Good envy, Bad envy and Facebook envy


Envy is a powerful force. It can drive you to good, evil or despair.

Here is how defines envy:

 Envy – a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.

We generally think of envy in a very negative light and with good reason.  The bible includes envy in a number of sin lists that you don’t want to see yourself on like here and here.

Galatians 5:21 even says that if envy characterizes your life, you will not be a part of God’s kingdom.  That ought to get our attention!

Yet despite our purely negative view, there is good envy, bad envy and even Facebook envy.

Good envy.

Some envy is actually good.  It brings about a good result.  It gets us up off the couch and compels us to action.

In Romans 11:13-14, Paul says, I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”

The idea was that Paul hoped that the Jews would see the wonderful impact of Jesus in the Gentiles and desire it for themselves.  That is good envy and it can be present in our lives as well.  It’s good envy when we see something that is exemplary and beneficial in the life of another and are moved to take holy action to obtain it.

When I was in Seminary, Ramesh Richards, founder of Reach International was one of my professors.  As he spoke of God, his ministry around the world and his walk with Jesus, I was overwhelmed with good envy.  I set up a meeting with him and told him that I didn’t think I had the kind of spiritual life that he had, but I wanted to know how to get it.  When envy drives you to pursue something of worth in a holy way, that is good envy.

Bad envy.

When we think of envy, it usually falls into this category and it can be destructive.

James 3:16 says “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Envy can drive us to do things that we ought not do in order to obtain what we do not have.

Sometimes that is burdensome debt, stealing or an unhealthy devotion to work in the pursuit of stuff.

Sometimes that is moral compromise in the pursuit of a relationship.

Sometimes that is the  concession of integrity in the pursuit of power or position.

Whatever the object of envy, it leads to evil practices that make life ugly and messy.  So many of our bad choices…so much of our pain can be traced back to a single catalyst.  Envy.

Well, there is one more…modern form of envy.

Facebook envy.

Facebook envy is a well documented phenomena in which social media creates envy and despair.  This recent study links Facebook to depression.  The reason is simple.  On Facebook, everyone seems to be living a better life than you.  They have better jobs. They are going better places.  They have better relationships. They are living a better life.  It’s what I call Facebook perfect.  On Facebook, everyone has a perfect life.  They are always smiling, always laughing, always winning.  Their life is Facebook perfect.

This leads to despair because we are not always smiling, laughing and winning.  Sometimes our life sucks.

Guess what?

Facebook perfect is a mirage.  You didn’t see that the happy family was arguing five seconds before that perfect picture at the beach.  You don’t see that the guy with the 1966 Cobalt Blue Shelby Mustang is drowning in debt.  You didn’t see the kid’s baseball team was in tears after they lost last weeks game.

Everyone lives a good life on Facebook.

Everyone struggles in real life.

Facebook perfect isn’t real.  Maybe I’m sick, but I find some comfort knowing that your life isn’t perfect either.

So what do we do with all this envy?

Listen to the words of the Bible’s wisdom literature, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” -Proverbs 14:30

Whether it is envy that comes from the slanted perspective of Facebook or just a good old fashioned desire for what you do not have, envy will hurt you.  It can’t really have any other result.  It leads us places that we don’t want to go in our hearts, in our minds and in our actions.

One of the most fundamental questions that we ever have to answer is “where will I find life?”   The root of envy is trying to find the answer to that question in the things others possess but that we lack.  The only source of life, joy and happiness is Jesus Christ.  We have to turn to Jesus and affirm that we believe what he said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” 

You could gain the world and post it on Facebook for all to see, but it will not give you what Jesus can give you.

If you must envy…envy the good and strive for it.  Find someone that is living an admirable life for Jesus.  Don’t let it be a spotlight on what you lack.  Let it be a vision of your future.  Learn how they do it.  Pray for it.  Work at it.  Live in hope and peace as you pursue Jesus.  That is where life is.

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