It Does Not Envy.
‘Two neighbours came out together to tender their petitions to the god Jupiter,’ describes one of Aesop’s tales entitled “Greed and Jealousy.” The two wanted their heart’s requests to be granted. The one neighbour was full of greed, the other consumed by envy. As the fable goes, Jupiter granted that each might have their request on the condition that the god would also give the alternate neighbour double the first one’s request.
The greed-filled neighbour began by praying for a room full of gold. The deity provided it and, as promised, furnished the other with two rooms full of the same. Now it was the envious neighbour’s turn. Envy not only covets, it cannot bear to think of another having more pleasure than itself. So, in spite of the two rooms of gold now at his disposal, the man devoured by envy prayed to have one of his own eyes blinded. What kind of request was that? It was an entreaty of a man ruled by envy to ensure that his neighbour would never be able to enjoy the beauty of his single room of gold.
“Envy,” explains author Chris Webb (“God-soaked Life”), is an example of “misdirected love. (Envy) can’t abide the idea of being exceeded by others.” While Aesop’s fable describes the extremity of one man’s envy against another, envy also insinuates itself into our lives in quieter, less obvious ways. It camouflages itself so that we are slow to recognize it, loath to acknowledge it and to do whatever it takes to remove its influence over us.
When we caution a friend to avoid certain new opportunities, we may be expressing envy by attempting to foil their success. When we share with others intelligence regarding the weaknesses of a common friend, envy may be our hidden motive. When we view others’ excellences with criticism or bitterness and are secretly happy to see them fall, envy is at the root of our reaction. For some, envy expresses itself in purposeful endeavors to discredit even God Himself. But as in Aesop’s fable, envy always consumes and eventually destroys its host.
The ‘Love Chapter’ of I Corinthians 13 is God revealing to you and me the tendencies of the human heart. It reveals the parameters of His idea of love—love that is directed in a uniquely non-destructive way. So while the Apostle Paul has begun his text with the placid phrases, “Love is patient, love is kind,” he now moves to aim his pen into the territory of our innate human vices, beginning with envy. Envy is love twisted inward. Envy is submitting to a greater disposition toward self than toward others. Envy wants self to rule supreme, and all others to be lesser.
But godly wisdom coaches us to see envy for what it is and to deal with it as with a mortal illness. As the Apostle Paul puts it in another epistle, envy arises out of “foolish(ness), disobedien(ce), dece(ption) and enslave(ry) (to) all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Those are hard truths to hear. But there’s more. He goes on to present the means of dealing with envy in our lives. Here it gets very personal; not everyone is willing to get so personal, so relational. He tells us we must embrace Christ’s redeeming grace and mercy, admit we’ve practiced a warped version of love and instead accept Christ’s version. He explains we need to make use of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us rebirth, renewal, and does a slow but complete clean-up in our lives.
Then we begin a process of learning a new kind of love, love arising out of the infinitely complete love of God. This love is called wise because it accounts for infinite reality and results in true human fulfillment in relationship with God and others. It “is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
So let’s take a deep breath and make a mental note to be alert to envy this week. Let’s ask God for eyes opened to our own envious thoughts, maybe even words and actions. Let’s acknowledge our sin, recognize the grace of Christ that heals us, and nip in the bud every bit of envy that tries to entangle us. God is faithful and wants to work in us the kind of love that Jesus’ life expresses. It’s the kind of love by which a human being like you and me can be transformed. It’s God’s love.
(Photo Credit: By Agnico-Eagle – Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16231250)