Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is envy sinful?

Is envy sinful? Seems to me that there are two kinds of envy. Take the statement, “I want what you have.” That’s ambiguous. It could mean either of two different things. To illustrate:

i) “I want your wife.”

ii) “I want a wife like yours.”

These don’t mean the same thing. The first statement means I want to take what you have. The second statement means I want the same type of thing you have.

I think this distinction is important to a Christian work ethic (or Christian ethics).


  1. That's an important distinction that non-Christians and some Christians don't understand. And for which non-Christians often criticize Christianity for There are other similar sins and commands in Scripture that are misunderstood. I'll take the traditional "7 Deadly Sins" as examples:

    1. Envy was already mentioned by Steve.

    2. The sin of pride and arrogance is often interpreted in such a way that (IMO) denies some good Christian qualities like godly dignity and Christian honor. We ought to have some sense of the dignity of what it means to be a child/servant/friend/ambassador/warrior (etc.) of God. We currently have such imputed dignity and we should be looking for its fullness in the eschaton (John 5:44; 12:26; Rom. 2:7,8; 1 Thess. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Pet. 1:7). Watching movies like The Last Samurai, Becket (see this moving scene) or movies with Christian knights can remind Christians of the importance of Christian honor (so long as doesn't become an idol of self-worship).

    Similar things can be said about:

    3. Sinful anger in distinction to godly indignation (Eph. 4:26; Ps. 4:4; John 2:15ff; Mark 3:5; Num. 25:7-11)

    4. Sinful lust in distinction to permissible sexual attraction, appreciation of beauty etc. (Gen. 12:11; 14; 24:16; 26:7; 26:17; Deut. 21:11; 1 Sam. 9:2; 16:12; 25:3; Esther 2:7)

    5. Gluttony and drunkenness in distinction from proper enjoyment of God's provision. Misinterpretation to those commands has lead some to live austere lives (even monkish asceticism). (Lev. 25:19 Deut. 14:26; Eccl. 9:7)

    6. Greed in distinction from proper stewardship. (Prov. 27:23ff; Luke 16:11; 1 Tim. 5:8; 1 Thess. 4:11 etc.)

    7. sloth and lack of "ambition" in distinction from godly contentment (John 6:27; Ps. 37:7-8; 46:10; Phil. 4:11ff)

    1. Regarding #2 (Christian honor), I'm reminded of Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia.

    2. An example of honor and glory as self-worship would be the attitude that the Romans often had. I think of the scene from Ben Hur where Judah speaks to Pontius Pilate about Rome. Or the scene were Judah speak to Messala about Rome.

      Or the song Hall of Fame. Both take a natural God given desire for recognition and importance and turns (and twists) it into idolatry by taking away from the glory of God. Christian glory and honor comes from God and really results in Christians really possessing glory and honor. Yet, that glory and honor is a reflection of God's own glory and so doesn't diminish God's glory. Rather it redounds to God's greater glory.

    3. I take back what I said about the song "Hall of Fame". I suppose it can be interpreted to be a song about being the best one can be. The song goes on to say:

      " students, be teachers, be politicians, be preachers, be believers, be leaders, be astronauts, be champions, be truth seekers..."

      At the beginning it says, "You can talk to God, go banging on his door..." I suppose a Christian can apply that to importunate prayers (cf. Luke 11:1-10 esp. Luke 11:10).

      Also, a Christian could apply the phrase "Hall of Fame" to the the "Faith Hall of Fame" in Heb. 11 (cf. Isa. 56:5).

    4. Maybe a better song to illustrate my point is Irene Cara's song "Fame" (heh, I'm really dating myself).

  2. There's also another aspect: I *resent* you because you have something that I'd like to have (or would like to have something similar). In this sense it is "hating your brother without a cause". It seems this aspect is not captured completely by sense 2. you list.