Love… it does not envy. –1 Corinthians 13:4
Let me write that again. Envy kills.
LOOKING MORE CLOSELY AT THE DEFINITION OF ENVY
The dictionary defines envy as discontentment or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. A second definition would be the desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else). (bing. com)
In the Greek, the word used for envy in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is zēlóō (G2206). This same Greek word can also mean to burn with zeal or to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred or anger. It can describe a fervent desire for both positive and negative things.
For example, God calls us to have zeal or a hot passion for spiritual gifts, as indicated in the following verses using the same Greek word.
But covet earnestly G2206 the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. –1 Corinthians 12:31
Follow after charity, and desire G2206 spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. –1 Corinthians 14:1
THE ROOT WORD FOR ENVY: KEEP WATCH ON BOILING WATER
The Greek root word for envy is zeō (G2204), which means to boil with heat, be hot and is often used in the context of water.
For example, water can be heated for quite some time, before it reaches the boiling point and boils over. The Bible recognizes how people don’t instantly show up with a full-blown case of envy. Envy can heat up gradually in someone’s heart. It’s possible to be at a low simmer, until envy turns up the heat, boiling over into attitudes, words and/or actions.
If nothing else, these definitions show us how envy can get out of hand. Envy can strike out with heated passion. When a person’s emotions take over, they can lead that person to do things they’ll later regret.
Consequently, it’s dangerous to turn your back on envy and ignore it. No matter how much we try to hide envy, even from ourselves, it’ll come out in one way or another to poison relationships and sabotage whoever we consider as a threat.
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. –James 4:2 (NASB)
You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. –James 4:2 (NLT)
God foresaw envy to be a such a problem He listed it among the ten commandments for the whole nation of Israel.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” –Exodus 20:17
Those who envy hurt others as well as themselves.
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. –Proverbs 14:30
ENVY KILLS THE ANOINTED, FAVORED, GOOD AND INNOCENT
If you don’t believe what I’m saying about envy ending in murder, consider these Biblical examples.
- Cain killed Abel, because Abel’s offering was better than Cain’s and praised by God, whereas his wasn’t.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. –Hebrews 11:4
- Jacob’s sons wanted to kill their brother Joseph, but instead sold him into slavery, because their father favored him over them all.
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him… –Acts 7:9
- Saul attempted to kill David numerous times, because David threatened his position and power.
Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you. –1 Samuel 15:28
As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”
Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” –1 Samuel 18:7-8
- People who seem to “have it all” can also be struck with envy and covetousness.
- King David eventually killed an innocent man, because he wanted his wife. (Read 2 Samuel 12:1-7)
- King Ahab killed Naboth, a common man, because he wanted his vineyard. (Read 1 Kings 21:1-15)
- The religious leaders killed Jesus, because of his popularity, miracles and anointing. He threatened their power base with His very existence, so, for their own survival, they had to “get rid of him.”
Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” –John 11:47-48
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” –John 12:17-19
ENVY KILLED JESUS
At the time of Jesus’ impending death, Pilate gave the Jews one more chance to liberate Jesus. They could’ve set Him free, but they chose a known criminal to be released instead of Jesus. Even Pilate could see the signs of their envy. A pagan outsider noticed what they couldn’t recognize about their own hearts.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. –Matthew 27:15-18
By seeing all of these envy passages grouped together, envy takes on a greater weight of seriousness. A topical Bible study (looking at different passages involving the same subject) helps us to see the distinctive characteristics of the subject in question. The common thread here seems to be how envy leads to the death of the one envied, all with the exception of Joseph.
DO I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ENVY?
We, as fallen human beings, may envy others for many different reasons: their looks, intelligence, gifts, speaking ability, musical talent, opportunities, public platform, success, wealth, ability to travel, relationship with God, power, anointing, etc.
At this point, you may not think you have an envy problem, because it’d never cross your mind to kill someone. Geez! I mean, sure, I’ve envied certain people for (fill in the blank). But, I never wanted them dead. Well, good, I’m so glad for that fact.
But, as Jesus made clear, wanting someone gone begins in the heart with anger.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… –Matthew 5:21-22a
Unfortunately, “getting rid of someone” can come in many forms:
- General bad attitude towards them
- Lack of friendliness, communication and relationship
- Blocking their opportunities
- Rejecting someone from the group
- Sabotaging or taking credit for their work
- Minimizing their accomplishments
- Gossip, slander and criticism
- …and so on
If it seems like I’m being very pointed in this blog post, it’s because I am. Scalpels have to be sharp to perform life-saving surgery. Our fallen nature doesn’t always recognize envy for the danger it is or the damage it can cause. It’s a chronic disease that needs radical treatment!
TALL POPPIES GET CUT DOWN TO SIZE
Something called “Tall Poppy Syndrome” was first coined in Australia. Imagine a field of red poppies swaying in the wind. Here and there you spot poppies standing out from the crowd, because they’ve grown taller than the rest. What if someone came around with clippers to cut down all the tall poppies, so that every poppy would look like every other and the whole field would appear more equal.
Metaphorically, the poppies symbolize people who’ve excelled in some way beyond their peers. In their talent, position and success, they stand out from the crowd in conspicuous ways, leaving others feeling less than, even bad about themselves. Influential leaders may try to reject those rising to the top, because they pose a threat to their power base positions.
People also refer to the “crab mentality” when they describe how envy influences people’s reactions. Now, imagine yourself looking into a bucket of crabs. As certain crabs try to claw themselves out of the bucket, the other crabs pull them back down again.
