When cold deepens and snow spreads a thick white blanket over the land, I sometimes see green. No, not the hopeful green of spring but the fetid green of jealousy. The howling of frigid winds make it harder than usual to fight off feelings of envy for those who have flown south to warmer climes or boarded some cruise headed for sunny seas.
What’s the matter with a little envy, you say? For one thing, it sullies the beautiful white blanket that the Snow Maker on High has thrown over the countryside. The sparkle of sunshine on a million snowflakes grates rather than makes glad. In my future I see shoveling and slush and mud and mess. But why should we allow today’s enjoyment of life to be soured by thoughts of what others have escaped?
This green monster troubles us in many ways besides urging us to envy those who have fled the frost. It provokes us into longing for another’s fine house, classy car, prestige, vibrant health, flush bank account, athletic prowess, musical ability, apparently perfect husband, or even spiritual depth.
Envy and its Siamese twin, jealousy kill gratitude. We fail to be grateful for a warm house, three meals a day, Internet connections, one’s family and friends, the birds that visit the bird feeder, the squirrels that scamper in the trees, the snowplough that clears the road, the soup simmering on the stove, a cup of coffee and a good book.
Envy and jealousy destroy our ability to savor life today. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”(Prov.14:30). Instead of enjoying what life brings we live in a perpetual state of discontent. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”(1 Tim. 6:6). When contentment settles into our bones, we are enabled to relish all that God gives us richly to enjoy.
Envy and jealousy foster friction, controversy, and quarrels. James reminds us that fights and quarrels arise from our covetous desires for what another has. “You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures”(James 4:2,3). Our prayers may even be tainted by wrong motives.
Envy and jealousy distort reality. If we were omniscient we would realize sunshine does not create utopia. Many of the warmest cities have high crime rates. Many equatorial countries rate far down on scales that measure democracy, drug use, violence, and poverty. And we must remember that vacationing people take their problems with them. Grouchy people grumble even on the beach where they lounge. Critical people find lots to fault in Miami or Jamaica.
More to the point, envy and jealousy are sin. The tenth commandment prohibits covetousness. There is great danger here! Covetousness, jealousy and envy start wars, destroy families, separate friends. (See 1 Cor 3:3) Indeed, envy led the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to deliver him up for crucifixion. (Matt. 27:18) If we discover jealousy or envy corroding our attitudes, the first thing we need to do is confess our sin to God and ask Him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake—and show how to purge it from our life.
On an ongoing basis what should we do? Look around for what we may be missing in our own neighborhood. Is there someone or some ministry that we could help? Watching the world news on TV may give us a more reasonable perspective on how fortunate we are and that should spur feelings of gratitude. Enjoy each day as a day of grace from the hand of God Himself. Spend time in prayer and Bible reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to develop within us a feeling of contentment. And take someone out for coffee or a meal.