Love Does Not Envy (1 Corinthians
by Ted Schroder
The story of our beginnings is the story of a God overflowing with love. That love created the universe, and created men and women in God’s image. The love of God is a creative and generous quality of giving. When it is present in human beings, as a gift of God, it results in sharing, caring, and giving. We are made in the image of God to reflect in our lives this quality of God’s love. In the Garden of Eden the serpent tempted Eve to be envious of God. He encouraged her to eat of fruit of the tree because: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) When she acted on that temptation envy entered the human heart and corrupted us. (Mark 7:20-23)
To want to be like God, to be independent, unlimited, liberated from moral constraints, from feeling the need to share, to care for others, to give; to have the unlimited possibilities of God, is the beginning of envy and the opposite of love.
To want to be like God is to want to be able to control results, to influence others, to guarantee success - a fearsome power that God denies even himself. “At its deepest, envy rejects God. One wants to be self-secure, self-sufficient, omnicompetent. One wants to live forever, live without limits except one’s own choice. One wants to be ‘like God,’ and cannot. Thus one envies God’s life.” (William S. Stafford, Disordered Loves: Healing the Seven Deadly Sins, 98)
That is why we can resent God, and get angry at him. We know what we can become, when we compare ourselves with God. John Donne said that, ‘comparisons are odious.’ When we compare ourselves with our neighbors, instead of rejoicing in their gifts and blessings, we can resent them. God has made us all different. We should rejoice rather than envy our differences. Life would be boring if we were all the same. Imagine a world populated with copies of yourselves! What a nightmare!
The chapter before St. Paul’s hymn of love (1 Corinthians 12), describes the variety of spiritual gifts: how everyone is different, and how everyone is dependent on others. He uses the imagery of the body: we all belong to the body, we all need one another. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don ‘t need you.’ It would be grotesque for us to want to be the same as everyone else.
The desire to have what others have, to be what they are, is absurd. When we compare ourselves with others we can feel deprived and angry. We can begin to resent their seeming good fortune. We want their skills, their ease of life, their health, their circumstances, their prospects. Instead of enjoying what they are, and how they have been blessed, we envy them, and that envy poisons our relationships, and destroys our happiness.
Shakespeare warns us in Othello:
“O! beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.” (III.iii.165)
Envy rejects the gifts God gives us, and resents our limits. Envy wants it all – or for no one to have anything. Envy is a reaction against differences. Instead of seeing the advantages of others as a challenge to succeed and excel, envy seeks to take away from others what they have. It is the essence of Marxism. It is a leveling down, a compulsory conformism, a denial of distinction. When envy becomes a national or ethnic characteristic, it results in rivalry and violent reaction. It fuels social injustice and conflicts, such as in the Middle East today.
Psalm 73 is the story of a man who fell ill from envy, and who was healed.
“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.”
"Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.”
It reminds me of end of year letters from friends, who tell you all the good things they have done in the previous year, and all the blessings in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They never tell you their struggles and sorrows. The impression given is that their lives are constant sunshine, and in comparison with yours, so much better. We can envy this rosy pictures of their lives. We can resent them and get angry with God.
“What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything;
they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
what has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what –
a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.”
(Eugene H. Peterson, The Message)
Envy leads to resentment, anger, and self-pity. The only antidote is to trust in God and his love for you. He has his purposes, and you must trust in what he is doing. God knows what he is doing. There is more to this than meets the eye.
“Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
Then I saw the whole picture:
The slippery road you’ve put them on,
with a final crash in the ditch of delusions.
In the blink of an eye, disaster!
A blind curve in the dark, and nightmare!
We wake up and rub our eyes….Nothing.
There’s nothing to them. And there never was.” (ibid.)
There is so much we cannot know about what is going on in the lives of others. We may envy their apparent success, but do we want their hidden struggles and sorrows too? There is nothing so blinding as envy. The serpent, the devil, our weak sinful nature, can make even Paradise appear an insult. Eve was made to feel discontented with what she had been given. So can we be, until we turn to Jesus for guidance, and seek first his kingdom and his life in all its fullness.
“When I was beleaguered and bitter,
totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
in your presence,
but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
and then you bless me.
You’re all I want in heaven!
You’re all I want on earth.!” (ibid.)
The only answer to envy is trust in the love of God as seen in Jesus. He did not cling to equality with God but shared himself with us.
“He has equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human. Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.” (Philippians 2:6-8, The Message)
The love of God as seen in Christ’s descent from heaven and death on the Cross, eliminates envy. When we go into God’s sanctuary, we find the presence of the loving, sacrificing Christ. Envy is defeated by the love of God in Christ. We encounter a God who is not immune to our needs, not withholding his blessing from us, but is doing everything he can to heal us, and give us his abundant eternal life. He gives, not only himself, but his people in the Body of Christ, to share their gifts with us. We learn to appreciate these gifts, to respond in thanks, to count our blessings, and to focus on what we have rather than on what we don’t have.
God’s love is seen in his sharing with us that which is most precious to him. We bear the image of God when we learn to love in the same way. Instead of love being envious, love shares, and gives generously. Instead of us wanting to be or to have what is not ours, we learn to appreciate who we are and what we can contribute to others. We learn to value what we have been given, and what we can do for others.
Teach us, Father, in whatever state we are, to be content, that we may know both how to be abased and how to abound; that in prosperity we may bless you, who gives us richly all things to enjoy, and in adversity may not allow our faith in your love to fail. Help us to rejoice in the differences between us, and to appreciate what others can contribute to our lives. Allow us to see what we can share with them, and to do so freely. We thank you for giving us your love through Jesus, so that our envy might be forgiven and healed; through his great Name. Amen.
Ted Schroder’s new book, SURVIVING HURRICANES: DELIVER US FROM EVIL, is now available from www.Amazon.com or Amelia Island Publishing,
(firstname.lastname@example.org) 904-277-4414, for $24.95 plus $2.55 for shipping. It deals with the problem of evil and suffering from the point of view of the Armor of God, and the Lord’s Prayer, and provides prayers and questions for reflection and discussion.
January 21, 2007
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