The Dangers of Envy

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with envy. I learned from a young age that the the more popular you seemed and the more possessions you had, the more value you were given by society. And so began my very long and very arduous battle with coveting.

The rise in popularity of social media only served to exacerbated my problem as I was constantly bombarded with reminders of other people’s success. Whether a friend was announcing a promotion or a pregnancy, I found myself invariably longing for what everybody else had. It got to a point where I found it difficult to celebrate my friends’ accomplishments because their successes were a bitter reminder of the areas in my life where I had apparently failed.

This constant comparison is not only exhausting, it’s destructive as well. It’s no wonder God commands us in Exodus 20:17, “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.”  As with all of God’s instructions to us, His tenth commandment is for our own benefit. His desire is to protect us from the dangers of envy and coveting. But what is so harmful about desiring what somebody else has?

The definition of coveting is wanting something very much that belongs to someone else. Some dictionaries even go so far as to define it as a strong hunger and thirst for something. To want something, in and of itself is not innately bad. However, the only thing we should be hungering and thirsting after is God’s presence. It is when our desires contort into idols and we become obsessed and fixated on the things we don’t have that we approach a very dangerous and slippery slope.

What lies at the heart of this struggle to obey God’s final commandment? When we covet what somebody else has, we are taking our focus off of God and turning it inward. We ignore God’s boundless generosity and instead concentrate on the things He has not given us. In essence, we are admitting that we don’t fully trust in God’s sovereignty and His provision in our lives. Though envy may seem innocuous at first, a covetous attitude is like a cancer, multiplying quickly and devouring everything in its path.

Here are three imminent dangers we face when we disobey God’s tenth commandment.

  1. We lose sight of our blessings. When we expend all of our energy trying to acquire what other people have, we inevitably take for granted the many blessings God has generously given us.
  1. We become discontent. Coveting promotes a spirit of competition. No matter how much we have been given, when all we see is what we are lacking, we will always believe that we don’t have enough.
  1. We question God’s goodness. Does God really want the best for me? If left unchecked, envy will eventually harden your heart, making you bitter and resentful towards God and others.

If you’ve noticed this negative pattern forming in your thought life, don’t despair! Here are three practical steps we can take to combat a covetous attitude:

  1. Practice thankfulness. Having an attitude of gratitude is the first step to overcoming envy. Start a gratitude journal and count your blessings every day.
  1. Engage in generosity. Generosity is the opposite of coveting. Every good gift is from the Lord and is meant to be used for His Glory, to make known His gospel and to bless His people. The fruit of generosity is joy.
  2. Pray for an increase of faith. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:21 that God will equip us with everything good that we need in order to accomplish His will. We lack nothing in Christ. Ask God to change your heart and help you to see Him as Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord that provides.

When we practice thankfulness, engage in generosity and pray for an increase of faith we will be able to avoid the dangerous pitfalls of envy and coveting. It may take a concerted effort at first, but once we learn to stop focusing on what other people have and instead choose to focus on God’s faithful provision in our lives, we will soon realize that we have more blessings than we can even begin to count.

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