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What Does the Bible Mean by “Love Does Not Envy?”

In Paul’s enumeration of love in 1 Corinthians 13, he started with two descriptions of what love is; then, what follows is another list of what love is not, starting with “love does not envy.” God’s kind of love is always selfless in nature and expression, but envy is quite the opposite. 

The word for “envy” that Paul used here is translated from the Greek word zēloō, which means “to burn with zeal,” “to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, anger,” or “to desire earnestly.” These definitions clearly express that one who gives in to envy is overcome with intense and compelling motivation to selfishly pursue and acquire what others have. Envy is not necessarily synonymous with jealousy and covetousness, but all three have the same selfish nature, and sometimes they have been used interchangeably.

The earliest account of a person giving in to envy in the Bible is found in the Garden of Eden when the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. The serpent appealed to her by saying that if she ate it, she would become like God. Such a temptation may have triggered an eager desire in her to be like God. She probably began to feel discontented with what God had already given them and longed for more—to be like God (Genesis 3:1-6). Thus we see the fall of man when the whole world, in all generations, suffered as the first humans gave in to envy.

Sadly, it did not stop there. The first murder in human history also started from an envious heart, Cain murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-12). Cain envied how God favored Abel’s offering and gave in to his burning desire, despite God’s warning not to give in but to master his sinful emotion (Genesis 4:6-7). Envy turned to hatred and hatred turned into murder. This tells us that if one allows envy to overcome him/her, it can result in destructive and deadly consequences.

It is God’s will that we avoid the dark path of envy, jealousy, or covetousness. That is why, in Exodus 20:17, He commanded us not to be covetous of what others have. Proverbs 14:30 tells us that envy rots to the bone, which means that allowing envy to grow and consume our hearts can cause us to experience moral, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and even physical decay. Envy does not just hurt others or God but also hurts us.

“[14] But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. [15] This wisdom descendeth not from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish. [16] For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”

(James 3:14-16 KJV)

Envy is a problem of the heart and, if not addressed, will translate into words and action. It can be prevented by consciously and proactively choosing selfless love. We must learn to live with contentment and find satisfaction in God alone; to know that we brought nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6-7). We must also learn to find happiness when others succeed or prosper. Love means focusing on what pleases God and benefits others, not just on what one can gain for selfish reasons.

God wants His people to prosper. He cares deeply for our needs and even wants, so He is willing to give what is good for us. But he wants us to meet our legitimate needs and desires in legitimate ways, not illegitimately. For what can a man profit if he gains the world only to lose his soul? (Matthew 16:26). We must not trust in the desires of our hearts, for it is deceitful above all things. But trust in God that He is able to provide for what satisfies us and what truly benefits us.

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

(Romans 8:32 KJV)

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