Resist the “Tendency to Envy”
THERE is a strong inclination in imperfect mankind to envy those having prominence, greater successes or more material possessions. So powerful is this inclination that the Bible says: “It is with a tendency to envy that the spirit which has taken up residence within us keeps longing.”—Jas. 4:5.
While the spirit, inclination or disposition to envy “resides” in all of us imperfect humans, this does not make envy something to be condoned in God’s sight. Envies are condemned along with fornication, loose conduct and drunken bouts as debased practices of the flesh that would keep one from inheriting God’s kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21) But why does Jehovah God express such strong disapproval of envy?
Because envy is rooted in selfishness and is completely foreign to the personality, ways and dealings of the Creator. The dominant quality of Jehovah God is love, and only those manifesting like love does he recognize as his approved servants.
The envious person, lacking love, refuses to “rejoice with people who rejoice.” (Rom. 12:15) He may even resort to fraud, robbery or other dishonest practices in an effort to seize what others have. Or, he may try to downgrade the object of his envy, minimizing the accomplishments of that one by undue criticism or by calling into question his abilities and motives. Thus envy gives birth to strife, dissension, quarrels, hatreds and even violent conflicts, destroying what might otherwise have been good relationships with fellowmen. This is alluded to at James 4:1, 2, where we read: “From what source are there wars and from what source are there fights among you? Are they not from this source, namely, from your cravings for sensual pleasure that carry on a conflict in your members? You desire, and yet you do not have. You go on murdering and coveting, and yet you are not able to obtain.”
Of course, the tendency to envy is not limited to those who try to attain prominence and prosperity by dishonest methods. For example, hard work and efficiency are commendable. Yet a person may put great emphasis on these due to a tendency to envy. How so? Because he may be working hard, not simply to accomplish something worth while, but with a desire to outshine others in works, skill or productivity. Envy pushes him to reach what others have attained and, in fact, to surpass them. This aspect is acknowledged by the discerning writer of Ecclesiastes: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:4.
When a person’s motivation in work is tainted by self-glorification, any concern and sympathy on his part for others are often eclipsed. Their physical and mental limitations receive little or no consideration. Competition and rivalry replace a spirit of friendly cooperation. An unfair standard of judgment may be used so that mere quantity becomes the standard for comparing, leaving out consideration of quality or the sincere, unselfish effort that went into another’s work. The worth of a person may be judged primarily by what he can produce, rather than by what he himself is.
Certainly efforts to outshine others are injurious, and those putting forth such efforts are ‘striving after wind,’ after sheer emptiness. One who publicizes his achievements and compares himself with others stirs up competition and envy. By trying to impress others with his own superiority, he enviously refuses to acknowledge the good qualities others may possess. He jealously guards his position, fearing that others might become his equals and, perhaps, even surpass him. All such action is contrary to the Scriptural injunction given to Christians: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.”—Gal. 5:26.
In the congregations of God’s people today, especially elders have to be careful that they do not begin to think too highly of themselves and their accomplishments. This could lead them to hold back others from sharing in certain privileges simply because they themselves want to remain notably prominent. They should always keep in mind that Jehovah God is the One who gives the increase. The congregation belongs, not to any man, but to God.—Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 3:7.
For any man or a group of men to be reluctant to have others share in caring for responsibilities would be acting contrary to the leading of God’s spirit. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy as a overseer to pass on what he had learned “to faithful men, who, in turn, will be adequately qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:2) The right spirit, then, is for elders to work toward helping other men in the congregation to attain the needed qualifications to serve along with them in caring for congregational responsibilities. Were they to fail in this regard because of fearing, either consciously or subconsciously, that their importance would be minimized in the congregation, they would be working against, not only their own interests, but the interests of the entire congregation. Obviously many qualified men can accomplish much more work than just one or a few. Also, the more qualified elders a congregation has, the greater will be the complement of fine qualities that can be pooled for the advancement of its spiritual interests.
The proper attitude toward having others share in privileges was expressed by Moses when he said to Joshua: “Are you feeling jealous for me? No, I wish that all of Jehovah’s people were prophets, because Jehovah would put his spirit upon them!”—Num. 11:29.
A failure to reflect this attitude can lead to serious consequences. During the time of his earthly ministry Jesus Christ made this very clear to his apostles. When a certain man, evidently empowered by God’s spirit, expelled demons on the basis of Jesus’ name, the apostle John and others tried to stop him because he was not accompanying them. Evidently they felt that the man was not a part of their exclusive group and his performance of powerful works would therefore detract from their activity. On hearing this, Jesus corrected them. Then he added a strong warning: “Whoever stumbles one of these little ones that believe, it would be finer for him if a millstone such as is turned by an ass were put around his neck and he were actually pitched into the sea.” (Mark 9:38-42) Yes, such a self-centered attitude as expressed by the apostles could have led to new and lowly ones’ being stumbled. God would not view lightly any such harmful course.
If we desire an approved standing with Jehovah God, we should therefore recognize envy for what it is—sin against God and fellowmen, yes, an expression of an unloving spirit. In view of the bad fruitage that envy produces, we have good reason to hate it. This hatred can protect us from becoming envious ourselves and from stirring up competition and envy in others.