Virtue and Vice in the Workplace: Envy

Post Icon

Envy is probably one of the most corrosive sins. Envy eats away at us and turns our hearts toward bitterness. It led to the first murder: Cain’s envy of the Lord’s regard for Abel led to brutally murdering his own brother (Genesis 4:4-6). And it continues to plague humanity, robbing the joy from our labors. For example, no matter how good of a quarter you might have had, if your coworker posts better numbers, the joy from your labors melts away.

In this article, I want to take a closer look at this envy that eats away at our work. Specifically, I want to look at the definition, origin, and solution to envy.

A Definition of Envy

We can define envy as “angry discontentment when confronted with the circumstances of another.” In Matthew 27:18, Matthew says that the Pharisees delivered Jesus up “out of envy” when they saw how the crowds began to favor him over them. Or, in Esther, Haman’s words drip with envy: “Yet all this [my exaltation] is worthy nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13). Haman cannot be happy so long as his rival Mordecai is successful.

As I began to look into jealousy, what really surprised me was the component of anger. The Pharisees’s jealousy boiled over into a murderous rage when they put Jesus up to be crucified. Haman’s envy moved him to eradicate an entire people group to kill one man, Mordecai. Indeed, Paul links jealousy and strife in Romans 13:13.

When you understand that envy is more than discontentment and veers into hatred, you can clearly see envy’s evil side. You are angry at a person because they are happy. The Pharisees were angry at Jesus because he was favored. Haman was angry at Mordecai because Mordecai was exalted. Keller similarly defines envy as “weeping at someone else’s success.” Envy isn’t just discontentment; it’s the opposite of love for others.

The reason why jealousy is so horrendous is because it’s the opposite of Christ’s character. Where Christ was concerned for his church, jealousy is concerned only about us and our happiness, even to the detriment of another.

The Origin of Envy

Jealousy most often begins as discontentment, when we are unsatisfied with our own circumstances.

Discontentment is so easy to slip into. It can happen when we look too closely at our circumstances and see all of our problems. In a fallen and broken world, our circumstances can never fully satisfy. So, when we try to make them fill something that they never could fill, we end up being discontent.

Discontentment can also result from looking too closely at the circumstances of others. Then, when it is combined with arrogance, we want to be happy instead of our neighbor. We want their happiness for ourselves.

Then, as jealousy gets a stronger hold on us, anger starts to show its face. Beginning to morph, envy results in a vitriolic hatred towards the person who has what you don’t have. Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon on envy, notes that “seeing how others prosper, and what honors they attain, [one begins to entertain] the envious dislike, and even hate them, on account of their honor and prosperity.”

The reason why jealousy is so horrendous is because it’s the opposite of Christ’s character. Where Christ was concerned for his church, jealousy is concerned only about us and our happiness, even to the detriment of another.

Envy can create this never-ending treadmill for you to work harder and harder to try to get what you don’t have, only to see more and more successful people the higher you go. As you continue to climb, you continue to nurse this hatred towards others. There will always be someone new to be jealous of. Or, maybe you just give up and self-pity yourself, complaining that God favors others more than you.

At its final stage, jealousy morphs into a big, red, angry sore in your life. Jealousy has reached a point where it harms you and begins to harm others. Jealousy is one of the few sins that both Christians and non-Christians can agree is a sin.

The Solution to Envy

Envy, as with any sin, must be approached with a two-pronged approach to put off and then put on.

Envy must be put off by repenting from one’s sins. The sinful thought patterns and lies you are tempted to believe must be identified and rejected.

Then, one must put on the opposite of envy, which is love. This is what Jonathan Edwards was getting at when he wrote his sermon on envy. He argued, “That charity, or a truly Christian spirit, is the very opposite of an envious spirit.” Edwards was making the point that when you are envious, you desire what is the worst for your neighbor.

And the best way to put on love is to consider the loving example of Christ. Paul writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Paul is saying that by beholding the glory of the Lord as revealed in Christ, we are transformed into his image.

The solution to envy is to consider the loving humility that Christ displayed on the cross. The solution to envy is really the gospel—the good news that God loves humanity and is working to remake the world and establish his kingdom through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

And so, the next time you go into work and feel tempted to envy, remember the insidiousness of envy, how it really is the inversion of love for neighbor. Repent and flee to the cross, remembering the lovingkindness of our humble savior to not only model love but also save us from envy.

Never Miss an Episode, Article, or Study!

Sign up for the CFC Newsletter now

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

adblock image

MA Ethics, Theology, and Culture

The Master of Arts Ethics, Theology, and Culture is a Seminary program providing specialized academic training that prepares men and women to impact the culture for Christ through prophetic moral witness, training in cultural engagement, and service in a variety of settings.

  • formation
  • work
Jacob Haley

Dancer Fellow

Jacob serves in the Center for Faith and Culture as the Dancer Fellow while pursuing an Advanced M.Div at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. If Jacob isn’t tucked away in the library, you can find him running, rock climbing, or playing chess.

More to Explore

Never miss an episode, article, or study.

Sign up for the Christ and Culture newsletter now!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.