Jonathan Edwards wrote: “Envy may be defined to be a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own.”
We usually think of envy as it is expressed by a person who is a comparative inferior. But, envy fills the hearts of those who have superior prosperity and happiness too. Either way, when a person is filled with envy, he is fixated on the gap between himself and the person with whom he compares himself. Such fixation will kill a person.
Proverbs 14:30 reminds us that “A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.” It is the nature of envy to be willing to suffer, so long as others suffer even more. Yes, even persons of superior prosperity and happiness are willing to suffer when they are consumed by envy.
An older friend of mine once told the story of his college classmate at a small liberal arts college many years ago. His classmate was the smartest person in their class, and everyone knew it. My friend noticed the young man went to all of the extra study sessions that afforded Q&A time with the professors, but he never asked any questions.
So, my friend asked him, “Why do you come to the study session if you never ask any questions?”
The man responded something like this, “I listen to the other questions and answers to make sure I’m not missing anything. But, I know I’m smarter than anyone else in the class. If I ask questions publicly about the things I’m thinking about, it would give an advantage to the rest of the class by provoking questions in your minds which you otherwise wouldn’t begin to consider. Then, you would close the gap. I protect the curve by not asking questions. I figure I’m better off investigating those topics privately or even remaining ignorant than by asking questions publicly that would risk closing the gap.”
He was probably right in the short term. But, in the long run, his envy would only cause everyone to suffer more; the whole of society would be impoverished.
Such an attitude is directly the opposite of Jesus Christ. The gap between Jesus and the rest of mankind was immeasurable, and yet he humbled himself to serve and close that gap (Phil. 2:1-11). Indeed, he came to draw people to himself and unite us to God. Furthermore, he came to raise us up with him and seat us with him in the heavenly places.
In Christ, we see the antidote for every superior who struggles with envy. Be consumed with a desire for the glory of God. Love the person under you, not the gap between you. Give to them of yourself. Raise them up. Pray for them. Delight in their success.
Short-term sacrifices will mean long-term joy for everyone. Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, was willing to endure the cross and despise the shame. Today, he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God and he takes pleasure in his people whom he has raised up to be with him.