In his play Othello, Shakespeare called envy ″the green-eyed monster″. The Puritan Richard Baxter also warned about envying God’s gifts in others-that a man would rather the gospel not be shared and people remain unconverted, than see God work through someone else.
In Proverbs 27:1-4, Solomon moves through a list of sins that build up to jealousy. But first, he starts with a warning against pride, which shows itself in presumptuousness and self-praise (vv. 1-2). A proud man believes that he knows and controls the future, and boasts about what he will do (v. 1) and what he has done (v. 2).
Solomon also warns against overreacting to insulting words from a fool, comparing them to stone and sand, which are heavy, cumbersome, and difficult to handle and transport (v. 3). The comparison captures the unbearable nature of a fool’s provocation, which can cause resentment and tempt one to respond in anger. This observation brings us to the next warning against anger (v. 4). Resentment and anger are bad enough, but jealousy-that brooding covetousness of others’ abilities and possessions-is worse than both.
While anger is cruel (in that it can be destructive) and fury is overwhelming (in that it can be uncontrollable), jealousy is both. Jealousy, which rejoices in others’ failure and grieves at their success, destroys both giver and recipient. It poisons a person’s own thinking and clouds his judgment, and can prompt him to uncontrollable actions. Jealousy led Joseph’s brothers to beat him and sell him off as a slave (Genesis 37:8-10, Acts 7:9), and led the Jewish leaders to implicate Jesus and demand His death (Matthew 27:18). Proverbs 14:30 notes that ″envy rots the bones″. Theologian C. H. Spurgeon said: ″The jealous man poisons the banquet and then sits down and joins in eating it.″
So why does God describe himself as being jealous (Exodus 20:5)? The Bible draws a distinction between covetous envy (which is jealousy of others) and the jealousy of God (which is an appropriate jealousy for the love and loyalty of His people). God’s jealousy is like a man’s jealousy for the love of his wife (Numbers 5:11-31).
How can we guard against pride and envy?
- By depending and trusting in God’s sovereign rule (Proverbs 27:1), instead of being presumptuous and believing in our ability to control our future.
- By listening to honest, unbiased evaluations, instead of self-praise (v. 2).
- By choosing to be content instead of harbouring jealousy (v. 4).
Solomon makes his observations of the destructive and uncontrollable nature of jealousy without offering a solution. The New Testament tells us to put off envy like an old set of clothes, as it is part of the old life (Galatians 5:21; Colossians 3:8-9). Titus 3:3 also reminds us that having been saved from our former lifestyle of envy and malice, we are to devote ourselves to doing good (Titus 3:8).
The antidote to envy is contentment. According to Paul, it is something we have to learn. Philippians 4:12 describes what contentment-both in times of plenty and in times of need-looks like: ″I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.″
How can you remind yourself to rely on God’s sovereignty and plan-and not on your own abilities-each day?
Reflect on times when you might have felt envious of other people’s abilities and achievements. Ask God to help you learn how to be content.