There were once two shop owners who had shops on the same street; the shops sold similar items, and the two owners were always vying for each other’s business. As such, they envied each other immensely and were continually at odds with each other.
One day, an angel visited the two men and said, “I will give you anything you ask for, on one condition: the other shop owner will receive double of what you request.”
For several long hours, the two men stared at each other without saying a word; both wrestled internally, attempting to determine how to come out on top. It was clear that neither of them would request anything if it mean the other would doubly prosper. Finally, one of the two men broke the silence. He had come up with a solution to his inner conflict. To the angel, he requested, “I wish to be blind in one eye.”
While this story may seem like an exaggeration or caricature, it tells us some very important things about the sin of envy:
– Envy is a sin that tends to thrive in relationships between equals.
– Envy isn’t focused on improving one’s own position, but rather focuses on the gap between one’s self and others.
– Envious people would rather even suffer themselves (rather than simply being happy) if it means someone else would be happier.
Envy is a game of comparisons. For those who struggle with this sin, their focus is based on the perceived gap between themselves and others, not on the “goodness” of their own situation–no matter how positive it may be. Envy looks at what others have instead of looking at what we have.
A biblical example of envy is seen in the story of the Prodigal Son. When the wayward boy returned home and his father rejoiced, the son who had remained faithful and steady was envious of the celebration. He couldn’t simply celebrate that his brother was home or rejoice along with his father; instead, he compared himself to his brother, who he had deemed unworthy of this redemption.
Envy doesn’t tell us anything about others, but rather is a reflection on our unhappiness with ourselves. When we are not sure of (or dissatisfied with) our identity, we seek to tear others down or project our own problems onto them. However, by doing so, we are kept from ever constructively reflecting on our identity. “The search for identity is a power and God-given drive” (The 3 Colors of Community, p. 60).
The best way to combat envy and to instead focus on finding our identity is through gift-based ministry. By discovering our own specific giftings, we find a new identity centered in Christ. Additionally, we are able to see how our gifts incorporate with the gifts of others. Instead of comparing ourselves and thus giving in to the sin of envy, we are able to work together with others, becoming a team focused on a common goal. This is how the Body of Christ works.
Can you see why determining our gifts is thus so important for our spiritual development? This knowledge and surety in what God has given us to work with gives us identity. And once we have that identity, there is no longer any need to compare, envy, or wish ill on someone else.
If you suffer from the sin of envy, I encourage you to seek out our spiritual gifts. Perhaps you need to start at square one by taking a gift assessment. Or, if you already know your gifts, find new ways to use them. There is certain to be a need within the Body for your specific giftings!
(You can learn more about “The Path Away from Envy” on pp. 56-62 of The 3 Colors of Community.)