer of Psalm 73 felt envious of the wicked who enjoyed a problem-free life of luxury. However, he conquered his envy by going to “the grand sanctuary of God.” (Ps. 73:3-5, 17) Association with fellow worshippers helped the psalmist to recognize the blessings he derived from “drawing near to God.” (Ps. 73:28) Regularly associating with fellow believers at Christian meetings can do the same for us.
Seek to do good. After observing that envy and hatred had developed in Cain, God told him: “Turn to doing good.” (Gen. 4:7) What does “doing good” entail for Christians? Jesus said that we ‘must love Jehovah our God with our whole heart and with our whole soul and with our whole mind and must love our neighbor as ourselves.’ (Matt. 22:37-39) The satisfaction we derive from centering our lives on serving Jehovah and helping others is a strong antidote to feelings of envy. Having a meaningful share in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work is a fine way to serve God and our neighbor and brings us “the blessing of Jehovah.”—Prov. 10:22.
“Rejoice with people who rejoice.” (Rom. 12:15) Jesus rejoiced at the success of his disciples, and he pointed out that they would accomplish even more than he had in the preaching work. (Luke 10:17, 21; John 14:12) We are united as Jehovah’s servants; hence, the success of any one of us is a blessing to all. (1 Cor. 12:25, 26) Should we not, then, rejoice rather than feel envious when others receive greater responsibility?
NOT AN EASY FIGHT!
The fight against envy can be a long one. Cristina admits: “I still have a strong tendency toward envy. Even though I hate it, the feeling is there, and I have to suppress it constantly.” José has had a similar fight. “Jehovah helped me to appreciate the good qualities of the coordinator of the body of elders,” he says. “A good relationship with God has proved invaluable.”
Envy is one of “the works of the flesh,” against which every Christian should fight. (Gal. 5:19-21) By not allowing envy to control us, we can make our lives happier and can please our heavenly Father, Jehovah.
^ par. 7 Names have been changed.
[Blurb on page 17]
“Rejoice with people who rejoice”