We can be envious of others’ possessions, lifestyle, qualities, station, even their so-called luck. While we look at what the Joneses have and who they are, we are missing what we have and who we are. Proverbs 14:30 says it this way.
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
but envy makes the bones rot.
I have envied so many others. I have coveted the families that other people have. People my age are enjoying their spouses and children. Some of my friends now have grandchildren. I have been so jealous of the money my friends have while I live paycheck to paycheck. I have begrudged those who travel and vacation. I have resented others’ good jobs. I was even envious of others’ health, beauty, and worst of all their spiritual gifts.
It was hurting me: it was feeding depression and anxiety. It was causing me to stop seeking God and begin seeking the stuff I didn’t have. My bones were rotting. In my time with the Lord, He revealed the envy I had to me and showed me what it was doing to me. I had to do something, but what?
Well, of course the first step in any problem is to pray. Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). The prayers of a righteous person has great power at its working (James 5:16). And whatever we ask in Jesus’ name, He will give us so that He will be glorified (John 14:13). An important part of prayer, one we often leave out is to listen to God’s side of the conversation. He reminded me of a few things and put me on the path to contentedness in Him. Now, I think there are some people He would simply choose to remove the envy from their hearts, but for me and for many, He knows the process is going to bring more good to me and perhaps to you, Reader.
How do I become contented? How do I stop wanting what I do not have? How do I develop contentedness in my life? We must recognize that envy is just as destructive as hatred, lying, and evil speech. It is in opposition to the person God means for us to be. It clashes with the image of Christ.
1 Peter 2:1-3 reads,
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The Lord is good! Have I forgotten the taste of that pure spiritual milk Peter refers to? And what does he mean by that? The author of Hebrews also referred to this milk.
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14).
It is the basic teaching, one receives when he is first saved, the Gospel, the simple foundations of Christianity. Sadly, many do not move beyond these teachings. They remain babies or young children in Christ, even after twenty years as a believer. Their salvation is merely “fire insurance.” The Spirit is quenched within them and to them He is a seal on their salvation, not a transformer of their lives. They refuse to let Him work, to recognize the power and authority They live a life in and of the world, seeking the same things as the world and dressing up for church on Sunday mornings, going to lunch afterward to practice gluttony and gossip. They return to the world and are not recognizable as Christians, except perhaps for the cross necklace or the church bumper sticker.
We are not meant to simply confess Jesus as Lord, but to walk, to move forward with Jesus as our Lord, to constantly and consistently be changing from who we used to be into who we are meant to be, that is a child of the Living God, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for his own possession (1 John 3:1, 1 Peter 2:9). And often, that transformation happens in the hard times, the suffering, or the losses we endure. Envy sometimes comes from thinking we shouldn’t be suffering while everyone else is living an “their best life.” But the believers’ best life is the result of our response to suffering. Romans 5:1-5 reads,
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The Holy Spirit will transform us if we let Him. God has given us freewill and he never takes that from us. Romans 8:9-17 in The Message says it this way,
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
12-14 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
There is nothing in our old life, nothing in the world for us that can outdo who we are meant to be, who we can be, and the amazing life God has for us as His sons and daughters. It’s not all rainbows and lollipops, but neither is life without Jesus. But with Jesus, with His Spirit leading us and working in us and through us, we are not alone and powerless through the hard stuff.
We are mistaken to imagine that some people lead these perfect trouble-free lives. That hard times have a purpose. If a person is not a believer, the troubles they face might bring them to Jesus. If a person is a believer, the hard times bring him closer to God, and work the amazing transformation from worldly person to spiritual person (Romans 8:28-29). The Spirit works in us to transform us into the image of Christ. If a person never struggles or suffers, it is because he has hardened his heart, he has chosen to never accept Christ and to never move toward who God created him to be.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
It is human to be jealous and jealousy breeds strife. But dissention is opposed to the unity we are called to as God’s very own, His bride and church. A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). We are not living in the flesh, the human way. We, Beloved, live in the Spirit! We have been told to rejoice! Whatever the circumstance, we can rejoice. That does not mean ignore the pain and not respond to the pain; it means that even in the sorrow we hold onto the joy of Christ, the hope of eternal life, and the faith that God will bring good from it. Paul said that whether he had just a little or more than enough, he had learned to be content. He said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
What is the secret to being contented in any situation? What is it Paul learned? Let’s look a little farther back in Philippians 4 and see what that secret might be. After entreating two women whom he says have labored beside him to further the Gospel to stop bickering and get back into unity with the rest of his fellow workers, he says this in verses 4-7,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things
First let’s address that discontendtedness had resulted in two fellow laborers bickering, and that disunity had disrupted the very important work of furthering the Gospel. That’s what envy does. Next, what does Paul say? Let your reasonableness, this word means fairness, moderation and equanimity or calm composure be known. How can we do that? We know the Lord is at hand, He is near both in position (He is with us) and in time (He is coming soon). We present that calmness as a witness to our faith in Jesus to be who He says He is, God Almighty. We don’t need to be afraid of the bad news, the trials, or the suffering. We have God who loves us, knows us, and has good plans for us on our side (Psalm 112:7, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29:11).
Then Paul says, don’t worry! And we react,, “easier said than done! How do we just not worry?” Well, Paul answers that as well. He says to pray about everything. Ask God to meet our needs and thank Him for His provision, His delivery of those needs. When we do that, we will not be anxious, we have a peace that people cannot understand, and that peace will stay with us and be real not just a mask we show off to the world.
In the next verses, Paul stays with this line of thought and presents in a way that says, take control of your thought life. Rather than worry, rather than consider what you might need, think you need, or want, how about think about all the good stuff?
Thanking God not only for what meeting our needs but for all of what He has given us in this life, is important to recognizing what it is we have. In my own walk with the Lord, I have once again gone back to making thanksgiving an important part of my prayer life and made myself accountable to appreciating my life by journaling my gratitude. This purposeful thankfulness and praise is a vital step in displacing envy with contentedness. Be aware as Paul was that the reason we can endure hunger and abundance and remain satisfied is because Paul knew “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19-20). God will meet every need and be glorified in doing so.
When we waste our time envying our neighbors, friends, sisters and brothers, we are not valuing or realizing the amazing abundance of what we have. God has given us so much! He has given Himself! He has made us coheirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)! He has provided our every need. When we delight in the Lord rather than covet the Jones’ green lawn, He gives us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).
God commanded us, “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). But, covetousness and the mistrust and resentment that grows from it are only human. We as humans have made excuses for discontentment to the point that we consider it not a flaw but a desirable attribute. But covetousness is greed and greed takes us farther from God. We do not live by the flesh, we do not live by our needs or basal desires, we live in the Spirit. We do not live by the laws of humanity but by the power of The LORD, He is I Am!
So, now that we realize we are not to be afraid of the bad news, the trials, or the suffering and we have all we need, we can move past the beginnings of our walk with Christ and move onto the rest of it. We can rejoice in our sufferings and be transformed and we can recognize the abundant life Jesus has given us, the freedom He has given us and find that we do not need to envy others at all. When we have hearts full of thankfulness and delight in the Lord, minds full of praise, hearts full of peace, and the Spirit of the Living God, there is no room for envy or bitterness.