Self-centeredness is the prevailing attitude of all sin. Ironically, when we have an unhealthy inward focus—when life revolves around our own interests and desires, we set ourselves on a course to self-destruct. Envy is fueled by selfishness. It involves a bitter, dissatisfied longing to possess things, achievements, or successes that belong to others. The Bible is adamant about envy’s self-destructive nature: “A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30, NKJV). Some translations state that envy is “like cancer in the bones” (NLT) or “like bone cancer” (GW).
The Hebrew word translated as “envy” in Proverbs 14:30 describes an intense and sometimes violent emotion or insatiable desire. The term is closely associated with jealousy, anger, and zeal. Bones refers to the status of the whole person. The bones are the seat of one’s health and strength. Thus, rottenness in the bones is a state of moral, spiritual, and physical decay. Nurturing an attitude of envy is rottenness to the bones because it is detrimental to a person’s body, mind, spirit, and soul. It is like a disease that eats away a person’s moral strength, weakens the body, and eventually leads to death. Elsewhere, the Bible affirms that our passionate emotions directly affect our physical condition. “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit,” states Solomon (Proverbs 15:13; see also Proverbs 15:30; 17:22; and 18:14).
The Bible allows for no doubt that envy is a sin that must be avoided (Romans 1:29; Titus 3:3; 1 Peter 2:1–2). The apostle Paul names envy among the “acts of the flesh” (ESV) or “desires of the sinful nature” (NLT) and warns “that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19–21, NLT). Jesus says that envy is a sin of the heart: “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:21–23, NLT).
James warns against harboring “bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14–16).
A person consumed with envy has no peace of mind or health in body or spirit. Envy is the opposite of contentment and tranquility. Paul tells Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:6–9, ESV).
Envy reveals a lack of trust in God. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews urges, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). If we place our hope and confidence in God, He becomes our “portion” (Psalm 73:26; 142:5) and everything we need (2 Peter 1:3–4). Like David, we shall want for nothing because our cup overflows with goodness and mercy throughout our lives as we live in God’s presence forever (Psalm 23). If we seek the Lord and delight ourselves in Him, He gives us the desires of our hearts, and we lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10; 37:4).
Envy divides people and breaks up families (Luke 15:25–32; Genesis 37:4–11), but love is patient, kind, and does not envy (1 Corinthians 13:4). Envy is rottenness to the bones because it signals a lack of love and an absence of light. God calls us to “live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8) and “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:12–14).