I think we all have that one friend, co-worker, or family member who insists on being annoyed that anyone else has anything good going on for them. Do you know what I’m talking about?
This condition is called “envy” and it is really pretty unseemly and downright ugly!
But I think if we’re all honest, then we know that we exhibit lots of envy in our lives too. So that means that our behaviors, words, and attitudes make us pretty ugly to others too. (Did you see what I did there…”pretty ugly”…get it!?)
Envy Invades Us All
Recently my wife and I were having a conversation and I was talking about someone that we both know. Everything in his life has seemingly just come together without much effort while many things in my life have taken great struggle and persistence. I went on and on and eventually I veered off into envy territory. I started saying things like “Well, if I were him…” and “It would be nice if my life were as easy as his…”
My guess is that this story resonates with you. Envy is real and its reach extends to each one of us.
The Impact of Envy
What’s so bad about envy? Some people argue that envy doesn’t really hurt anyone, so why would God tell us not to envy what our neighbors have (cf. the 10 commandments)?
Well, I think there are two reasons, at least:
- Envy is a sign that we can’t be content with what we have. Envy is primary side effect of the disease known as “I wish I had that other stuff over there.” Honestly, envy communicates loudly that our desire for things we don’t have trumps our desire for God and his will in this world. And I’m pretty convinced that it is envy that drives our desire for more stuff, more stuff, and more stuff. If someone else has it, then I have to too!
- Envy impacts the people around us. Check out John 4.1-2: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.” Do you see it? The envy of the Pharisees about who was more popular led to Jesus leaving Judea and returning to Galilee. Their envy impacted Jesus’ plans. The same is true in our worlds — our envy impacts the people around us.
So what’s the answer to envy? Well, I don’t think there’s a quick fix.
Honestly, I think we have to start by being totally satisfied with God and God alone. If we lost it all but still had him, would we be okay? Would we be happy? Or are we so tied to our stuff and relationships that we can’t exist without them?
A second area to work on would is being content with what we have (cf. Philippians 4). Do we really need more shoes, more gadgets, more square footage, and more fame? Will it ever be enough?
And a third way to combat envy would be to surround ourselves with community, the kind of community that will love us, correct us, encourage us, and hold us accountable. So when we start exhibiting signs of envy, they can call us on it and help us change.
Lastly, a fourth way would be to pray. We need to ask God to help us. We can’t do this on our own — we’ll always default back to envy. We need the internal power that only God can provide through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.
What do you think? How big of a problem is envy and what can we do about it? Let me know in the comments below.