Theagenes of Thasos, an ancient Greek Olympian from the 5th century B.C., was renowned for his extraordinary strength. He became distinguished in every kind of athletic contest, and gained numerous victories at the Olympian, Pythian (Delphi), and Isthmian (Corinth) games. He was said to have won 1300 crowns in the games and came to be known as The Prince of Wrestlers.
The Greek traveller and geographer Pausanias, in his work The Description of Greece, recounted a rather curious incident in Greek history. It seems that a rival wrestler of Theagenes was so envious that he could not be consoled in any way. After Theagenes died, a statue of him was erected in a public place. His envious antagonist went out every night and wrestled with the statue, until one night he threw it over. The statue fell on him and crushed him to death.
What a graphic picture of how envy destroys! Envy crushes and kills. Of Joseph’s brothers, Stephen declared “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him” (Acts 7:9). The word “envy,” by definition, simply means “to feel displeasure at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to fret or grieve one’s self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account” [Webster’s 1828 Dictionary]. Most would liken envy to jealousy, but it is much more. Envy is jealousy on steroids!
Envy goes beyond jealousy in the sense that it causes one such despair at the happiness of others that the envious person wishes ill-will or misfortune on another because of the good that one has, which the envious person does not and/or cannot have.
Envy may rear its ugly head in teenagers who desire the popularity, praise and athletic prowess their peers possess but they do not. We sometimes see such envy in youth simply because one’s best friend began to spend more time with other people! Christian adults must especially be aware not to allow envy to enter their lives. How easy it is to be envious of the coworker who gets the promotion when “I should have gotten it,” or the neighbor who has the house, boat, car, etc., which “I want but cannot afford.”
Envy causes one to hate. Envy in one’s heart will cause them to despise and hate another so desperately that they wish them misfortune, and in worse cases, causes the misfortune to take place. Take time to read in your Bible just how often misfortune and even murder follows envy. Joseph was sold out of envy (Gen. 37:11). Jesus was murdered out of envy (Matt. 27:18). Paul was persecuted and cast into prison out of envy (Acts 13:45).
Christians should never be envious of others, but rather, “rejoice with them that do rejoice” (Rom. 12:15). Paul admonished, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:24-26). Whether envy ever burns in our hearts to such a degree that it causes us to hurt others or not, it is certain that a heart full of envy will destroy itself. An envious person will waste his life and his energy desiring what he does not have and what he cannot obtain. Beware and do not be crushed by envy.
“Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long” (Prov. 23:17).
“A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30).