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Jesus overpowers your envy
Gore Vidal is recorded saying, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Envy deceives us with a powerful lie, but there is a better story out there.
You know how it is with teenage boys and electric guitars.
Well, that was me as a teenager. Obsessed. Fanatical. And if I do say so myself, pretty good. I might have been too young for tattoos, but when I plugged in and opened the garage doors wide, I brought heavy metal to the neighborhood. And my friends all knew it. At least, they did until one day—when, just as I was midway through one of my sidewalk performances, one of my friends spoke up.
“Do you know Joe?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so. Why?”
“Oh, man, well, you should,” my friend replied. “He plays all the parts that you can play. But better. And you know how there are all those parts that you can’t really play? Well, Joe can play them all. And he can play them fast.”
So I stepped out of my garage and walked the few blocks over to Joe’s house. And my friend was right. Joe could play them all. Every single note. He could play so fast my eyes could barely keep up with his fingers.
That day a little bit of me died.
The power of envy
What I found out for myself outside Joe’s garage was this: envy is a profoundly powerful thing. It may be the very thing fueling your efforts right now.
But envy? Really? Isn’t that what those shallow city socialites deal in? How can it apply to regular people like you and me? Even those of us who once struggled with envy can claim to have grown out of it. Yet ask yourself this: How often do you feel a small stab of pain in your heart when someone else in your circle of influence succeeds? The news of an engagement, the announcement of a pregnancy, the photos of a rewards ceremony, or that person’s perfect life. Don’t we all wince in some way when others succeed?
Envy is a profoundly powerful thing. It may be the very thing fueling your efforts right now.
Okay, perhaps you don’t throw parties when someone fails; maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe you don’t necessarily want them to fail; you just don’t want them to succeed more than you.
You’re not alone.
The Bible details a long history of actions motivated by envy. In fact, envy lies behind the first recorded human crime. Adam’s two sons Cain and Abel both made offerings to God, but Cain’s sinful, self-sufficient attitude ruled out the possibility of God accepting his sacrifice. So Cain got mad, received a warning from God, but gave in to his envy-fueled rage by killing his brother (Gen. 4:1–16).
The Bible details a long history of actions motivated by envy. In fact, envy lies behind the first recorded human crime.
Most of us don’t have literal blood on our hands, but envy and its cousins jealousy and covetousness are common to all. Each of them shares the same root: covetousness wants the thing in the neighbor’s hand, jealousy desires to be the neighbor, and envy wants to take away whatever it is that the neighbor has in his or her hands.
What envy resents
I don’t get envious when I go to see a baseball game at Dodger Stadium. I don’t struggle with those moments of inner death when one of my friends bags a medal in a running race or wins a sporting event of some kind. Why? The answer is because I’m not really the “sporting” type. I say things like, “Good for them… this is fun… I have no desire to do what they do.” No, the temptation toward envy doesn’t usually come in regard to those to whom you don’t relate, but in regard to those you do.
Envy is often linked to status. When we encounter another’s success in an area that we value, that’s when things can get messy. If we value wealth, beauty, skill, influence, or reputation, then it stands to reason that when we encounter someone who is praised for his or her wealth, beauty, skill, influence, or reputation, we will pay attention. And when that person is someone we identify with—most often a peer or member of our professional or social circle—then the temptation of envy presents itself. Not that it’s a sin to notice someone else’s job promotion, perfect abs, or marital bliss. It’s what we start to tell ourselves after we’ve noticed it that gets ugly.
When we encounter another’s success in an area that we value, that’s when things can get messy.
Let’s be clear: envy isn’t just the knee-jerk reaction to the success of someone you relate to in an area you value.
It’s Cain and Abel all over again. Envy means we resent the success of another.
Envy does not just leave us feeling bad. We become its slave, paying out the prices it demands. So we toil to bring in more money, we amass debts to fund the lifestyle, we push ourselves harder to make certain goals, and we cover up those parts of us that don’t fit the plan. We’re not out to enjoy life anymore or even merely invest in a career—we’re creating and sustaining a reputation, an identity… a legacy. But those who appear better off always threaten to derail our plans.
Tell yourself a better story
So much of envy is tied in with the stories we choose to tell about ourselves. “I deserve this,” “I don’t deserve that,” and so on. For the recovering person struggling with envy, it is vital to learn how to tell a different and much better story. When you’re standing outside the equivalent of Joe’s garage (whatever that is for you), hearing him shred through numerous incredible guitar solos, it’s important to have something new to say to yourself.
1. Remember the doctrine of saving grace.
You’ve been rescued from sinful, lustful desires, and even though you deserve hell, God gave you heaven.
2. Remember the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
God gave you new power, new strength, and new desires by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you trust in Christ, you have the Spirit dwelling in you. He changes you from the inside out. That’s the only way to truly conquer envy.
3. Remember the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
Remember that God distributes gifts and abilities as he wills. So when you see someone with something that you want, tell yourself that God gave him or her that gift, and that he’s given you another gift or ability for his own purposes. Internalize that deep down, and remember that God’s love toward us is not measured by the amount of gifting or ability we have. It’s measured on the cross of Christ.
4. Remember the doctrine of the church.
As the body of Christ, we’re all one, all on the same team, each one of us with a job to do. When it comes to the church, connection is better than competition any day of the week. Hear the words of Jesus calling:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30 NASB)
Drop the mask and repent
Our responsibility is to approach Jesus and accept the peace and rest he gives us. We cannot be satisfied with anxious, bitter, or raging souls; instead we must accept nothing less than the pursuit of God-given peace.
We need to drop the mask, call envy what it is, confess it, repent of it, and embrace the full, beautiful truth of all the goodness God gave us in the gospel.
This post is an adapted excerpt from Better: How Jesus Satisfies the Search for Meaning, by Tim Chaddick, copyright © David C. Cook, 2013. Pick up a copy of Better to see how Jesus answers the questions of your heart.