You scroll through your instagram feed and see a bright white kitchen, sparkling in the ethereal glow of natural light pouring through the huge window over the farmhouse sink. One child sits on the floor playing with wooden toy cars, while the other sits in her perfectly clean high chair happily munching on raw veggies.
Maybe you comment with "all the heart eyes," dreaming of how peaceful and happy your life would be if you had a home that looked so effortlessly clean and beautiful. Meanwhile, your toddler is smearing mac and cheese in her hair. Or maybe you scoff and roll your eyes, saying, "I bet the rest of her house is a mess and she cleaned her kitchen just for this picture." Why do we react this way? Because we want it.
Whether it shows up in beautiful houses and well-dressed kids or something else, envy is everyone's dirty little secret. We want what other people have, and we ruminate on our own lack. It crops up when someone else announces they landed their dream job while you sit in your cubicle. It rears its head when another friend posts a #ISaidYes engagement selfie and you are still living the #SingleLife. It comes to the surface when you spend significant amounts of time, resources, and energy into your desire to look like that one person in your instagram feed.
Envy is one of those sins that we can easily justify, ignore, or overlook. It takes place in our hearts, so it's easy to hide. "It's not that big of a deal," we tell ourselves. "It's just a small sin. It's not hurting anybody." But God takes our envy problem more seriously than we do, placing it alongside adultery and idolatry as the tenth commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's" (Exodus 20:17).
Why is envy such a big deal? Because envy is rooted in idolatry and produces discontentment. Envy says, "Jesus is not enough," but contentment overflows with gratitude.
As we look to our neighbor's possessions or accomplishments with lustful eyes, we become blind to the abundant blessings that the Father has lavished on us. And I'm not just talking about food to eat, or clothes to wear, or friends to love, although those things are absolutely all unmerited gifts from God, but I'm talking about the greatest gift we could ever receive, the gift of our salvation. I'm talking about the gift of God Himself.
Envy deadens our desire for the only One who can truly satisfy as we become fixated on counterfeit gods whose end is not life, but death. In His sermon, "The Weight of Glory," C.S. Lewis observes, "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
Oh that our eyes would be opened to the absurdity of our devotion to dying things! We reach out to grasp comfort and approval, not realizing that we are wrapping up our happiness in things that will rot and slip through our fingers. If our hearts are full of envy, all the fame and riches in the world could never be enough to satisfy us, but we can experience contentment when we hold fast to the things that can never be taken away.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." 1 Peter 1:4-5
How could we ever envy what others have when we realize that we have been given everything? How senseless is it to let a shortage of earthly riches fill us with discontentment, when God gives abundantly to us of His limitless grace? Why would we spend our energy striving after things that will rot and fade and die when we have the promise of an ever-living hope and an eternal inheritance that cannot die, that cannot be corrupted, that will never fade, and is safe in heaven, waiting for us?
Love cannot live where envy resides. Envy does not "rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15), it delights in the downfall of a fellow image-bearer of God.
What if instead of hating our neighbors for having what we don't, we loved them enough to share with them the most extravagant riches we could ever call ours, the love and grace of Jesus Christ? The infinite God has no shortage of grace. His blessings for others do not take away from his grace to you. His love is unending. His grace is abounding. His mercies are ever new. Our joy is not diminished when others experience His blessing, but our joy increases in the joy of the Body of Christ.
The remedy for envy and discontentment is gratitude. On the one hand, we should cultivate gratitude for the blessings that have been so mercifully lavished on us. It is a good practice to write these things down and thank God for them in prayer. These blessings include God's provision in our lives now and our future inheritance. It is gratitude for the ways that God sovereignly works all things for our good (Romans 8:28) and how He doesn't stop at giving us His very Son, but with Him graciously gives us all things (Romans 8:32). Remember. Preach it to yourself. Write it down. Thank Him.
Perhaps a more difficult task, we must also cultivate gratitude for the blessings in the lives of those whom we envy. Rejoice in the beautifully diverse way in which God distributes gifts to His children, resulting in a unified Church, the body of Christ, each member of which contributes to the function and beauty of the whole. This is God's design, and we ought to rejoice in it!
Abundant life is not a life of earthly riches or accolade, but it is marked by the sweet assurance that in all things, God gives us what will result in our ultimate joy. Envy has no place in the heart that puts its hope in that promise.