I don’t think I’ve ever known any woman who hasn’t envied another woman at one time or another. In Gospel Amnesia I write about a season in my life where I was so envious of the way God was spiritually maturing a friend of mine that I was irritable with her for a whole year before I could confess it and allow God to heal our relationship. I have the quirkiest envies. I could clap and jump with excitement if someone bought a house, got a new car, bought a new outfit, or even lost weight. I can be happy for any goodness God pours out on family, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike. This, of course gives me an opportunity to have pride in my restraint from envy, because those are not the things I begrudge. But spiritual blessings in others made me envious (and my sinful heart could even brag about that!)—well, it used to until the Holy Spirit started working on my heart in this area.
Envy comes in many flavors, like ice cream, and it goes undetected because we can claim that we in our hearts don’t have envy because we don’t have the nuts and swirls and chocolate-covered pralines—the conspicuous forms of envy that are preached against routinely, such as envy of goods or money. But envy, just like all other sins, has its subtleties, and we can have our envy while deceiving ourselves that not only is “vanilla” not really a flavor, when compared to those others, it’s not really ice cream at all. But of course, vanilla ice cream is ice cream, and envying good things is sin. For example, it took me a full year to realize that my irritability with my friend was coming out of a root of envy.
In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the master hires laborers to come work his vineyard. He does this at different shifts during the day. He agrees with each group to pay them a denarius. At the end of the day he pays those whom he hired very late and who only worked for a little while, the same amount of wages as those who had worked all day long. Those who worked all day became upset and started grumbling against those who still received a denarius even though they came late in the day and didn’t work as long. But Jesus asks them a revealing question:
[D]o you begrudge my generosity?
I know it’s not a perfect metaphor but I think there is wisdom here and we need to tease it out. The question Jesus asks through the master in the parable is: Do we begrudge it when he is generous to those around us? Jesus is trying to draw out more than just garden variety envy. He is probing deep for what is subtle—all the ways our hearts deceive us: We want the love, grace, and generosity of God for ourselves, but we don’t want it for others. I believe this is similar to how we are about forgiveness. We like it when God forgives us, but when someone hurts us, it’s almost as though we don’t want God to offer the same grace and forgiveness to them. We see how selfish our hearts can be; We have an infinite God with infinite love, grace and forgiveness—and we want it all to ourselves.
There is a way out of this heart sickness: Gratefulness and contentment in the measure of grace (and money and goods and other things, though these are not a measurement of his grace) God in his sovereignty bestows upon us. And even this gratefulness and contentment with our lot is a grace to be genuinely sought and prayed for—earnestly asking our Father to be enough for us. Jesus is enough.