Envy may well be one of the greatest sins of the twenty-first century. To be sure, our generation is not the first to struggle with this sin. Envy is the product of discontentment and pride, as we will see, and certainly no one generation has a monopoly on these two things. I believe that envy has become so widespread in the twenty-first century because new purveyors of this sin have become part of the fabric of our culture, most especially through the smartphone and the use of social media. People in every generation have undoubtedly struggled with being content with themselves and with the things that God has given to them. But smartphones and access to social media have exacerbated these struggles in our own day by constantly bombarding us with reminder after reminder of what we aren’t (but others are) and of what we don’t have (but others do).
Envy is nothing more or less than greed aimed at what someone else has. It is covetousness, which is forbidden in the tenth commandment (Ex. 20:17; Rom. 13:9–10). It arises from the seedbed of discontentment, which perceives that God has not given us what is best for us, and finds its full expression in the belief that He has actually given what is best for us to someone else. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:26, envy flows from pride. It puts ourselves in God’s place and finds His providential allocation of our strengths and weaknesses, relationships, gifts and abilities, and resources and material goods to be wanting.
As Christians, we are called to “put away” envy (1 Peter 2:1), not only because it flows from pride and discontentment but also because it strikes at the heart of the gospel message. Ever since the beginning, God’s great promise to His people has been summed up in the words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (e.g., see Ex. 3:12; Deut. 31:8; Josh. 1:5; Isa. 41:10). This promise is ours only in Christ Jesus. It is because Christ was forsaken on our behalf on the cross that you and I who believe in Him will never be. When Hebrews 13:5 tells us, therefore, that we are to “be content with what [we] have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ ” it is reminding us that our real possession is God Himself. Because of what Christ has done, we have God both now and forevermore. Envy strikes at the heart of this message, because it says that God, and all that God is for us in Christ, is not enough. It says that what we really need is God plus someone else’s body, personality, strengths, or possessions. Only when we remind ourselves of what is ours in Christ Jesus will the cords of envy, which have so entangled us, begin to loosen and fall away. Only when our love for Christ increases will our envious desire for other people’s things fade away.