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I have been doing some soul-searching. Reading Sinclair Ferguson’s Love Came Down at Christmas has made me ask myself a number of questions with disconcerting answers. Here’s one of them: Are you jealous of somebody?
It’s easier to be transparent with ourselves if we’re reading a book. No one’s looking (save God himself), and so we can lay ourselves out for examination.
So, here was my answer: “Yes! I’m jealous of anyone who gets to write full-time! I’m jealous of every ‘successful’ writer.” Writing full-time has been my childhood dream, and getting to publish several books has only made the dream more tantalizing. So, every time I see a book come out that hits the top of the charts, I feel a prick of discontentment that roles into complaint.
- “Oh, come on! I could do that!”
- “Look at how many Amazon reviews that person has! And he probably isn’t even trying!”
- “Everyone is buying that book, really?! Maybe I’ll call my next book, Boy, Wash Your Face or The 7 Habits of Highly Spiritual People.”
- “I could write a thriller. Instead of The Reckoning, I’ll call it The Awakening . . . “
My friends, envy is embarrassing. It brings out the hideous in our hidden, the selfish in our secrecy. But it’s also revealing. It distinguishes our real desires from our pretended ones. I set these thoughts out for you in hopes that you might be able to unearth your own envy. (Spoiler alert: it’s not going to be pretty.)
But do you know what the antidote is for envy? Love. You might expect it to be contentment, but contentment is a garment for the heart, covering and insulating what we long to possess most: love. You have to be content with something, and that something, by God’s design, is love.
In other words, if you’re envious of others, that’s a love problem. Taking myself as an example, my envy of successful authors reveals my lack of love for them and the unique work God is doing through them. By being jealous of what they have, I am being spiteful of who they are. We don’t like to admit that because it throws too much light on our sinfulness. But it’s true. Envy is a love problem.
And the Christ of Christmas is the solution. Christ did not even envy his own divinity (Phil. 2:6)!! He didn’t count equality with God something to be “grasped,” something to grip, something to strive after with a jealous heart (unlike his nemesis, Satan, who has always wanted to be in God’s place). That truth is so far beyond us that it’s hard to talk about. But just imagine that for a moment. The Son of God was not envious of the greatest thing: divinity, God himself (with whom he shared the divine essence, along with the Spirit). The mystery is dizzying! And do you know why he wasn’t envious? Because God is love (1 John 4:8), the antidote of envy. You see, though the reasoning is circular, God cannot be what he is not. Love cannot be envy.
And what did this look like in Christ’s own life? There are many examples, but consider just one, perhaps the greatest one. Jesus showed the absence of envy by demonstrating his own selfless love for others. He told his followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We might say, “lesser envy has no one than this, that he gives himself fully to others.” And that’s exactly what Christ did.
If you’re envious of others (and we all are), the problem isn’t contentment. The problem is love. Strive to love those whom you envy, and your heart will conform, by the Spirit’s working, to the image of Christ, who envied no one that we might live envy-less lives.