Let us now continue to explore Paul’s listing of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21, with “envy” (often translated “envyings” or “envies”):
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The word here translated as “envy[ings]” is the Greek word phthonos, defined by Thayer as:
2) for envy, i.e. prompted by envy
How, then, may we define this term “envy?” Webster defines the English term as follows:
1. To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to repine at another’s prosperity; to fret or grieve one’s self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account.
2. To grudge; to withhold maliciously.
n. Pain, uneasiness, mortification or discontent excited by the sight of another’s superiority or success, accompanied with some degree of hatred or malignity, and often or usually with a desire or an effort to depreciate the person, and with pleasure in seeing him depressed. Envy springs from pride, ambition or love, mortified that another has obtained what one has a strong desire to possess.
Therefore, we see that the term refers to the negative feelings produced when another has something which we desire. The term is closely related to jealousy, as we have seen in Works of the Flesh: Jealousy. We may use an example to explain the difference. Let us say that you own a precious diamond, and you fear that your friend or your co-worker desires your diamond, even if they truly do not. That is jealousy. But if your friend or your co-worker owned the diamond, and you desired it greatly, to the point of desiring malice or misfortune to the person so that you could in some way acquire that diamond, then you are envious of that person.
With this distinction having been noted, we may see that envy was even a concern during the time of Moses. Thus the commandment in Exodus 20:17:
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”
This “coveting” is envy: the desire for the property of another. Therefore, even from the Law we may see that envy is not appropriate for the people of God.
There is also much from the New Testament, however, that shows how envy is looked down upon. We read in the Gospel accounts in Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10 that Pontius Pilate recognized another form of envy within the chief priests and elders of the Jews, the envy of position and favor in the eyes of the people. This envy compelled them to put our Lord and Savior to death.
Envy is also a mark of the Gentiles who do not honor God and also of those who teach falsely, as Paul tells us in Romans 1:28-29 and 1 Timothy 6:3-4 respectively:
And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers…
If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings…
Paul further tells us that our lives before we believed in Christ were full of envy, and James notes that envy is not to be a part in the life of a Christian, as seen in Titus 3:3 and James 4:5:
For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
Or think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?
We may see from the multitude of passages above that a Christian is not to be an envious person. The Christian ought to know that desiring the things of others does not aid in salvation, but is a hindrance; the only thing we are to desire is the righteousness of God, as Jesus has said in Matthew 6:32-33:
“For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The possessions of others will not save us, and if we trust in God He will make sure that our needs are met. Let us then continually strive to fulfill the Scripture in 2 Peter 2:1-5:
Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation; if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious: unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Let us all work to avoid the evils of envy and to grow into the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.