You’ve seen them before.
It’s the person at your job everyone loves to hate. Everything always goes right for them. They get the promotion, have the biggest salary and the perfect family, and just returned from a two-week vacation.
Do you have that picture in your mind yet? Good!
Now, imagine you’re on your way to work and notice a police officer giving someone a ticket on the shoulder of the road. You look again and discover that the person getting the ticket is THAT person from your job. What are you feeling inside right now? Do you smile and whisper to yourself, “Got ‘em!”?
Welcome to the wonderful world of envy.
What is envy?
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” (Galatians 5:25-26)
Envy is resenting God’s goodness in others’ lives and ignoring God’s goodness in our own life. In today’s society, envy is encouraged. Look at commercials: Many of them have nothing to do with the actual product. The product they’re actually selling is envy. They’re subliminally saying, “Buy our product and you will be envied! You’ll be the envy of everybody else!”
Economists and sociologists all agree that people will buy inferior products if the products are expensive and project to the world that you are wealthy and you can afford it. They call this conspicuous consumption. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a good or bad product. If it has a certain name on it, it implies we can show off our wealth, status, and power—and we will buy it simply to make other people envy us. We work hard to be envied.
So how do we tame envy? How do we live at peace in the middle of competition?
1. Stop comparing.
“Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (2 Corinthians 10:12)
In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul says that if I’m comparing myself to somebody else, it’s unproductive! There is always somebody better than me, so no matter what, I’ll get discouraged. At the same time, there is always somebody that I’m better than, and I’ll get full of pride. Either way, I lose.
I personally don’t compare myself to other people. Comparing is the root of envy. If you’re going to stop envy, you’ve got to break it by stopping the mindset of comparing.
2. Be content.
“We’re grateful for what we’ve already got, but we’re so busy worrying about what we don’t have; we don’t enjoy what we do have.” (Ecclesiastes 6:9)
It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else. There is a myth behind envy that says I must have more to be happy. This is far from the truth. Happiness has nothing to do with achievements or acquisitions. It has to do with accepting your uniqueness while rejoicing in what you love to do.
We’re content when we know that God has provided all that we need for our happiness, not for tomorrow or next year, but for right now. When we can understand this, then we have true happiness.
So should you have ambition, goals and desires? Of course you should. You can admire something somebody else has and not envy it. You can even say, “I’d like to have that one day,” and not envy it. Envy is when you say, “I wish he didn’t have it, because I don’t.” You resent it because he’s got it and you don’t. That’s envy.
Where are you struggling with envy today?
© 2016, Clarence E. Stowers, Jr. All rights reserved. Originally published at www.clarencestowers.com.
Clarence Stowers is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Chicago, Illiniois. He has been in full-time ministry for 20 years.