There will always be someone who seems smarter, richer, or cooler. So how do we keep discontentment and comparison from stealing the life that’s right in front of us?
- What currently triggers your strongest feelings of envy (e.g., social media, friends, work)? Explain.
- Are you competing internally with anyone (e.g., a parent, sibling, friend)? Is there something you’re trying to prove to them?
- Are there things in your life you’re not enjoying because of envy toward someone else? Explain.
- “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 4:6). Is there a situation in your life in which you might find peace if you were to pursue less, instead of more?
- In an effort to combat envy, who is someone you can celebrate, congratulate, or thank? What might be the result?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So as we get started, a quick survey, and I’d love for you to raise your hand, and everybody play along, and if you’re watching at home play along, or if you’re driving keep one hand on the steering wheel. How many of you actually are on Instagram? I’m just curious. Not right this minute. But like you do Instagram?
Yeah, okay. Yeah, most of us. The great, the great thing, the great thing about Instagram is, the really, really great thing about Instagram is… Anyway.
The problem really, if I’m just honest, the problem with Instagram, is that now that I’m on Instagram, I find I’m constantly needing a new pair of shoes. And this is embarrassing to talk about, because I never really thought about shoes and every once in a while, at Christmas or something, Sandra would show up with some shoes, I’m like, “Are those cool? Okay, I’ll wear those.” I never thought about it. Now that I’m in Instagram, I have more shoes… Okay, I have almost as many shoes, I think, sometimes as Sandra. It’s just ridiculous. And again, I just never gave any much thought to shoes.
Or shiplap. Now we have shiplap in our house. Okay, I never gave much thought to that. I never gave any thought to your cute kids, and I can’t go back and redo all of our family pictures ’cause they’re on film. You remember that, what can you do with that? So now I take pictures of pictures to put on Instagram. It’s so lame. I’m also bothered by all the incredible vacations, you have. They look amazing, places I’ve never been. If I have gone to some of those places, but I didn’t look near as cool as it was when you went with your cool pictures. So I thought well, the way to solve this is I’m just not gonna look. So I just quit. I thought, “I’m gonna get off of Instagram,” and I thought, “Wait a minute, I’m not a quitter,” so I got back on.
I thought, “No, I’m not a quitter, I’m just gonna up my game, and I’m gonna make you as discontent with your life as you have made me with my life, and so I’m gonna start using better filters, I’m gonna crop it a little bit closer and kinda edit out all the stuff and I’m just gonna take it over and over and over and over until I get the perfect picture, and I’m gonna put on Instagram the highlight reel of my life, so that will make your lame life look even lamer, right?”
No, the great thing about Instagram, it really is, the great thing about Instagram is that it is a constant reminder, and we all need reminding of this, it is a constant reminder that there really is no win in comparison. There is absolutely… You’ve heard me say that before. There really is no win in comparison. And the reason I talk about that is because we are in part three of this series called, You Are Not The Boss Of Me, you’re not the boss of me. And the sub-title says it all, “How to… ” because this is a how-to series, “How to say “no” to the emotions that compete for control.” How to say no to the emotions that compete for control, because all of us have two or three emotions that compete for control of our lives.
And today, we’re gonna talk about this ugly word, “envy”. Envy. To me, this is just me. I think this is the ugliest thing in human nature. I know it is the ugliest thing in me. and if you can’t relate to this, please don’t judge me too harshly. The thing I don’t like about me the most is that every once in a while, someone will fail, and my initial emotion is like, “Yes!” And I hate that about me.
Have you ever had this experience where you are… Okay, it’s not just me? Even folks in the front row, right at home.
You… Somebody… And that your initial emotion, the first thing that pops up is, “Yes! That’ll show ’em.” Or somehow that made me feel better about me ’cause… And then you immediately, if you’re sane, you’re like, “Oh, that’s horrible.” I just think for me, that is the ugliest, ugliest, ugliest part of me. And imagine if that became the boss of you. Imagine if that is the boss of you. That’s an ugly thing. That will ruin what is most valuable and most important to you. And I think it resides in all of us.
King Solomon, considered the wisest man who ever lived next to Jesus, said this, he just goes right at it, he says, “Envy rots the bones.” “Envy rots the bones.” In other words, when we are envious, we’re focused on someone out there and what they’ve done and what they have and who they raise and how smart their grandkids are and how cool their car is and Solomon says, “Don’t kid yourself. The consequences of envy, they may be a little bit out there, but at the end of the day, envy rots the bones.” And here’s why. It leaves us competing. This is the joke, this is how ridiculous this is. It leaves us competing with people that don’t even know there’s a competition.
