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To some other character traits mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7


PART 1: ENVY (All passages except James 4:5):


  1. It is a characteristic of the wicked - of people in their "natural" (unsaved) condition - Romans 1:29
  2. It is a "deed of the flesh," opposed to the "fruit of the Spirit" - Galatians 5:21 (+ context)
  3. It is one of the "fruits" of the teachings & ways of false teachers - 1 Timothy 6:4
  4. It is a characteristic of life without Christ - of what we were before we were saved - Titus 3:3


  1. Because of it, religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus - Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10
  2. It can even influence the hidden motives of those who "preach" Christ - Philippians 1:15


  1. It is the result of first rejecting one's knowledge of God - Romans 1:29
  2. Those who have it will NOT inherit the kingdom of God - Galatians 5:21


  1. We MUST get rid of it (& other such characteristics) and grow up in our salvation - 1 Peter 2:1
  2. We MUST keep in step with (follow the leading & ways of) the Spirit, rather than being filled with characteristics such as envy - Galatians 5:25-26


How serious is envy? Is there envy in your heart? If so, what must you do about it? Is dealing with it optional (contrasted with being mandatory)? What are the consequences of not dealing with it?

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PART 2: ENVY in James 4:5

- varying interpretations on what James meant:


If you would compare several translations of this verse, you would discover that there are different opinions as to how this verse should be interpreted. The problem is due to two main factors:

  1. Even though James begins by saying, "Scripture says... ," he is not directly quoting Scripture. Rather, he is expressing a "theme" or "focus" that is found in Scripture.

  2. Certain parts of the verse can be legitimately interpreted in two ways: Does the word "spirit" refer to man's spirit, or to the Holy Spirit? And who is being envious - God or people?

Interestingly, there are two main interpretations of this verse, and BOTH of them agree with major themes found in the Word! We might not be completely sure which view James was thinking about when he wrote verse 5. But we can be certain that, with either view, we will have truth that is found in the Bible. We don't need to be afraid that we will be led into error!

VIEW #1: God wants our complete loyalty.

A person cannot follow both the ways of God and the ways of the world. Verse 4 describes those who attempt to do so, as being spiritually "adulterous." View #1 carries the theme of verse 4 into verse 5. In this case, verse 5 expresses a picture or illustration of a person (= God) who intensely longs for ("envies") the affections of his unfaithful spouse (= the people who claim to love God). In this view, "envy" is used in a good sense, since a person has a right to expect the undivided affections of his/her spouse. If we are like this (trying to follow both God and the world), we need to change our ways, and in humility (verse 6), turn back to God.

With this view, the general flow of thought through these verses is as follows:

Verse 4: You cannot love both God and the world.

Verse 5: God wants your complete loyalty.

Verse 6: If you humble yourself [& give God your complete loyalty], God will show grace/kindness to you.


With this view, the word "spirit" (in verse 5) can be interpreted as either the human spirit or the Holy Spirit:

IF Human spirit: "He (God) longs for our spirit (which he put in us)."

IF Holy Spirit: "His Spirit (which he put in us) longs for us."

VIEW #2: The human spirit is filled with envy.

With this view, the word "envy" is used in a bad sense. God made us perfect and upright (see Genesis 1& 2), but WE have turned to sin. (We can't blame God for our condition. Compare to Ecclesiastes 7:29)

This view considers verse 5 to be an explanation for why we have the tendency to do the things mentioned in verses 1-3: We desire things we don't have and pray with wrong motives because of the "envy" that is in our hearts. And this is the reason we need to humble ourselves before God (v. 6).

With this view, the general flow of thought through these verses is as follows:

Verses 1-3: You have evil desires and pray with evil motives. [= You are doing things the way the world would!]

Verse 4: Don't you realize that you cannot love both God (his ways) and the world (it's ways)?

Verse 5: You have an inherent tendency to desire (go after) the things of the world...

Verse 6: But if you humble yourself, God will show grace/kindness to you.


"The human spirit, which he (God) put in us, is filled with envy."


Both interpretations express truthful statements, and each complements the other: As View #2 says, we have a tendency to go after the world's ways. But as View #1 says, God wants our undivided loyalty.

Since both views are true, there is a third alternative we can choose: We can decide to just not "worry" about it, and to accept both views as expressing truths found in the Bible. And someday, when we see James in person, we can ask him which view he was specifically thinking about when he wrote verse 5!


What is your devotion to God like? Do you "flirt" with sin? What is God's reaction toward divided loyalties? What is God's reaction to you? [If your loyalties are divided, take some time to consider the seriousness of your situation. God gives you the opportunity to change - if you are willing to submit to his Word. Don't throw your opportunity away!]

Dennis Hinks © 1998

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