Near the beginning of his outline of love’s characteristics in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that “love does not envy or boast” (v. 4). This is an interesting comment to make, but several considerations show us why the apostle can make this statement.
Jonathan Edwards once defined envy as “a spirit of dissatisfaction and/or opposition to the prosperity and happiness of others.” Therefore, an envious heart plainly violates Scripture’s instruction on love. It reveals covetousness, that ungodly dissatisfaction with our estate and lust for that which belongs to others (Ex. 20:17). Envious people are unable to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). When we are envious of others’ blessings, we cannot take joy in their abundance, and we cannot truly love them or what our Father is doing in their lives.
Because our culture encourages and rewards envy, an untoward love for whatever is not rightfully ours clearly violates the rule that we not be conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2). Politicians, celebrities, and advertisers exhort us implicitly and explicitly to be jealous of those who seem to have more in the way of status, possessions, or power. Love that does not envy refuses to be jealous of others who are blessed in ways that we are not. It is content with the Lord’s provision in any circumstance.
Love also does not boast (1 Cor. 13:4). It is easy to become a cause for another person’s stumbling when we are prideful and ostentatious, for such behavior can provoke others to envy. Creating stumbling blocks is not an act of love (Rom. 14). Those who manifest godly love do not make their own achievements into idols, and they do not build up their self-esteem at the expense of service to others.
Of course, having a negative self-image and manifesting godly love are not the same thing. We are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), and we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 19:19). Caring for ourselves or realizing that we have dignity is not sinful. Actually, as God’s image-bearers, we may view ourselves highly if we do not view ourselves more highly than is deserved (Rom. 12:3). Viewing ourselves accurately, Paul also says in Romans 12:3, requires a sober analysis of ourselves. Having a love that does not boast demands honesty about our weaknesses, respect for others, and reverent awe as we live before the face of Him whose image we bear.
Envy is an easy sin to hide because we can keep our mouths shut about what we are feeling in our hearts when we see others get blessings we have been longing for. It is therefore important to be constantly considering our inward attitudes and confessing them before God and maybe even brothers or sisters in Christ whom we trust. Envy can lead to all manner of other sins, and so we must ever strive to keep it in check.