“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy…” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
The Apostle Paul’s famous definition of love seems to be to be pretty straight forward: love is patient and kind. But what does he mean that love is not envious?
He means that when we love, we put others first. That’s never been easy, but is even more difficult today. We live in an age of inflated egos. If you don’t believe me, spend some time on Facebook. Look at these pictures of me; let me tell you what I’m doing right now. Let me tell you what is on my mind. Let me approve of what you think. This is my political affiliation; this is my religion. Here’s who I’m a fan of. This is the status of my love life.
We think of our social media followers as a personal audience just waiting to see what we’ll do next.
The word envy Paul uses here describes a “desire without boundaries”. It is a self-centered, egotistical proposition. It means looking at others and wanting what they have. Maybe it’s a car or a house or a life or their “perfect” grandkids. Envy is a trap that, if we fall into it, makes us less thankful for God’s grace and provision in our own lives. At the same time, we’re not loving others because we think they’re less deserving of that house, that car, that life.
Our culture has a dangerous tendency to lead us to envy. It began in the post war economy of the ’50s. Marketers started using the words “new” and “improved” in marketing. Houses were made bigger than they needed to be. Even the most minor “improvements” to a product encouraged us to upgrade.
An example is found in a company that moved a factory to South America because of the cheap labor available there. The company stood to make huge profits.
But they didn’t expect one thing. People there were used to making $10 a year. So, when they received their first $30 check for a month’s work, huge numbers of them quit; they retired rich! The Americans came up with a brilliant plan: for the workers that remained, with their next paycheck they also received a Sears Roebuck mail order catalog. They now saw things they never knew existed and now had money to buy. They suddenly had a desire to keep working.
When our eyes become big with envy, our heart shrinks. We risk losing our joy in life. We risk losing our perspective. We become less thankful to the Lord. And Paul reminds us this self-focus keeps us from loving others well.
Earlier, the Apostle told us, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). He doesn’t say love is grateful that it was them and not us or that love is disappointed someone else was honored instead of us. Love doesn’t envy.
Jim Mann, Ph.D. pastors New Life Church at Robson Ranch. This interdenominational church meets at the Robson Clubhouse on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. Visit New Life’s website www.NewLifeDenton.org for more information.