Lesson 19: Finding Contentment by Overcoming Envy
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
Not receiving a fullness of assurance that we are loved, that we belong and that our lives therefore hold great meaning and purpose, leaves us prey for the undercutting work of envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy scream out: 'They are getting what I need and deserve!'
Sure it is black-hearted, but it is also revealing of a deep-seated pain and an invisible reality: All of us have been robbed. None of us are getting what we desperately need and were meant to have. The enemy came in through Adam's sin and stole from every child what God desired them to receive, even from the moment of conception.
All of us were blocked at birth by Adam's nature from knowing in the depth of our spirits that we are totally loved, fully forgiven, completely accepted by our grace-giving Father. The spiritual 'umbilical cord' that was meant to connect us to God's loving Heart was severed by the Fall.
This deep void cannot be fully filled even by the best of parents and fairest of treatment and it leaves all of us exposed to the temptations of envy and jealousy. New birth through faith in Christ restores the missing connection, but old emotional habits are hard to break.
We who believe in Christ are inheritors of riches beyond our wildest dreams.[i] However, we may still be held captive by the old feelings of deprivation and former patterns of striving to get 'our fair share,' steadily robbed of ever finding contentment. St. Francis is credited with saying that he who expects nothing 'can enjoy everything.'[ii] That may well be true, but only if he (or she) has first dealt with the stronghold of envy.
The Superior Power of Contentment
Godly contentment is our graced antidote for the poison of envy and jealousy. Whenever this stronghold seeks to snare you, quickly search out Jesus to restore your sense of contentment as His well-beloved child. Paul says that godly contentment was something that he gained as he grew. We can learn it too.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Philippians 4:11-12
Contentment is actually great gain. It brings with it the peace which 'surpasses all understanding,' a peace that is truly out of this world.[iii] It removes fruitless and disturbing anxieties and replaces them with a gentle fullness. Finding contentment is always safe to desire because we can never have too much of it.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare. 1 Timothy 6:6-9
The Destructive Power of Envy
Envy and jealousy, on the other hand, keep us stirred up and dis-contented. These spirits keep us thinking about and noticing what others have and what we don't have. Why should this seem so natural? Isn't the Holy Spirit always at work inside of us to help us notice what others don't have (so we can serve them) and what we do have (so we can be thankful and rest contented)? Why is the voice of the enemy so much easier to hear?
We need to be much more discerning about which spirit is directing our perceptions. Any upsurge of envy means that we are definitely being robbed of something that we deserve to have, but what the thieves are actually stealing is none other than our godly contentment!
Envy is destructive of our bodies. Bone marrow is crucial to a healthy immune system, but envy weakens it. On the other hand a sound heart is a grateful heart—it gives life to the body.[iv]
The life of the body is a heart at peace, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30 WEB
Envy is also destructive of the Body of Christ. Much of the strife and conflict in the church comes from jealousy among the members. It is difficult for anyone to be advanced by God or to become especially gifted without envy being set loose to destroy the fellowship. This holds everyone back.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. James 4:1-2
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Envy and jealousy grow out of three roots we would do well to pray against: covetousness, pride and bitterness.
Root #1. Covetousness:[v] To covet is to long for or lust for something that is not yours. Covetousness always wants more—and it wants it right now. Never content with present blessings, it sets us at enmity with others and with God.[vi] It is a form of idolatry, since it places things before God and keeps us focused on getting something from God, rather than giving ourselves to God.
As soon as our heart covets something, even a blessing or a spiritual gift, we are putting it ahead of our relationship with Christ and we begin losing our entry into the Kingdom, for that is only supplied to those who seek the Kingdom first.[vii] Consequently, the Kingdom's peace, joy and power slip through our fingers when we grasp to gain an idol rather than the Lord.[viii]
Root #2. Pride:[ix] Pride tries to gloss over or fill in the awful sense of not really having what we needed of love and acceptance. As a covering pride cannot help but bring us into conflict with others through competition or comparisons meant to prove to ourselves as well as to others that we are not inferior. We must come off seeming superior at least in our eyes or dissatisfied pride become jealous of their gifts and abilities.
Root #3. Bitterness:[x] Bitterness towards others makes us resentful when they do well or receive blessings. We hate it that they are being shown favor instead of discipline. Self-bitterness, on the other hand, can make us feel that we haven't received what we needed or deserved—and that can lead into self-pity. Either way, if bitter envy is in the heart it is something truly demonic - give it no place!
Beware to compare! When we don't get what we want, we may look around and compare ourselves to others, wanting what they have, never finding contentment. You can't win at this: Always some have less, and some have more. Trust God to be measuring out what blessings are truly right and needful for you (and for others) and keep your eyes on Him.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 2 Corinthians 10:12
Let's get something straight: Your Father does not play favorites or show partiality.[xi] Amazingly, the Father doesn't even love Jesus more than He loves you!
