This year, our church’s focus is on living life together. Over the past several weeks, we have heard sermons on hospitality, prayer, and suffering. In reality, these three sermons are just a small portion of all that our church is doing to encourage us to live life together. The degree to which we are following this biblical teaching is represented by an emphasis on spending more time with more people, and enjoying the process of getting to know them. However, we must recognize that there exists potential for a negative side effect of this – envy. Many of us will readily confess, and can personally relate, to wanting things that we do not have. Therefore, we are careful to realize that living life together may sometimes fuel those thoughts of envy.
Our Tendency to Envy
In some cases, a visit with another couple/family may reveal that they have the exact kind of house that we would like, or maybe they drive the car that we would really like to drive. They could have a relationship with their children that we wish we had, or maybe we envy the relationship that they have with each other. Once these thoughts enter our mind, it does not take very long for them to grab hold and build into much deeper, and even sinister, thoughts. For example, have you ever said to yourself:
- “I would be happy if I had that car.”
- “I would be happy if my kitchen were stocked like hers.”
- “I would be happy if I were married to her husband (or his wife).”
God was well aware of our tendency to envy; the tenth commandment reads, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). We are placed by God in the very midst of community; He designs us to live in community. But, He also very clearly explains that we are not supposed to envy the other members of our community. So, as we live life together, how can we minimize our struggles with envy, and how do we deal with it quickly when it occurs?
Three Practical Suggestions for Avoiding Envy
1. Remember that friendship is about service and ministry
Friendship, at its core, is not about you getting your needs met.
Consider the married couple, who long ago realized that during their time of dating and engagement, it was really easy to view the other person as the one who brought happiness. We wanted to be with our future spouse because it was fun, enjoyable, and it made us feel good. Now take a look years into the marriage; there comes a time, along the marital path, for a sudden realization that the other person does not always make us happy (for some, the realization may have come early on). In fact, sometimes our spouse can irritate the fire out of us. This sudden realization of a misdirected happiness now becomes a critical turning point, a moment of clarity in marraige – we agreed to serve, and we agreed to sacrifice, so that the other person might be helped or encouraged.
In many ways, this example through marriage can be viewed like your friendships. You must realize that you are there to encourage your friends. Remember, you have an important place in the life of someone else. Scripture again and again teaches that each of us contributes something valuable to one another. Thus, put your energy and focus on how you can serve your friend, not on thinking that what your friends have would make you happy.
2. Consider that God has given you the stewardship he wanted you to have
A second helpful reminder is that you have to steward well with all the things that God has given you. In other words, you would serve yourself well to think that maybe one of the reasons that God has not given you more is that you might not be able to be very godly with it. Thus, God has withheld certain things that you might like because He understands that you would make idols out of them.
3. Repent and focus on Jesus
If you have struggled thinking that you would be happy if only you had ________, then please let me encourage you to repent. Joy and satisfaction only come from a meaningful relationship with your Creator and Redeemer. Jesus took the wrath of God on your behalf so that you would have all things in Jesus. The truth of the matter is this: the house, the car, the other person, or what they have will not make you happy. The pursuit of those things could ruin your life. Instead, repent of your envy and look to Jesus.
When your relationship with Jesus is the place where you find joy and satisfaction, you will discover that you can serve your friends without coveting anything that they have.