And we’re striving so hard to drive cooler, live cooler, be smarter, do better, perform better. We’re competing with people, they don’t even know there’s a competition, and it makes us arrogant because we’re successful and we accomplished more than they did, or it makes us depressed and we despise ourself because we fall short. I mean again, there’s no upside, there’s no positive side to envy. It rots the bones. It ruins relationships. It’ll make you a not very good friend, and not very good sister-in-law or brother-in-law or cousin or child or brother or sister or whatever it might be.
And so, if you have to leave earlier, you lose electricity, here’s the bottom line: It’s just knock it off, alright? [laughter] Just stop with that. If only it was that easy, right? But this isn’t gonna go away. So even if it never goes away, it doesn’t have to control us, it doesn’t have to drive us. We can begin to monitor heart and deal with it, because this is just my opinion. I don’t think envy is a problem to be solved, I think it’s a tension to manage because we’re human and we’re fallen and it’s just natural to compare and it’s natural to allow our self-esteem to be built upon what other people are doing as opposed to what God has perhaps called us to do.
So, the great news is, Solomon who gives us the “Envy rots the bones” statement, Solomon also gives us a way forward. In fact, in his writings, he gives us a place to go in our heads. He gives us a place to go mentally when we start dipping into and leaning into envy, or comparison, or jealousy, or whatever word you want to use. When we start going that way emotionally. So, Solomon says, look, when you start to feel it, when those emotions start to take control, and you’re tempted to make that snarky remark, or you’re tempted not to respond, or you’re tempted to delete, or you’re tempted to do whatever it is you do. When you kinda feel that insecurity that rises up when she’s better and he’s better. And they got the award and they got the attention. And you always wanted to, but they got to, anyway. Whatever your experience is with envy or jealous or comparison, Solomon gives us a place to go mentally. He gives us some handles. He gives us a word picture. Because envy—like any of these emotions we’re talking about—whether it’s lust, or anger, or fear, or—like we talked about last week—guilt, all of these emotions, you know what they do? They throw us off balance. And when we’re off balance, they get into control. .And I’m hoping that as a result of our time together that you would take this phrase, that you would take this imagery that he gives us and this will become so instilled in your thinking that when you begin to have those feelings, when you’re tempted to say that thing, when everybody else is going on and on about them and you’re tempted to join in, that you would find yourself saying, “No, no, no, no envy, uh-huh, I caught you. You are not the boss of me and you are not the boss of my mouth.”
Here’s what Solomon writes. He said, “I saw that all toil,” that is all work and labor, “and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another.” So this is King Solomon, he’s got all this perspective, all this wealth, go anywhere to do anything, he’s been there, done that, seen it all. He says, “Here’s my observation. For the most part,” and this is a little bit of hyperbole, “but for the most part,” he says, “as I’ve observed people, everybody is competing with everybody else. And everybody is determining how successful they are by measuring themselves and their success by everybody else’s success.”
This is going on 3,000 years ago, it’s just human nature. They’re determining where they are based on where everybody else is. Sound familiar? They’re determining where they are based on where everybody else is. And then he says, “This is ridiculous.” But he uses a different word. He says, “This is meaningless. This is meaningless.” And then he gives us this word picture. Here’s what he says. He says, “I saw all this toil, all this achievement spring from one person’s envy of another, this too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” that is powerful imagery. Chasing the wind. It’s endless. There’s no finish line. There’s no peace. There’s no ultimate satisfaction. There’s no contentment. It’s like an unquenchable appetite. Chasing after the wind.
There’s always an “er”, we’ve talked about this. There’s always an “er”, because his is newer and hers is nicer and her kids are smarter and theirs is bigger and his is faster. There’s always an “er”. There’s always somebody with a bigger “er”, right? And so if you’re chasing the wind, if envy becomes the boss of you, you’re just chasing the wind, it never, never, never ends, there’s never any satisfaction, there’s never contentment, as we’re gonna see, you can’t even enjoy your own accomplishments. Dissatisfaction guaranteed, if you chase the wind. If you allow envy to become the boss of you in any area, or as we’re gonna see, even in a single relationship.
