The Danger of Envy

BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAYNow at the feast, he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked…[Pilate] answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. Mark 15:7,9-10 ESV

Envy….it impacts attitude and actions. Envy is not admiration. Admiration can motivate a person to work to achieve the status or position that someone else holds. Envy is not jealousy, but it is closely related. Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. Jealousy is a response when an individual feels like they are at risk to lose what they have.

One definition of envy in English is “to feel hatred or displeasure toward someone for their good fortune or possessions.” Envy looks for an opportunity to take or even destroy. Jealousy holds on to something. That is why we speak of someone, “jealously holding on to…..” (position or possession).

Pilate had never met Jesus of Nazareth, but he had heard about Him. Pilate was very familiar with the Chief Priests and leaders of the Jews. He knew of their jealous hold to their status and position. The religious leaders including the Scribes and Pharisees held sway not out of respect but more out of fear and intimidation.

Jesus enters the scene and He teaches with authority. He performs miracles. He draws adoring crowds. He multiplies loaves and fishes that feed thousands and He confounds the teachers of the law.

Pilate knew that charges against Jesus were baseless. Trumped up, exaggerated claims that were verified by false witnesses. But Pilate saw through the surface to the root issue. These religious leaders envied Jesus. He had what they didn’t have and that made Him an enemy. As a result, they demanded Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus.

Who would think that the Chief Priests would choose a murderer and an insurrectionist over one of their own? These religious leaders taught the moral law of the Torah. The prohibition against murder is one of the ten commandments and rebellion is compared to the sin of witchcraft. (Exodus 20:13; 1 Samuel 15:23).

Shocked by their response Pilate asks again, “What shall I do with the man you call the ‘King of the Jews’?” The Chief Priests stir up the crowd to call for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate asks again, “What evil has He done?” The stirrup crowed screams even louder “Crucify Him!”

Envy. It corrupts logic. It stops at nothing to bring down and destroy its object. Observing the recent drama in Congress and what has taken place in the last three years one has to ask, “could envy be at the heart of all that is taking place?” 

Consider one of the more dramatic scenes in the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey tells Mr. Potter, “You can’t get your grubby hands on this measly Savings and Loan and it gulls you!” Mr. Potter had enough wealth but he still envied what George Bailey had, the respect of the people of Bedford Falls that were achieving the American dream of homeownership. As a result, he relished the opportunity to bring George Bailey down when it was literally “dropped in his lap.”

James the Apostle addresses envy,  “…if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:14-16 NKJV)

“Bitter envy.” It is blind to the truth. It casts off all restraints and seeks to succeed at any cost. To the human mind actions motivated by envy are justified but at the very foundation, it is kin to the demonic. Why is that? Because Satan was the first to give in to envy. He desired the position that God had and was willing to take one-third of the angels of heaven into his plot to destroy God’s authority. Scripture declares Satan as the one who, “steals, kills and destroys.” He is the father of lies and a deceiver. Such are the actions of one overtaken by “bitter envy.”

The damage and hardship that envy has motivated over the years of humanity are evident. It was at the heart of Cain killing his brother Abel and it continues to today. It may not always be physical and violent, but the attitude and results are the same.

Perhaps that is why Solomon gave this advice, This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-18 NIV)

The prophet Micah still speaks to us today about where our focus should be, “…the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

Also, Peter admonished his readers, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV)