It almost seems redundant to say, “Love doesn’t envy”; and yet that’s exactly what Paul writes (1 Cor. 13:4). We might assume that a lack of envy goes hand in hand with love, but putting that into practice is a completely different story. Envy crops up even in the most loving relationships; it comes as easily at the Thanksgiving dinner table as anywhere else. Sometimes those that we cherish the most are the ones we envy with great ease. As Christians we are called to a love lacking in envy.
Envy connives; it isn’t content with its circumstances and so it attempts to conquer someone else’s happiness. Maybe that’s why envy seems so incongruent with love: love is content with the person of their affection, while envy is constantly seeking more from that person (or another). Love desires to satisfy another while envy only seeks to satisfy itself. Of course, envy is close friends with selfishness so it should be no surprise that Paul later writes that love is lacking in that very similar ingredient (1 Cor. 13:5).
Where do we see envy cropping up in our relationships? We see it when someone we love is rewarded for something and we aren’t. It occurs when another progresses and grows, and we are left on the sidelines. It hides in the shadows with green eyes while the spot light shines brightly on someone else. Envy is always waiting to wreck a loving relationship.
But wait–what about God? Isn’t God the source and foundation of love (1 John 4:8)? And, isn’t He also a jealous God (Ex. 20:5)? How do those two concepts coincide? Quite nicely actually. The message of scripture is that God is the central object of all creation’s affection. He is the one who created us (Gen. 1:26-27) and gave us a desire for Him (Ecc. 3:11). Hence, God is righteously jealous over affection and glory that is rightfully due Him; similar to a husband who is jealous for the exclusive affection of his wife. There is nothing wrong with a husband being jealous of his wife’s affection because it is rightfully due him. This is referred to as divine or godly envy (2 Cor. 11:2). Sinful envy isn’t content with love and so it breaks forth and makes claims on something it isn’t due.
But there is also another dimension to God’s jealousy. Again, God made us for Himself. He gives us a longing for His presence. It is only when we seek Him at the expense of everything else that we are truly happy (Matt. 10:39). So, the reason that God is jealous for our affection is because He loves us. He knows that the only way we will ever achieve happiness is through a radical pursuit of Him; therefore when we pursue another “god” He is jealous for His glory and our good. While there might seem to be an initial tension in those two concepts of God’s character they are easily rectified in the greater context of scripture.
How then does love act? It rejoices with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). It finds great joy in the joy of others. It isn’t envious of the success, promotion, and adoration of others because it is content with the glory that comes from God and the love that they share. In fact, when we love someone else we shouldn’t mind being the one in the shadows that is promoting another without our name ever being mentioned.
What wonders this type of love can do for the church! When a body of believers can move forward without constantly trying to get ahead of their brother and sister great work can be done. When we are concerned only with God receiving the glory then His love is beginning the process of perfection within us.
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