It steals, it steals the joy from our accomplishments because there’s always someone who’s accomplishing more, right? So when you catch yourself looking in that direction, when you catch yourself drifting in that direction, when your emotions begin to go in that direction, that’s when you have to step back and say no, no, no, envy, envy, listen to me, you are not the boss of me. That is simply chasing the wind. And I don’t chase the wind. That is just chasing the wind, and I don’t chase the wind. Envy, you’re not the boss of me no I’m not even going there. it’s a waste of my time, I’m not gonna waste my time with just my life chasing the wind, your time is your life. But on the other hand Solomon was a very accomplished person, I mean he was a king, he accomplished more in his lifetime than anybody else ever accomplished in his lifetime.
So this isn’t, he’s not trying to bait us into being lazy or to do less or to accomplish less, he says, “No, only a fool, only a fool would fold their hands and ruin themselves.” This is his imagery of somebody who’s like, “Well, I’m not even gonna try. Well, if I can’t make 100%, I don’t care what percent, I’m not even gonna try. If I can’t compete at all, why, or if I can’t win why compete at all? I’m just not even gonna try.” He’s like, “No, no, that’s not the answer either.” This isn’t about being passive, this isn’t about doing your best, this isn’t about trying to accomplish something in the world, this is not about being un or non productive.
And then, he’s so wise he brings these two ideas together, on one hand you don’t just give up and do nothing, on the other hand you don’t stress yourself out trying to be someone you’re not. Then he gives us, again, more imagery it’s so powerful, he says, “Better,” and for some of us this is good news and for others of us this is, this is gonna be a struggle because of the way you’re wired, because of your temperament, because of your personality, he says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”
It’s better to have one handful of what you were designed to do and what you were created for than to have two handfuls when one of those handfuls is causing, is just stressing you out because you’re trying to keep up with someone you’ll never keep up with. He says at the end of the day tranquility, even if you have less, is better than having more and losing your peace and losing your tranquility and losing your sense of self and losing your self.
Tranquility, what is tranquility? It’s a word we don’t use a lot. It’s just satisfaction. It’s contentment. It’s going home in the afternoon and going, “I did my very best. And that’s, I’m fine with that.” It’s laying in bed at night knowing I have peace because I’m not stressed out trying to be somebody I can’t be and trying to accomplish things that maybe I wasn’t called or designed to accomplish. But chasing, chasing, leaves us wanting more. Again it’s an appetite that can’t be satisfied. It’s chasing the wind. His point is simply this, that less, less is actually more. That less is actually more when it leads to contentment. Because the result is peace.
The result is peace with yourself, and ultimately it brings greater peace with the people around you, especially the people that are most important to you. Better one handful with tranquility, than grasping and striving and pretending and editing and cropping and re-taking, “No, that’s not it,” re-taking, “no, that’s not it,” re-taking, “no, that’s not it.” This is why some of you have gone off of social media, isn’t it? It was just driving you crazy. You just found yourself thinking about it all the time, “I’m a loser, I’m a loser, I’m a loser, I’m a loser, I’m a loser.”
“I’m a loser, I’m a loser, I’m a loser, I’m a loser. My husband’s a loser, my wife, loser. My kids, oh my kids… ” You’re just, and you’re like, “I just can’t deal with it any more.” And So here’s my suggestion when it comes to that, and I’ve been saying this a long time. Anything, anything that stirs up discontentment, just remove it out of your life.
Now, I’m not talking about being inspired to do great things and be your best, that’s different. But the thing that just leaves you feeling less than, discontent, it may be something you subscribe to, it may be a magazine, it may be a website, it may be some social media, but anything that stirs up envy in you, anything that stirs up discontentment in you, anything that stirs up jealousy in you, just remove it because it’s feeding that thing that resides in you and resides in me that will be the boss of me if I allow it to be. Just get rid of it. Cancel that. Quit looking. Quit taking. Quit watching. Quit scrolling. Whatever that might be.
Now Solomon’s not done because he’s got so much to say on the subject and now he takes us a little bit different direction, and he says this, he says, “let me tell you something else I’ve seen. Again, I saw something meaningless.” We would say, “just ridiculous”. “I saw something else meaningless under the sun… ” “Under the sun” was his way of saying “in this world”. “There was this guy and he was all alone. He didn’t have a son and he didn’t have a brother.”
Now, in this context, when you read a phrase like this, here’s what it meant. He didn’t have anyone to leave his stuff to because women could not inherit in this culture. So here’s this guy and he has no son and he has no brother, he has no one to leave his stuff to. And Solomon says, “But I watched this guy and there was no end to his toil. He just would not let up. Yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. He was just going after and after, and working and working and working and accumulating, and doing more and more and more and just… Just, you know, just killing it, but just going for it. Just so much focus on what he was doing.”
