The key to overcoming envy is to learn its symptoms and its progression. Like a cancer, it is important to detect it early when it is most easily treated. Once detected, we can then, by the grace of God, begin to surgically remove it from our lives. There are three distinct stages, or phases, of envy.
Zeal: “Passionate ardor [heat] in the pursuit of anything, an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object, and it maybe manifested either in favor of any person or thing, or in opposition to it.” Noah Webster, 1828 New World DictionaryThere is nothing inherently wrong with zeal. Zeal, in itself, is not evil. The Scriptures tell us that God is zealous for Zion. Jesus also spoke of Himself, saying, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:17 NKJV) We are even commanded by the Scriptures to be “earnestly desire for spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1) and to be, “zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14 NKJV) Solomon commands us to be, “zealous for the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 23:17 NKJV)
The sin of zeal comes, not from being zealous, but from what we are zealous for. It is a good thing to be zealous for the things of God and for what concerns other people, but when our zeal becomes self centered and self serving, we cross the line into sin. Our zeal is no longer an extension of our love for others but becomes an expression of our fleshly lusts and desires.
Zeal blinds us to the needs and wants of those around us. Zeal causes us to focus solely on the objects of our lusts. A zealous person lives with tunnel vision, unaware of what is going on around them, unaware of the pain and harm their actions are causing to others, unaware of the needs and feelings of those closest to them. They lose sight of the things that are truly important and sacrifices all for the sake of their lusts. It has been said of zeal, “Zeal, the blind conductor of the will” (Dryden)
Sometimes, in our zeal for the things we are pursuing, we delude ourselves into thinking that what we are doing we are really doing for others. The man who is zealous for his career, to the detriment of his family, justifies his behavior in that he is merely trying to provide a comfortable living for his family. So he continues to pursue his career while his family is left lacking the things they really desire. Love is not zealous. We cannot zealously pursue our own wants and desires and justify it as love for others.
Jealousy: “That passion or peculiar uneasiness which arises from the fear that a rival may rob us of the affection of one whom we love, or the suspicion that he has already done it. Jealousy is nearly allied to envy, for jealousy, before a good is lost by ourselves, is converted into envy, after it is obtained by others.” Noah Webster, 1828 New World DictionaryJealousy comes when we begin to fear loosing what we have worked so hard to obtain. Jealousy causes us to look at life, and others, through warped glasses. We begin to become suspicious and look for the worst in others. We begin to see others as threats to what we have and as potential rivals for what we wish to keep for ourselves. Our life begins to be consumed with a fear of loosing what we have. Instead of enjoying the blessings we have received, we spend all our time and energy trying to protect them from loss.
For a jealous person, it is not enough that his world revolves around himself, but he requires that the lives of others also revolve around him. The jealous person ceases to be a giving person while at the same time demanding more from others. A jealous person is only truly happy when they alone possess the attention and affection of others. Paul, in writing to the Galatian church, describes those who were jealous for them. “They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.” (Galatians 4:17)
In our relationships, jealousy causes us to grasp for the affections of others. Yet the tighter we grasp, the more we tend to drive others away. It is like trying to grasp a handful of sand only to have it slip through our fingers. Some desperate people have even resorted to murder in order to prevent losing someone or something they “love” to another. They justify their actions saying that they “loved them so much they could not bear to see them with someone else.” Love is not jealous. We cannot “smother” others with our demands for their affection and claim that such demands are born out of our love.
Envy: “Pain, uneasiness, mortification or discontent excited by the sight of another's superiority or success, accompanied with some degree of hatred or malignity, and often or usually with a desire or an effort to depreciate the person, and with pleasure in seeing him depressed. Envy springs from pride, ambition or love, mortified that another has obtained what one has strong desire to possess.” Noah Webster, 1828 New World DictionaryEnvy begins with disappointment; disappointment at not being able to have the things we want. We have all experienced disappointment at sometime in our lives. Perhaps it was in being passed over for a promotion. Perhaps it was in not having the money to live the life style we would like to live. Maybe it was in failing to win the affections of someone we desired a relationship with. Whatever the case, disappointment is common to us all. Envy results when we allow our disappointment to be made bitter by the pain of seeing others enjoy what we cannot have. Envy turns our disappointment into anger towards, and even hatred for, other people.
Envy destroys the relationships we have with other people. Envy causes us to become bitter towards other people. Our friends become our competitors; our advisories for the things we desire. Envy causes us to believe that others have harmed us in that they have obtained those things which we have desired. Envy can grow to a point where we even look forward to and delight in the demise of others. We are glad when others fail and believe it to be proof that we were right all along. An envious person will even at times set out to purposefully sabotage and hinder the success of others. The envious person becomes like a vulture that is waiting and watching for others to stumble and fall, even helping them stumble if possible.
The Bible gives many examples of envy. One of the best known is the story of King Saul and David. King Saul was a man who was eaten up with envy towards his rival David.
“It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.” (1 Samuel 18:6-9)Saul's envy of David and the praises afforded him caused his heart to turn bitter toward David. Saul, from that day on, began to seek a way to destroy David. Saul slandered David to his son Jonathan and to David's wife (Saul's daughter) Michal, and even tried to slay David with a spear. Saul's envy consumed his whole life to the point where he cared about nothing else but destroying David. Envy drove out every drop of love for David in Saul’s heart until there was nothing left by envy itself.
More to come… David Robison