“Oh, I wish I could play the piano like you do!” How many times have I heard this comment over the years?
“But I’ll bet you wouldn’t want to spend all of the hours in lessons and practicing,” is my usual response. And then we both smile in the recognition that their envy is actually a joyous expression of an appreciation for my musical gift.
The Bible tells us not to covet, not to scheme so that we benefit from another’s loss (Ex.20:17). Jealousy is all part of this. We’re also instructed over and over in the New Testament not to let jealousy and envy destroy our relationships (1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:26; James 3:16). Jesus Himself includes envy when He warns us about what can ruin our inward nature (Mark 7:21-23).
Unfortunately, instead of being grateful for what we have, we too often look outward at what others seem to have in abundance. Sometimes we go so far as to inwardly celebrate when their good fortune takes a downturn. We all struggle at times to cheer on someone who is successful, who has talents and accomplishments we are envious of, or who seems to be lacking in nothing.
The Lord Jesus challenges us to take a different view. Recognizing that it’s God who gives us the gifts and talents we possess, we should neither be prideful in our use of those gifts nor strike out in jealousy when someone else is blessed with what we’re lacking. Tearing down someone else to make ourselves look better is never a solid path to achieving lasting goals.
Instead we should cultivate joyous envy in ourselves and our relationships. My husband is one who has seemingly mastered this gift. Oh, there were times when he’d wistfully comment about a classmate’s financial success while we were struggling in our early years of ministry. But over the years, even when we were dating, he has always been my biggest cheerleader when it came to things he couldn’t do. I saw this attitude in his interactions with others; his self-deprecating comments on his own limitations while genuinely encouraging others in their abilities.
Cultivating joyous envy in ourselves is the first step. Appreciating how the Lord has gifted others without whining about what we don’t have is the hallmark of a confident Christian. Certainly there are multitalented people who seem to “have it all.” But that’s not really true. We all have our limitations, and we need to acknowledge them and recognize our need for others to step in to cover our shortcomings.
The confident Christian parent, teacher, principal, pastor, manager, or boss, who at the same time is humble, can truly lead others like our model, Jesus. That leader recognizes that everyone is gifted in some way. Everyone has something they can add to the mix.
And when we lead like Jesus, we take the time to not only notice, but also celebrate the unique contributions and gifts of each member of our family, class, staff or group. If a leader is sure to spread the recognition around instead of singling out the obvious star performers, then jealous envy will be stifled.
We can give awards for outstanding students or employees. We can recognize a child for an outstanding achievement. But if we support one another in a natural, ongoing way, it frees us to be spontaneous instead of waiting to give someone his or her turn at being recognized and celebrated.
We all will find ourselves in a position, at one time or another of being in charge… leading others. But even if we aren’t the one leading, we can take notice of other people and what they contribute. And when we genuinely appreciate their excellence we can create an atmosphere of celebration that naturally springs forth in conversations.
There is no need to wait for a special occasion. There is no need to stifle the joy. As the Apostle Paul has said, “If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1Cor.12:26b).
Whether or not we are the ones leading, we can cultivate an ongoing celebration of one another. That’s when the envy disappears and the joy begins. That’s when the love of Jesus truly is front and center. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a family, a class, an organization, a company, a church filled with that marvelous joy!