“And then,” Solomon says, “this guy finally stopped and asked a question, a really important question.” Here’s the question I need to ask. Here’s a question we probably need to ask from time to time. He said, “I saw this guy who is, he doesn’t even have anybody to leave this stuff to, and he finally pauses, and he asks this question, ‘For whom am I toiling?'”
In other words, “Who am I doing this for, really? Why am I doing this? What’s,” this is it, “what’s really driving me?
What am I trying to prove?” And here’s the tough part, “Who am I trying to prove it to?” Or if you don’t like prepositions at the ends of sentences, “To whom am I trying to prove it?” Right? So here, let me ask you. This is something to think about, this is a question to wrestle to the ground, “Why do you stress yourself out to do everything that you do? Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this really? For whom are you doing this? Are you internally competing with someone?
And in your competition, you’re actually alienating the people you say you’re doing this for. It happens all the time, doesn’t it? This is a great question. “For whom am I competing? For whom am I toiling?”
For some of you, there’s a name. For some of you, there’s a face. For some of you, it’s your father. For some of you, it’s your mother. For some of you this happens all the time. I’m not trying to stir up any emotion. For some of you, it’s for a deceased parent. You’re still trying to prove yourself to someone who’s not even around to see. This is an important question. Because until we have an answer to this question, we may and be internally striving, envying. We are desiring, or we are jealous for their approval. We’re jealous for that pat on the head. We’re jealous for something we can’t even get and we have given up our one handful of tranquility because we’ve opted for two handfuls of striving and chasing after the wind.
He says this, talking about this imaginary person, he says, “And why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” Do you ever ask yourself this question? Do you ever come to the realization? Oh my goodness, I’m not even enjoying what I have. I don’t even… He says, “I don’t even enjoy what I’m doing.”
Solomon says, “This is ridiculous, isn’t it?” I mean, hearing me say it. This is just ridiculous. “This too,” he says, “is meaningless.” I love this phrase, It is a miserable business. Isn’t that great? In other words, it will make you miserable. You’ll put a check in every box, you’ll accomplish everything on your to-do list, you’ll get the award, you’ll graduate at the top of your class and you’ll go home and you will be miserable because something’s driving you and you’ve never put your finger on it.
Now, if you’re not a Christian or a religious person, let me just say this to you, okay? You’ll never be. You’ll never be what you were created or designed, or have the potential to be as long as you’re looking over your shoulder at what everybody else is becoming. Now, if you’re a Christian, this is even more serious because you’ll never… You’ll never experience… You’ll never experience God’s purpose for your life if you’re distracted by God’s purpose for someone else.
But to find the race that God has called you to run, and to find the lane that you were to run in, and to quit looking over your shoulder and looking at all the other lanes to see what other people are doing, it is so extraordinarily liberating. And do you know what it does? It allows you to work harder with more peace. You work harder, you get more accomplished with more contentment, and you begin to measure success differently.
Here’s the phrase that Solomon began all this with, I just gave you the second half, here’s the entire sentence, here’s what he says, this is so powerful. “A heart at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones.” A heart at peace, that is this is internal thing, finding peace, finding contentment, finding that sense of, “I’ve done all I know to do, I’ve done my very best, I will be content with one handful and tranquility.”
He says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body but it’s envy that rots the bones.” In other words, you cannot compete, you cannot compete or compare your way to peace, you cannot compete or compare your way to peace, you cannot win by chasing the wind. Now, here’s the thing, if you’re a Christian, God has given you a race to run, He’s given you a lane to run in. So stay there and thrive there.
And here’s the most important part, and change somebody’s world from there. Because the moment you get out of your lane, and the moment I allow envy and comparison and jealousy to be the boss of me, do you know what I quit doing? I quit being concerned about other people because envy is extraordinarily self-centered, jealousy is extraordinarily self-centered. I’m gonna have a difficult time caring about you if I’m overly worried and concerned about me. That’s why that ugly, ugly, ugly embarrassing thing that pops up every once in a while when somebody else fails, where does that come from? That comes from this false sense that the lower you go, the higher I get, the less you succeed, the more I succeed. What a lie that is.
But that’s what envy does, that’s what jealousy does. Jealousy says, “If someone else will tear you down, I can feel better about myself.” How extraordinarily self-centered is that? And you have been called to live a better life, and your better life is found in the lane that God has called you to run in, and from that lane you can do more for other people because you will be less concerned about who and where you are compared to other people.
