As I sat down to write about envy this week, I seriously had to ask myself, “What is it about envy that makes it so unloving?” I realized that to properly understand the relationship between love and envy, understanding Paul’s purpose of writing must be grasped—it is the unity of the church and the Church. One could ask many questions at this point, including “why is the church’s unity so important?” or “Really? My envy affects the unity of the global Church?” The church’s unity is vital for the proclamation and spreading of the gospel. That is why love matters. And that truth gets us a little closer to why envy matters, why it’s so unloving, and why it affects the unity of the Church.
James (remember Jesus’ brother?) makes a solid case that envy’s root is pride, that is, our own selfish, pleasure-seeking desires. Envy causes divisions, fights, and wars because one is not satisfied, content, or, dare we say, thankful. There’s the key. Yes, envy is the antithesis of gratefulness.
Envy is the desire for more. If it is the desire for more for one’s own pleasure, then it is a logical (and spiritual) progression to conclude that envy is the desire to be first (Calvin). It cannot merely be the desire for more. Desire is not a source unto itself; desire is always connected to a point of origin. And the reality? The source will always be either God’s glory or your own, my own. Envy is the desire for more and the source is your selfishness and my selfishness. And love, agape love, cannot be about you and me. It is about them.
It would be too easy to simply address our materialism here. No, it’s much deeper than that.
To be clearer, envy is unloving because I am not joyful or grateful that someone else experiences a blessing and I don’t:
-They’re healed and I’m not. What’s my heart response?
-He is financially successful and I am not. What are my thoughts toward him?
-They have five kids and we are struggling to get pregnant. Do we cheer or isolate?
In another letter, Paul tells Christians to “give thanks in everything” (1 Th. 5:18). We like to quote that, but verse 15 often gets left out, which says, “always seek after that which is good for one another.” Give sincere thanks for the good in others’ lives and the power of envy will diminish.