A painful or resentful awareness of another's advantage joined with the desire to possess the same advantage. The advantage may concern material goods (Genesis 26:14) or social status (Genesis 30:1). Old Testament wisdom frequently warns against envying the arrogant (Psalms 73:3), the violent (Proverbs 3:31), or the wicked (Psalms 37:1;
Proverbs 24:1,Proverbs 24:19). In the New Testament envy is a common member of vice lists as that which comes out of the person and defiles (Mark 7:22), as a characteristic of humanity in rebellion to God (Romans 1:29), as a fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:21), as a characteristic of unregenerate life (Titus 3:3) and as a trait of false teachers (1 Timothy 6:4). Envy (sometimes translated jealousy by modern translations) was the motive leading to the arrest of Jesus (Matthew 27:18;
Mark 15:10) and to opposition to the gospel in Acts (Acts 5:17,
Acts 17:5). Christians are called to avoid envy (Galatians 5:26;
1 Peter 2:1).
Envy is sometimes a motive for doing good. The Preacher was disillusioned that hard work and skill were the result of envying another (Ecclesiastes 4:4). Paul was, however, able to rejoice that the gospel was preached even if the motive were envy (Philippians 1:15).
The KJV rightly understood the difficult text in
James 4:5, recognizing that it is a characteristic of the human spirit that it “lusteth to envy”. Contrary to modern translations, the Greek word used for envy here (phthonos) is always used in a negative sense, never in the positive sense of God's jealousy (Greek zealos). God's response to the sinful longings of the human heart is to give more grace (James 4:6). See Jealousy.