I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:23
Our Father is a great provider.[xii] The devil plays long and loudly upon our litany of wants, but God faithfully goes about supplying our needs. What's more, He Himself is our 'exceedingly great Reward.'[xiii] Be on guard: Envy will never remind you how great a provider your Father is, so ask the Holy Spirit to keep reminding you, and run back to rest contented in your Father's perfect love and loving plans for you—at the first twinge of envy.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' Hebrews 13:5
Practical Help to Practice
To work at defeating the root of covetousness, try these five practical steps for increasing your trust in God's provision:
1) Tithing. 'Returning' the tithe is a faith journey that frees us from being controlled by thinking we are our own providers and opens our eyes to see God's sustaining Hand.[xiv]
2) Why stop with the tithe? Let 'offerings' carry you beyond the tithe. Give at His promptings and watch how God works to keep the river of blessing flowing through you to others.
3) Why just give money back to Him? Whenever we realize that nothing 'belongs' to us, everything can be seen as a gift.[xv]
4) Let what He provides guide. What God actually provides can guide our decisions about what can be afforded, showing where He draws the line between what we need and what we desire.
5) Practice gratitude for what has already been given. This turns our world around and fills even the seemingly emptiest cups as the 'sacrifice' of thanksgiving opens our eyes to see all He already is giving.[xvi] St. Augustine prayed, 'You have given so much to us. Give us one thing more, a grateful heart.'[xvii]
Here is the best practical step of all for defeating a jealous spirit: As soon as you begin feeling envious of another's blessing, vigorously thank God for His provision to them. Get really good at affirming others in their spiritual gifts and at celebrating their victories with them. This totally disarms the enemy (envy), and opens the way for the Lord to extend blessing to you.
Waiting upon the Lord also grows contentment. Many of us have become so accustomed to 'instant gratification' as a way of life in the modern world that we easily overlook the value that the scriptures place upon waiting. Waiting on God is a huge subject in the Bible: It includes active faith, bright hope and lively expectancy, combined with patience and perseverance. Without an ability to wait upon the Lord to make the fullness of His provision manifest, we are prey to being captured by envy and jealousy over what we don't have that others do—in the moment. However, with this faith ability in place we are actually told that we can possess our souls by patience.[xviii]
Simply by learning patience we can be uplifted, rather than crushed, by whatever is going on in our lives.[xix] We can learn how to live for God's Better Day, which He is always leading us towards, on the other side of present troubles or short comings.[xx]
There is a great joy in the world of things and in the operation of spiritual gifts, but it is not found in what we can get for ourselves by our own striving. True joy is found in what we see the great God of heaven actually giving to us freely out of His love and care. From this flows endless and deep satisfaction.
Everything can come to be seen as a gift of love—both what God provides as well as what He withholds. Through that accurate vision there are such treasures of contentment, security and love as to fill even the emptiest of hearts.
The Way to Freedom
Envy and jealousy are thieves that get us chasing in the wrong direction, trying to grasp after blessing, rather than allowing God to bestow all good things in His good time. The tricky part is learning to remember how good godly contentment felt only moments before envy showed up and snatched it from us!
1) Be honest about every false or wrong desire 'to grasp' after something you've not yet been given and recognize every twinge of envy as stealing your peace and godly contentment!
2) Take full responsibility for agreeing with it: Repent, renounce and carry it captive to Christ until you see something in Him that restores your confidence in God's provision for you.
3) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him for His loving plans to lead you step-by-step into your true inheritance!
'Reward yourself'—with a heart-healthy does of godly contentment!
Father, forgive me wherever I have doubted your goodness or wisdom in how You have provided for me throughout my life. Forgive me wherever I have sought Your Hand of blessing and failed to seek Your Face of love. Forgive me wherever I have measured Your love by my lack, rather than by the cross where You Yourself willingly suffered loss for my sake. I see Your love now and I cast myself fully and freely upon Your wisdom in what You choose to provide and what You choose to withhold. Let it all work to bring me to that place of incomparable joy where I finally see all elements of my life—even the 'missing' ones—as loving gifts from My Beloved.
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Godly Contentment and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
Or Keep Reading
[i] Ephesians 1:11-18; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:4
[ii] G. K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1957), p. 75.
[iii] Philippians 4:7; John 14:27
[iv] Teaching and insights about the relationship of envy to the immune system and the role of coveting, pride and comparison from Be In Health teaching and materials, Dr. Henry W. Wright, Thomaston, Georgia, seminar notes, October 2000.
[v] James 3:14-17
[vi] James 4:1-4
[vii] Matthew 6:33
[viii] Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5
[ix] 1Timothy 6:3-5
[x] James 3:14-16
[xi] Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11
[xii] Matthew 6:33; Psalm 37:3-5; Psalm 73:25
[xiii] Genesis 15:1
[xiv] Malachi 3:8-12
[xv] 1 Corinthians 3:21-23
[xvi] Jeremiah 33:11; Hebrews 13:15
[xvii] St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), The Confessions.
[xviii] Luke 21:19
[xix] see also Psalms 27:14 and 130:6; Micah 7:7
[xx] Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 64:4; Lamentations 3:26