A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Lent 2 – Envy

Rev. Doug Floyd

Lent 2 2023 – Envy
Rev. Doug Floyd
1 Peter 5:6-7

The Warner Brothers cartoon “Show Biz Bugs” opens with Daffy Duck arriving at the theatre in a taxi. He tells the driver that he is the star of the show, but as we look up at the marquee the name “Bugs Bunny” dominates the billing with Daffy Duck in small letters underneath. Then Daffy goes to his dressing room. As it turns out, his dressing room is simply the Men’s Room, but across the hall, Bug Bunny has his own star dressing room. Daffy is getting frustrated, but he is convinced the audience will like him more than Bugs. They hit the stage with a song-and-dance routine. The crowd goes wild. Daffy thinks their cheering for him, but they are cheering for Bugs. When Daffy takes a bow…crickets. After several attempts to beat out Bugs, Daffy decides to rig a xylophone so that it will blow up when Bug strikes a certain note. Bugs fail to hit the note and Daffy runs out to show him how it’s done. Of course, the xylophone blows up on Daffy. By the end of the routine, Daffy exclaims that he hates Bugs and is going to bring out an act he has kept back for a special occasion. Daffy drinks gasoline, nitroglycerin, gunpowder, Uranium, and a match. Daffy blows up and his spirit floats away even as the crowd cheers.

This is a perfect picture of envy. In fact, the cartoon was created to poke fun at the envy that saturates show business. Simply stated, “Envy craves what another possesses or desires to deny them what they have.”[1] Envy is not specifically focused on stuff like covetousness. It is focused on skills, on acclaim, on success. Envy views the world as a competition that is a zero-sum game. If Bugs Bunny wins then Daffy Duck loses. If my friend is asked to speak before a group, then I have not been asked to speak before a group.

Envy goes even further. In the words of Gore Vidal, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”[2] Envy can easily resent its peers and wish them ill. One of the most explicit images of envy onscreen is the film Amadeus. The story revolves around the all-consuming envy of Antonio Salieri. As a young man, he commits his life to God, asking that the Lord will make him a great composer. When a much younger Mozart appears, his skill and popularity so outshine Salieri that he is consumed with envy. Long after Mozart is dead, Salieri is still comparing himself to Mozart, and it is driving him mad with envy.

In the opening scene, Salieri is an old man committed to an asylum for his attempted suicide after claiming he killed Mozart. A priest comes to relieve his suffering and hear his confession. He plays one of his compositions and asks if the priest recognizes the song. No recognition. Salieri declares he wrote over 40 operas and his music was popular all over Europe. Then he plays a tune the priest recognizes. The priest is relieved when he recognizes the tune and exclaims, “You wrote that?” No. It was by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Salieri’s entire life is consumed with envy of Mozart’s skill and popularity. His self-worth is determined by Mozart’s success. This highlights one of the traits of envy. DeYoung writes that “envy depends on a sense of inferiority and a lack of self love.”[3] The person who envies feels inferior and may strike at the object through sarcasm or gossip or some other form of passive-aggressive attacks. Envy descends into what might be called “schadenfreude,” a German term that means “deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.”

In truth, envy does not even derive pleasure from another’s misfortune. It desires misfortune but that does not satisfy. As Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.”[4] Envy does not bring joy. Simple bitterness to the soul.

Have you ever heard the term “evil eye?” It is speaking about envy. The evil eye looks out at the world, resents that it has been overlooked, and desires destruction on the one whom it resent. Envy resents the person who has what it wants but it also resents God. “Why did you make me this way?”

“According to one confessional manual, envy betrays itself with a variety of symptoms: feeling offended at the talents, successes, or good fortune of others; selfish or unnecessary rivalry and competition; pleasure at others’ difficulties or distress; ill will; reading false motives into others’ behavior; belittling others; false accusations; backbiting (saying something bad, even if true, behind another’s back); slander (saying something bad, even if true, in the open about another); the initiation, collection, or retelling of gossip; arousing, fostering, or organizing antagonism against others; scorn of another’s abilities or failures; teasing or bullying; ridicule of persons, institutions, or ideals; and prejudice against those we consider inferior, who consider us inferior, or who seem to threaten our security or position.”[5]

Lord have mercy.

Years ago, I was worshipping the Lord at home and expressing my love for God. Instantly, pictures of several people came to mind. Do you love these people? I knew that I was deeply envious of their success in ministry. I felt like it reinforced my own sense of failure. Then the Lord pierced my heart. He helped me to see that I was not only jealous of their success, but I wanted them to fail or worse. I was terrified by the darkness of my own heart. The Lord convicted me and told me to pray for these people and bless in their success. In a few moments, I glimpsed the dark poison of envy.

We only experience envy with peers. If a coworker gets a promotion, envy might rear its head. If a good-looking girl walks in the room, some women may feel envy. If someone compliments a friend, envy may be stirred.

When we feel the need to speak evil of another person, we should be on our guard: envy may already have a grip. The challenge is that it can so easily become an ingrained habit, that we are not even aware it is envy. Be aware of feelings of resentment, the tendency to speak ill of another, or the secret delight in another’s failure. Envy opposes love toward God and our neighbor.

How do we change? I think of 1 Peter 5:6-7. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”[6] Or Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”[7]

This attitude of humility is not self-denigration. Rather, it is a form of trust. You must come to the place of trusting that the Lord created you and the Lord delights in you. Scripture is filled with reminders that the Lord has made you. Consider the creation story, after God creates male and female in His image, God blesses them and then declares creation is very good. We miss the deep sense of this word good. It can mean beautiful, just, pleasant, and more. The Lord designed you according to His perfect plan. In Philippians 1:6, Paul declares, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[8]

Your life has value and purpose and meaning in God’s perfect plan. Unhealthy comparison with other people will only blind you to gift that you already are. There is nothing wrong with seeing traits in other people that excel our own traits. We may learn from them and even ask them to mentor in certain areas. But we must not envy them.

When someone succeeds, gets the promotion, wins the prize, we should bless them and celebrate them and even give thanks to God. W. H. Auden puts it this way, “since all self-knowledge tempts man into envy,” you must “love without desiring all that you are not.”[9]

When we can freely rejoice in a peer’s success, we are free. Life becomes so much easier. We know that God is good and faithful, and He is the giver of all good gifts. Soon we discover He showers us with more gifts that we deserve and more gifts that we can imagine. Mother Teresa famously said, “If we could only remember that God loves [us], and [we] have an opportunity to love others as he loves [us], not in big things, but in small things with great love.”[10]

Today let us lay our envy on the altar and ask God to heal us and open our eyes to His great and faithful love. God delights in you and wants you to become fully you. By His grace, you are becoming the very gift of glory that He created you to be. Start rehearsing by pouring your life into the people around. May your words speak life over people and may your hands serve in love and kindness.

[1] Lindvall, Terry. Animated Parables (Theology, Religion, and Pop Culture) (p. 185). Fortress Academic. Kindle Edition.

[2] Lindvall, Terry. Animated Parables (Theology, Religion, and Pop Culture) (p. 190). Fortress Academic. Kindle Edition.

[3] DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices (p. 71). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Epstein, Joseph. Envy (New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities) (p. 1). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[5] DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices (p. 72). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 5:6–7.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 12:3.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 1:6.

[9] DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices (p. 81). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[10] DeYoung, p. 83.


  1. excellent message Rev. Doug and great reminder to always be in the mode of blessing. you are a true blessing to so many.

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