We don’t rank envy up there with the big hitters. When we think big sins, we think theft, assault, cheating and murder. If I were to ask you to choose between being envious and committing murder, you’d likely choose the former. One seems monumentally more heinous. But what if I were to tell you envy was the the worst of the two choices? I can hear your objections. “Murder is permanent!”, you declare. “You can cease being envious, you can’t come back from murdering someone.” I can’t argue with you there. In this specific instance, murder would be the outcome, but what was the cause? It’s worth observing how Cain and Abel interacted with God and each other in Genesis 4:1-8. When we think about Cain and Abel we go straight to the act, the first murder recorded in the scriptures. Cain and Abel weren’t strangers. Cain didn’t happen to be walking near the garden, see Abel, and decide it was a good day for a mugging. They were family. As we often see today, siblings tend to take different career paths. They have unique callings and their responsibility is to be as obedient as possible, giving God their best (Colossians 3:23-24). Cain was in the agricultural business. Abel handled the livestock. The issue wasn’t their occupation. It was their offering. Abel did what was right, Cain did what was least. The fascinating aspect of this story is that Cain should have been mad at the one who he felt slighted him…God. The fact that he did not direct his anger toward God reveals his agreement with God’s assessment of the situation. “If you do what is well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). Cain knew he was in the wrong, but rather than elevate his own offering he degraded Abel’s. Envy never motivates us to try harder, dream larger, improve our work ethic, or instill more discipline. Envy’s aim is not to become the best, most obedient version of ourselves. Envy’s aftermath is not the improvement of ourselves but the destruction others. After all, it’s easier to tear down a house than build one. Envy is all about living on equal ground at the expense of others, not the betterment of self. When do you have too much? When you have more than me. If I have a $15,000 car and you have a $20,000 car, clearly you live in excess and opulence. If I have a $25,000 car and you have a $30,000 car, I am being modest and you are being extravagant. If I have a $40,000 car and you have a $50,000 car, well, you need Jesus. We can apply this to anything. If I spent $20 on a pair of jeans and you spent $50 on a pair of jeans, you spent too much and aren’t a good steward.
Envy will always make you a victim, the tragic result of an unfair world that consistently deals you the worst hand. Is envy worse than murder? Maybe, maybe not. But I can say with absolute certainty that envy was at the root of Cain’s bloodlust. He wanted what Abel had (God’s favor) without putting forth the effort. When we lack the integrity to rise up, we tear down. Instead of celebrating someone else’s success, blessing, or providence we sow seeds of discord and doubt. We question their path toward success. We spew venomous statements like, “They got lucky.”, “I’ll bet they water down the gospel, that’s why their church is so big.”, “They got that promotion because they sucked up to the boss”, “I’ll bet Jesus wouldn’t have bought that car if He was here today”, “Wow, that’s an expensive shirt. Must be nice to buy that when there are so many people suffering”, “Do they really need a house that big?”, “Look at their fancy haircut, they think they’re so cool”, etc. etc. etc. Envy is an untreated bitter root that grows quickly from benign passivity to malignant activity. Hebrews 12:15 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 13:1 exhorts us to “be content with what we have.” The biblical precedent is that contentment brings more while striving out of greed will bring us to destruction. Let’s be real. You may never murder someone for what they have. But you may kill a relationship or sever your blessing with the knife of envy. Take some time and evaluate your attitude. Are you operating in envy? Do you desire what others have and instead of tending your own garden you are sowing tares in theirs? Are you celebrating their success or condemning it? Don’t compare your offering to theirs. Just make sure you are giving the best offering you can give. God will honor them the same and you’ll not have blood on your hands when you stand before Him one day.