A Trait That Can Poison Our Minds​—Envy

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE had it. Julius Caesar had it. Alexander the Great had it. Even though they were powerful and famous, these men had in their heart a feeling that was like a poison. If a person has this feeling, it can ruin his thinking. All three men envied someone else.

English philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander the Great, and Alexander envied Hercules, who never even existed. Anyone can become envious, even someone who has a lot of money, talent, and success in life.

Envy is a bad feeling toward others because of the money, advantages, and other things that they have. A Biblical reference book explains that jealousy is the desire to have what another person has, but envy is more than that. The envious person is jealous of what others have and wants to take it from them.

It is wise to think about how we could become envious and what the results of that would be. We especially need to know what to do to keep envy from controlling our lives.


Imperfect humans have “a tendency to envy.” But there are things that can make this tendency stronger. (James 4:5) The apostle Paul tells us about one of them when he says: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) The attitude of wanting to show that we are better than others can make our imperfect tendency to envy even worse. Two Christians named Cristina and José have learned that this is true. *​—See footnote.

Cristina, a regular pioneer, says: “I often find myself looking enviously at others. I compare what they have with what I don’t have.” One time, Cristina was having a meal with a couple who serve in the traveling work. Cristina and her husband, Eric, were about the same age as the traveling overseer and his wife and had had similar assignments in the past. So Cristina said: “My husband is also an elder! So how is it that you are in the traveling work and we are nothing?” An attitude of wanting to be better than others made her envious. It caused her to forget the good work that she and her husband were doing and made her feel unhappy with their life.

José wanted to serve as a ministerial servant in the congregation. When others in the congregation were appointed and he was not, he became envious of them. He also became angry at the coordinator of the body of elders. José confesses that he started to hate this elder and to think that  this brother did not want him to have responsibilities in the congregation. José says that when envy controls your life, you cannot think clearly. You think only about yourself.


There are many warning examples in the Bible. (1 Corinthians 10:11) Some of these show how envy starts and grows. They also show that it can be like a poison in the minds of those who allow it to take complete control of them.

For example, Adam and Eve’s firstborn son, Cain, was angry when Jehovah accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not his. Cain could have chosen to do what was right, but the envy he felt for his brother was so strong that Cain killed him. (Genesis 4:4-8) That is why 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. They hated Joseph even more when he told them about his prophetic dreams. They wanted to kill him. Finally, they sold him as a slave and cruelly made their father believe that Joseph was dead. (Genesis 37:4-11, 23-28, 31-33) Years later, they admitted their sin and said 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.”​—Genesis 42:21; 50:15-19.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram became envious when they compared their assignments with those of Moses and Aaron. They accused Moses of trying “to play the prince” and of acting as if he was better than others. (Numbers 16:13) This was not true. (Numbers 11:14, 15) Jehovah himself had appointed Moses. But these men envied Moses’ assignment. Jehovah finally destroyed them because of their envy.​—Psalm 106:16, 17.

King Solomon saw the terrible things that envy can make people do. A woman whose own newborn baby had died tried to make another woman believe that it was her baby who had died. When they came to Solomon for a solution to this argument, the woman who was lying even agreed with the idea of killing the surviving baby. But Solomon made sure that the child was given to the real mother.​—1 Kings 3:16-27.

The results of envy can be terrible. The examples we just talked about show that it can result in hatred, injustice, and murder. And in each of these examples, the person who was envied had done nothing wrong. What are some of the things we can do to make sure that envy does not control our lives?


Have love and affection for the brothers and sisters. The apostle Peter told 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 Peter 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 Corinthians 13:4, 5) If we have this kind of love for others in our heart, it will control any tendency to envy. (1 Peter 2:1) Instead of envying David, Jonathan loved him as much as he loved his own life.​—1 Samuel 18:1.

Associate with people who serve God. The writer of Psalm 73 was envious of the wicked who had a good life and seemed to have no problems. But he was able to get rid of his envy by going to “the grand sanctuary of God.” (Psalm 73:3-5, 17) His association with other worshippers of God helped him to recognize the blessings he had because of his friendship with God. (Psalm 73:28) Regular association with our brothers and sisters at the meetings can help us in the same way.

Look for ways to do good. When Jehovah noticed that Cain felt envy and hatred, God told him: “Turn to doing good.” (Genesis 4:7) What does “doing good” mean for Christians? Jesus said that we must love Jehovah with our whole heart and with our whole soul and with our whole mind and that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) When serving Jehovah and helping others are the most important things in our lives, we get satisfaction. This satisfaction can help us not to have feelings of envy. When we do our best in the work of preaching the Kingdom and making disciples, we are serving God and our neighbor in a fine way, and we will have “the blessing of Jehovah.”​—Proverbs 10:22.

“Rejoice with people who rejoice.” (Romans 12:15) Jesus rejoiced when his disciples had good results in their ministry, and he said that they would do even more than he had done in the preaching work. (Luke 10:17, 21; John 14:12) Jehovah’s servants are united. When something good happens to one of us, we all feel happy. (1 Corinthians 12:25, 26) So when others receive greater responsibility, we should rejoice, not feel envious.


We may have to make constant effort to control envy. Cristina says: “I still have a strong tendency toward envy. Even though I hate it, the feeling is there.” She has to control it constantly. José feels the same way. He says that Jehovah has helped him to value the good qualities of the coordinator of the body of elders. José says that his efforts were successful only because he had a good relationship with God.

Envy is one of “the works of the flesh,” which every Christian should avoid. (Galatians 5:19-21) If we do not allow envy to control us, our lives will be happier and we will please our heavenly Father, Jehovah.


^ par. 7 Names have been changed.

[Blurb on page 29]

“Rejoice with people who rejoice”