An old Russian fable tells of two dirt-poor farmers named Boris and Yuri. Boris decided to pray to the Lord for a cow so he could better feed his family and perhaps sell some of the milk. Night after night he prayed, “Lord please give me a cow.” Soon the Lord spoke to him and said, “I have heard your prayers and am granting your request.” Yuri was envious and also prayed to the Lord. Soon the Lord appeared and asked Yuri, “Do you also want a cow?” “Oh no, Lord, I want you to kill Boris’ cow!”

That fable is funny, but also very insightful with several applications. Envy comes to mankind in many ways. When one harbors envy (Jas 3:14), it can rot the bones (Pv 3:14) much like cancer. Envy is linked with many other sins: slander (Mk 7:22), malice (Tit 3:3), drunkenness (Gal a5:2), quarrels (1 Tim 6:4), selfish ambition (Jas 3:16), and deceit, hypocrisy, factions, etc, etc. Like cancer, it will often metastasize and could even lead to murder as it did in the case of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:4-8) and still does today (Rom 1:29-30).

Envy is a close synonym of jealousy. Envy is a desire for something possessed, awarded, or achieved by another. Jealousy is a feeling of resentment that another has gained something that one feels he rightly deserves. King Saul was certainly envious of David’s skills in battle and of his friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan (1 Sam 18:3, 7-8). He determined to kill David and chased him relentlessly for a long time but ultimately failed in his efforts. It appears that the Apostle Peter was somewhat envious of the Apostle John because of his special friendship with Jesus. He asked Jesus what would become of John after learning of his own fate (Jo 21:18, 21). Jesus had already told Peter that he would be the chief spokesman for the Lord’s church (Mt 16:16-20).

Without the proper attitude, we can also fall into the sin of envy. If we look around us, we can easily notice that others possess material and spiritual blessings that we don’t. One step to avoid this trap is to start each day counting and listing our own blessings and realizing where we could have been. We are dear children of God because of our acceptance and obedience of his commandments (Act 22:16). Our names are written in the Book of life (Php 4:3) (Rev 21:27). We have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who takes our prayers to the Father (Jo 16:23-24). We have the Holy Spirit of God living inside us to strengthen us (Eph 3:16). We each will be judged by what we have done with the gifts we have been given, not worrying about what others are doing with theirs (Rom 12:5-8) (Rom 14:12).

—Jim Bailey