"painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same" advantage(Webster)Envy is more than covetousness, which is an intense longing for something or someone else. Envy is the painful feeling when we recognize that someone else has what we want. The pain can come from multiple sources but often, in the church, our seat of envy is a feeling that somehow, deep inside, we believe that we too deserve what they have, that we should be in possession of it not them, that we are really the worthy one! It is as when Aarom and Miriam became envious of Moses.
"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?' And the Lord heard it." (Numbers 12:1-2)They were offended at Moses for his marrying a foreign woman and, as such, they felt superior to him and, as a result, felt they too deserved to lead the people." Who was Moses that he alone should assume leadership? Was he some great person or someone of unquestionable purity? They were from the same family and in some ways more "pure" them him. They too deserved to lead." Their offense towards Moses turned into envy and, in their envy, they spoke against Moses. However, God heard then and rebuked their folly.
"Hear now My words: if there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. "Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?" (Numbers 12:6-8)Clement, over the next three chapters, outlines a brief history of envy. Starting with the offspring of our first parents and continuing down to our present day. Here is just a few excepts from his letter.
And Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go into the field. And it came to pass, while they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Ye see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother. Through envy, also, our father Jacob fled from the face of Esau his brother. Envy made Joseph be persecuted unto death, and to come into bondage." (1 Clement 4)He then continues his history of envy down to the time of our Lord's apostles.
Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him." (1 clement 5)Finally he reminds his readers of recent examples of envy against those in the church.
Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircæ, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with stedfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward. (1 Clement 6)Envy is a powerful vice. Clement reminds us that, "Envy has alienated wives from their husbands, and changed that saying of our father Adam, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh'”Envy and strife have overthrown great cities and rooted up mighty nations." (1 Clement 6) Envy as a feeling is not sin, but when it gets translated to our actions, sin is conceived. However, in overcoming envy it is important to recognize it at its root, even when it exists only as an emotion. The emotion of envy has two components, a sense of entitlement: we deserve what they have, and a sense of superiority: we are just as good, if not better, then they are. To overcome envy we must deal with each component separately.
First we must deal with our sense of entitlement. David declares, concerning his possessions. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me." (Psalms 16:5-6) David understood that his lot in life was assigned to him by God, as from a loving father, and as such, he was able to see his allotment as "beautiful." In a world where inequality is a certainty, there will always be someone with more than us. We can either let this cause us to feel slighted by the little we have or we can remind ourselves that it is God who grants us our lot and, weather or not He has given someone else more, we can still rejoice in what He has given us, as gifts given out of His love and care over us.
Secondly, in dealing with our sense of superiority, we must remind ourselves of what Paul spoke about Abraham, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God." (Romans 4:2-3) When we compare ourselves against others we might judge ourselves to be superior, but when we compare ourselves against God we understand our true nature. We find out that we are not all that different from our neighbors and that only God is truly good. Only then can we dispense with our feeling of entitlement and superiority and learn to truly enjoy our gifts from God.