Sure, there’s a time to look to other people. You look at other people for inspiration, not imitation. Read biographies, be inspired by their stories, don’t be afraid of their success. People who are eaten up with envy, they don’t even like to hear about other people’s success, they have a hard time celebrating with other people. Use other people’s stories as inspiration, not imitation, celebrate even in areas where you can’t participate. Jordan Peterson says this, I love this statement from his book, he says this, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who somebody else is today.” From, 12 Rules for Life.
Isn’t that good? If you’re gonna do the comparison thing, compare yourself to yourself, compare yourself to where you were yesterday. Love progress, pursue progress, but don’t compare yourself to where somebody else is today. Or to use some old school language, count your blessings, not your neighbor’s. Yeah, count your blessings, have you ever actually done this?
This may seem so strange, to sit down and to make an actual list of all the things in your life that are a blessing. Do you know what happens when you begin to count your blessings? Something happens on the inside of you, you become grateful, grateful people are generous people because grateful generous people are not self-centered people. Don’t miss the life that God has for you, you’ll never experience life to the full as long as you are trying to get in on the lane of somebody else around you. You’ll never experience your life to the full until you focus on the life that’s right in front of you.
So, this afternoon, it’s not gonna take long, this afternoon, maybe before you leave here, maybe before you turn, as soon as you go to the next browser, just today, when you find your mind and you find your emotions drifting toward that sense of envy and comparison, “And I don’t measure up, and I’ll never have, and I’ll never drive, and I’ll never live and I’ll never look like that,” when tempted to compare, when tempted to compare, then you just really need to stop and declare, and maybe out loud, maybe under your breath, “Envy, you’re not the boss of me! Envy, you’re not the boss of me. I will not chase the wind.”
“Envy, no, no, no, no, no. Envy, you’re not the boss of me. In fact, envy, let me show you what I’m gonna do. I’m actually gonna write her a letter and I’m going to hand it to her and congratulate her, because, envy, you are not the boss of me.”
“You know what? When he gets home, I’m gonna celebrate him, even though he gets all the attention and I do all the work. Even though she gets all the attention and I do all the work, whichever way that goes. You know what, envy, I’m not gonna be jealous. I’m not gonna allow jealousy to be the boss of me. I’m going to congratulate him and congratulate her. I’m going to cheer them on until you finally shut your mouth. You are not the boss of me.”
Besides, if you’re a Christian, you already have a boss of you. And Jesus gave you some very specific instructions. I’m gonna read you the implication and then the instruction. The implication is this, and that’s a big deal if you’re a Jesus follower. Ready? “Don’t compare yourself to one another. Love one another. And you can’t do both very well. Don’t compare yourself to one another. I’ve called you to something so much higher and greater. You are to love one another.” And envy always gets in the way of love. So this is not a nice-to-do, this is mission critical.
Jesus said it. This is an amazing statement, that it should just cause us to wonder every time we hear it. He said, “By this, this is how people are gonna know that you’re my follower. If you love, if you celebrate, if you cheer on, if you refuse to give into, if you love one another, that’s where the peace is found and ultimately that’s where purpose is found, as well.”
So the last question, and we’re done. Is it possible, this is so hard to admit, this is so hard to see in the mirror, maybe it’s impossible to see in your mirror, is it possible that in some area of your life, envy has become the boss of you? Let me be specific. Is it possible in one relationship that envy has become the boss of you? It’s your sister-in-law. It’s your brother-in-law. It’s your older brother. It’s your older sister. “My older sister’s so smart, she doesn’t even have to try. I try and I try and I try, and she just gets up and it just all works out.”
Maybe it’s just one relationship, in one relationship, in a relationship, has envy become the boss of you? What can you do about that? Maybe it’s one environment, it’s just school. It’s on that team, it’s at work. Hopefully, it’s not at home. Is there an environment where envy has become the boss of you? You gotta deal with this, or you’ll end up chasing the wind. If you chase the wind, that’s meaningless. If you do what’s meaningless for too long, your life becomes meaningless. If you do what’s meaningless for too long, your life becomes meaningless.
If you chase the wind for too long, if you do what’s meaningless for too long, your entire life becomes meaningless. Because as I’ve told you before, the way you find meaning is by becoming a means to an end that’s not you, and envy will draw you in and suck you into self-centeredness that drains your life of meaning. You don’t want that. You don’t wanna model that. The world doesn’t need any more of that. So let’s follow Jesus. Unlike envy, He will make your life better. And unlike envy, He will make you better at life.