To learn more about “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” watch the following video!
The video includes a great definition for a “tall poppy” from the Australian National Dictionary: “a person who is conspicuously successful and whose distinction, rank or wealth attracts envious notice or hostility.”
MY ENCOUNTER WITH A TALL POPPY
I’d like to share an example of how giftedness can arouse feelings of envy that cause a peer group to reject a person.
Having been in the educational field, I’ve met and worked with the whole spectrum of kids from special needs all the way to the academically gifted. I once knew a girl who was amazing in many ways, but didn’t have many friends at school. She didn’t feel comfortable with the girls in her class, because they wouldn’t include her and would talk about her in an unkind ways. She was often alone, doing things by herself. I’m convinced she would’ve had to eat lunch by herself, if the school wasn’t so caring about making sure that didn’t happen.
We’d have conversations. She read a lot and told me she wanted to be a vet. One day she showed me a picture she drew of herself wearing a white coat, with a doggy biscuit in her pocket, giving a clean bill of health to a beloved pet dog. The drawing was not only well-done; it was clever. The more I talked with her, the more I realized how smart, creative, understanding and sensitive she was. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why these other kids didn’t like her. As an adult, I thought she was great. But, then again, I wasn’t her peer, so I didn’t know what they had felt about her or the nature of their interactions with one another.
If I were to guess, I’d say she was a gifted student. During the end-of-the-year tests, she’d finish long before anyone else and would get high scores. She loved to learn and had a curiosity about many things.
Honestly, it made me sad to see her rejected by her peers for no apparent reason. Though, she tried to stay upbeat, I could tell it hurt her not being accepted and fitting in with the others.
This was only low-level envy at work, but it, nonetheless, hurt and isolated a person, simply because of her stronger ability in certain areas.
The situation with this girl, however, is not an isolated incident.
THE GIFTED VICTIMS OF “TALL POPPY SYNDROME
Gifted kids are often left out, ostracized, even bullied in schools across America, because of their academic distinction and achievements. Whether teachers make grades or test scores apparent or not, “tall poppies” become conspicuous for various reasons: in the way they answer questions, knowing things others don’t know, being the teacher’s pet, getting praised for their work, how they seem to breeze through school, their natural love for academic pursuits, their nerdy interests, etc.
Like everyone else, they’re just trying to find their way and do the best they can. They can’t help but be different; really, they’re just being themselves. It’s tragic that our best and brightest are being cut down in various ways out of envy.
No matter who someone is and what gifts they posses, most people want to fit in and be accepted by their peers or by others in general. People who are rejected due to envy, especially at younger ages, often feel like there’s something wrong with them, despite their gifts.
Read more about gifted kids and bullying in the following link: https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-bullying-impacts-the-gifted-student-460594
KNOWING THERE’S A PROBLEM IS HALF THE BATTLE
In summary, giftedness in anyone makes it apparent that others are less gifted. That recognition alone could inspire uncomfortable feelings of envy in other people. It may make somebody want to reach for a pair of clippers to cut a person down to size. Before you do anything to hurt another, please recognize what’s happening within yourself, before you reach those heated moments.
Envy can manifest in both subtle and obvious ways. You can’t love somebody when you want to erase their presence from your life, simply because of the way they make you feel, they threaten you somehow or because you don’t have what they have. Envy isn’t a second-rate sin. It’s dangerous and can be very damaging to all involved!
This week I only focused on the problem of envy. Next week, I’ll focus on Biblical and practical solutions to overcome envy in a person’s life.
If we all could take the time this week to meditate on the causes, reality and destruction of envy, it may cause us all to be more sober-minded regarding this topic. It may show us how seriously God takes this subject.
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS
- Before reading this blog post, what did you think of envy? Did you consider envy bad, but not really that big of a deal? Did reading this blog post change the way you view the subject? Why or why not?
- Do you agree with the short sentence: envy kills? Why or why not? Do you think it’s an exaggeration or an accurate statement? Explain.
- In your own words, write out why it’s significant for the root word of “envy” to mean to boil with heat or be hot? Knowing envy has this “heated up, passionate, set to a boil” aspect to it, what makes envy so dangerous?
- Were you surprised by the widespread connection between envy and murder in the Bible verses/passages we read? Why or why not? Take one, a few or all of the passages this next week and do your own Bible study of them.
- Reflect upon your own life. Do you have a problem with envy? Have you recently or in the past envied somebody for what they have? How did you feel towards him or her? How did you interact with that person?
- We talked about the various ways people can “get rid or someone” without actually physically hurting them. We can try to psychologically, socially or organizationally hurt them. What do you think of this list? Do you agree or disagree with it? Reflecting back, have you ever acted this way towards someone? Has anyone ever acted this way towards you? If so, journal and pray into those situations and ask God to either forgive you or heal you for having been treated that way.
- “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is very real thing that happens all the time. Study the subject deeper by reading articles and watching videos on the subject. Consider how people can really hurt others by their envy.
- Gifted students are prime targets for bullying these days. Read the article included in the blog post. Think about how other gifted and talented people may be “bullied” in different contexts, because of the way they stand out from the crowd. Find a way to celebrate these people, instead of cutting them down. Intentionally praise people for their gifts and what they do well.
- Important: I’m going to repeat these two suggestions, because I think they’re so vital. Take the time to pray into your own heart about envy. Repent of any envy in your present or past. Take time to study the Bible passages in this blog post in their context. Read the full stories, pray into them and write down what God reveals to you by the Holy Spirit.