In the last post, we talked about the seriousness and root cause of envy. Today, it's time to tie the story together with the third piece of a three part series... First, a little recap from last time.
Reading that a coveter is equivalent to an idolater made some light bulb go off in my brain. And though I’m no Bible scholar, it seems clear that envy and idolatry are entirely intertwined.
Suddenly my problem made perfect sense. The root cause of my envy?
If idolatry is my problem, I wondered, what is my idol?
Not more than a few seconds passed, and the answer to that question was clear.
I have a very, very well-defined idea of what I want my future to hold. That’s problem #1. I like to believe that I will react well if God has very different plans from mine. However…I’m not quite sure if that will be the case. That’s problem #2.
This vision of the life I hope to live five years from now has become so strong that it has literally become my idol. This “dream” is not something I simply look forward to—it is the platform on which I rest my fulfillment. I’m scared of missing out on these plans that I have laid out, all nice and organized and perfect. And now, whenever I see someone currently living this life that I want, I get jealous. Simple as that.
That’s where the envy comes into play.
I’m only envious that other people are living my so-called “ideal” life because they have what I idolize. They have the very thing that I think would ensure my happiness and satisfaction. And that’s where I’ve gone wrong.
I love what Tim Keller shares in his work titled Counterfeit Gods. He writes, “If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol” (xix).
And that is exactly what my future became for me—my means for happiness, meaning, and identity. It became my idol.
You see, if my future were not my idol, I could appreciate the season of life that I am in while simultaneously appreciating that of those around me. If my future were not my idol, I could trust that God is not trying to rob me of a beautiful and fulfilling life. If my future were not my idol, I could look forward to what lies ahead, whether my current plans align with His or whether His prove to be entirely different than anything I currently have in mind.
But my future remains my idol none-the-less.
I understand that it would be better if I could simply stop idolizing what I know will never fulfill me. Easier said than done. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything about it, which leads to the second question posed in my previous post: How on earth do I get rid of the envy I feel towards those who have what I wish belonged to me?
After listing a variety of sins in Ephesians chapter five—sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking—Paul provides one action to do in place of them all.
“Let there be thanksgiving” (verse 4).
As written in the ESV study notes of my Bible, thankfulness combats foolish talk and crude joking as “the positive way to speak” (2270). However, “it also counteracts covetousness” (2270).
Though it seems almost oversimplified, thankfulness is the obvious solution to envy. To be envious is to be discontent with what you have. It is to want what another person has that does not belong to you—and to be resentful of that person for their possessions or advantages. As mentioned above, thankfulness counteracts covetousness. Thankfulness allows you to view yourself and your circumstances from a positive point of view. It leaves no room for resentment towards others—because how can we feel bitter towards another if we are overwhelmed with gratitude for what has already been given to us?
Quite frankly, if jealousy and thankfulness were placed on a scale, they’d be on entirely opposite ends. Our goal is to counteract one of the extremes (jealousy) with the other (gratitude).
So, here’s the deal. Next time you begin to wish you could have the possessions or family or appearance or talents or personality or life or [you fill in the blank] of another—stop.
Stop, and give thanks.
As we’ve determined, my idol is my plans for the future. I’m learning to apply this “thankfulness tactic” to combat the envy I feel towards others who have the life I think I want. I’ve had to be intentional about expressing my gratefulness to God for my current life situation. This focus helps me to see that what I’m experiencing today is preparing me for more than I can imagine one, five, or twenty years down the road. What it’s preparing me for…I don’t know. But I’m learning a lot in this stage of life by going to college and working and interacting with people of all different ages. There is plenty to be thankful for in all of that.
I can’t say that I have this figured out perfectly—far from it, actually.
But I’m finding that thankfulness provides a fresh and much-needed perspective that I didn’t know I needed (or even wanted). This perspective helps me get rid of the negative lens through which I used to see a sizeable portion of my life. It allows me to appreciate what others have and not be resentful towards them for having it.
If you can think of something or someone you’re envious of, why don’t you give it a try?
It may feel as though all that could take away your envy is to acquire whatever it is that you are envious of. But the thing is, we will always be discontent. We will always want more. If we rest our satisfaction and happiness on some type of material or immaterial thing apart from God, that “thing” will come up short, and we will go about our lives completely unfulfilled.
But it doesn’t end there.
As Tim Keller writes, “The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one. The Living God, who revealed himself both at Mount Sinai and on the Cross, is the only Lord who, if you find him, can truly fulfill you, and, if you fail him, can truly forgive you” (xxiv).
Join me in turning to the true, Living God. He is worthy of our worship and our gratitude, every hour of every day.
Any time you find yourself envious…jealous…covetous of something or someone, let that feeling fuel you to do what’s radically unusual and completely unnatural but nothing short of life-changing.