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What Is Envy? Bible Meaning of this Deadly Sin

Envy is the sin of jealousy over the blessings and achievements of others, especially the spiritual enjoyment and advance of the kingdom of Christ freely and graciously bestowed upon the people of God.
Updated Jan 26, 2024
What Is Envy? Bible Meaning of this Deadly Sin

The Definition of Envy

Merriam-Webster defines envy as the: “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary gives a biblical definition of Envy as the following: Sin of jealousy over the blessings and achievements of others, especially the spiritual enjoyment, and advance of the kingdom of Christ freely and graciously bestowed upon the people of God. Old Testament examples of the sin of jealousy include Joseph's brothers' rivalry over the favor Joseph received at the hand of God ( Gen 37:12-36; Acts 7:9) and Saul's animosity toward David for his physical and spiritual prowess ( 1 Sam 18 ). Envy inevitably leads to personal harm and debilitation, affecting one's physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being ( Job 5:2; Prov 14:30). Unchecked, it gradually leads to a destructive and remorseful way of life ( Prov 27:4 ), and ultimately, to estrangement from God ( Rom 1:28-32 ).

The sin of envy can be traced all the way back to one of the Ten Commandments. We are told, “Thou shall not covet” in the divine laws given to Moses in the Old Testament. This commandment directly relates to the deadly sin of envy, as we are instructed not to desire the possessions or attributes of others.

Both in the Old and New Testament, there are mentions of envy and stories associated with it, often with dramatic consequences. In the Book of Genesis, envy is the motivation behind Cain murdering his brother, Abel, as Cain envied Abel because God favored Abel's sacrifice. In one of the very first stories of the Bible, we are informed of the destructive power and wickedness that envy can cause.

The Consequence of Envy

"A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." Proverbs 14:30

The consequences of envy can be deadly and should not be neglected. Rick Warren lists four crucial ways that envy will damage your life in a Devotional for

1. Envy denies your uniqueness.

Psalm 139:13-16 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb... Your workmanship is marvelous... You watched me as I was ... woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (NLT, second edition).

Envy blinds you to your own giftedness and uniqueness. But God didn’t make you to be like somebody else. God made you to be you.

2. Envy divides your attention.

You cannot follow God’s purpose and focus on other people at the same time. You get a divided allegiance, and then you don’t get anything done in your life.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

3. Envy wastes your time and energy.

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 says, “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed: it is because they envy the things their neighbors have. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind .... Here is someone who lives alone. He has no son, no brother, yet he is always working, never satisfied with the wealth he has. For whom is he working so hard ... ? This is useless, too — and a miserable way to live” (GNT).

4. Envy leads to every other sin.

Envy can destroy everything and everyone around you. The Bible says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder (unrest, rebellion) and every evil thing” (James 3:16).

At the heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. Envy is a heart problem.

Any time you envy, you have gotten your worship misguided because envy is a form of worship. It says, “I desire that. I want that. I love that. I want to live for that.” That’s called worship. And any time that item is not God, it becomes an idol.

Read more from the Devotional: Daily Hope with Rick Warren

Discover the full list and summary of the Seven Deadly Sins

Other Resources on Envy

5 Ways the Sin of Envy Is Destroying Your Life - Crosswalk

Envy Definition and Meaning - Bible Study Tools

A Sincere Prayer for When You’re Struggling with Envy - iBelieve

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MatthiasLindner

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