Green with envy

Tuesday 19 May 2015

‘I wish I had an iPhone 6+ like you.’
‘I wish I had your iPhone 6+.’
‘I wish you didn’t have an iPhone 6+.’

Can you tell the difference between these statements? One is envy, one jealousy, and one covetousness. The differences are slight but important.envy

Jonathan Dykes, Executive Director of Katoomba Christian Convention, has had a special interest in envy ever since the days when he worked as a minister to workers in northern Sydney.

He says “envy usually gets confused with three things: jealousy, covetousness and emulation. In common culture, envy and jealousy have come to mean the same thing – that’s just the way we use them.

“Jealousy, correctly defined, means that you’re aggrieved about something that you consider as your due. But if I’m envious of you because you’ve got an iPhone 6+, I work out a way for you to be deprived of your iPhone 6+.

“So I’m going to sit on your iPhone 6+ until it bends like a banana and then trash it somehow. I could be sitting over here with my Nokia dumb phone that’s ten years old; it doesn’t matter. As long as you don’t have your iPhone 6+, my envy is satisfied,” says Dykes.

The big problem with envy, as Dykes sees it, is that “you’re trying to establish your identity always in regard to other people around you. Because our pride wants us to be at the top of the heap, envy is all about bringing someone else down to your level, if not lower.

“But the removal of comparison is not the solution to envy. The solution is God’s grace.

“A good starting point for the Christian is the parable of the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). Seeing himself yourself (to make it consistent) before God is the only way to get the truth about who you are and your position, which isn’t a good one.

“The Pharisee is the guy who is comparing himself, but the tax collector is the one who gets it right cause he’s on his knees, beating his breast, grief-stricken by his own sin. That’s because he sees himself before God and, therefore, as he truly is.

“If you’re like the tax collector, you know your innermost thoughts and what you’ve done. That leads you to be gracious and merciful towards others because, however bad they are, they’re not as bad as you.”

Viewing yourself from this bottom-of-the-ladder position liberates you to love others, without caving in to insecurity. As Dykes says, “it frees you when something good happens to them to rejoice with them in that, even though your life is not any better as a result of the good that’s happened to them.

“But I think you’ve got to let that feeling lead you back to you and God. Where you don’t want to go is, ‘she got the project, I didn’t. She’s better than me, I’m useless’. Doing that sort of thing cause that’s is going to start you going down the track of envy.”

When you take someone else’s success as a slight on your own life, you step onto the path of envy. First comes comparison, which produces grief and discontentment, which then leads to destruction of one kind or another. Dykes says even if we cap it before we speak or act against another, “it’s still envy, it’s still a bitterness of heart.”

It’s essential that we have a proper knowledge of who we are before God. Learning humility, like the tax collector, will go a part way to remedying envy in our heads and hearts, but Dykes says there’s another thing we can do.

We need to have a proper knowledge of what we can and cannot do and what other people can and cannot do. “Recognising difference is key. Being a Christian and understanding that God is your maker enables you to recognise differences and be thankful for them and not feel insecure,” says Dykes. “God calls each of us to different things in different places and parts of the world.”

When other people succeed, says Dykes, “that’s something that I ought to rejoice in, and if I’m not then there’s something wrong with me.”

Ultimately, Dykes says, “remember who you are. God knows the worst about you yet he loves you.”

Jonathan will be speaking on the topic of Envy at the SMBC Hot Topics series on Wednesday 20th May.

Image: Mandy Jansen on Flickr, used under CC License.

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