Replacing Envy with Contentment (Proverbs 14:30)
One of the most self-destructive sins is envy, yet at one time or another we all fall prey to it. We might envy another person’s nice home or car. We might envy another person’s high salary or attractive looks. We might envy another person’s fluency in pubic-speaking or ability to easily fit in with strangers. There is no end to the list of temptations that can bring on the sin of envy. Envy is an ever-present but pernicious aspect of our fallen world. Here is what Proverbs 14:30 says about envy: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Those are strong words and a powerful warning against falling prey to envy.
The key to avoiding the envy trap is learning to be content with our circumstances regardless of what they happen to be at any given time. This does not mean we cannot work to improve our circumstances. Rather, it means we should be content with where we are until we can do better. Further, our motivation for doing better should never be to one-up another person. God expects us to do the best we can with what we have. Therefore, honoring God—not envy—must be the motivation for working to improve our circumstances.
Remaining content in less than desirable circumstances can be a challenge, but you can do it. Here is why. First, we know that God has a plan for our provision and His plan is sufficient (Jeremiah 29:11). Second, even in bad times we are able to count our blessings (Ephesians 5:20). In the worst of times, we can recognize ways in which God has blessed our lives. Finally, we know that regardless of our circumstances in the here and now, a better life awaits us in the hereafter (John 3:16). John 3:16 assures us the circumstances that rob us of contentment in the here and now are only temporary.
Knowing these things provides a basis for accepting with equanimity your circumstances, regardless of what they happen to be at any given time; a challenge made less difficult when you know that bad circumstances are temporary because eternal life with Christ awaits you. As a Christian, strive to improve your circumstances, but do so for the right reasons. In the meantime, do not fret, fume, and complain about them. When you find this hard to do, keep God’s larger plan for you, his blessings, and the promise of eternal life foremost in your heart. Let these things bring contentment and peace into your life.
Envy is the opposite of contentment. Therefore, in practical terms, contentment means we do not envy others for what they have or for what we might view as their better circumstances in life. We are not to complain because it appears others have it better in the here and now than we do. Rather, we are to seek fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace in the Lord’s provision for us. This is what is meant in 1 Timothy 6:6-12 where we read: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, 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, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith…” This passage from Scripture leaves no doubt that being discontent with one’s circumstances can cause you to stray from the faith.
BENEFITS OF CONTENTMENT AND PEACE
Some of the more edifying verses in Scripture about contentment are found in the Book of Job (Chapter 1, Verses 20-21). In these verses we learn that Job was tested, tempted, and tormented by the Devil. His circumstances were worse than any you and I are ever likely to face, yet Job did not yield to Satan. Job refused to let his desire for relief from Satan’s torment cause him to abandon God. Instead of giving in to Satan, Job fell to the ground and worshiped God. He then uttered words that have become some of the most frequently quoted from Scripture: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job’s faith in God was stronger than his desire to end his suffering. Thus, he was able to endure suffering that would have incapacitated anyone else. Had Job given in to the temptation to envy the better circumstances of others, he would have succeeded only in making matters worse because that was precisely what the Devil wanted him to. It is also what the Devil wants you to do. Life’s difficulties are among Satan’s favorite tools for turning God’s children away from the Lord. The most effective antidote to Satan’s scheming use of human discontentment is Biblical contentment.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONTENTMENT AND PEACE
Try this exercise. Develop a list of all the different ways you can think of to demonstrate contentment. You know yourself and your life better than anyone else except the Lord. Consequently, you know the things that might generate envy, jealousy, or unfulfilled yearnings in you. Make sure these things are at the top of your list. The list you develop should be personal to you. It should reflect circumstances and situations that sometimes tempt you toward discontentment.
Take the time to develop your list, but don’t be limited by it. Rather, stay in touch with your emotions so you know when envy, jealousy, or other manifestations of discontentment are bubbling up inside of you. When this happens, stop what you are doing long enough to say a prayer. Ask God to help you be content with the circumstances he has given you for the time being. Then thank him for the blessings he has bestowed on you and the eternal life that awaits you.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.